Derrick Rose, Anderson Varejao, Raulzinho Neto

Derrick Rose returns, Anthony Davis shines in USA Basketball’s exhibition win over Brazil

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CHICAGO — Derrick Rose played his first game at the United Center in almost nine months on Saturday, when the USA Basketball team took on the squad from Brazil in an exhibition contest.

Team USA cruised to a 95-78 victory, and while getting the win was nice, the focal point of the evening was Rose’s return, at least initially.

The building was legitimately sold out, and the fans seemed to be there for none other reason than to cheer their hometown hero. But they were also treated to a series of dazzling highlights from his teammates.

Rose did look a bit rusty; whether it was due to the nerves of being back on his home floor for the first time in so long, or simply the excitement brought by his first real competition over that same span, he definitely didn’t dominate the way he’s capable of. He did, however, manage to give the fans what they wanted on two separate occasions.

Even if Rose has changed his game as he recently proclaimed, his signature speed was as prominent as ever. He went the length of the floor in the blink of an eye and finished with a floater off the glass to beat the halftime buzzer, and then midway through the third, he used a devastating crossover that was followed by a hard-charging burst, which allowed him to convert an acrobatic finish at the basket.

Those are the types of plays that we know Rose is capable of, and the other ones, which included a missed breakaway dunk in the second quarter and at least a few errant passes, should become less frequent as time goes on.

“He’s shaking some rust off,” USA Basketball assistant and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said afterward. “But his explosiveness was back.”

With the game well out of hand and just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the fans began a loud chant of “We want Rose!” Mike Krzyzewski complied almost immediately, and when Rose bounced up and jogged to the scorers table, the place went nuts.

“I didn’t react to the crowd,” Krzyzewski said with a smile. “I would never do that.”

While all eyes were on Rose in Chicago as expected, Anthony Davis made it impossible not to notice just how dominant he can be against the far less athletic international competition.

Davis flew around the basket for several highlight-worthy slam dunks, and flew into the stands head over heels trying to save a loose ball. He finished with a game-high 20 points, and you can just see how his being on the floor should be a complete game-changer for the USA team once tournament play begins for real in a few short weeks.

“Ant played great man,” Rose said afterward. “That’s what we need — blocking shots, rebounding, diving for the ball out of bounds. We didn’t know how he was going to play with the bigs they have because he’s kind of smaller than they are weight-wise. But he came out here and hooped.”

James Harden finished with 18 points, and his personal highlights included a step-back three off the dribble over a defender, and of course, scoring more than once on slashing drives to the basket. Stephen Curry hit some shots early, the most impressive of which involved some extremely nifty ball-handling to shake his defender before he effortlessly splashed a long three home.

Team USA started a lineup that consisted of Rose, Curry, Davis, Harden and Kenneth Faried, whose activity and effort remained consistent; his chances continue to improve as far as making the final roster. DeMarcus Cousins didn’t play due to injury, and DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond and Gordon Hayward received the always-dreaded DNP-CDs.

Getting the victory was nice, and it was one successful step on this summer’s travels for Team USA. But for Rose, his initial experience returning to his home floor was far more important, and an achievement all by itself — even if he downplayed it after the night was finished.

“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” Rose said. “If this was a couple of weeks ago, I probably would’ve been emotional. But right now, it feels great. We won the game.”

Report: Bulls pushing to trade for 76ers’ Jahlil Okafor

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 14: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks to pass against Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on December 14, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Bulls reportedly reached out to the 76ers about Jahlil Okafor a few weeks ago.

After unfulfilled intrigue and maybe a trade that fell through, Okafor remains in Philadelphia. And Chicago apparently still wants him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

As constituted, the Bulls already have a few interior bigs: Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and Cristiano Felicio. But one or more could go in an Okafor trade or another deal.

Okafor would make the Chicago younger, confusing its direction with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade already in place.

Perhaps, the Bulls are pushing for a trade only because they’re offering so little. Okafor’s low-post game offers intrigue. At the right price, he’d be worth adding, no matter the fit and direction presented.

Maybe the 76ers don’t go for a lowball offer, but that’d be worth trying considering their center logjam with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. Otherwise, Chicago ought to tread carefully when pursuing Okafor.

Report: 76ers trading Ersan Ilyasova to Hawks for Tiago Splitter, picks

Atlanta Hawks guard Mike Dunleavy blocks the shot of Philadelphia 76ers forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 110-93. (AP Photo/John Amis)
AP Photo/John Amis
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The 76ers have played like a 64-win team when Joel Embiid and Ersan Ilyasova share the court and a 20-win team otherwise, using data from nbawowy!.

That’s helpful for Philadelphia, which is learning what type of player — a stretch four — works best with its franchise player.

But the Hawks can use more than just a lesson in the idea of Ersan Ilyasova. They can use actual Ersan Ilyasova.

And Atlanta will get him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated:

Atlanta stills sound intent on keeping Paul Millsap, so Ilyasova will likely back him up. Ilyasova should work particularly well with Dwight Howard, whose interior play was a key factor in ushering in this stretch-four era by covering for the lighter power forward next to him.

In the last 21 months, Ilyasova has been traded five times: from the Bucks to the Pistons to the Magic to the Thunder to the 76ers and now to the Hawks. They can probably count on the veteran to settle in quickly as they try to improve their position in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Atlanta is fifth, closer to third than sixth.

Both Ilyasova and Splitter have expiring contracts. The advantage of Splitter, who has missed the Hawks’ last 90 games, is that his full compensation counts toward the floor apparently without Philadelphia actually having to play all of his salary.

Plus, those picks could help the 76ers in a season where they can win something meaningful — like the Hawks have decided this season is for them.

Report: Other NBA executives believe Pacers not seriously shopping Paul George

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers in action during the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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The Pacers are reportedly shopping Paul George, trying to line up a trade if they can’t get him help in another deal.

But it’s hard to find anyone who believes Indiana is genuinely looking to trade George before the upcoming trade deadline.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

If the Pacers are serious about trading George, they better convince other teams quickly. That’s the only way to draw out the best offers.

But it makes sense Indiana is only in the exploratory stage.

The Pacers — and only the Pacers — could offer George a designated-veteran-player contract extension (projected to be worth about $209 million over five years) this offseason if he makes an All-NBA team.

That’s probably a longshot. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are locks for three of the six forward spots. Anthony DavisJimmy ButlerDraymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo should also rank ahead of George. Gordon HaywardPaul MillsapKevin Love are firmly in the mix, too. That’s a lot of ground to make up and other contenders to fend off.

But it’s likely worth it for the Pacers to keep George past the deadline and let him try. The upside is so high.

If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Indiana could always trade him at any point before the next trade deadline. He could also qualify as a designated veteran player by making a 2017-18 All-NBA team and re-signing as a free agent in 2018, but by then, it’d be too late for the Pacers to trade him if they don’t have the major financial advantage.

At some point, Indiana could ask George to pledge to stay for his max, whatever that winds up being. That wouldn’t be binding, but his response could be telling.

For now, if I were the Pacers, I’d hope he makes All-NBA this year and dare him to reject the designated-veteran-player extension. If he qualifies and turns that down, that would absolutely be telling.

But I’d also be exploring the trade market now, hoping for an offer that knocks my socks off but more realistically gaining understanding for when dealing George becomes more logical.

Report: Clippers’ Chris Paul cleared, could play against Warriors on Thursday

Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul shoots as Portland Trail Blazers' Al-Farouq Aminu watches during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Chris Paul tore a ligament in his left thumb last month, and the Clippers announced he’d miss 6-8 weeks.

He could return just over five weeks after injury, when the Clippers face the Warriors on Thursday.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, via Andrew Han of ESPN:

“He looked great. He went through the whole practice [on Tuesday]. You know, so it was good. Really good,” Rivers said before practice on Wednesday. “He could play tomorrow. I mean, I can’t tell you if he will or not, but he’s been cleared medically. But we just want to make sure that he’s comfortable playing.”

The Clippers have slid to fourth in the West, leading the fifth-place Jazz by just half a game. It’s probably too late to catch the third-place Rockets, who are five games up. But maintaining home-court advantage in the first round is important.

Paul should help.

The Clippers remain dangerous when healthy. They’ve outscored teams by 15.1 points per 100 possessions when Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick share the court. With those four, they score and defend at rates that would lead the league if it weren’t for Golden State’s historic offensive rating.