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Tom Thibodeau returns to Chicago with Wolves in a mess

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — At the end of November, Derrick Rose brought his New York Knicks to Target Center, the building Tom Thibodeau now calls home with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Adversaries that night, Thibodeau and Rose spent five years together in Chicago grinding out victories and trying to restore the Bulls as Eastern Conference powers. They had dinners together, talked basketball together and bonded through the ups and downs of Rose’s MVP award and his knee injuries.

So when Rose glanced at the standings and saw Thibodeau’s Timberwolves at a lowly 5-13, the point guard knew his former coach, one of the most intense personalities in the NBA, probably wasn’t taking it well.

“He’s probably driving himself crazy,” Rose said. “A lot of late nights. His staff is probably having a lot of late nights, too. But it all comes with just trying to win. He’s a winner at heart. He wants to win every game. That’s the crazy thing about him. Some games you’re going to lose, but he’s probably up late nights and driving himself crazy a little bit.”

It has only gotten worse for the Wolves (6-18) since then, with only the Dallas Mavericks having won fewer games. Heading into a game against the Bulls on Tuesday night, Thibodeau’s first game in Chicago since he was fired by the Bulls in an acrimonious split in 2015, he is searching for answers and a way to connect with his new team.

It’s been a stunning start to Thibodeau’s first season in Minnesota after leading the Bulls to the playoffs in all five of his seasons there. During those years, they were never under .500 after the first two weeks of the season, except for in 2013-14 when they started 9-16. They rebounded to finish 48-34 that season.

Rose is right. Thibodeau and his staff get to the office early in the morning and often don’t leave until well into the night. It’s not uncommon for staffers to sleep at the team’s practice facility so they can devote more time to film study and game planning.

“There’s no shortcut to this,” Thibodeau said earlier this season. “You have to go through it. It’s important to maintain high standards. It starts with practice and preparation.”

Owner Glen Taylor chose Thibodeau over a long line of suitors last summer in hopes that his demanding style would expedite the growth process for a promising young roster and end a 12-year playoff drought.

But the Wolves have been slow to catch on to his defensive teachings, ranking 29th out of 30 teams in the league in defensive efficiency.

After a 27-point home loss to Detroit on Friday, he said he was “very concerned” that his team was not responding to his message.

“I’m going to keep coming. I don’t go away,” he vowed. “I’m going to look at everything, re-examine. Something’s being missed. It’s got to change.”

Thibodeau has been noticeably less demonstrative on the sideline over the last two weeks than he was early in the season, but the Wolves still tighten up when things start to go wrong, as they did in a 25-4 fourth quarter run by the Warriors on Sunday night.

“I studied before I took the job so I knew what I was getting into,” Thibodeau said. “You’re looking at it and I knew we don’t have experience. Part of the learning part is the trial and error. We have to go through it. But I also have to make sure we’re making progress and moving forward. That’s part of my job.”

Offense hasn’t been the issue so far for the Wolves, who are 10th in the league in offensive efficiency. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are the first trio of 21-year-olds averaging at least 20 points a game on the same team in NBA history.

But Towns, the reigning rookie of the year, has looked disinterested on defense, often getting beaten back down the floor in transition for easy layups. Wiggins has been up and down on the perimeter defensively and sixth-year point guard Ricky Rubio, the team’s only real veteran getting significant playing time, has been unable to adapt to Thibodeau’s systems.

“It’s not about (Thibodeau). It’s about us,” LaVine said after the Pistons loss. “We’re the ones on the court. He puts in the effort. We’re not executing.”

The Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg to replace Thibodeau, a more “player-friendly” coach that has lightened the atmosphere in Chicago. But they missed the playoffs in his first season and former Bulls star Joakim Noah said in November that “You don’t realize what you have with (Thibodeau) until he’s not around.” They are 13-10 and in fifth place in the East this season.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Thibodeau said. “You have to work at it. There’s going to be some good days, some bad days. That’s all part of it. But everyone putting everything they have into each and every day, that’s the big thing, so you can make progress, so you can improve, so you can get better, so you can win.”

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more and Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.