Chicago Bulls beat Toronto Raptors for 11th straight time, 105-94 (VIDEO)

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CHICAGO (AP) Doug McDermott and Jimmy Butler can’t explain the Chicago Bulls’ recent mastery over the Toronto Raptors. They only hope it continues.

McDermott scored 20 points, Butler had 19 points and 12 assists in his return to the lineup, and the Bulls beat the Raptors for the 1th straight time, 105-94 on Tuesday night.

In his last four games against Toronto, McDermott averaged 24.0 points on 62 percent in the field.

“We just have their number,” said McDermott, who has averaged 24.0 points on 62-percent shooting in his last four games against Toronto. “It’s a good matchup for us. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling against them.”

Taj Gibson had 14 points and Rajon Rondo added 12 for Chicago, which led by as many as 23 points and never trailed in the final three quarters to snap a three-game skid.

Toronto’s last victory in the series was Dec. 31, 2013, in Chicago.

“Um, I think the only way to win is have more points than them at the end of the game,” said Butler, who scored 15 points on free throws.

Kyle Lowry scored 22 points to lead the Raptors, who lost their third straight and 11th in the last 15 to fall one-half game behind idle Atlanta for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

“Right now, we’re a way below .500 team,” Lowry said. “We’re playing really bad basketball. It’s crazy right now. We went from this to that.”

The Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan was limited to 18 points – 10 below his season average. He was whistled for his second technical foul with 25 seconds left and ejected from the game.

The loss came hours after the Raptors acquired forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic. The need for his physical toughness was apparent from the start.

Chicago attacked the rim with success and threw down five dunks in the second quarter alone.

“One guy’s not (going to change everything),” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We’re excited about Ibaka coming in, but we’ve got other things we’ve got to get fixed up before he comes in – our defense, (for) one.”

At the 1:44 mark of the second period, Butler converted two free throws to give Chicago a 56-35 lead, its largest of the first half.

Gibson had all of his scoring in the first half as the Bulls shot 51 percent from the field while taking a 58-39 lead.

Chicago scored the final six points of the first quarter to take a 24-18 lead.

“The biggest thing I was happy about was our energy out of the gate,” Bulls coach Fred Holberg said. “We got off to a really good start, especially defensively.”

TIP-INS

Bulls: Chicago was without F Nikola Mirotic (back spasms), G Dwyane Wade (bruised right wrist) and F Paul Zipser (left ankle tendonitis). … Butler (bruised right heel) was back after missing four of the last five games. “It feels good,” he said. That’s all there is to say. There wasn’t that much pain at all. Now it’s all about getting in rhythm.”

Raptors: Toronto’s reserves outscored 54-34 by their Chicago counterparts. G Norman Powell led the way with 13 points. … C Jonas Valanciunias scored 12 points and nine rebounds in 21:30. He also picked up a technical foul in the first quarter.

URGE FOR SERGE

Toronto coach Dwane Casey wasted no time to review film of Ibaka, who was acquired from Orlando in exchange for F-G Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick.

“Any time you can add a talent who has got playoff experience, (NBA) Finals experience, and a defender and two-way player like Ibaka has got to give us a boost,” said Casey, who wasn’t certain whether the veteran would join the team before the All-Star break.

In particular, Ibaka represents an upgrade at the defensive end. The Raptors ranked 15th in blocked shots and 16th in opponents’ field goal percentage at the start of the day.

In Ross’ absence, G Norm Powell is in line to play an expanded role.

ONE STEP FOWARD, ONE STEP BACK

Bulls F Bobby Portis scored six points on the heels of a 16-point, six-rebound effort versus the Timberwolves on in Minneapolis on Sunday.

“Bobby has got an opportunity with Niko out of the lineup right now, and we’re confident he will take advantage of that,” Holberg said.

UP NEXT

Raptors: Host Charlotte on Wednesday night in the final game before the All-Star break.

Bulls: Host Boston on Thursday night.

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.