Nikola Jokic has triple-double as Nuggets surge past Bulls, 125-107 (VIDEO)

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CHICAGO (AP) Although the Denver Nuggets were playing on the road, Nikola Jokic felt right at home Tuesday night in the United Center.

Jokic had 19 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists for his third triple-double of the season, and the Nuggets rode a second-half surge to a 125-107 victory over the Chicago Bulls.

Afterward, the 22-year-old Serbian celebrated the performance with a host of fans from his homeland.

“Chicago has the (biggest) Serbian population, I guess, after Belgrade, the capital,” he said. “There are a lot of Serbians here and it’s nice to play in front of that crowd with the Serbian flags.

“It’s a good feeling for me.”

All of Jokic’s triple-doubles have come in the last 12 games, but coach Michael Malone considered this a breakout performance.

“This is the Nikola Jokic everyone in Denver has been waiting to see,” Malone said. “I think he has been playing decent basketball, but tonight for him to score along with those rebounds and assists, it shows what a complete player he is.”

Danilo Gallinari scored 22 points and Wilson Chandler added 20 as Denver, which entered the game fourth in the NBA in scoring (110.6 points per game), posted a 69-48 advantage in the second half to erase a halftime deficit.

Gary Harris and Will Barton had 15 points apiece for the Nuggets.

Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo had 19 points apiece for Chicago, which had its four-game winning streak snapped. Jimmy Butler finished with just eight points on 3-for-13 shooting.

“He just didn’t get in the flow or rhythm,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said of Butler. “We ran a lot of actions that we run for Jimmy that he normally converts on.”

Malone credited Chandler and Gallinari for Butler’s lack of rhythm.

“One of the keys to guarding a guy like Jimmy is to not foul,” the coach said. “He only went to the foul line two times.”

Chicago had a 59-56 halftime lead and was up 68-60 early in the third quarter before Denver busted out to take a 91-83 advantage into the fourth. The Nuggets were 11 of 20 from the field and 10 of 11 from the free throw line in the third.

Denver carried the momentum into the final quarter, scoring the first eight points, capped by Gallinari’s two 3-pointers, for a 99-83 lead. The margin was up to 21 points (110-89) a few minutes later and the rout was on.

TIPS IN

Nuggets: F Kenneth Faried (back spasms) did not make the trip and missed his second straight game. He last played against Brooklyn on Friday and is expected to be sidelined at least another week. “The back is a funny thing, and he’s had back issues in the past,” Malone said.

Bulls: Hoiberg has two main objectives during the final six weeks of the regular season: win enough games to make the playoffs while taking a long look at some of the team’s young players, including newly acquired Cameron Payne and Joffrey Lauvergne. “We played 11 in the first half the other night (against Cleveland) and it’s tough to play that many guys,” Hoiberg said. “But at the same time, you do want to get a look at the new guys.”

BOARD WORK

The Bulls had 10 offensive rebounds and a 10-2 edge in second-chance points in the first half, but were held to one offensive rebound and no second-chance points in the second half.

“We gave them a lot of second-chance points in the first half,” Gallinari said. “We knew if we took care of that in the second half, we had a chance to win.”

RONDO ACTIVE

One of the bright spots for Chicago was a season-high point total for Rondo, who was 8 for 15 from the field. “When he’s in the game, our pace just goes up a notch,” Hoiberg said.

UP NEXT

Nuggets: Visit the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night to wrap up a quick two-game road trip.

Bulls: Host Golden State on Thursday.

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 than 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 (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) 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.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.

Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia cleared to play in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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These playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have been 15.4 points per 100 possessions better when Zaza Pachulia is on the court as opposed to on the bench. That’s a bit misleading, the reason for the gaudy number is he rounds out the dominant starting lineup, which has outscored teams by 32.6 points per 100 this postseason (that is actually better than the legendary “death lineup” in these playoffs). Pachulia is just the first big in the rotation with four All-Star, powerhouse players, but he fills his role well.

Pachulia was slowed by a sore right heel against the Spurs but is 100 percent and ready to go for the Finals when they tip-off Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Here are the details via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Zaza Pachulia, the only injured Warrior rotation player late in the Spurs series, has participated in all parts of all three practices, without restriction on that sore right heel. He is on track to start Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday.

“We’ve done running, had scrimmages and he’s done everything,” Mike Brown said.

He will have a crucial role on the glass against the Cavaliers. Cleveland brings two dominant rebounders to the party with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love (plus that LeBron James guy can get some boards), the Warriors will use Pachulia to counter. Before you roll your eyes, he had 13 boards in the second meeting of these teams in the regular season, a blowout Golden State win.

He’s the first big in a rotation of them the Warriors will throw at Cleveland — JaVale McGee may get a little time, but expect a lot of small-ball lineups from the Warriors. If Pachulia can give Golden State a solid 18 minutes a night where he is strong on the glass and helps protect the rim, it will be huge for them.

Pachulia is going to get his shot, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.