Jimmy Butler scores 33, Bulls beat Hawks 106-104

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CHICAGO (AP) — Jimmy Butler saw confidence and swagger, a team embracing the moment. No one welcomed it more with open arms than he did.

Butler scored 33 points and hit two free throws with 2.1 seconds left to lift the Chicago Bulls to a 106-104 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“I see guys doing what they’re supposed to be doing – playing hard, shooting the ball when they’re open, not trying to do too much,” Butler said. “That’s what we need.”

Butler scored the Bulls’ final nine points. His free throws gave them a two-point lead and capped a 15-4 run.

Tim Hardaway Jr. then missed a 3-pointer for Atlanta as time expired, giving the Bulls their third straight win.

Chicago also moved into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are tied with Miami and Indiana at 37-39 but own tiebreakers over the Heat and Pacers. Sixth-place Atlanta (39-37) – which had won two straight after dropping seven in a row – trails Milwaukee by a game.

Rajon Rondo had a season-high 25 points and added 11 rebounds. Denzel Valentine scored 13 points, hitting two 3-pointers down the stretch to help the Bulls stop a seven-game losing streak to Atlanta.

The win comes on the heels of a victory over LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

“We had a great win a couple of days ago, but it means nothing if we came out and laid an egg tonight,” Rondo said. “Also, these guys have beaten us seven straight times.”

Dennis Schroder led the Hawks with 29 points. Hardaway scored 20, and Dwight Howard finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“They responded well and you have to give them credit,” Schroder said. “We’ve got to execute better in crunch time and just do a better job, screening, rolling to the basket and taking care of the ball.”


Hawks: All-Star F Paul Millsap missed his eighth consecutive game because of a left knee ailment. Coach Mike Budenholzer said Millsap is “making positive progress,” though the Hawks are being “aggressively cautious” with him. If Millsap misses Sunday’s game at Brooklyn, he will have three more days before the Hawks host Boston on Thursday. … F Mike Dunleavy Jr. played 12 minutes but did not score after missing a game because of a sore right ankle, while F Thabo Sefolosha (strained right groin) sat out his fourth in a row. G Malcolm Delaney sat out with back spasms.

Bulls: Butler was 10 of 10 at the foul line. … The Bulls hit 12 3-pointers, their sixth straight game with at least 10.


The Bulls trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter and were down 100-91 with less than five minutes to go.

Valentine hit a pair of 3-pointers to start the game-ending run, and Butler took over from there. He tied it at 102-all when he connected from long range with 1:59 left.

Schroder pulled up for the go-ahead jumper after Butler’s baseline shot hit the front of the rim to give the Hawks a 104-102 lead with 35 seconds left. Butler immediately answered with a driving layup to tie it again.

After a timeout, Schroder lost his dribble out of bounds with 25 seconds left. Butler then got fouled by Kent Bazemore as he attempted a jumper with 2.1 seconds remaining and hit both free throws as the crowd chanted “MVP! MVP!”

Hardaway’s 3 after a timeout then hit the back of the rim as time expired.

“I should have pump-faked,” Hardaway said. “Two seconds left, I think that’s an easy pump-fake, one-dribble shot. I think I had time. But it felt great coming off my hands. It felt great. It was in line. It just was a little bit long.”


Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis denies drug charges while eating Popeyes on a charter plane

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Best. Denial. Ever.

Last month, former NBA player Glen “Big Baby” Davis was arrested last month at a hotel in a suburb of Baltimore by Jimmy McNulty and Lt. Daniels with 126 grams of marijuana and more than $96,000 in cash, according to a police report. He has been charged with possession and intent to distribute.

Davis has declared his innocence in the best denial video ever — eating Popeyes chicken and flashing cash and a championship ring.

I have no idea whether Davis is guilty or not, I was not at a Hampton’s Inn outside Baltimore last month. The court system will sort that out, that is what it’s there for.

But I know a brilliant video when I see one. This is it.

Report: Michele Roberts to seek second contract as players’ union head

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Michele Roberts entered the NBA’s player union in a tumultuous time — long-time union president Billy Hunter had been ousted in a rancorous fight, the union felt adrift, and negotiations with the NBA on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement were looming (and players felt they had been screwed in the last CBA, following the lockout).

Roberts, the first female head of a professional sports labor union, settled things down. She cleaned up the union finances and made them more transparent to players, she worked hard to establish relationships with the players, and while she rattled some sabers with the NBA in negotiations, she also worked in a non-combative way with Adam Silver and team (unlike the Billy Hunter/David Stern relationship) and got a deal done the players liked without a lockout or labor mess.

Roberts’ contract with the union is up, but she is going to ask for a new deal — one she likely gets — reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With an original four-year agreement set to expire in September, Michele Roberts plans to seek a new contract as the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, sources tell ESPN…

Roberts had strongly considered staying in the NBPA’s executive director role for only the length of her original contract — and expressed that to the union’s senior membership — but has recently decided to pursue a longer tenure, sources said.

NBPA president Chris Paul played a significant part in Roberts’ hiring in July 2014 and he has built a strong working relationship with Roberts.

Roberts also has a good relationship with the star-heavy executive committee of the union — CP3, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and others — making it likely she gets a new deal.

As for what’s next, at the front of that list Roberts is working with Silver and others on reforming the NBA’s one-and-done rule (it was supposed to be part of the CBA negotiations but was too big and complex an issue to fold into that timeline).

Neither the owners or players can opt out of the CBA for four more years (and if neither side does it runs a couple more beyond that) so labor peace will continue in the NBA for a while.

Isaiah Thomas rewarded on epic flop with offensive foul call vs. Heat

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Why do NBA players flop on defense? Because it works.

While there is less of it than there was a couple of years back — when the NBA made a big show about calling more flops and warning (then eventually fining players a pittance) for the move — it still exists. Case in point, this impressive one from Isaiah Thomas of the Lakers on Tyler Johnson of the Heat Friday night (hat tip AminElHassavag at NBA Reddit).

Was there a little contact, sure, but Thomas fell back like he was shot by the second gunman on the grassy knoll. He exaggerated the contact, which is the definition of flopping. Thing is, he got the call (the ref who made the call, from his position, might only have seen the contact and not necessarily the extent of exaggeration, but that’s where the other officials need to step in).

Not that everything went Thomas’ way Friday night.