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Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls


1. How vulnerable are the Celtics?

Boston outscored opponents by just 2.6 points per game – the second-lowest mark ever for the No. 1 seed in either conference. Only the 1976 Celtics (+2.3) fared worse and still claimed a conference’s top seed.

This Boston team still rates ahead of the Bulls (+0.4), but Chicago played exceptionally well when using only players projected to be in its playoff rotation. The deep Celtics received a much smaller bump when eliminating lineups that include players unlikely to have roles in this series.

Plus, Boston’s biggest weakness (defensive rebounding) coincides with one of the Bulls’ biggest strengths (offensive rebounding).

That said, Chicago hasn’t crashed the glass nearly as well since trading Taj Gibson. And in the same period, the Celtics have defensively rebounded much better, up to a middling rate.

Boston isn’t as strong as a typical No. 1 seed, and the rebounding is concerning. But the Celtics still have an overall advantage, and the matchup issues aren’t as troublesome as they appear at first glance.

2. How does Chicago defend Isaiah Thomas?

A key reason Boston went 53-29 and outperformed their Pythagorean-projected record of 48-34: Isaiah Thomas scored excellently in the clutch, turning multiple seemingly coin-flip games in the Celtics’ favor. Even when everyone knew Thomas would dominate the ball, nobody could stop him.

Will the Bulls?

Rajon Rondo hasn’t defended well in years. Jimmy Butler, who sounds up for the challenge and can probably cause problems in small doses, is more accustomed to covering bigger wings. Dwyane Wade probably can’t handle an assignment like Thomas anymore. Giving more minutes to Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams, Cameron Payne or Isaiah Canaan invites its own problems, not to mention no clear solution for Thomas.

The Bulls better focus on punishing the 5-foot-9 Thomas on the other end.

3. Can Dwyane Wade coexist with his teammates?

With Wade sidelined by injury late in the season, Chicago went 7-4. Rajon Rondo (10.9 points, shooting 47.0% from the field and 40.7% on 3-pointers, 8.5 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game) and Nikola Mirotic (16.9 points per game, shooting 52.3% from the field and 48.7% on 3-pointers) particularly looked more comfortable in that span. The Bulls shot 38.7% on 3-pointers in those games.

Now Wade comes back to… add talent? Complicate floor balance?

It’s unclear whether Chicago just happened to get hot while Wade sat or whether he’s restricting his teammates. The answer could make all the difference for the Bulls.

Wade, Rondo and Butler have played an entire season together, but we’re still wondering about the very first question with this team.

Who needs good form? Hawks fan nails halfcourt shot for $10k (video)

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Former Hawks owner Bruce Levenson didn’t want guys like this shooting this shot.

I’m so glad this fan got the opportunity. This was Atlanta’s biggest highlight while losing to the Pistons — and John Collins had a nice dunk over Luke Kennard:

Kevin Durant kisses fan hit by ball (video)

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Kevin Durant‘s final line in the Warriors’ win over the Mavericks: 36 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks… and one kiss.

He has done this before.

Three Things to Know: LeBron James talks to Lonzo Ball and that means… nothing

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Cavaliers beat the Lakers… but who cares because LeBron James talked to Lonzo Ball. Everyone loves a good mystery. Apparently to the point of obsession. Thursday night the NBA got its big unanswered question to obsess over:

What did LeBron James tell Lonzo Ball after the game?

Somehow overshadowing the fact LeBron had a triple-double in leading the Cavaliers past the Lakers in an actual basketball game that counts, the topic of discussion has been LeBron pulling Lonzo Ball aside after the game on the court to talk to him, with LeBron wisely pulling his jersey up over his lips to foil lip readers.

This video will be analyzed like it was the Zapruder film.

When asked what he said, LeBron answered: “None of y’all business.” Good. It’s not.

LeBron is one of the few people on the planet who has been in Ball’s shoes — overhyped coming into the league, drafted and instantly thrown into the role of franchise savior. LeBron has lived up to the hype over his career, he’s been through the wars, and he has advice to pass along. LeBron also has praised Ball’s level-headedness and said he liked what he saw in the rookie’s game. Ball had 13 points and 11 assists Thursday to push a Lakers’ team that did not roll over for the Cavaliers, another game where Ball is showing improvement this season. LeBron likely said some variation of what he’s said publicly — “You have the talent kid, just put in the work, honor the game, and ignore the circus around you.”

That will not stop the speculation, rumors, and conspiracy theories. If the political world has proved one thing in the past year or two, it’s that logic and facts will not stop people from believing what they want to believe.

The “LeBron will come to the Lakers” rumors run so rampant that the man himself skipped talking to the media after shootaround or before the game Thursday just to avoid the ridiculousness. The rumors persist despite reports that call it a “longshot.” They persist despite logic — LeBron (and his agent Rich Paul) have made it clear that winning and chasing more rings will be the priorities in deciding where LeBron plays next season, and even if the Lakers could land LeBron and Paul George they are the third best team in the West right now. “But he bought a new home in Brentwood! He’s coming!” Ugh. One thing is for sure: LeBron is not basing his decision based on anything he saw in a December regular season game.

Still, the postgame conversation was fuel for the conspiracy theorists. Whatever. At least some on Twitter just had fun with it.

2) Kristaps Porzingis leaves Knicks game after tweaking knee, to be examined Friday. The scariest injuries are non-contact ones, so when the Knicks’ star forward Kristaps Porzingis went to the locker room Thursday night with one Knicks’ nation held its breath.

The good news after the game is that Porzingis was standing on his leg without a brace or crutch. Both he and coach Jeff Hornacek said it was not serious. Porzingis will be examined Friday and said he felt a little pain when his knee buckled, so the team is being cautious. Hopefully, this really is nothing, but don’t be shocked if Porzingis is out Saturday when Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder come to Madison Square Garden.

By the way, the Knicks beat the Nets behind 27 points from Courtney Lee.

3) Kevin Durant goes off for 36 points, 11 rebounds in another Warriors’ win.Stephen Curry? We don’t need no stinkin’ Stephen Curry.”

Okay, the Warriors aren’t exactly saying that, but they also are 4-0 without the point guard who was having a monster season but went down with a sprained ankle. The main reason is Kevin Durant. (Well, that and a more focused defense.) Durant went off against the Mavericks, taking control of the offense as he has done since Curry went down, scoring 37 points plus grabbing 11 boards and dishing out 7 assists. The Warriors won comfortably 112-97.

That makes eight straight wins for the Warriors, who statistically are on pace for 67 wins according to Ben Falk’s Cleaning The Glass (if you just extrapolate out the Warriors current record it’s “only” 65 wins).

Bucks’ Mirza Teletovic out with blockages in lungs

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Mirza Teletovic is out because of blockages in his lungs.

The team said Thursday that pulmonary embolisms were discovered in both of Teletovic’s lungs (these are usually blood clots, often which have traveled from the legs). While we lack medical details on Teletovic’s case, this is not unlike what sidelined former Miami Heat player Chris Bosh.

The 32-year-old Teletovic consulted with Bucks team physicians after experiencing unusual fatigue earlier this week.

Following a 10-day rest period, Teletovic will begin a supervised rehabilitation program. The team provided no other for what it considers a long-term injury.

Teletovic has missed the last 16 games, including 10 after arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee on Nov. 21.

In 10 games this season, Teletovic is averaging 7.1 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range. Teletovic has been in the NBA for six seasons.