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Chicago early surprise of playoffs after taking two at Boston

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CHICAGO (AP) — For a team that bickered and barely made the playoffs, the Chicago Bulls are the early surprise of this postseason.

They hold a stunning 2-0 lead over the top-seeded Celtics as the series shifts to Chicago for Game 3 on Friday night.

“The credit through this team sticking together through injuries to put ourselves in position to make the playoffs goes to everyone from the coaching staff to the leaders to the young guys, everyone did it together,” Dwyane Wade said.

The Bulls took a commanding lead in the series with Tuesday’s 111-97 victory, and they come home looking like a strong contender to become just the sixth No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1. None has swept a top seed.

It was hard to see the Bulls in this position. They didn’t clinch a playoff spot until they beat Brooklyn in the final regular-season game. That put Chicago back in the postseason, after missing out a year ago for the first time since 2008.

The trip to the playoffs comes on the heels of a turbulent regular season for a transitioning team.

There was the big trade last summer when the Bulls sent hometown favorite and former MVP Derrick Rose to New York after going 42-40. Chicago also split with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, helping clear the way for young players such as Bobby Portis to get more time.

They brought in Rajon Rondo and then Wade in free agency, moves that seemed to go against the idea of getting younger. And even though they came with a combined four championships, neither veteran filled the team’s biggest need: better shooting.

There was a big flare-up in January when Wade and Butler teed off on the team following a loss. Rondo fired back while defending the younger players, and all three veterans got fined by the organization. Rondo was also suspended for a game by the team earlier in the year, and he was in and out of the rotation this season.

The Bulls sat him for five straight games at one point, but had him start 13 of their final 16 games. In Game 2, he just missed a triple-double with 11 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. Just as important, he helped contain Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics’ dynamic, high-scoring point guard.

“He’s a confident kid and that rubs off on all the other guys,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s been in a lot of these big moments, championship experience and he’s going to continue to lead us as long as we are playing.”

At the moment, everything seems to be going right for the Bulls.

Butler is averaging 26 points through the first two games. The 35-year-old Wade is coming off a 22-point performance in which he scored 16 in the second half. Not bad, considering he missed three weeks late in the year because of a fractured right elbow.

The Bulls have also gotten big contributions from their role players and have pounded the Celtics on the glass, outrebounding them by 22 through the first two games.

Chicago got 19 points and nine rebounds from Portis in the opener. In Game 2, Robin Lopez chipped in with 18 and eight, while Paul Zipser scored 16.

“I’m just trying to shoot it with confidence,” said Lopez, who hit several midrange jumpers. “I’m sure Bobby told you the same thing. Whenever we’re passing the ball we’re told shoot it if you’re open. That makes it easy to shoot the ball. It makes it easy for it to go in.”

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: First-round draft prospect says Phil Jackson fell asleep during his workout

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Like I said, there are better reasons to criticize Phil Jackson than him saying his priority was the Knicks and that he had discussed trading Kristaps Porzingis.

Jay Williams of ESPN:

A top-15 draft pick told me the other day, because we were involved in this out of this conversation about Phil Jackson and the Knicks, and he said, “Phil Jackson was falling in and out of sleep in my workout.”

Yes. “Falling in and out of sleep at my workout.” This is what this guy told me.

Especially given Jackson’s salary and reputation for not being a diligent worker, this story is too good to check out.

O.G. Anunoby invited to NBA draft, Harry Giles declines

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The NBA’s invitations to the draft are a good indicator of when players will get drafted. The league samples executives, who are more likely to be honest here than in leaks to the media, about how they rank players. So, the list is worth monitoring.

The players who will attend tonight’s draft nearly match the leaks – with one exception. O.G. Anunoby is going, and Harry Giles isn’t.

Here are the players who will be at the draft – a reasonable placeholder for the players most likely to get picked in the top 20 – via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England:

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Harry Giles declined his invite sources told DraftExpress.

Did Giles decline his invite because, with his extensive injury history, he feared falling too far? Or did he just prefer to watch elsewhere?

Was Anunoby simply 21st on the NBA’s list of players to invite? Or was the league too unsure of his medical status to include him until getting a stronger grasp now?

I don’t know, but the possibility that Giles could slip or Anunoby is more secure alters my perception of their draft stock (Anunoby up, Giles down).

Report: Knicks’ asking price for Kristaps Porzingis ‘massive’

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What has Phil Jackson actually done? He discussed trading Kristaps Porzingis with other teams and called the Knicks, not Porzingis, his priority. That’s it.

At face value, this is fine. It’s what devoted executives, not always Jackson, should do.

Jackson hasn’t traded Porzingis for meager return. He hasn’t traded Porzingis at all.

Everyone up in arms should take a deep breath.

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

I wouldn’t rule out the Knicks trading Porzingis. The No. 1 pick got traded, after all. I wouldn’t rule out them trading Porzingis for too little return. Look at Jackson’s track record running the front office.

But wait until they do before bashing Jackson for not understanding Porzingis’ value.

There are plenty of better reasons to criticize Jackson, including overseeing the toxic culture that led to Porzingis skipping his exit interview and setting this latest “crisis” into motion. Publicly discussing trading Porzingis won’t endear Jackson to the budding star, but the problem is how it reached this point. Players in sound organizations can handle this. Jackson has engendered little confidence from his players, the distrust existed well before this round of trade talks.

Lonzo Ball recruits LeBron James to Lakers (video)

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Lonzo Ball doesn’t play for the Lakers. LeBron James isn’t a free agent.

But they’re headed that way – and Ball is already embracing it.

The Lakers are expected to draft Ball No. 2 tonight, and rumors are heating up about LeBron leaving the Cavaliers in 2018.

Why should LeBron join Ball in Los Angeles?

Ball on ESPN:

LeBron, I like to win. I know you like to win. I think our games can help each other out a lot. Any time you want the ball, just let me know. It’s going to be there.

Ball was asked to to pitch LeBron, so it’s not as if Ball is out here talking so brashly on his own. But answering the question was a rookie mistake.

Besides, I’m not sure Lonzo Ball can undo the bad blood between LeBron and LaVar Ball.