Dan Feldman

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Report: Nikola Mirotic upset Bobby Portis returning to play before him

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Nikola Mirotic was reportedly unhappy the Bulls allowed Bobby Portis to practice during a team-issued eight-game suspension for punching Mirotic in the face.

Mirotic darn sure isn’t happy Portis is returning to play while Mirotic still recovers from the punch that hospitalized him.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Meanwhile, though he is free of his concussion symptoms, Nikola Mirotic remains weeks away from returning from the two facial fractures that Portis caused with a punch to the face during an Oct. 17 altercation between the forwards in practice. Mirotic remains upset enough over the disparity in time of absences that he has had little contact with teammates, and his camp has made clear to management that, for now, it doesn’t see a way the two forwards can coexist.

While suspending Portis, the Bulls said Mirotic deserved blame for the fight, too. What did Mirotic expect would happen once Portis served his eight games?

Maybe Portis should have received a different penalty initially. Perhaps, his ban should have lasted as long as Mirotic is out. But that train has long left the station.

Portis paid his issued penalty. He should be allowed to play.

This situation will only get trickier as Mirotic gets healthier, though. Mirotic reportedly gave Chicago a me-or-him ultimatum. If Mirotic was already upset, seeing Portis on the court probably won’t relieve tension.

Giannis Antetokounmpo going inside to lift Bucks higher

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DETROIT – Giannis Antetokounmpo expected to be a 3-and-D player when he came to the NBA. Though outside shooting is now known as his weakness, he attempted 28% of his shots from beyond the arc as a rookie.

Then, the Bucks hired Jason Kidd.

“Coach Kidd came and told me to not shoot,” Antetokounmpo said. “He did. He told me to not shoot. ‘If you shoot, I’ll take you out.'”

In his first season under Kidd, Antetokounmpo had his 3-point rate plummet under 6%. Forced to contribute other ways, Antetokounmpo started going inside more. The next year, he became a more involved passer. In his fourth season, he won Most Improved Player.

Now, Antetokounmpo is bursting out (again) with a game unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

Antetokounmpo is the poster child for futuristic position-less basketball. Basketball-Reference lists his position as “Shooting Guard and Power Forward and Point Guard and Small Forward.” The only traditional position missing: center.

Yet – despite being listed at 6-foot-11, 222 pounds – the slender Antetokounmpo is scoring inside like an old-school center. He’s averaging 19.6 points in the paint per game. Here’s the leaderboard for points in the paint since 1997 (as far back as NBA.com records go):

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Antetokounmpo is a terror in transition – quick with long strides. He gets to the rim faster than Shaq ever did, but the Milwaukee star still spends more than his fair share of time bumping with behemoths inside. His footwork has advanced, and his length is a weapon for getting off shots from atypical angles.

“He goes and gets to his strength no matter what his opponent is trying to do,” Kidd said. “He understands what he has to do. And he’s been the one that has hit first.”

Antetokounmpo didn’t realize how physically taxing this style would be, but as usual, he’s listening to his coach.

“It’s hard,” Antetokounmpo said. “It gets harder every night, because every night, they bump you, they hit you. But that’s what I do. I’ve got to keep doing it.”

Burlier players Dwight Howard, Karl-Anthony Towns, Al Jefferson and Amar’e Stoudemire are the only others besides Shaq to record more than even 14 points per game in the paint over a full season. (LeBron James and Anthony Davis are also on pace this season).

Antetokounmpo separates himself with his passing ability. Double-team him, and he has the vision to swing the ball to an open teammate. The Bucks have become accustomed to making the next play – not just an open jumper, but a drive or pass – against a scrambled defense.

Now, they just traded for Eric Bledsoe, who should only help – both when Antetokounmpo plays and when he rests. Milwaukee plays at a 43-win pace with Antetokounmpo on the floor and an 8-win pace without him. If Bledsoe boosts that latter mark, it’d go a long way toward the Bucks (4-5) making the playoffs and Antetokounmpo winning MVP.

Antetokounmpo has put himself firmly in the conversation. His 31.0 points per game lead the league, and his 9.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.4 blocks are eye-popping. His combination of load (34.1% usage) and efficiency (64.3% true shooting) is unprecedented.

He might even be the MVP front-runner. If he maintains these incredible marks – not to be assumed, given we’re dealing with a small sample size early – he might just need the Bucks to win enough to claim the award.

Antetokounmpo is also in the running for another honor: Most Improved Player.

Even after winning last year, Antetokounmpo has vaulted his play to another level. Though his all-around game deserves plaudits, many postseason honors become one-dimensional – and Antetokounmpo has that dimension covered. His scoring average has increased by 8.1 (from 22.9 to 31.0), one of the biggest improvements in the league:

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Most Improved Player winners have never placed higher than 12th in a future season (1990 winner Rony Seikaly in 1997 with a single vote). Though he’s a longshot to win with Kristaps Porzingis looking like the early favorite, Antetokounmpo has a chance to best Seikaly’s finish.

That’d be nice recognition for someone who has put in so much work to get stronger, smarter and more skilled. Though still thin, Antetokounmpo never could’ve handled playing in the paint so much as the beanpole who entered the NBA. His ability to read defenses has taken his passing ability from a nice tool to a feared weapon. He has also improved his free-throw and jump shooting, keeping defenses honest.

Yes, his hands are huge. Yes, his strides are unbelievably long. Yes, his natural fluidity is downright unfair.

But his nickname – Greek Freak – sells him short. Antetokounmpo earned this.

Of course, any implied slight, intentional or not, from his nickname doesn’t bother him. He shakes it off like a defender in the paint.

“A lot of it could be called freakish, the things I do on the court. I might take a dribble from the halfcourt and finish and stuff like that,” Antetokounmpo said. “But, at the end of the day, I know I’m a smart player.”

Here are reported protections of first-rounder in Eric Bledsoe trade

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The Bucks made the playoffs in 2013 – then fell to an NBA-worst 15-67 the following year.

They rebounded to make the playoffs in 2015 – then stumbled to a disappointing 33-49 the following year.

They returned to the playoffs in 2017 – and are an underwhelming 4-5 this year.

So, of course this up-and-down franchise included incredibly complicated protections on the first-round pick it traded to the Suns for Eric Bledsoe.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Bucks are currently tied for the NBA’s ninth-worst record. They should improve, especially with Bledsoe, but there’s a wide range where they could land. They could easily pick above or below the 11-16 range.

It could be quite the saga watching when this pick conveys – and when Milwaukee and Phoenix each want it to happen.

Report: Lamar Odom ‘spiraling,’ ‘out of control’

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About two years after beating a life-threatening overdose, Lamar Odom collapsed in a nightclub. His rep pinned the collapse on dehydration following a workout and said Odom was doing great.

But not everyone is telling the same story.

Alexia Fernandez of People:

A source close to Lamar tells PEOPLE, “Lamar is spiraling again. He’s out of control.”

The source continued, saying, “He was better this spring but things got worse over the summer and everyone is worried things are going to get even worse and they’re scared for him.”

Addiction is a difficult thing. Hopefully, if Odom can pull through this.

LeBron James misses shootaround for ‘personal issue’

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LeBron James caused a stir when he posted the Arthur fist meme shortly after Kyrie Irving led the Celtics to a win:

Mood…

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

The Cavaliers star followed up this morning with a far more positive tweet:

Now, more vague LeBron news…

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

LeBron James was excused from the Cavaliers’ morning shootaround Tuesday to attend to a “personal issue,” a team spokesman said, but will play against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The same team spokesman said guard Iman Shumpert is “probable” to return from a right knee injury that has kept him out for a week.

Players occasionally miss shootarounds and practices for personal issues. It’s rarely a big deal. This is being treated as more only because it involves LeBron, and there’s already an air of mystery surrounding him.

Perhaps, his Instagram post was about the personal issue, not basketball? As always, read into vague social-media postings at your own peril.

At least Cleveland gets Shumpert back. He can only help.