Kurt Helin

Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook

Five Takeaways from an NBA Thursday: Bulls pass first big test of season

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Usually, Thursday night around the NBA means two or three games, but there were a full five on the docket this week making it a full night. If you were too busy drawing cards to see who would be mayor and didn’t catch the games, here are five things to take away from a Thursday night in the NBA:

1) The Bulls had their first test of will of the Fred Hoiberg era on Thursday, and they passed with flying colors. After a 130-105 shellacking at the hands of the Hornets in Charlotte on Tuesday, the Bulls needed a win to prove they were capable of bouncing back from adversity. They were given an opportunity on a big stage against the Thunder on TNT, and they responded with a 104-98 win to remain undefeated at home.

“We knew coming in they were pretty hot,” Derrick Rose said after the game. “They lost their last two games, and we knew that they wanted this win. When you’re playing against a great offensive team like that, if you’re not playing any defense, they’ll smoke you with the way that they run, the freedom that they have, and just the talent that they have. So we just tried to put bodies in front of them and make it tough.”

Hoiberg made his first starting-lineup shift of the season on Thursday, moving Doug McDermott into the starting unit in place of Tony Snell. That adjustment itself didn’t matter much, but the Bulls played their most balanced game of the season. Rose and Jimmy Butler combined for 55 points, and Joakim Noah looked as good physically as he’s looked all season in 26 minutes.

“We competed really hard,” Noah said. “It was definitely an important win just because of the way we played the other night. We showed good character.”

More importantly, Rose conducted his postgame media session wearing a shirt featuring a much-memed photo of his son, P.J., from last playoffs:

—From Sean Highkin in Chicago

2) Can Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get a little help here? Oklahoma City has lost three straight, and while it’s far too early to even be locating the panic button, one issue had raised its ugly head — depth. In the loss to the Bulls Thursday, the OKC bench shot 6-of-16 from the floor (37.5 percent), and every bench player was in the negative in +/-. (I hesitate to read too much into single game +/-, but when the entire bench struggles it’s a thing.) There were just 14 minutes when both Durant and Westbrook were not both on the court together Thursday, and OKC was -20 in those minutes. Serge Ibaka is a legit third star on the Thunder, Steven Adams a good defensive center (who had to leave the game early with back issues) but after that things drop off fast. Enes Kanter puts up points (11) but is such a defensive liability he was a -9 in the game, and that’s not a fluke. New coach Billy Donovan has some work to do to find rotations that work and improve the Thunder’s currently 22nd ranked defense — Westbrook and Durant are forces of nature, but they need more help to seriously contend for a title.

3) Dwayne Wade has scored at least 20 points in all four games he’s played this season. Dwyane Wade is looking good. To be fair, he’s looked good the past few years when he gets on the court, the challenge has been keeping his rickety knees on the court for extended periods. There will be rest and maintenance this season. But through four games Wade has scored at least 20 points in each contest (21.5 PPG average), has a very efficient true shooting percentage of .586, a PER of 25.9, is shooting 50 percent on his 2.4 attempts from three a game, and is looking like he has turned back the clock. Thursday night he had 25 as the Heat beat the Timberwolves 96-84 to improve to 3-2 on the season. If Erik Spoelstra can keep him fresh and bring this Wade to the playoffs, Miami is a lot more dangerous.

4) The demise of the Portland Trail Blazers has been greatly exaggerated. I like my crow a la mode. We’re just six games into the young season, but among the predictions I missed this season was I expected Portland to take a huge step back and be one of the worst teams in the West. Instead, they are 4-2 on the young season after a beatdown of Memphis on Thursday night, 115-96. They have done it with the fifth-best offense in the NBA — thanks to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combining for 49.5 points a night and killing it off the pick-and-roll (especially with pull-up jumpers) — and a solid defense. The young front line of Mason Plumlee and Meyers Leonard has been impressive. We’ll see if this team can maintain a playoff-level pace of wins, but they are going to be better than I and a lot of others thought they would be this season. Portland is not gaming for a lottery spot, this is a team that wants to compete.

5) Al Jefferson is alive and well — and dropping 31 points on the Mavericks. Not everything was puppy dogs and rainbows between Al Jefferson and his coach Steve Clifford for Charlotte Thursday night.

Jefferson used his frustrations as fuel and dropped 31 points on 15-of-18 shooting on Dallas, leading Charlotte to a 108-94 win on the road. In vintage Jefferson fashion he was getting close and finishing — he was 8-of-8 inside three feet.

Rudy Gobert shuts down Kenneth Faried dunk attempt (VIDEO)

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Rudy Gobert already has 18 blocked shots through five games this season — he is as good a rim protector as the league has right now. Go inside for a shot at your own peril.

Just ask Denver’s Kenneth Faried. The Manimal went in looking for another power dunk and was sent packing at the rim by Gobert in one of the best blocks of the young season.

Utah went on to win the game 96-84 behind Gordon Hayward‘s 20 points and Gobert’s 16 rebounds.

Rose scores 29 as Bulls beat Thunder 104-98

Derrick Rose, Steven Adams
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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls let the lead slip away. Derrick Rose wouldn’t let the game get away, too.

Rose came up big down the stretch to score 29 points and Jimmy Butler added 26 to lead the Bulls to a 104-98 victory over Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night.

Whether he can consistently play like a superstar still remains in question. But Rose sure looked like his old MVP self as he scored 10 points over the final 3 1-2 minutes to lift the Bulls after they blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“For him to have a game like this, I know this is a huge confidence booster,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Oklahoma City tied it with just over 5 minutes left in the game. But Rose’s performance in the closing minutes helped offset Durant’s 33 points and lifted the Bulls after they got blown out at Charlotte two nights earlier.

Chicago was clinging to a 98-96 lead when Rose buried consecutive jumpers to make it a six-point game with just over a minute remaining.

After Durant hit a jumper, Pau Gasol nailed a sweeping hook with 38.4 seconds left, sealing the win for the Bulls.

Rose, still wearing a face mask after missing almost the entire preseason because of a fractured left orbital, found his rhythm after three straight single-digit scoring games. Butler set a career-high with 21 first-half points and hit four 3-pointers in the game, and the Bulls got back to winning after getting squashed by Charlotte 130-105 on Tuesday night.

“That game was embarrassing a little bit,” Rose said. “Looking at film after it happened, we were frustrated. We felt like we let each other down. After the way we practiced yesterday, we could tell we got that competitive spirit again.”

Russell Westbrook had 20 points and 10 assists for Oklahoma City while Serge Ibaka scored 17. But the Thunder, playing their fourth game in five nights, came up short down the stretch again and dropped their third straight. They blew a late eight-point lead in a 105-98 loss to Toronto on Wednesday night.

“It’s not four games in five nights,” Durant said. “We have to figure it out. We have to figure it out, man. We’ve got to get stops. We have to buckle down and do it.”

BULLS RUN, THUNDER RALLY

The Bulls were leading 78-77 early in the fourth when Joakim Noah threw an alley-oop pass to Taj Gibson. That started a nine-point run and Rose finished it by banking in a jumper to make it 87-77 with 8:51 remaining.

But the Thunder answered with a 13-3 run. Durant threw down a fastbreak dunk and hit two free throws to tie it at 90-all with just over 5 minutes left before Gasol nailed a jumper.

PRAISING NOAH

Given their history together, it was hardly a surprise that Thunder coach Billy Donovan had high praise for Bulls C Noah. After all, Noah was part of back-to-back championship teams when he played for Donovan at Florida.

“Forget the basketball piece of it,” Donovan said. “A lot of people see the floppy hair, the chest-bumping, the passion, but I don’t think people a lot of times get a chance to see him in the locker room. He’s one of the greatest teammates that I’ve ever had a chance to coach.”

TIP-INS

Thunder: Coach Billy Donovan said C Steven Adams tweaked his back. Adams did not play in the fourth quarter.

Bulls: F Doug McDermott scored nine points in his first career start for Chicago. Tony Snell came off the bench. … Butler had scored 17 points in a first half three times.

 

Chris Bosh finishes break with dunk over Gorgui Dieng

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Miami had its way with the young Timberwolves on Thursday. Dwyane Wade couldn’t seem to miss, they picked up the tempo, and they played some solid defense in the paint.

One of the highlights: Chris Bosh finishing in transition over Gorgui Dieng.

Miami won 96-84 behind 25 from Dwyane Wade (who has scored at least 20 in every Miami game this season). Bosh had 16 points and 12 boards.

Pacers honor favorite ‘uncle’ at Mel Daniels’ memorial

Mel Daniels
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Mel Daniels’ former teammates will always remember him as a fighter.

Cindy Simon Skjodt will always treasure his breath-taking bear hugs, and Reggie Miller will always consider Daniels his favorite uncle.

On Thursday, Daniels, the former Indiana Pacers star, was remembered as everything from a tough-talking enforcer to a cowboy-loving poet to a gentle giant who captured the hearts of so many fans in this basketball-rich state. He died Friday at age 71, less than 24 hours after attending Indiana’s home opener against Memphis.

“We started out as a family and that family grew and grew and grew,” former coach Bob “Slick” Leonard said during a public memorial held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I look out and see Jeff Foster, I look out and see Reggie, and I look out and see Derrick McKey and they all became part of that family, and it all started with that original band of buddies.”

Daniels was the unquestioned leader of the group that won three ABA titles.

At 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, he owned the post. The Detroit native who never played the sport until his junior season in high school finished a Hall of Fame career as the ABA’s career leader in rebounds, No. 4 in league history in scoring, with two MVP awards and the 1967-68 Rookie of the Year Award.

He was never afraid to mix it up on the court.

In his first pro game, with the Minnesota Muskies, he got into a fight and was ejected. Another time, later in his career, Daniels was got knocked down in the first half and responded by following the opposing team to its locker room before being detoured to his own.

Teammates were often treated the same way.

“He did not like me in the paint, that was his house,” former Pacers forward Darnell Hillman said. “If you came in his house, you paid a price. I paid a price, too.”

Age didn’t change that.

Foster told a story about the one time he convinced Daniels to ditch the cowboy boots so he could go at it on the court. After dribbling about 20 times, Foster said he started complaining and Daniels turned and immediately hit a shot that sent him sprinting away yelling “yee-hee.” Daniels never let Foster forget that it was the last basket of his career.

Away from the court, though, Daniels had a big heart and plenty of fatherly advice.

Miller recounted the time Daniels told him there were only three places he needed to drive in Indianapolis – Market Square Arena, his own house and the bank to cash his paycheck. Eventually, Miller said, Daniels relented and added one more acceptable place to the list – the drive thru at Steak-N-Shake.

But it was their first encounter in the fall of 1987 that turned Miller, a California kid accustomed to temperatures in the 80s, into a lifelong fan of no-nonsense, baritone-voiced man he called Uncle Mel.

“He looked at me and said, `Son do you know you where you are? It gets cold around here. Where’s your jacket, fool?” Miller said, drawing laughter from a crowd estimated at a little less than 1,000. “I said, `I never had a jacket, what kind of jacket should I have? He said, `Look dummy, one that keeps you warm.’ That was Mel and I said from that moment, `I love this man.”‘

His presence resonated far beyond the locker room, too.

Around town, Daniels was known for his strong handshake, his love of horses and a down-to-earth demeanor who enjoyed mingling with fans.

But there were two things about Daniels that weren’t well-known.

“You’ve read the last few days about his handshake, but his hugs were equally bone-crushing for the ladies,” said Simon Skjodt, the daughter of late team co-owner Mel Simon. “We were always fearful he would squeeze the breath right out of us. But you always wanted one.”

The other was his love of poetry.

Throughout the 90-minute ceremony attended by Daniels’ family members, several of the thousands of poems Daniels scribbled on napkins, the backs of receipts and other assorted papers were read. One that appeared on the video, read by Daniels, was written for Miller as a polite way of prodding him not to come out of retirement.

Not surprisingly, Miller got the message.

But Leonard’s summation was the most fitting.

“I’m going to miss this guy. Like all of us, I’m going to miss him,” he said. “I know how tough he was, I know how committed he was. He would give you the shirt off his back, he had a heart of gold. There’s not much more to be said.”