Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Three things we learned Tuesday: In Chicago, Thibodeau’s Minnesota team shows tenacity. Finally.


We know you couldn’t watch all of the NBA’s Tuesday night lineup because you were focused on what a man’s face looks like in super slo-mo when getting hit by a ball. We’ve got you covered, here are the takeaways from Tuesday.

1) In Chicago, Thibodeau’s Timberwolves show tenacity, maturity. Get win. We clearly expected too much, too soon from the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s easy to look at their roster on paper, to watch all that young talent in a game — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, etc.— and see the potential for greatness. We all thought that the addition of coach Tom Thibodeau would bring to that talent the intangibles we saw in his Bulls teams — we’d see tenacity. Instead, we’ve seen a Minnesota team that plays an immature game, that doesn’t show the determination, the grit to defend every play every night. We’ve seen ego. We’ve seen Thibodeau not been able to reach all this talent and teach the young stars the other things it takes to win in the NBA. We haven’t seen grit and tenacity.

Until Thibodeau brought them home to Chicago Tuesday. The Bulls blitzed the Timberwolves and overwhelmed them early, racing out to a 26-6 lead, at one point being up by 21 points. Chicago put up 38 points in the first quarter.

But they put up just 56 points the rest of the game, never breaking 20 in a quarter and shooting just 33.8 percent overall and 15.4 percent from beyond the arc in the final three quarters. The result was a 99-94 Minnesota win. The Timberwolves team that has rolled over in the face of adversity all season buckled down on defense and was able to stall out a Bulls offense that, when pressed, is unimaginative and relies heavily on isolation. The Bulls do not shoot well from the outside (they did to start the season, but that has faded and they are 29th in the NBA in eFG%), and if you can keep them off the free throw line you can force them into tough shots. Meanwhile, on offense, the athletic Timberwolves were making plays.

What matters with the Timberwolves this season is progress. That hasn’t come as fast as some wanted and expected to see, there will be no playoffs for the team this year, but progress may be coming. Tuesday night was a step. It’s fair to question if Thibodeau and his hard-driving ways are reaching the young core and if they are buying in, or tuning the old man without a life outside basketball out. But maybe it’s all just taking longer than some expected. Maybe Tuesday night we saw a step in the right direction, and while those steps may be wobbly at times ahead maybe there steadily will be other steps to follow. Let’s see where this team is and how they are playing after the All-Star break. The narrative of this team could change.

2) Portland packs paint, blocks shots, finds formula (for a night) to neutralize Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City. This was the Thunder team I feared we would see more of this season: The Westbrook-against-the-world model would run into teams packing the paint to take away his drives, there would be blocked shots and turnovers, and OKC would lack the shooting to make teams pay for that strategy.

With Victor Oladipo out for the Oklahoma City (sprained right wrist), that’s what happened to them in Portland. The Trail Blazers played their best defensive game of the season, they sagged back and packed the key — there always seemed to be three guys in there on Thunder drives — and the result was the Thunder shot 40.4 percent in the paint. The Blazers didn’t pay for that strategy as the Thunder shot 29.6 percent from three (and were 1-of-7 on corner threes). OKC turned the ball over on 19.4 percent of their possessions (big men Domantas Sabonis, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter combined for 11 turnovers between them).

This combined Tuesday night with the fact the weight of this offense seems to be wearing a little on Westbrook — he had 20 points, but it took 19 shots to get there. This is a trend now — in his last 10 games he’s still averaging a triple-double (29 points, 12.4 rebounds, 11.2 assists) but he’s shooting just 39.5 percent overall and 28.6 percent from three. Check out his shot chart from the last 10 Thunder games.

Westbrook shot chart

Oklahoma City has succeeded this season on a combination of a top-10 defense and Westbrook doing it all on offense. It’s gotten them off to a 15-10 start. But Tuesday night the hot shooting that Portland can bring undid the defense (particularly the OKC bench units), and the loss for the Thunder points to bigger questions: Can they maintain that pace? Can Westbrook?

3) Fightin’ Kristaps Porzingis puts up 34, but that’s not enough for Knicks. Phoenix beat New York 113-111 in overtime Tuesday night, a nice home win for a Suns team that has had its share of struggles this season.

But that’s not what everyone is talking about. Knicks’ fan favorite (and New York’s best player) Kristaps Porzingis put up 34 points and showed a lot of fight Tuesday. Almost literally after Suns’ rookie Marquese Chriss threw KP to the ground.

Porzingis had a monster night, and if he doesn’t foul out maybe overtime looks a little different.

Orlando Magic CEO believes team will win a title. By 2030.

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The Orlando Sentinel was taking a look ahead at what the revitalized downtown of that city may look like in 2030. At the heart of that revitalization is the Amway Center, the building the Magic call home.

Tied to that story, the Sentinel spoke to Magic CEO Alex Martins — and he’s optimistic about the team’s future. Eventually.

“I certainly believe by 2030 we will have won at least one championship,” Martins said. “And I say ‘at least.’ I firmly believe we’re going to get there and once you get there, you got the kind of team that hopefully can come back.

“I believe we will have won a championship.”

I think we can safely rule out 2017. Probably 2018, too.

However, projecting more than few years out in the NBA is difficult — the landscape can shift quickly. The Magic roster is going to see some changes over the next few years as players they had banked on to be part of the future slide out of the plans. (Elfrid Payton is the best example here, part of the reason Scott Skiles left as coach was a disagreement with management about how much Payton should play, but new coach Frank Vogel had the leverage and already has him and Nikola Vucevic coming off the bench.)

Orlando is a destination players like, particularly veterans with families — no state taxes, safe neighborhoods, warm weather, etc. If the Magic can build a strong foundation of young talented players, they may be able to land a star to put them over the top. This franchise had success before (they reached the 2009 NBA Finals). Over the course of 14 years, anything can happen.

Just don’t bet on it coming in the next few years.

(Hat tip, Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie)

Cavaliers announce plans for $140 million renovation of arena

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Cavaliers have announced plans for a $140 million project to renovate Quicken Loans Arena, their downtown home since 1994.

The defending NBA champions and Cuyahoga (ky-uh-HOH’-guh) County officials believe the arena needs an exterior face-lift and massive interior upgrades to better accommodate fans and attract future events. The Q currently hosts 200-plus events annually.

The team and taxpayers would split the cost without any increase in taxes. The Q would remain open during construction, which would begin in 2017 and take approximately two years.

As part of the reconstruction, the building would be modernized with a glass front and public gathering spaces would be added.

The Cavs are extending their lease with The Q by seven years to 2034. Once the project is complete, the NBA has agreed to allow Cleveland to be a host city for the All-Star week in the near future.

Reports: Licensing issue not going to hold up new CBA for long

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It was expected we would have already had press conferences, the players and owners would be voting, and by now we’d have a new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement in place — labor peace would come to the NBA in time for Christmas.

Except, the talks hit a snag. The players want a little more control over licensing — particularly over player likenesses, such as is used in video games — and by control what we mean is a larger slice of the pie.

This snag is not serious, however, according to both Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, and Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press.

It should be noted that the NBA’s licensing deal is a separate one from the CBA. However, money from that deal does flow to the players.

This could be a smart move by the players. They agreed to continue the current split of “Basketball Related Income” — the players get 49-51 percent of all basketball revenue each year — but if they can get more control of, and more money from, licensing of their images, that can help make up for money they saw as lost in the last CBA negotiations.

The bottom line is we may have a new CBA by Christmas, but even if that is not the case the NBA is not headed toward another lockout.

PBT Extra: Westbrook, Harden top Twitter poll for MVP so far


Picking the NBA MVP race before Christmas — in reality, before the All-Star break — is a lot like judging a horse race on the backstretch: Some players have put themselves in good positions to make a run at the award, but there is far too much race left to declare a winner.

However, if the vote were held today, Russell Westbrook would almost certainly win — he’s averaging 31.1 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 11 assists a game. A nightly triple-double. James Harden would be second. Which is exactly the results we got in a Twitter poll asking that question, 62 percent picked Westbrook, 23 percent chose Harden. And that’s what I discuss in the latest PBT Extra.

After that the race opens up a bit. I had Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard in the other spots on that poll, and I got plenty of people telling me LeBron James should have been in that mix instead (KD came in last, but he’s been so effective and efficient this year I’d have him third). Frankly, Anthony Davis and Chris Paul deserve some consideration, too.

Any of them could still win the award, there is still more than two-thirds of the season left to play. However, if Westbrook can keep up this pace he’s going to be hard to catch.