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Paul George’s message to Pacers’ fans, “we work harder off of cheers than boos”

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The Indiana Pacers are 22-22 and on a three-game losing streak. The team’s defense has fallen from elite in past years to middle of the pack, and the pedestrian offense can’t overcome that. Jeff Teague‘s transition has been anything but smooth. Maybe the biggest issue is consistency — there are nights the Teague/Paul George/Myles Turner combo look like an offensive juggernaut, and nights they have the cohesion of a YMCA pickup game (way too much isolation). The defense likewise varies game to game. If the team gets on a little run of success, they seem to relax and let up.

It’s frustrated fans who thought this team could have home court in the first round of the playoffs, not be fighting to stay in it.

Monday night during a home loss plenty of fans booed. Paul George tried to respond to that speaking to the Indianapolis Star‘s Jim Ayello:

“They pay their money, their hard-earned money to watch us play. They got the right to do whatever they want,” George said after practice Tuesday. “It doesn’t hurt me. It doesn’t hurt my feelings. Just know we work harder off of cheers than boos…

“Obviously, I get it,” he said. “The team’s not performing, and we’re not playing well. (But) it’s not like we’re out there not giving our all. We want to win just as much as the fans want us to win.

“It doesn’t help — booing us. We want to come out and play hard. We want to play hard for them. It’s not like we’re just out there to be there. I get it, though. They expect us to be at a high level. I get it. I don’t think booing is the solution.”

Maybe, but the Pacers need to give those fans reason to cheer about. Then do it consistently.

Kevin Hart liked what he saw from suddenly-hot Sixers (VIDEO)

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Kevin Hart was sitting courtside for the hottest ticket in Philly right now — the Sixers. He can afford those seats (but probably didn’t have to pay for them, the perks of being Kevin Hart).

And he seemed impressed — he got to watch the Sixers come from 19 back to knock off the shorthanded Clippers.

And, like the rest of us, Hart likes what he has seen from Joel Embiid (who was not playing Tuesday).

Three things we learned Tuesday: Boston’s defense is its funeral, not Wizards

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Here’s what you missed around the NBA Tuesday night while trying to find cheaper parking than a $74,000 space….

1) Washington wants to credit the all-black funeral attire for the win. Really, it was Boston’s poor defense. Boston and Washington have developed a fun rivalry, one that has gotten chippy in a couple recent meetings. Arriving for Tuesday’s game, the Wizards wore all black — because they were going to the Celtics’ funeral (figuratively not literally).

Then the Wizards went out and handled the Celtics 123-108 behind 31 points from Bradley Beal, while John Wall had 27 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds. Just ask Kelly Olynyk how good Wall was playing.

That’s 14 home wins in a row for the Wizards.

The Celtics were frustrated, to the point that Marcus Smart got into it with an assistant coach on the bench, but after the game apologized (and it was a good one, a genuine apology, not one just written by the PR staff).

That’s three losses in a row, and the reason is Boston’s defense — they are allowing 111.2 points per 100 possessions in January, 26th in the NBA. Their defense hasn’t been good all season (22nd in the league overall) but it has taken a step back the past few weeks. The Celtics are 6-4 in the month because their offense has been improved (fourth best in the NBA for the month) behind the surging Isaiah Thomas, but their poor defense is starting to catch up with them. There are a number of factors in the Celtics’ defensive decline, but the undersized Thomas is a big part of it — in January, the Celtics defense is 15 points per 100 possessions worse when he is on the court (to be fair, the offense is 17.4 per 100 better when he plays, so Brad Stevens is going to play him). The Celtics defense is particularly getting exposed in the fourth quarter and, according to Synergy, when teams go to isolation sets — Boston has man defenders that can be exploited.

The Celtics remain the three seed in the East, just 1.5 games back of the Raptors for the two seed, but if Boston has playoff dreams beyond the first round they have to sure up their defense. Quickly.

2) Andrew Wiggins with the game winner and Minnesota has a win streak. The young and improving Timberwolves have won three in a row. Sure, those wins were against an injury-ravaged Clippers team, the Nuggets, and the Suns, but the Timberwolves will take it. Tuesday’s win came thanks to Andrew Wiggins, he had 31 points including the game winner as the clock ran out — a good shot where he played through the contact of a good defender in P.J. Tucker and got to his spot on the floor.

If Timberwolves fans want to dream big, their team is just 2.5 games back of the Nuggets for the eighth seed, although Minnesota would have to leap three other teams (Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento) to “win” the final playoff spot in the West (Denver has the spot now and is six games below .500, and remember the reward for getting that spot is Golden State). Minnesota has improved as the season has gone on — the young team is making fewer mistakes — and they are 6-6 so far in January. This team isn’t coming together as fast as predicted, there are still roster questions (starting at point guard), but they are improving. And still just loaded with talent.

3) Blake Griffin returned for the Clippers, but that couldn’t stop them from blowing a 19-point lead to the Embiid-less Sixers. The good news for the Clippers is Blake Griffin returned to the court after having been out since mid-December with knee surgery. Los Angeles needs him and particularly his playmaking with Chris Paul out – Griffin had a few nice plays where he drew the defense and found teammates for good looks. Los Angeles is much better with him on the court right now.

But that still couldn’t stop Los Angeles from blowing a 19-point lead to Philadelphia. With Joel Embiid sitting out.

The Sixers went on to win by a comfortable 121-110 margin, and Nerlens Noel led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds.

Sixers’ Ben Simmons has clean scan on foot, “recovery progressing as expected”

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There is no timetable for Ben Simmons to step into the Philadelphia lineup, and the Sixers don’t want to put one on him. He’ll play when he plays, but the Sixers are rightfully going to take it slow and think long term with a guy coming off a Jones fracture in his foot.

That said, we could see him next month after the All-Star break. Maybe it will be March. But he seems to be on course to return this season.

Philly has won seven of their last 10, Joel Embiid looks like a franchise cornerstone, and after his impressive Summer League everyone wants to see what Simmons and Embiid look like together. Including coach Brett Brown. We’re impatient.

The Sixers are not. Nor should they be. We can see how they are handling things with Embiid still being on a minutes restriction and not playing back-to-backs — Philly is thinking about the team it could have in three or four years, not the one it has in March. Philly is not a playoff team this season, no need to push things.

However, with this latest clean bill of health, it looks promising Simmons will play this season.

Dwyane Wade says rest of Bulls season will influence his decision on player option

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When Dwyane Wade left Miami — the only team he had ever played for, the one where he won three titles — to come home to Chicago, he wasn’t thinking of being one-and-done. Already in his mid-thirties (35 as you read this), he was looking to finish his career as a Bull, however long that may be.

But Wade left himself an out, signing a two-year, $47 million deal with a player option for the second year.

With the Bulls 22-23 and barely clinging to the final playoff spot in the East, would Wade consider opting out and testing the free agent waters again? He told Nick Friedell of ESPN that how this season plays out will have a significant impact on his decision.

“I wouldn’t lie to you and say no (this season won’t impact his decision),” Wade said. “Of course. I can’t play this game forever. I just turned 35 and I have a number in my head how long I want to play. At the end of the day you want to be in a situation where it’s a competitor situation, whatever the case may be. It’s tough in this league as well because a lot of that also depends on how much money you’re willing to make. It depends on what city you’re willing to be in. So it’s a lot of variables to that, but no question about it, what happens throughout this year, as I go into my summer, I’ll definitely take a look at it. I take my career seriously and where I am and where I want to be. And I will do the same thing this summer.”

Come this summer, both Wade and the Bulls have decisions to make.

For the Bulls, in the wake of the Rajon Rondo signing that hasn’t panned out, they need to decide what kind of team they are trying to build around Jimmy Butler. Fred Hoiberg was handpicked by management because of his modern offense — spacing, shooting, ball movement — then that same front office goes out and gets Wade and Rondo, two guys opponents will let take jumpers all day. Is Nikola Mirotic part of that future? Bobby Portis? The Bulls need a long-term vision, but if they keep Wade at his current price then it likely is more stop-gap measures. Just hopefully ones that can shoot the three.

For Wade, he has to ask what he wants out of his final few years in the league. Chicago is not a contender and will not be for a few years at least. Does Wade want to stay in his hometown and be part of what is being built around Butler? Or, does he want to take less money to chase another ring with a contender? At this point in his career, what matters most to him.

My guess is Wade is back with the Bulls next season, whether he opts in or signs a new deal. And the Bulls will make more stop-gap moves. That’s what history suggests.