Kurt Helin

3rd Annual Bikini Ball

Metta World Peace signs to play in Italy

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When last we saw Metta World Peace he had changed his name to The Panda Friend and was headed to play in China. He played in 15 games for the Sichuan Blue Whales, averaging 19 points and six boards, which was enough to get him a CBA All-Star Game invite.

But now he is off to Italy.

The Chinese season ends early (some guys may try to sign in the NBA) but with no such offers World Peace is taking is talents to Italy. Cantu, to be specific.

That team has a former couple NBA guys, Darius Johnson-Odom and DeQuan Jones. But that’s not what World Peace was talking about on twitter, he was having fun with the name.

Those puns are never going to get old.

No word on if another name change is in the works.

Despite what Larry Bird says, coach Frank Vogel says Paul George “not ready” to play

Indiana Pacers v Cleveland Cavaliers
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“I think he has to go through a series of tests this week, just like we’ve always been doing to see where he’s at. I think he’s cleared by the doctors to play, but obviously he’s not in shape. Just because he’s cleared to play, doesn’t mean he’s in shape to play. And I don’t want Paul to go out there until he feels comfortable with his conditioning and the way he’s practicing.”

That was Pacers’ president Larry Bird speaking Monday about the potential return of Paul George to the Pacers’ rotation. Bird said he expects George to play this season.

Before the Pacers’ latest loss that night, coach Frank Vogel was not nearly as optimistic about a return, as reported by Candace Buckner of the Indy Star.

Later, Vogel offered the opposite: “There’s a lot of layers to that, so he hasn’t been cleared to play for us.”

Vogel, who has had to face daily questions about a possible return more than the player and the president, repeated that George was cleared to practice. When told that Bird mentioned the clearance was to play, which would be a dramatic difference, Vogel replied: “Well, that’s what Larry said.”

“Like I said,” Vogel continued, “there’s a lot of layers to it. He’s not ready. He hasn’t reached our level of what we feel he’s ready to play.”

The discrepancy may just be a matter of semantics between Bird and Vogel. George has been cleared to practice, but that is different than having gone through contact practices pain-free and being in shape to return. George is somewhere on that spectrum.

But the Pacers look like a team in need of a savior. Or at least a jolt.

Monday night the Pacers fell to the Rockets when they were unable to contain James Harden, Indy’s sixth loss in a row. While a lot of teams struggle with the aggressive nature of Harden’s game, Indiana’s defense has been a mess of late, allowing 111.6 points per 100 possessions in those six losses (which is the worst in the NBA in that stretch and worse than any NBA team’s season numbers). Roy Hibbert says the Pacers are taking the easy way out on defense, but whatever is going on it’s not been pretty.

Indiana has fallen from a team that looked like a playoff lock to one a game back of eight-seed Boston with some work to do. George — at least a healthy George — would be a big help with that. That said, the Pacers invested a lot of money in George’s new contract, and they need to take the big-picture view here — a grand push for the eight seed is not as important as being whole in future years.

The reality? The return is up to George and when he’s physically and mentally ready. No matter what Vogel or Bird or anyone else says.

Five Things We Learned in NBA Monday: Remember Golden State is great defensive team

Washington Wizards v Golden State Warriors
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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while finding hundred-year-old baseball cards in your family Bible.…

1) Golden State shows off league-best defense in win. There are people who tend to gloss over that Golden State has the best defense in the NBA — the Warriors allow 97.4 points per 100 possessions on the season, two points better than the second-place Bucks. That defense was on full display Monday. Washington shot just 33.3 percent against the Warriors and were 1-of-18 shooting in the third quarter when Golden State took control of the game with a 22-2 run on their way to a 30-point win. The combination of Andrew Bogut up front and Draymond Green just blanketed the Wizards. Golden State breaks convention, they switch almost every pick-and-roll, which should create mismatches but Stephen Curry has stepped up on that end of the floor, and that showed Monday as well. To be fair, the Wizards also just missed shots — 44.4 percent of their shots were uncontested, they still shot just 33 percent on those. Still, this smothering defense is why the Warriors are legitimate title contenders. That and they can play a little offense, too.

2) James Harden drops another 44 and Rockets get another win. Add Monday night’s numbers to the James Harden for MVP file: He scored 44 points on 10-of-21 shooting, he got to the free throw line 22 times, and he dished out seven assists. Most importantly Houston picked up another win, 110-100 over Indiana, and the fact they remain on track to be home for at least the first round of the playoffs while being without Dwight Howard (who will be back sooner rather than later) may be Harden’s best MVP pitch.

3) Chicago gets Jimmy Butler back, but it was the Nicola Mirotic show. The Bulls needed the return of Jimmy Butler, who had been out since March 1 with an elbow injury.However, he brought back the expected amount of rust (6-of-20 shooting). This is where rookie Nicola Mirotic took over — he had 28 points, 14 in the fourth quarter, to lift the Bulls past the Hornets. Mirotic was scoring at the rim but was also 4-of-6 in the midrange. The Bulls also got 27 from Pau Gasol in a win that tied the Bulls with the Raptors for the coveted three seed out East.

4) Boston moves back into eight seed thanks to triple-double from Evan Turner. With the Hornets losing to Chicago, the Celtics had a chance to move back into the eight seed in a key game vs. Brooklyn (who also has eyes on a playoff spot). Of course, that  meant it was time for the Evan Turner show. No, seriously it was. He had 19 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.  Turner can be up and down, but he picked a good time to be up.  Combine that with Brooklyn’s 1-of-17 shooting stretch and Boston gets a win.

5) Deron Williams still has a few moves left. The Nets lost, and their playoff chances dimmed, but Deron Williams broke out a pretty sweet double crossover that is worth passing along.

Nikola Mirotic throws down dunk on Jason Maxiell (VIDEO)

Nikola Mirotic, Marvin Williams
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Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic — the guy coming in second in the Rookie of the Year voting after the season — is known more as a floor spacing big who can knock down threes.

But he can dunk, too. Just as Jason Maxiell of the Hornets.

Mirotic had 14 points in the fourth quarter to help the Bulls hold off the Hornets and win 98-86 on the night Jimmy Butler returned to the Chicago lineup. The win tied Chicago with Toronto for the three seed in the East. Getting that three seed will mean an easier first round matchup, the Bulls are getting healthy at the right time to chase that seriously.

Bulls’ leading scorer Jimmy Butler could to return to lineup Monday

Los Angeles Lakers vs Chicago Bulls
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After missing three weeks with an elbow injury, Jimmy Butler could play for the Bulls Monday night vs. Charlotte.

Of course, the Bulls and coach Tom Thibodeau are putting all kinds of qualifiers on that in the run-up to the game, saying he is questionable. That said, he’s seemed close to playing all day. Here is Thibodeau at shootaround, via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com.

“We’ll see when he warms up tonight,” Thibodeau said. “But it looks like it could be a go.”

Later he would warm up and play unless there was a setback.

Joakim Noah is out for the Bulls Monday with “general soreness.”

Butler is going to play. For the first time since March 1, when he injured his elbow trying to get around a screen against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Butler’s return comes just as the Bulls are trying to overtake Toronto for the third seed in the East (Chicago is half a game back). Butler is the Bulls leading scorer at 20.2 points a game, plus he is their best perimeter defender.

“He’s probably our best two-way player,” Thibodeau said. “Anytime you get a guy like that back, it helps in all areas. It adds to the depth. It’s good.”

 

The Bulls got Taj Gibson back from injury last week and now Butler this week.  Once Derrick Rose returns — there still is no official word on when that happens — the Bulls should have their regular rotation back for the playoffs.

How far that can take them remains to be seen, but it’s all got to start with health in Chicago, so this is key.