Bulls make it clear — right now they are better than Celtics

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If Chicago and Boston meet in the playoffs, it will be in the second half of May. Conference finals time. Things can change and evolve in a month.

But right now Chicago is the better team.

Clearly. And they enter the playoffs with a lot of confidence.

It wasn’t just that they beat Boston Thursday night 97-81, it was how. (See the highlights here.)The Bulls were the more active and physical team on defense. They were the better three point shooting team (Boston just 2-10 as the Bulls chased them off the arc, Chicago was 9-22). Boston’s defense had no answer for Derrick Rose (30 points on just 16 shots), and his slashing led to Boston getting more points in the paint, too.

The Bulls dominated the game.

Chicago put up 14 more points per 100 possessions than Boston normally allows. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau finds an offensive mismatch and he will beat it into the ground. It’s things like Carlos Boozer not having a great night (14 points on 16 shots) but Chicago recognizing that when Jeff Green was on Carlos Boozer the smaller Green could not contain him, so the Bulls fed the ball to Boozer until Boston adjusted.

Virtually everyone on Rose is a mismatch, and Boston could not protect the rim against him. And that is where the Kendrick Perkins question is — Boston fans were tweeting it all game.

Just to add fuel to that fire, Chicago’s Brian Scalabrine said before the game to CSN Chicago that no Perkins made the Bulls more confident.

“For us, Perkins was an intimidating factor at the rim,” Scalabrine told Comcast SportsNet prior to tonight’s game. “Kevin (Garnett) and Perkins out there, that’s a big deal.”

Perkins might well have helped some, but what the Celtics really needed was a scoring threat in the post and Perkins would not have provided that. They needed Shaquille O’Neal, who changes that equation because he can score thereby by pulling in defenses so Ray Allen and others can get better looks at threes. Shaq can still do that even at this stage of his career.

Rose certainly won the point guard battle against Rondo, as the Celtics center had just 7 points. But that was as much or more about Rondo taking himself out than what Rose did. Things Rondo can normally succeed at fell short.

Boston also needed transition points on the Bulls. Both of these teams can be too good defensively if you let them set. But the Celtics walked it up all night. Chicago was there waiting.

The game means Chicago is just one win (or one Boston loss) away from securing the top seed in the East. That is a done deal. The loss also ties Boston with Miami and sets up a huge showdown Sunday with the second seed in the East almost on the line.

As for Thursday night, it was not just one thing. It was a lot of things and the Bulls won pretty much every one that mattered. They were the better team by far.

And if these two team meet again in a month Boston is going to have to make some strides if they are going to compete.

James Harden reiterates it was “false talk” he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.

Report: R.C. Buford moving on from Spurs GM role, Brian Wright taking over

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For 15 years, through championships and an unparalleled run of playoff berths and success, R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich seemed to work as one brain. Popovich was the coach but also team president, Buford the GM, and together they built an NBA powerhouse.

Buford is moving on from that role. Or, more precisely moving up into a new management role, and assistant GM Brian Wright is taking over as GM, reports Jabari Young of The Athletic.

After a little more than 15 years serving as GM, Buford is getting prepared to bequeath the role to assistant GM Brian Wright, league sources have confirmed to The Athletic. Wright will report directly to Buford, who will officially get a new title that some around the NBA believe will be a role helping to oversee Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

When the Spurs initially hired Wright in 2016, he stayed behind the scenes and focused mainly on scouting. But sources have informed The Athletic over the last year Wright has been more involved, even fielding calls and packages for the trade of Kawhi Leonard the previous summer.

Wright came to the Spurs from the Pistons a couple of years ago. That said, don’t expect a big change in how things are done in the Spurs front office. For one thing, Popovich is still there. Also, Wright has an excellent reputation around the league as being smart and a straight shooter. On top of all of that, Buford will remain his ultimate boss, although Buford’s role will change into one of more of a business manager for Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

Young hints there could be more changes coming. Obviously, the biggest would be when Popovich decides to step back in his dual roles as coach and president, but there could be shifts in the assistant GM ranks as well.

Just don’t expect the Spurs to stop being the Spurs.