NBA Playoffs: After two moral victories, Pacers search for actual victory

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The Indiana Pacers put up a much tougher fight against the Bulls than anybody thought they would in the first two games of their playoff series, even though they lost both games. Like the old Simpsons quote goes: in a way, both teams were winners; but in a more accurate way, the Bulls were the winners. Now the Pacers will have to win on Thursday or face a 3-0 series deficit, which no NBA team has ever come back from.

In order to avoid that scenario, the Pacers will have to shoot the ball the way they did in game one and contain Derrick Rose the way they did in Game 2. In Game 1, the Pacers gave the Bulls a scare by shooting a blistering 23-48 (48%) on their long two-point jumpers and three-point shots, while the Bulls only shot 10-33 from those areas. In Game 2, the Bulls’ outside shooting didn’t turn around, but the Pacers went cold as well, only shooting 16-43 on threes and deep twos. It’s not easy to make outside shots against the league’s best defense, but it’s something the Pacers will need to do if they want to have a chance in Game 3. If Darren Collison, who is currently listed as a “game-time decision” plays, it will make things much easier for the Pacers, as his combination of blinding quickness and a quality three-point stroke makes it easy for him to harass teams from the perimeter.

The Pacers did manage to contain Derrick Rose much better in Game 2 than they did in Game 1 — Rose still got his points, but he had to work much harder for them than he did in the first game, when he couldn’t buy a jump shot but was able to get into the paint whenever he wanted to. The Bulls’ supporting cast has yet to really show up offensively in this series, so if the Pacers can make their shots and keep Rose from getting whatever he wants whenever he wants it, they can take this game. If the Pacers stay cold from the outside, let Rose go off, or allow the Bulls’ supporting cast get into a groove, they will be in major trouble. It won’t be easy for the Pacers to even up this series, but that’s what a 37-win team should expect when facing off against the team with the best record in the NBA.

DeMarcus Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior is a monster jam

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LOS ANGELES — DeMarcus Cousins sure looked his hops are back on this throw down.

Cousins started for the Warriors Friday night after missing almost a full year with a torn Achilles, and on the Warriors first possession they fed him the rock in the post. Cousins faced up on Marcin Gortat, drove baseline with a nice first step, but got caught under the basket and couldn’t power it up through the Clipper big, getting his shot blocked.

Nobody was blocking his next shot.

It was a side pick-and-roll where Gortat had to cut off Durant’s drive, but Danilo Gallinari didn’t tag into the middle to cut off Cousins’ roll (or, made the business decision not to). The result was an impressive first bucket for DeMarcus as a Warrior.

Cousins’ first shift was three minutes long. He’s on a minutes restriction for a while.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.

Report: Kings’ Buddy Hield in 3-point contest

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Players who’ve attempted more than seven 3-pointers per game while making more than 40% of them this season:

Sharing company with only the greatest shooter of all-time will earn Hield a spot in the 3-point contest.

Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140:

Sacramento getting three players into the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year speaks to the team’s nice collection of young talent. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who won MVP last year) and De'Aaron Fox return to the game. No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III replaces Hield, who ages out.

Hield has a chance in the 3-point contest, though the league is better from beyond the arc than ever. He’ll certainly have plenty of competition.