NBA Playoffs: Back in sweet home Chicago can Bulls extend series?

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In one key way, the Eastern Conference Finals have been a lot like the Western Conference Finals — it has been about the fourth quarter.

Miami has turned up the defensive pressure late and the Bulls have wilted in the final stanza. In the fourth quarter of the last three games the Bulls have shot 32.7 percent and been outscored 64-47. The fourth quarter is when LeBron James has switched on to Derrick Rose and the result is Rose shooting 2-of-11 in the last three fourth quarters combined.

Desperate and down 3-1 and heading back home for an elimination game, look for the Bulls to have a better fourth quarter, to finally close out a game well. They had better, or this series is over.

Back at home, look for the Bulls role players to feel more comfortable and play better. For one, expect Taj Gibson has to give the Bulls more, both on defense and in transition. Also Kyle Korver has to hit a shot — the Bulls still need to knock down some threes and long twos to make the Heat pay for packing the paint on them.

Expect to see the same out of the Heat bench we saw last game — Erik Spoelstra has gone to a tight eight-man rotation with Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller being the only guys seeing big minutes off the bench. Both have played well but can that continue under pressure on the road? Probably, especially with Haslem, who has been what the Heat needed inside. The Bulls need to force Miami deeper into that bench by getting some guys in foul trouble, either by the penetration of Rose or some other guys stepping up.

One interesting matchup to watch is Joakim Noah over on Chris Bosh — something the Bulls made a priority of in Game 4 (and should have worked harder to do in earlier games rather than letting him get switched off so easily). Bosh has been the best Heat player in a couple games, doing a great job of mixing midrange shots with drives, and if he is again the Bulls will not be headed back to Miami.

At some point soon, Dwyane Wade is going to go off. He has not looked himself this series and was doing a lot of extra shooting and work Wednesday. If Game 5 is when he does go off there will be no Game 6.

On the flip side, who is going to take the pressure off Rose? Carlos Boozer you say? Well, they need him. But they need someone to create their own shot and be a better outside shooter in this series. Miami has been able to pack the paint and wall off Rose because they do not fear the outside shot of the Bulls. That is particularly true in the fourth quarter.

The Heat are the better team and they have closed games better. But this is still a close series — Rose drains that fadeaway over LeBron and this series is even. That’s not how it went down, but these two teams are close. Close enough that the Bulls have hope — win Game 5 at home, steal one on the road and suddenly it’s one game for all the marbles.

But to get there, the Bulls need to be desperate. They need to knock down shots. And they need to close out the fourth quarter better. Because you know the Heat will.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.

Under new anti-tampering rules, Adam Silver empowered to suspend execs, take away picks, void contracts

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LeBron James publicly courted Anthony Davis. Many free agents seemingly struck deals before free agency even began. Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle/advisor reportedly sought prohibited extra benefits from teams.

The NBA finally reached its breaking point on tampering and circumvention.

After late apprehension, the league will enact stricter enforcement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m not surprised this passed unanimously. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted this to happen and wasn’t going to have owners vote unless he knew it’d pass. At that point, any protest-voting owners would just put themselves at odds with the commissioner. Not worth it.

We’ll see how long this crackdown lasts. I think that anonymous general manager represents many. If nobody is tampering, it’s fine not to tamper. But if some teams tamper, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.

This could slowly creep back toward the old status quo. But if there’s a clear violator early, Silver will have an opportunity to send a message. We’ll see whether he takes it.

This should be less about which communication is or isn’t allowed. It’s about fairness.

That’s why it’s important the NBA has rules it will enforce and only rules it will enforce. That hasn’t been the case. If it is now, this will be a success.