Sixers 79 Bulls 74: A crushing Bulls collapse as a postseason of misery continues for Chicago

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The Bulls had everything going for them. They were the number one seed, they had beaten all the contenders, they had homecourt advantage, the best defense, one of the best coaches, a superstar. And then it all went wrong.

In Game 3, they had a 14-point lead, had everything going for them. They had gotten even better defense than usual, holding the Sixers to a 46.5 third quarter efficiency. The crowd was despondent. And then it all went wrong.

The Sixers had a 149.6 offensive efficiency in the fourth quarter, they attacked and attacked, and attacked, getting to the line time and time again and came back on the Bulls for a 79-74 barnburner win to take a 2-1 lead.

It was just one of those games where the Sixers seized their momentum early, then waned when the game got tough, then pushed ahead when the Bulls ran out of energy. Joakim Noah was injured on a driving layup in the third quarter. He tried to return but couldn’t. It was pretty rough and may wind up affecting him in Game 4.

Spencer Hawes was the hero for Philadelphia (?!) with 21 point and nine rebounds, as Hawes finally got his mid-range shot to fall and the Sixers killed the Bulls’ help defense with the pick and pop. It was a huge adjustment for Philadelpia who needed it badly as Elton Brand, who had played well in the series, went 0-5 for 0 points. Evan Turner continued to play The Villain role against Chicago, as he attacked and was active in the lane. The worst thing you can do against Chicago’s defense is let them con you into shooting jumpshots, and Turner instead went right at the rim over and over and was active on the glass as well. Huge game for the young player.

Throw in more terrible point guard play from Chicago, who seemed to be missing someone (C.J. Watson and John Lucas combined for 12 points on 16 shots), and a strong performance from Jrue Holiday, and some tough defense in their own right, and Philly’s in control. A win in Game 4 puts the Bulls a seemingly impossible position going back to Chicago and you have to wonder when the emotional toll becomes too much for the Bulls, who were reportedly down in the locker room before the game. A Game 4 win in Philly and the Bulls may just not have enough to recover.

Things could have been different. They should have been different. But just like in Game 3, everything fell apart for Chicago, and the Sixers took advantage.

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.