Joakim Noah’s heart lifts Bulls to ugly win over Nets

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Joakim Noah pushed Kris Humphries in the back, positioned himself between Humphries and C.J. Watson for a rebound and lunged out of bounds to save the ball as it took a sharp carom across the baseline. Noah’s heave was headed out of bounds on the sideline, but Kirk Hinrich jumped to save the ball, making a pinpoint pass to Nate Robinson. With 21 seconds on the shot clock, Robinson drilled a long 3-pointer like time was running out and he needed to save a possession.

Thanks to an incredible effort by the plantar-fasciitis-suffer Noah, the Bulls saved their playoff hopes with a 90-82 win over the Nets tonight.

Noah played 25:29 – just enough over his limit of 25 minutes to prove a point – and all 25 minutes and 29 seconds were essential to the Chicago’s win. It wasn’t just that Noah made positive plays, though he certainly did, but his teammates fed off his resolve. The Bulls cheered heartily from the bench and defended physically on the floor, lifting each other as they willed themselves to play just better than Brooklyn.

Then Noah took over.

In the final 7:39, Noah had nine points, six rebounds and a seizure-inducing blocked shot:

Plays like that helped Chicago hold the Nets to 35 percent shooting, and compared to the series’ first game, the big difference came in the paint:

Game 1: 28-of-38 (74 percent)

Game 2: 15-of-36 (42 percent)

The Bulls uglied the game, which worked to their advantage.

Kirk Hinrich orchestrated an offense that scored just 95.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. But he also hounded Deron Williams into 1-of-9 shooting.

Luol Deng forced shot after shot, scoring 15 points on 16 attempts. But highlighting the small forward matchup overwhelmed Gerald Wallace, who scored just two points on 1-for-7 shooting.

Nazr Mohammed… well, there wasn’t much ugly about his game. He played big defense in the interior, and he shot 4-of-5, making two 15-footers and two 16-footers.

In Game 1, the Bulls were –13 in the 12 minutes neither Noah nor Taj Gibson played. Tonight, Chicago was +6 in its 12 minutes with Noah or Gibson – and that’s a credit to Mohammed.

Tom Thibodeau outcoached P.J. Carlesimo tonight – both by making tactical changes from Game 1 and by inspiring his players to give their all – and now it’s the Nets coach’s turn to make adjustments.

Here’s a thought: Don’t start both Wallace and Reggie Evans. They have value for their defense and rebounding, but though those two forwards mostly play with three plus offensive players – Williams, Brook Lopez (21 points) and Joe Johnson (17 points) – the Nets had an offensive rating of 47.6 (!) in the 17 minutes Wallace and Evans shared the court tonight.

In an muddy game, those Brooklyn possessions were perhaps the deepest in the muck, though there were certainly other contenders.

Noah made all three of his fourth-quarter shots, and after each one, he grimaced while laboring up the court. It looked like his legs could crumble beneath him at any moment.

But he kept pressing.

Jerry Colangelo: Team USA would’ve won FIBA World Cup if not for injuries

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Team USA finished seventh in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – the Americans’ worst-ever finish in a major tournament.

Why did the U.S. fare so poorly?

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo had sharp words for the many stars who withdrew. But that’s not his only explanation.

Kyle Kuzma suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the roster. Jayson Tatum missed the final six games with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart was banged up and missed time throughout the event.

Colangelo, via Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

“I believe that if we didn’t have those injuries, we would have won,” said Colangelo. “The injuries were just too much to absorb.”

Maybe.

Those players – especially Tatum and Smart, who occupied a roster spots – would’ve helped. But even with those two, the Americans were vulnerable. Australia beat them in an exhibition, and Turkey nearly upset them in the first round. France and Serbia clearly outplayed them in the knockout phase. Team USA just lacked its usual talent.

Perhaps more top Americans will play in the 2020 Olympics. That will make the biggest difference.

If USA Basketball had attracted more stars for the World Cup, it likely could’ve withstood a few injuries. This roster allowed little margin for error.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

Report: Iman Shumpert rejects offer from Rockets, who’ll have several familiar names in minicamp

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Iman Shumpert is the best free agent available.

Why hasn’t he signed yet? Apparently because he spent the offseason negotiating with the Rockets, but those talks haven’t produced a deal.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:

I wonder whether Houston tried to sign Shumpert to a contract similar to Nene’s, creating another trade chip. The Rockets are close to the luxury tax and probably wouldn’t guarantee Shumpert much. It doesn’t take months to negotiate a simple minimum contract.

Shumpert (29) is a credible wing in a league starving for them. He played well for the Kings last season before getting traded to Houston, where he struggled. Other teams should be interested.

The Rockets have just nine players with guaranteed salaries. There’s plenty of room for some of these past-their-prime veterans to make the regular-season roster. It might mostly depend on which of Terrence Jones (27), Nick Young (34), Luc Mbah a Moute (33), Corey Brewer (33), Raymond Felton (35) and Thabo Sefolosha (35) are in the best shape at this stage.

Knicks’ rookie R.J. Barrett wants to posterize Kristaps Porzingis

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Fairly early into the season, on Nov. 14, Kristaps Porzingis — the one time savior of the New York Knicks, at least in the eyes of fans — returns to Madison Square Garden wearing a Dallas Mavericks’ uniform.

He can expect to feel the, um, “love” of Knicks fans.

And Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett wants to add to that, as he said in a Bleacher Report live chat with fans.

I want to know: who does he really want to dunk on but will not say? Zion Williamson? Going back in history to Jordan?

Against Porzingis he will get his chance. That said, it’s not easy to get up and over the 7’3″ unicorn, but guys have done it. Right Dwight Howard?