Nate Robinson comes up big once again in Bulls’ Game 1 over Heat

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Nate Robinson’s teammates hunched over just so they could celebrate at eye level with the shortest player the NBA playoffs have seen in the last seven years.

Earlier in the night, they would have had to bend even lower.

In the second quarter, Robinson sat on the Heat court with blood dripping from his face. He had just collided with LeBron James, 11 inches taller and 70 pounds heavier, while going for a loose ball. Robinson left the court, but he returned in the second half.

And despite his 5-foot-9 frame, Robinson came up big. Really big.

Robinson had just waved off a Joakim Noah screen, driven right past Ray Allen and gotten all the way to the rim for a crucial basket. A timeout followed, and his teammates ducked their heads to share the joy with Robinson.

The Bulls ended Game 1 against the Heat on a 10-0 run, the final seven points by Robinson, for a 93-86 win.

Marco Belinelli made the first big shot of the decisive run, a game-tying 3-pointer with 1:59 left. Robinson pulled up for a go-ahead jumper with 1:17 left, drove past Allen with 45 seconds left and then made a few free throws down the stretch.

Undoubtedly, Robinson and Belinelli deserve credit for their big shots, but those attempts were created by Chicago’s one decided advantage in this game: rebounding. The Bulls outrebounded the Heat, 46-32.

Joakim Noah offensively rebounded a Belinelli miss to set up the guard’s 3-pointer, and on the Bulls’ three defensive possessions after their final baskets, Chicago held Miami to a single shot. Belinelli grabbed two defensive rebounds, and Noah grabbed the other.

Noah played 39 minutes and grabbed 11 rebounds, using his mobility to remain effective when the Heat went small and still help the Bulls rebound. In theory, Taj Gibson also has that capability, but he had just four rebounds in 25 minutes. Instead, Jimmy Butler (14 rebounds in 48 minutes), Belinelli (seven rebounds in 46 minutes) and Carlos Boozer (seven rebounds in 25 minutes) stepped up on the glass.

One of Chicago’s biggest relative downfalls tonight was its backup guards. With Kirk Hinrich out injured, the Bulls gave Marquise Teague eight minutes and Daequan Cook two, even though those two never stood a chance against Miami’s defense. With Teague on the court, Chicago’s offensive rating was 65.4. With Cook, it was 0.0.

Neither played in the second half, which was a sound adjustment by Tom Thibodeau after neither team scored well during a mostly tight first half.

LeBron had just two points on 1-of-6 shooting at halftime, and the open looks he created for his teammates didn’t fall.

As had happened multiple times in their first-round sweep of the Bucks after back-and-forth play, the Heat made a run in the third quarter.

Dwyane Wade dunked. Chris Bosh blocked a shot. Wade made a layup over Noah by seemingly pausing at the peak of his jump and twisting around Noah as the Bulls center was bound by laws of gravity and retuned to Earth. The Heat defense swarmed the Bulls into a bad shot and a miss. Bosh made a corner 3-pointer from LeBron. Bosh stole a pass. LeBron threw a bullet pass to Wade for another layup.

It was a 9-0 run, and even though no timeout was called, the Miami crowd roared while players on the Heat bench stood. Against Milwaukee, this would have been the decisive stretch.

But the Heat led by six measly points. Fewer than two-and-a-half minutes later, they led by only one.

They can’t make only one burst and expect to beat Chicago, which plays hard all game long. The Heat, whose 27-game win streak ended against the Bulls, know this, but sustaining quality play after such a long layoff is easier said than done.

It’s reasonable to expect Miami will be sharper in Game 2, but the Bulls aren’t backing down, and Robinson is stepping up.

Report: Gregg Popovich met with Kawhi Leonard in San Diego

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Don’t count the San Antonio Spurs out of the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes just yet.

We have been waiting on pins and needles to see whether or not Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would meet with the apparently disgruntled Leonard this week before San Antonio approaches Thursday night’s NBA draft.

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania, Leonard and Popovich met on Tuesday night in San Diego where Leonard has been working out.

Via Twitter:

For what it is worth, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reporterd that Popovich has not yet met with Leonard, but is traveling to Southern California to meet with the Spurs forward. Even further, Leonard has reportedly requested a trade to Los Angeles from the Spurs, specifically to the Lakers.

Via ESPN:

Leonard wants a trade to Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers over the Clippers, league sources said. He has privately maintained that he no longer wants to play in San Antonio, and will eventually alert rival teams considering trades for him that his intentions are to sign in Los Angeles — preferably with the Lakers — when he can become a free agent in 2019, league sources said.

Leonard had told confidants that he did not want to sit down with Popovich and has been purposely difficult for the Spurs to reach recently. Among the issues, Leonard is angry over what he believes was the Spurs’ mishandling of a quad injury, and remains irate with public comments out of teammate Tony Parker and Popovich that he felt were not supportive of him, league sources said.

We had to know this was coming. San Antonio wasn’t going to let Leonard dictate the terms of his departure from Texas all by himself. Although Leonard has put the Spurs in a tough situation given his reported open request to play in Los Angeles, no doubt both parties would be better off from a basketball perspective if they were together. San Antonio apparently doesn’t want to make a deal with a Western Conference team, either.

Since the Spurs were trying to get in touch with Leonard before Thursday’s big selection night, it could be a signal that Leonard is on the move. Several teams, including the Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers are rumored to be interested in Leonard’s services.

Rumor: Cavaliers could have trade interest in Kemba Walker

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to do everything in their power to retain LeBron James. They are also doing everything they can do to prepare themselves for if James decides to leave Cleveland once and for all.

Last week we heard rumors about how the Cavaliers were trying to prepare an offer to snag Kawhi Leonard away from the San Antonio Spurs. That move could be seen either as an intent to entice James to stay, or as a replacement for The King.

Now, we have rumor that the Cavaliers could be interested in acquiring an Eastern Conference point guard, presumably to help LeBron next season.

According to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, the Cavaliers have inquired to the Charlotte Hornets about the availability of point guard Kemba Walker.

Walker, 28, just became the Hornets all-time leading scorer this last season. The University of Connecticut product has just one year left on his current deal at $12 million, and could be both a good rental for a season as a means to bolster another James Finals run, or as a focal piece moving forward.

As is the issue with any package for Leonard, a trade to the Cavaliers from Charlotte for Walker really depends on what a third trade partner can bring into the mix. Not many of Cleveland’s young players have performed well enough to be used as trade bait for marquee guys. That necessarily means that Kevin Love will be the main trade bait, and it is tough for many teams to have interest in the sharp-shooting forward given many already have that position filled.

We are just 48 hours away from the 2018 NBA Draft and no doubt rumors like this will continue to heat up as we get closer to 4 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night.

Michael Porter Jr. compares himself to Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo

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It has been rumored that Michael Porter Jr could be the player the Sacramento Kings draft at No. 2 overall on Thursday night in the 2018 NBA Draft. Meanwhile, according to Porter himself, there is good reason for his sudden leap up the draft boards.

Speaking on CBS Sports Radio on Monday, Porter said that he thought the players he most compared to right now were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Tracy McGrady.

Of course, the context here is that Porter was prompted to give a current NBA comparison, and as a shooter and physical player, he was unlikely to compare himself to a role player. Still, it’s a bold statement from Porter to say that he is akin to the second best player in the league at this moment. Durant has a skill set that hasn’t been replicated or really seen in the NBA, so it’s tough for anyone to really compare themselves to him.

Here is the quote, transcribed thanks to Deadspin:

Right now, I’m a little, I’m a mix of Giannis and KD. You know, I like going to the hole a little more than KD does, I like bumping into people a little more physical than KD. But I also, you know I like to shoot the ball more than Giannis. So that’s what I like to compare myself to. Then also Tracy McGrady. I get compared to him a lot and I like that one a lot too. You know, those are three amazing players. So it doesn’t feel bad to be in the same conversation as them.

In a recent interview with Dime Magazine, Porter said that he thinks Durant is the best player in the league, particularly when he plays against LeBron James. So really, Porder compared himself to the best player in the league.

The Missouri product has a litany of both character and injury questions. Rumors are abound about how well he will fit into an NBA locker room, and he famously decamped to Missouri Lorenzo Romar was fired in Washington.

Porder sat out most of the year with a nagging back injury, and had to call off some of his draft workouts because of a hip issue. Porter has tried to downplay his injury concerns, and has said that former Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy told him to remain patient through injury.

The draft is less than 48 hours away, and most believe that taking Porter at No. 2 is a huge risk for the Kings. We will see just how confident Sacramento is about Porter’s ability to become an NBA teammate and stay healthy here soon enough.

Michael Jordan will still have input on Hornets draft day decisions

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan hired proven general manager Mitch Kupchak this offseason to help turn around a franchise mired in mediocrity since he became the Charlotte Hornets’ majority owner eight years ago.

But that doesn’t mean the highly competitive Jordan won’t have input on personnel decisions, beginning with the NBA draft on Thursday night.

Kupchak said in a pre-draft news conference Tuesday that he’ll have final say in who the Hornets select before quickly adding, “well, with the exception of one person – and obviously that’s ownership.”

Kupchak has won 10 NBA championships, including seven as an executive with the Los Angeles Lakers – so he knows a thing or two about building a winning roster. But he’s quickly learning that Jordan, who many consider the best NBA player ever, is still very much a hands-on owner when it comes to the players he employs.

And Kupchak understands that.

“There is a huge business component to our relationship,” Kupchak said.

Kupchak said he has communicated with Jordan on the phone and via text throughout the draft evaluation process. The 55-year-old Jordan arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina on Monday and the two have been studying tape on potential draft picks since.

The Hornets, who have failed to make the playoffs three of the past four seasons, have the 11th overall pick in the draft.

Kupchak has known Jordan since he was a freshman at the University of North Carolina.

However, Kupchak said that while they both are former Tar Heels, he never had considered Jordan a friend prior to being hired this past offseason to replace Rich Cho as Hornets general manager.

Since then they have had dinner together and gotten to know each other a little more.

He said the relationship has changed for the better.

“Hopefully when all is said and done, our other relationship, which is our friend relationship continues to grow and is not altered in any way,” Kupchak said. “There are no favors being done here. We’re friends and I think we’ll remain friends, but the bottom line in this business is success and winning games.”

Kupchak was rather forthcoming in the team’s pre-draft press conference Tuesday, saying the does not expect to trade the 11th overall pick.

He also said he expects that the handful of top-notch big men will be off the board by the time the Hornets make their selection.

“Right now I think the best player on the board is the player we are going to go after – and I’d expect that player to be a guard or a wing,” Kupchak said. “… I think we expect that we will be looking at guards and wings, but we will see.”