Bulls push back but can’t stop Heat stars… Cole and Bosh? Yup. Heat get win.

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You knew the Chicago Bulls were going to be ready to fight… Nazr Mohammed may have taken that too literally and was ejected for shoving LeBron James to the ground. Still, this is what you expected from the Bulls.

You also know LeBron James is going to get his if he wants them. And in a game where it felt like he coasted for about 45 minutes he still had 25 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists on Friday night. After a slow start he hit a deep three and got a fantastic and-1 late in the game.

But to win in the playoffs you need your second, your third options to step up, and that’s why the Heat have… Norris Cole?

It worked for one game. Cole had 18 points and hit 3-of-3 from three, plus played some solid defense. Chris Bosh had 20 points and 19 rebounds.

LeBron, Bosh and Cole made the Heat the steadier team down the stretch and helped lift the Heat to a 104-94 win in Game 3. That gives the Heat a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 Monday in Chicago.

Despite all their efforts the Bulls just can’t slow the Heat offense — Miami had 120.6 points per 100 possessions, which is 20 points higher than the Bulls allowed on average in the regular season. Miami shot 60 percent in Game 2 and 50 percent in Game 3.

A large part of that was that the Heat attacked and with that got to the foul line 30 times, hitting 26. That’s a lot of free points. (The Bulls had 25 attempts but hit just 17.)

From the start this game had plenty of intensity, and once again that boiled over into a few technical fouls — Joakim Noah got one for shoving Chris Anderson off the top of Nate Robinson after a foul that knocked both to the ground.

But the one everybody will be talking about came in the middle of the second quarter.

LeBron was bringing the ball up in a transition and Nazr Mohammed decided to wrap LeBron up and foul him 40 feet from the basket (it was a “Euro foul” to stop the fast break, the Bulls have done that a number of times this series). LeBron pushes him off and gets a technical instantly from Joey Crawford for it. Then Mohammed comes back with the unnecessary retaliation — a two-hand shove to LeBron’s chest and knocks him down. Mohammed got the flagrant 2 ejection.

The crowd loved it. They were fired up. But the Bulls lost the guy that spells Noah and they could lose him for another game if there is a suspension coming from the league office. And if you don’t think that mattered watch the more tired Noah not be quite quick and energetic enough to make plays during the Heat’s late run.

Chicago got offensive balance with all five starters in double figures, led by Carlos Boozer’s 21.

This game was back and forth most of the way — it was 85-83 Heat with 4:00 left — but the Heat executed better down the stretch.

Cole had a driving lay-up and later a key three.  Bosh was sinking free throws, blocking a Marco Belinelli shot, and hitting a driving layup off a cut. LeBron hit a deep pull-up three, then hit an and-1 where the Bulls played it perfectly with Jimmy Butler pushing LeBron to help, the help was there and it didn’t matter. Because LeBron does that. Combine that with the made free throws and it was too much.

This is what we expected from the series — the Bulls would scrap and put up a fight but it would just not be enough.

But you know the Bulls will show up ready to go hard again in Game 4

Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina

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Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?

This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.

Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.

A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).

The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.

Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.

But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.

 

Report: Rockets trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, likely to waive Nunnally to create roster spot

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To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.

That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)

The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.

If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.

Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.

Pelicans’ Anthony Davis out 1-2 weeks with sprained finger

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This is bad.

The New Orleans Pelicans are 21-25 and four games back of the eight seed in the West having lost 3-of-4 on the current road trip. When Anthony Davis is not on the court, the Pelicans get outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions.

Davis is not going to be on the court for a week or two due to a sprained finger, the team announced Saturday morning.

Looking ahead at the schedule, Davis is likely to miss between three and seven games.

Davis has played at an MVP level this season, averaging 29.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting, plus grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 4.4 assists a night. And that’s just on offense, defensively he is one of the best rim protecting bigs in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Davis leads the NBA in win shares (8.3) and PER at 30.9. He has been an absolute beast all season long.

Yet he hasn’t been able to lead the Pelicans to a winning record because of the roster around him (and injuries that have sapped what little depth New Orleans had to begin with).

Because of that, the intensely competitive Davis — who has talked about legacy mattering more to him than money — is expected to turn down a $239 million contract extension from the Pelicans next summer. At that point New Orleans will have to consider trading him and 29 teams will be lined up to talk deal (the Celtics and Lakers are expected to be at the front of that line).