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

While his brother spars online with Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins takes up fight with Stephen Jackson

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Jimmy Butler lit a fuse by requesting a trade from the Timberwolves.

Then, Andrew Wiggins‘ brother, Butler, Stephen Jackson and Wiggins himself all fanned the flames of the resulting fire.

Butler reportedly had problems with Andrew Wiggins last season, specifically Wiggins’ work ethic and defensive approach. Want corroborating evidence the Minnesota teammates aren’t simpatico? Wiggins’ brother, Nick Wiggins, tweeted (and deleted) “Hallelujah” to news of Butler’s trade request:

Butler – probably not coincidentally while working out – responded via Instagram:

Butler:

Hallelujah, keep that same energy

Then the retired Jackson acted out an elaborate scene in which Andrew – played by Jackson – copped to having no heart:

The real Andrew Wiggins didn’t like that and posted on Instagram:

Jackson responded:

If he didn’t like Butler giving him grief, Wiggins darned sure isn’t ready for heat from Jackson.

Mark Cuban explains some, though not all, of his role in Mavericks’ hostile work environment (video)

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As a result of the investigation into his team’s hostile work environment, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban will donate $10 million “organizations that are committed to supporting the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence.” The Mavericks will also report to the NBA on structural changes to their organization.

And Cuban showed accountability by granting an interview to Rachel Nichols of ESPN:

I appreciate Cuban sitting for this interview with Nichols, who grilled him. I appreciate him apologizing to the actual victims. I appreciate him taking responsibility for the wrongdoing that happened beneath him. I appreciate him explaining what he did wrong and what he learned. I appreciate him, along with Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall, explaining the changes they’re making to rectify the situation.

But, though he explained his logic and subsequent lesson from handling Earl Sneed’s domestic violence, Cuban gave no real answer to how he let former CEO Terdema Ussery – found to be an serial sexual harasser – remain in power for 15 years. Taking Cuban at his word – that he was blind to the sexual harassment prevalent in the Mavericks business office – means shattering his image as a great businessman. The sharp and in-charge owner Cuban presented himself as would never grant Ussery such unchecked power for so long. “If I was in our business office five times in 15 years, that was a lot,” Cuban told Nichols. “I mean, it’s embarrassing to say.”

And that’s the benign explanation. Embarrassing is nothing compared to the alternative – that Cuban was as involved as he portrayed, which would mean he knew about Ussery’s misconduct and excused it. The choices are that Cuban’s first-rate businessman image was fraudulent or that he’s directly complicit in Ussery’s sexual harassment.

More than anything, hopefully Cuban has truly learned how not to repeat his prior errors.

Report: Clippers emerging as frontrunner to sign Kawhi Leonard

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Does Kawhi Leonard prefer the Clippers or Lakers in 2019 free agency? Reports have been mixed, though credible journalists have increasingly favored the Clippers since LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Yet, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN held out on the Lakers being Leonard’s top choice.

Now – with Jimmy Butler reportedly preferring a trade to the Clippers – Wojnarowski appears to be coming around on the Clippers.

Wojnarowski:

The Clippers have two max contract slots available in July, and are emerging as a front-runner for Toronto’s All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard when he becomes a free agent in July, league sources said.

Leonard and Butler would form a tantalizing tandem.

Butler reportedly wants to showcase himself in a big city while Leonard seemingly wants both to be in Los Angeles but remain out of the spotlight. Together, maybe they could both get what they want.

Though Butler’s demanding style has worn on teammates in Minnesota, nobody has ever accused Leonard of lacking work ethic or competitiveness. I bet Butler would respect Leonard.

They’re both elite defensively and at least very good offensively. There could be issues with how often each likes to isolate, but get all that talent to L.A. then figure out the rest later.

The question for the Clippers: Do they trade for Butler now or wait to try signing both stars in free agency next summer? The latter option carries more upside, allowing the Clippers to preserve assets. But it also risks Minnesota trading Butler and his Bird Rights to another team and him re-signing there.

The Clippers have several veterans – Tobias Harris, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari – who might appeal to Tom Thibodeau, who seemingly wants to win now. L.A. could also offer 2018 lottery picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Alexander. However, the Clippers can’t convey a first-round pick until 2021 at the earliest.

I don’t know whether they’ll trade for Butler, but if the Clippers do, I know we’ll crank up the Leonard-Clippers speculation even higher. There’s value in putting that in Leonard’s mind while the Raptors are trying to woo him first-hand over the next year.

Reports: Jimmy Butler’s trade preference is Clippers, Knicks less interested

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Knicks president Steve Mills said New York wouldn’t trade its draft picks and wouldn’t trade for players it could just sign in free agency. In other words: No more Carmelo Anthony– or Andrea Bargnani-type deals.

Then, Jimmy Butler – who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer – requested a trade from the Timberwolves and put the Knicks on his list of preferred destinations (with the Nets and Clippers).

Will Mills hold firm in his patient plan?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Brooklyn and the Clippers appear motivated on Butler, while the Knicks have been firm all summer that the team does not want to part with assets and instead prioritize signing free agents outright, according to sources.

The Knicks should be reluctant to trade for Butler now. Especially with Kristaps Porzingis injured, Butler is unlikely to help New York win meaningfully this season. It’d be much better to sign him next summer and preserve assets.

But there’s no guarantee the Knicks sign him next summer. Whichever team has his Bird Rights and ability to offer him a larger contract will have the upper-hand. There is value in trading for him now.

Perhaps, the Knicks can find a worthwhile Butler trade that includes trading picks. The only way to find out is negotiating with Minnesota.  For New York to eliminate the idea outright because the team made mistakes in similar situations would be misguided.

But Knicks are going to Knick.

At least New York isn’t Butler’s first choice.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Might that other max slot go to Kyrie Irving?

First, L.A. must make the best offer to the Timberwolves and one acceptable to a reportedly reluctant Tom Thibodeau. Then, the Clippers must lure Irving – or any star (Kawhi Leonard?) – from his team.

It’s easy to imagine. It’s far more difficult to turn into reality.