Bulls finally make long-overdue statement with win over Cavaliers

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CHICAGO—After over a month of searching for it, the Bulls finally have their statement win, and right before the All-Star break. They’ve had more impressive individual games, but given the stakes here—coming off a rough month, with Jimmy Butler out against a Kevin Love-less Cleveland Cavaliers team—Thursday night’s 113-98 victory over the Cavs was their most important win of the season.

Derrick Rose was the headliner, and he was spectacular: 30 points and seven assists with just two turnovers. But it was more than Rose. Tony Snell continued a career week, tying his career high with 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting and playing LeBron James tough defensively. Pau Gasol was excellent again, with 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Joakim Noah is starting to round into shape, looking more like his healthy self.

Going into the All-Star break, the Bulls are 34-20. They’ve won four in a row and after a month that’s seen everything from an extended Mike Dunleavy injury to Tom Thibodeau hot-seat chatter, this stretch has been a welcome change of pace. The Cavs had won 14 of their last 15 games, and the Bulls flat-out outplayed them for 48 minutes.

“We played from behind a lot,” said James. “We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds. We turned the ball over, most of which was my fault. And they played a good game.”

Most encouraging for the Bulls was their defensive effort. The Cavs have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, scoring 107.2 points per 100 possessions, and the Bulls held them to 98, forcing eight turnovers from James and 16 overall from the Cavs.

“We can be really good. Everybody knows that. It just takes everybody being on the same page as far as defense goes.”

The Bulls and the Cavs are both still chasing the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference playoff race. But for the first time on Thursday, it started to feel like a rivalry. The Cavs won their first two meetings convincingly, and after some December and January drama, had generally been playing like a serious contender while the Bulls were still up and down. But Chicago finally got the response they had been looking for, and looked impressive doing it.

Before the season, the Bulls and Cavs were seen as the prohibitive favorites to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, they’re both starting to look the part. Even after the loss, Cavs coach David Blatt is feeling good about where his team is.

“The front office has been great and put together a good group,” Blatt said after the game. “They put together a competitive team and I’m just happy with this group. We will be good with what we have if we can stay healthy. We won 14 of our last 16. We got a really good floor rhythm and approach going. We should feel good going into the break.”

The Bulls have had a never-ending parade of injuries. They finally got Dunleavy back on Tuesday, but were without Butler on Thursday. They’ve only played 16 games with their full starting lineup intact, but they’re 13-3 in those games, and after the All-Star break, Thibodeau hopes that everybody will finally be healthy at the same time.

“We want to keep going, that is the important thing,” said the coach. “Our reality has been guys out all the time. Whoever is in there is getting the job done.”

 

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.