Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: Derrick Rose is back but Bulls are not

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while casting your ballot for a dead man

1) Derrick Rose is back, but Bulls lose ugly while Toronto passes them in standings. Derrick Rose is back. That should have been good news for Chicago — Paul George returned to Indiana and you saw every other Pacer player pick up their game in respose. The Bulls with Rose? Not even close. First off, Rose was settling for jumpers and ended up scoring 9 points on 9 shots, going 1-of-6 from three. But nobody else picked up their game for the Bulls — Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol got outplayed by Nikola Vucevic, who had 22 points and 7 boards. Nikola Mirotic was 3-of-11. The Bulls led by 15 in the second quarter but their defense still isn’t Thibodeauesque and they just can’t hold those leads. Chicago’s habit of playing to the level of their competition caught up with them again, capped off by Victor Oladipo hitting the game winner.

Meanwhile, Toronto trounced fading Charlotte, and with that the Raptors and Bulls are tied for the 3/4 seeds in the East — with Toronto having the tie breaker. Toronto does not have an easy schedule in its final four (three on the road), and the Bulls got Rose back, but unless that translates into better play the Bulls may fall into a tougher first round matchup.

2) Cleveland is locked in to the two seed in the East. Milwaukee was hanging with Cleveland on Wednesday night; they are not a team that rolls over and were within two (99-97) with :30 seconds left. Then LeBron stuck the dagger in the Bucks, hitting a contested three over Jared Dudley. Ballgame. With that, the Cavs locked up the two seed. Cleveland has 50 wins, enough to have them home against everyone in the East save Atlanta. However, they are not going to have home court in the Finals against anybody in the West, unless the Pelicans surprise us all.

3) New Orleans falls flat in Memphis, now tied with Oklahoma City for final playoff spot in West. Tuesday night the Pelicans had us believing — they beat Golden State and jumped up to the eight seed in the West. But a back-to-back against the stingy defense of Memphis brought the Pelicans crashing back to reality — the Pelicans shot 28-of-80 as a team (35 percent) and that ended about as well as you’d expect. With the loss, the Pelicans are tied with the Thunder for the last playoff spot in the West. New Orleans has the tie breaker but OKC has one team over .500 left on their roster, New Orleans has two. This could go down to the final day.

4) Brooklyn stumbles, Boston wins and the race for eight out East gets even tighter. Brook Lopez keeps putting up numbers — 26 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks — but they couldn’t get stops against the Hawks. Joe Johnson missed a three and a chance to force OT, so the Nets fell to the Hawks 114-111. Meanwhile, Boston got 34 points from Isaiah Thomas and picked up a key win. So here is where we stand as of today: Boston and Brooklyn are tied for the 7/8 seeds at 36-42, with both Miami and Indiana one game behind them. This remains one of the best races to watch the final week of the season (along with 2-6 in the West and the Pelicans/Thunder).

5) The Spurs just keep on rolling right into the playoffs. San Antonio would like to say all your playoff seeding and efforts are moot — they have won nine in a row, all by at least 12 points. Since the end of the rodeo road trip, they are 17-3 (and two of those losses were in OT). Kawhi Leonard is playing like a Top 10 guy. Tony Parker is getting in the lane. They rolled James Harden and Houston on Wednesday. The defending champs are back, and Gregg Popovich is having fun on the sidelines.

The time Kendall Gill stayed out all night then led Hornets to early-afternoon win (video)

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In the great history of NBA party-then-play stories, 15-year-pro Kendall Gill has a new tale from his rookie year with the Hornets in 1991.

Gill on Off The Dribble:

We pulled into D.C. My cousin took me out. I was out until 6 in the morning. He brings me back to the hotel. My coach, Gene Littles, is sitting in the lobby. And as I walked in the door, he’s like, “What the hell are you doing out here, rook? Don’t you know we’ve got a game at 12 o’clock in the afternoon?” Well, turns out, I go and I score 28 points that day, the high for my rookie season. I scored 28 points. He comes to me after the game and says, “You can go out and hang out any time you want to until 6 in the morning – if you play like that.”

A couple details are off. Gill scored 24 points to lead Charlotte over the Washington Bullets on March 31, 1991. But that wasn’t his season high. He scored 28 a few days earlier in Phoenix. The Washington game also had a listed start of 1 p.m., not noon.

Still, this comes close enough on the verifiable facts. Besides, I want the fun parts of this story to be true, so I’ll choose to believe them, anyway.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets ejected for taunting Ricky Rubio, continued talking (video)

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The Hawks are rapidly changing. General manager Travis Schlenk took over just two years ago and has already turned over nearly the entire roster. Only DeAndre’ Bembry remains as an inherited player.

It’s not an easy situation for Bembry, who’s headed toward free agency next summer. He’s playing for a team with a lead executive who never chose him. Bembry can’t count on any team investing in him.

That’s the context in which Bembry got ejected from Atlanta’s loss to the Suns last night. He blocked Ricky Rubio‘s shot, taunted the Phoenix guard, got a technical foul, kept talking and got another technical foul.

The ejection seems pretty weak, but Bembry left himself vulnerable to the techs.

Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish also got ejected for multiple flagrant fouls.

Eric Bledsoe apparently bothered Bulls with post-buzzer dunk (video)

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Eric Bledsoe doesn’t care about the rules – written or unwritten.

As the buzzer sounded in the Bucks’ 124-115 win over the Bulls yesterday, Bledsoe dunked then hung on the rim. The basket came after time expired and didn’t count.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and coach Jim Boylen confronted Bledsoe on the court:

Young, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We all know what it is,” Young said. “They had the game won. There are some things you just don’t do at the end of games just out of common courtesy. We’ll move on. It is what it is. It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

“That’s with any team that cares about the morals and principles of the game,” Young said. “If we did that and the score was the opposite, they’d say the same thing. It is what it is. We just gotta be ready in four or five days. We gotta get a win. That’s the only way we can follow it back up now.”

Usually, I’d say: If you don’t like it, stop it. But that doesn’t really apply for a post-game dunk. There’s no defense after the buzzer.

Still, I’m not outraged by Bledsoe’s dunk. I bet, aside from Bulls partisans, most people aren’t (though plenty could work themselves into a tizzy if they desire). Some of Chicago’s bitterness probably stemmed from losing and allowing Bledsoe to score 31 points on 12-of-12 shooting inside the arc.

If the Bulls want to use this as motivation, more power to them. They should. Young, whose professionalism appears exemplary, is an ideal messenger.

But Boylen, who wouldn’t comment on this to the media, can’t claim the moral high ground.