Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Bulls bank on Jimmy Butler’s playmaking

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LOS ANGELES —We understand, if you’re Megyn Kelly you didn’t have time to catch any NBA games Thursday. Even if that would have been a better use of your time. So here is what you need to know from a Thursday night around the Association.

1) Jimmy Butler‘s playmaking key to Bulls’ evolution. Pau Gasol is still incredibly skilled at age 35 and is going to put up points nightly. Derrick Rose may not be able to take over a game the way he did pre-injuries, but he can still carve up a defense for stretches. Both did just that against the Lakers Thursday — Gasol had 21 points, Rose 16 points and five assists (and he was inserted back in the game in the fourth to quell a Lakers’ push to make it a game again).

But it is Jimmy Butler’s playmaking that turns Chicago from “nice team” into a real threat.

That was evident Thursday in the Bulls’ win over the lowly Lakers Thursday, a 114-91. Butler led Chicago with 21 points and 10 assists, and he was the one that changed the dynamics of the game.

“He did everything for us tonight,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “In that first quarter he got three steals in a row, which led to three baskets, that was huge for us. We’re putting the ball in his hands a lot, not just in isolation situations, but we’re also putting him in a lot of ball screens, he’s just making the right play and the right read, and he’s continuing to get better in that role.”

“Guys were spacing the floor well whenever I’d attack,” Butler said. “I mean, the right play was to make the pass, and they made the shot. I think it makes my job easier, Pau’s job easier, Derrick’s job easier when we’ve got guys who can space the floor and really make shots like that.”

You know it’s going to be Butler’s night when Mark Wahlberg shows up at Staples Center wearing Butler’s Jordan gear (Butler wears Air Jordans).

Playmaking against the Lakers’ league-worst defense is one thing — it was a good way for Hoiberg to break E’Twuan Moore into the starting lineup — but the Bulls have bigger tests on this seven-game road trip they just started, beginning Saturday in the same building against the Clippers. If they are going to keep winning, if they are going to be a threat in the East, it’s going to be because Butler the playmaker keeps showing up and playing like this nightly.

2) Toronto is legit, wins 10th in a row. The wait is over. All season there’s been a waiting game — who is going to break out of the pack and become a clear second best team in the East? Butler’s Bulls looked like that team for a while, but they have lacked consistency.

The Raptors have answered the challenge with a 10-game win streak, reaching that number by knocking off the Knicks 103-93 Thursday. Kyle Lowry looked very bit the All-Star starter, coming off the high pick and attacking — not just looking for buckets, he kept the ball moving. Lowry just made smart decision after smart decision, on his way to 26 points and 10 assists. DeMar DeRozan — also an All-Star — chipped in 26 of his own. The bigger key was the Raptors defense was sharp all night, the recognition and rotations were crisp — Toronto had 11 blocks, 7 steals on the night.

There’s a “you still have to prove it” element to the Raptors — they looked pretty good at points last season, only to get swept out of the first round by the Wizards. This franchise has only made the second round once and has never gone past that point. This looks like the year that changes. They look like the second best team in the East. They look legit.

3) Ryan Anderson drops 36, Pelicans knock off Kings. Remember a week ago, when we all said “check out Sacramento, they are the eight seed out West — they might have gotten it together enough to make the playoffs.” Since then they have lost three straight and are now the 10 seed. Thursday night they helped the Pelicans up Ryan Anderson’s trade value, letting him drop 36 on them as it was New Orleans who looked like a team that wants that last playoff slot in a 114-105 win. (I know, officially the Pelicans say they aren’t shopping Anderson, but they are taking calls about him from other GMs about him, so this is a matter of semantics.) Yes, Anderson was hitting threes against the Kings (five of them), but was getting shots at the bucket and shooting 50 percent from the midrange. When all his shots are falling, he’s tough to stop. And his value just goes up.

4) All-Star Game reserves selected. You the fans chose the starters for each conference for the All-Star Game Feb. 14 in Toronto. The reserves are chosen by the coaches, and those were announced on Thursday night. Here’s who got an invite:

Western Conference: Draymond Green (Golden State), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento), LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio), Chris Paul (LA Clippers), Klay Thompson (Golden State), James Harden (Houston).

Eastern Conference: Paul Millsap (Atlanta), Chris Bosh (Miami), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Jimmy Butler (Chicago), John Wall (Washington), Isaiah Thomas (Boston), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto).

5) Pau Gasol felt snubbed from All-Star Game (and he was not alone). Putting together that reserve roster is hard because a handful of deserving guys are going to get snubbed. At the top of the 2016 list is Damian Lillard. But the Bulls’ Gasol — who has averaged 16 and 10 this season, and was fourth in the fan voting, losing a starting spot to Carmelo Anthony by 316 vote — is a proud man who also felt left out.

“A little disappointed, to be honest,” Gasol said about not getting an invite to Toronto. “But I’m not making the decisions, I’m not picking (the team), that’s not my job to do. All I can do is go out every night and prove the player I am. It’s unfortunate, but congrats to the guys that have been selected…. I think I’m still one of the elite players in this league and I’ll try to continue to be for as long as I can.”

If there is an injury to an Eastern Conference big selected for the game, expect Gasol to be the replacement. Commissioner Adam Silver gets to make that appointment, and he has traditionally gone down the order of the fan vote to fill spots — which puts Gasol next in line.

Report: Draymond Green facing potential discipline after fight with Jordan Poole

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Warriors practice got heated on Wednesday and Draymond Green reportedly escalated some chest bumping with Jordan Poole and punches were thrown. The team is now considering internal disciple, according to The Athletic.

When a heated interaction with guard Jordan Poole escalated, Green forcefully struck Poole and needed to be separated swiftly, sources said. Green and Poole came chest-to-chest, with both players pushing and shoving each other prior to Green’s escalation of the physical altercation, those sources said.

The two players had been jawing at each other when it escalated and Green punched Poole, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. There aren’t details of the incident beyond that description (at least so far), although several reporters have confirmed the was a fight and the two had to be broken up. Poole was seen getting up shots after practice when the media was allowed in and reportedly was joking with teammates.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports Tweeted out what feels like the Draymond Green camp spin on the incident.

Warriors elder statesman Andre Iguodala Tweeted out this on the situation, wanting to keep it all in the family, and adding that “it broke my heart… but it fixed my vision.”

There is a history of tension between Green and Poole, including a public flare-up between the duo early last season, but the two talked after and smoothed things over. At least for a while.

What punishment Green will face from the team remains to be seen.

Poole is on the verge of an extension to his rookie contract, one where Tylyer Herro just set the market.

Green had hoped for an extension from the Warriors this offseason but there were limited discussions between the parties. Green can opt out of the final year of his contract at the end of this season and become a free agent.

Wizards’ Kispert likely to miss start of season due to sprained ankle

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The Washington Wizards made fewer 3-pointers than any other team in the league last season. They didn’t take a lot (second fewest) and didn’t make the ones they took (fifth lowest percentage). One goal for Wes Unlseld Jr. this season was to change that dynamic, and second-year player Corey Kispert was a big part of that plan.

Now Kispert is out through at least the start of the season, sidelined 4-6 weeks by a sprained ankle, the team announced Wednesday.

The injury happened on a fluke play in Japan against the Warriors, but Kispert shouldn’t miss much time once the real games start. The Wizards are a little short on the wing right now with Kispert joining Deni Avdija (groin injury) in the training room.

Kispert took 62% of his shots from beyond the arc last season and hit 35% of them, both solid numbers but ones Wizards hoped would improve for the 6’6″ wing this season.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.