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


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.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo suspended one game for headbutting Blake Griffin

Utah Jazz v Boston Celtics
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Celtics thought it was funny — Jaylen Brown jokingly offered Blake Griffin his mask after the Bucks’ Thanasis Antetokounmpo headbutted the Celtic forward.

The NBA didn’t find it as amusing and suspended Antetokounmpo for one game for the incident.

Griffin was given a Flagrant 1 foul at the time, but mostly the Celtics had a good laugh.

It’s easier to laugh when you are blowing out your opponent, and the Celtics made a statement with a 41-point win over the Bucks.

The Celtics are 1.5 games back of the Bucks for the No.1 seed in the East (and NBA), and they are two games back in the loss column. While Boston has the tiebreaker, it will need some help from Milwaukee to catch them. The Bucks play the 76ers in a key game on Sunday, but will do so without Thanasis Antetokounmpo.


It’s official: Popovich, Wade headline international class (Gasol, Nowitzki, Parker) into Hall of Fame

San Antonio Spurs v Boston Celtics
Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

In an incredibly deep Hall of Fame class, the man who garners the most respect — legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — is the man who feels least like he belongs in these hallowed halls.

“In all honesty, I always felt the Hall of Fame is like for Red Holzman, Red Auerbach and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. … I’ve never felt like I really belonged, to be honest with you,” Popovich told the Associated Press, and it’s not a gimmick. “I’m not trying to be ‘Mr. Humble’ or anything. I’m a Division III guy. I’m not a Hall of Fame guy.”

Popovich is a Hall of Fame guy. While it has been expected for a while, it became official on Saturday with an announcement in Houston during the NCAA Final Four.

Popovich is part of one of the great Hall of Fame classes ever: Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Becky Hammon are the headliners.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer that all of these guys are first-ballot guys,” Heat president Pat Riley told the Associated Press. “Look at the records. Look at the longevity that they’ve had in this league. Look what they’ve done for the league, and how much the league calls them back – because they’re ambassadors of this great league and they have a great voice and a great message. Dwyane being a first-ballot was a no-brainer.”

Let’s break down the cases for the biggest, NBA tied-names:

• Gregg Popovich led the San Antonio Spurs to five titles and 18 consecutive seasons of 50+ wins. “Pop” also coached USA Basketball to the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics, and was active. Popovich will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time, a man who adapted his system to the personnel he had — how the Tim Duncan/David Robinson Spurs won was very different than the 2014 team led by Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard (and still Duncan).

• Dwyane Wade is one of the greatest shooting guards the game has ever seen. He helped the Miami Heat to three NBA titles and was the 2006 Finals MVP, and along the way racked up eight All-NBA teams and 13 trips to the All-Star game. He is the greatest Heat player ever and is an easy Hall of Fame choice.

• Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest Dallas Maverick ever, an NBA champion and Finals MVP, plus he won the regular season MVP in 2007. His resume includes being a 12-time All-NBA player and 14-time All-Star, plus playing 21 seasons all for the same franchise.

• Tony Parker is a four-time NBA champion for Popovich and his San Antonio Spurs, and Parker was the Finals MVP in 2007. His NBA resume includes four All-NBA nods and six All-Star trips, but his international resume secured his place in the Hall of Fame, for example he was the MVP of EuroBasket 2013, which France won.

• Pau Gasol won two NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers (as Kobe Bryant’s co-star), is a four-time All-NBA player and six-time All-Star, plus he was the Rookie of the Year in 2002. Like Parker, it is Gasol’s international resume that cements his spot in the Hall, he led Spain to the FIBA World Championship in 2006 and won three Olympic medals (two silver, one bronze).

• Becky Hammon, who most NBA fans know as the first women’s assistant coach in the NBA and current coach of the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces, but before that she was a six-time WNBA All-Star.

Also entering the Hall of Fame this year:

• Jim Valvano, who coached North Carolina State to the 1983 NCAA Championship, and created The V Foundation for Cancer Research
• Gene Bess, All-time winningest college coach (1,300), 2-time NJCAA Coach of the Year.
• David Hixon, who racked up 826 wins and was a two-time D3 national champion and two-time D3 Coach of the Year.
• Gene Keady, best known for coaching 25 years at Purdue, was a six-time NCAA Coach of the Year and made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances.
• Gary Blair, who coached in the women’s game for 37 years, amassing 852 wins, including winning the 2011 National Championship with Texas A&M.
• The 1976 Women’s USA Olympic Basketball Team – Silver medalists in inaugural appearance for Women’s Olympic Basketball.

Watch Davis score 38, Lakers move up to No.7 seed with win against Timberwolves


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 17 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter and had 17 rebounds to lift the Los Angeles Lakers past Minnesota 123-111 and leapfrog the Timberwolves on Friday night in the crowded Western Conference playoff race.

“You’ve got to have that one pivotal force that’s leading the charge, and in our case with this particular team here in the moment it’s AD,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “When he comes out and he’s aggressive and we’re feeding him and he’s not settling and he’s putting pressure on the paint, putting pressure on the rim, we find ourselves having a lot of success.”

LeBron James added 18 points and 10 rebounds and D'Angelo Russell had 12 points and 10 assists against his former team as the Lakers (39-38) won for the fifth time in six games to move into seventh place. They’re even with New Orleans, owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pelicans.

“We’ve made some huge climbs, but we’re not finished,” said Davis, who had 38 points Wednesday in tthe win at Chicago. “We’re hungry to not only make the playoffs but make some noise.”

The Lakers improved to 9-4 since losing at home to the Wolves on March 3.

“We jumped on AD’s back, and he brought us home,” James said.

Mike Conley had 25 points on 7-for-11 shooting with seven assists before fouling out, and Karl-Anthony Towns scored 23 points for the Timberwolves (39-39), who tumbled into ninth place. They entered the evening one game behind Golden State and the cut to avoid the play-in tournament, with the Warriors tipping off later at home against San Antonio.

Davis scored 12 straight points for the Lakers over a 3:52 span late in the fourth quarter to seal the steely comeback from a deficit that hit 13 points shortly after halftime. He made five baskets in a row with Wolves center Rudy Gobert on the bench, dominating on the glass, in the post and at the rim.

“He’s playing at a super high level right now,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said.

The Lakers took charge earlier with a 24-2 spurt over a 6:49 stretch of the third quarter with their defense on lockdown mode. Conley’s turn to rest on the bench during that run was ill-timed. Davis rolled his left ankle around the start of the Lakers surge, a breath-holding sequence that only seemed to energize the visitors.

“We started to turn the ball over, and the ball started to stick much more,” Gobert said. “We kind of lost our flow offensively, and it really affected our defense.”

The Wolves, whose bench was shortened without center Naz Reid and his broken wrist, went 2 for 14 from 3-point range in the third quarter and were outscored 35-18 in a discouraging stretch for a fired-up crowd that included local sports superstars Justin Jefferson and Kirill Kaprizov in floor seats.

Watch Jalen Brunson score 48, Knicks top Cavs in possible playoff preview


CLEVELAND (AP) — With All-Star Julius Randle back in New York, the Knicks needed someone to step up.

Jalen Brunson did that, and more.

New York’s point guard scored a career-high 48 points and the Knicks moved closer to a playoff berth while waiting for Randle to get healthy, outrunning the Cleveland Cavaliers 130-116 on Friday night.

“There is nothing that Jalen does that surprises you,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s so mentally tough. He’s nicked up a little bit, but he’s a machine. He just keeps going.”

Brunson credited his Knicks’ teammates and coaches for his big night, which included seven 3-pointers and nine assists. He finished 18 of 32 from the floor.

“They had confidence in me and the ball just went through the hole,” said Brunson, who scored 44 in a loss to Milwaukee on Jan. 9. “I just kept shooting with confidence and that’s just how it went.”

The Knicks reduced their magic number to one in their first game without Randle, who sprained his left ankle Wednesday and will miss the rest of the regular season. New York hopes he’ll be back for the postseason and a potential first-round matchup against the Cavs.

New York won the season series 3-1 and denied Cleveland a chance to lock up home-court advantage in the first round.

“This loss hurts,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led Cleveland with 42 points. “We need to feel it and be ready to use it when the time comes. Obviously, we control our destiny and we’ll probably see these guys in two weeks.

“There is a lot of film to go through. But if we let this affect us, we have no chance in the playoffs.”

Leading by three, the Knicks outscored the Cavs 14-2 to open the fourth and get some breathing room in a game played at a frenetic pace. The teams combined for 89 points in the first quarter and 151 in the first half.

The Cavs got within 123-116 before Brunson put the Cavs away with a layup following a timeout and then a 3-pointer. He missed a floater in the final seconds that would have given him 50 points.

Did he want 50?

“Who wouldn’t?” he said. “I was going to hold the ball out, but they doubled and I guess that means keep playing. No disrespect to them. They played to the buzzer. I have the most respect in the world for that coaching staff. You got to keep playing.”

Brunson, who averages 23.6 points, scored 33 in a wild first half without much defense.

The teams combined for 89 points in the first quarter, tying the third most in the first 12 minutes of a game in NBA history. The record of 91 is shared by Utah and Denver (1982), and Miami and Washington (2021).

Also, Cleveland’s 47 points in the first quarter were the most in the franchise’s 53-year history.

The Cavs were without two of their top defenders, center Jarrett Allen (groin) and Isaac Okoro (knee).

The Knicks had a moment of drama.

During a timeout in the third quarter, New York starters RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin got into a shouting match and had to be separated.

Thibodeau downplayed the conflict.

“The cameras are everywhere and it probably happens more than people realize,” Thibodeau said. “It was the heat of the moment. Sometimes, there is a difference of opinion, but those guys are fine with each other. These things happen.”

Later, in the locker, Toppin had his arm around a smiling Barrett.

“This is my brother,” Toppin said. “We’re good.”