Bulls’ playoffs hopes dealt blow with 111-89 loss to Magic


ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Chicago Bulls came into Saturday night’s game against Orlando needing to turn things around for their fading playoff chances.

But it was the short-handed Magic, a team long out of the playoff hunt, who seemed to play with the sense of urgency the Bulls needed to have.

Orlando, playing without leading scorers Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo, got points from a collection of role players – including a career-high 18 points and season-high 13 rebounds from Dewayne Dedmon – on the way to an impressive 111-89 win at the Amway Center that sent the Bulls to their third straight loss and put their playoff hopes in serious doubts.

Bulls stars Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler had expressed their frustration with the late-season slide before Saturday night’s game. The Bulls’ display against another non-playoff team did little to calm things as they saw their chances to make up ground for the eighth and final playoff in the Eastern Conference take another blow.

Chicago is two games behind both Indiana and Detroit, which are tied for the last two spots in the conference.

“I sure hope not,” Bulls first-year coach Fred Hoiberg responded when asked if he thinks his team has quit on trying to make a playoff run.

“Obviously, what I’m saying right now, my message isn’t getting across,” he added. “We’re going to sit in a room and hopefully get it figured out tomorrow.”

There is no denying the frustration among the Bulls’ players, who made mistake after mistake against the Magic.

“Obviously, we’re really struggling right now,” forward Mike Dunleavy said. “We look like a team that’s lost in terms of doing the things you need to do. It’s a lot of stuff. We have to find our way. We’ve had success in the past, but it’s going to be tough right now.”

The Bulls, however, insist they have not given up on the season despite what it looks like on the floor.

“I don’t think anybody’s quit,” shooting guard Jimmy Butler said. “We’ve just hit adversity at the wrong time and we’ve got to fix it. It better carry over from in this locker room out to the court. That’s the only way to get this thing fixed.

“Nobody else can play basketball for us.”

Aside from a brief run early in their third quarter, that reduced their 18-point halftime deficit to nine points, the Bulls (36-36) never seemed to play with much urgency. Taj Gibson was consistently strong in the paint, leading the Bulls with 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting. But the other key Bulls players were mostly non-factors.

Derrick Rose had an off night with just nine points on 4-of-14 shooting, while committing four turnovers. Butler had a quiet 12 points and Mike Dunleavy added 10 points. Center Pau Gasol, who missed Thursday night’s loss to the New York Knicks with continued swelling in his right knee, scored just seven points on 3-of-6 shooting while being completely outplayed by Dedmon.

The Magic journeyman center looked much more the All-Star center as he dominated the paint. Dedmon, who teammates made a point of getting the ball inside to him early, exceeded his career high in the first half with 16 points to help lead the Magic to a 68-50 halftime lead.

“He was really active,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said. “He was on the boards. He got some opportunities sometimes he might not normally get and was able to finish them.”

Dedmon was far from the only Magic player who stepped up Saturday night. Point guard Elfrid Payton outplayed his much more celebrated counterpart, coming up with a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists against Rose and the Bulls other point guards.

The Magic, which led by as many as 29 points, also received big contributions off the bench from forwards Jason Smith and Andrew Nicholson, who scored 14 points apiece.

“We’ve had a lot of halves, quarters where we’re very energetic, see each other,” said Skiles, whose team improved to 30-43. “We played unselfishly tonight. We did it very well.”

Meanwhile, Hoiberg seemed at a loss for what to do to get things turned around as the season heads into the final stretch.

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “They’re locked in at shootaround. They’re getting after it. They’re paying attention to what we’re doing, then we go out there and get slapped in the face. It just spirals downhill.”


Magic: C Nikola Vucevic missed his 12th straight game with lingering groin issues. … Ersan Llyasova (shoulder) sat for the second consecutive game.

Bulls: Gasol returned to the lineup, but remained on a minutes restriction.


Bulls: host Atlanta on Monday night.

Magic: host Brooklyn on Tuesday night.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract


Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.


Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade


While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers


The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.