Freed Bobby Portis pleased with Bulls, who need more from him down the stretch

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At one point, Bobby Portis believed the Bulls drafting him No. 22 overall last year was his “worst-case scenario.”

For one, he thought he’d be a lottery pick – “everyone thought I’d be a lottery pick,” Portis says – and falling out of the top 14 picks reduced his rookie-scale contract by more than $4 million. For another, Chicago was already overflowing with big men: Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic. Portis didn’t want to get buried on the bench.

But in his first season with the Bulls, Portis has done a complete 180.

“They make their rookies earn their stripes,” Portis said. “I feel that’s the best thing that could’ve happened to me.”

Portis is playing a somewhat surprisingly key role for Chicago, which is making a last-ditch effort to extend its playoff streak to eight straight seasons. Just 21, Portis is the Bulls’ youngest player by nearly three years.

“Bobby, he’s obviously going to be a huge part of the future of this franchise,” Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Yet, it’s Portis’ present that matters more than most expected.

Portis began the season outside the rotation, the “Free Bobby Portis” days. He showed so much promise early, the Bulls altered their lineup to get him more minutes. When Noah suffered a season-ending injury, Portis joined the rotation for good. Mirotic’s injuries only increased Portis’ role.

But the Bulls have been outscored by 9.0 points per 100 possessions with Portis on the court – easily the worst mark for any player on the team, let alone a rotation player. Portis has shot just 4-for-18 during a three-game losing streak – to the Knicks, Knicks and Magic no less – that has dropped Chicago to 36-36 and two games out of playoff position.

You get the sense the Bulls would prefer not rely on Portis at this critical time if they had other options.

Portis is averaging 6.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game – nice, though hardly unprecedented, marks for a rookie.

Seven other rookies – Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, Myles Turner, Nikola Jokic, Willie Cauley-Stein and Justise Winslow – are averaging at least five points and five rebounds per game this season. In the last 25 years, 147 rookies have averaged 5-5 (minimum: 40 games).

But none of them have done so in as few minutes per game as Portis’ 17.7.

And it’s not as if Portis barely meets the thresholds to join a group that’s far outpacing him. In the 147-player sample, Portis is fairly middle of the road in scoring and rebounding per minute.

Simply, most rookies who show as much ability as Portis get a greater chance to grow it during games.

Portis isn’t on most teams, though. The Bulls are a veteran bunch, and their interest in player development over winning now is limited. That’s especially true with their depth in front of Portis.

But Portis isn’t deterred.

“Everything is really based on adversity – how you take it and how you deal with it,” Portis said. “It’s not about wanting to be the guy so good. You have to get through the crowd to get to the top.”

Portis knows plenty about adversity after his tough upbringing. Rather than run from the challenges he has faced, he confronts them head on.

Before each game, Portis imagines someone hitting his mom and then directs his anger at his opponent. Extreme? Yes. But it works for Portis, whose demeanor has impressed his veteran teammates.

“He’s a guy that competes, brings a lot of energy, has confidence in himself and his game,” Gasol said. “Very intense, very energetic.”

Said Jimmy Butler: “The kid can play. He don’t play like a rookie. He isn’t scared not of nobody.”

As Portis adds polish and eliminates some of the rookie mistakes that plant him on the bench now, his role should expand – maybe rapidly. Noah will be a free agent, and Gasol will likely opt out this summer.

The Bulls could do worse than to rebuild around Butler, Doug McDermott, Mirotic, Portis, a top-10-protected draft pick from the Kings and Chicago’s own first-rounder.

Portis is skilled for a hustle player. He rebounds hard, and has shown some shooting ability. His energy on defense will go a longer way, with his 6-foot-11 frame and solid mobility, once he better understands the scheme.

There’s something intriguing about Portis as the second-best floor-spacer in a big-man combo. He won’t strain defenses as a stretch four. But as a stretch five next to Mirotic with the opponent’s second-best perimeter-defending big on him? That could work.

Portis’ ability on the glass would also complement Mirotic well, though Portis would have to improve as a rim protector.

But before anyone gets ahead of themselves the Bulls have 10 – they hope crucial – games remaining. Playing the Hawks, Pacers, Rockets and Pistons this week could determine Chicago’s playoff fate.

Whether he’s playing or riding the bench, Portis has learned to embrace his situation.

“Everyone’s story is different. This is my story,” Portis said. “This is what is going to make Bobby Portis who Bobby Portis is.”

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery


LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
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This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.