Associated Press

Three things we learned Tuesday: In Chicago, Thibodeau’s Minnesota team shows tenacity. Finally.

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We know you couldn’t watch all of the NBA’s Tuesday night lineup because you were focused on what a man’s face looks like in super slo-mo when getting hit by a ball. We’ve got you covered, here are the takeaways from Tuesday.

1) In Chicago, Thibodeau’s Timberwolves show tenacity, maturity. Get win. We clearly expected too much, too soon from the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s easy to look at their roster on paper, to watch all that young talent in a game — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, etc.— and see the potential for greatness. We all thought that the addition of coach Tom Thibodeau would bring to that talent the intangibles we saw in his Bulls teams — we’d see tenacity. Instead, we’ve seen a Minnesota team that plays an immature game, that doesn’t show the determination, the grit to defend every play every night. We’ve seen ego. We’ve seen Thibodeau not been able to reach all this talent and teach the young stars the other things it takes to win in the NBA. We haven’t seen grit and tenacity.

Until Thibodeau brought them home to Chicago Tuesday. The Bulls blitzed the Timberwolves and overwhelmed them early, racing out to a 26-6 lead, at one point being up by 21 points. Chicago put up 38 points in the first quarter.

But they put up just 56 points the rest of the game, never breaking 20 in a quarter and shooting just 33.8 percent overall and 15.4 percent from beyond the arc in the final three quarters. The result was a 99-94 Minnesota win. The Timberwolves team that has rolled over in the face of adversity all season buckled down on defense and was able to stall out a Bulls offense that, when pressed, is unimaginative and relies heavily on isolation. The Bulls do not shoot well from the outside (they did to start the season, but that has faded and they are 29th in the NBA in eFG%), and if you can keep them off the free throw line you can force them into tough shots. Meanwhile, on offense, the athletic Timberwolves were making plays.

What matters with the Timberwolves this season is progress. That hasn’t come as fast as some wanted and expected to see, there will be no playoffs for the team this year, but progress may be coming. Tuesday night was a step. It’s fair to question if Thibodeau and his hard-driving ways are reaching the young core and if they are buying in, or tuning the old man without a life outside basketball out. But maybe it’s all just taking longer than some expected. Maybe Tuesday night we saw a step in the right direction, and while those steps may be wobbly at times ahead maybe there steadily will be other steps to follow. Let’s see where this team is and how they are playing after the All-Star break. The narrative of this team could change.

2) Portland packs paint, blocks shots, finds formula (for a night) to neutralize Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City. This was the Thunder team I feared we would see more of this season: The Westbrook-against-the-world model would run into teams packing the paint to take away his drives, there would be blocked shots and turnovers, and OKC would lack the shooting to make teams pay for that strategy.

With Victor Oladipo out for the Oklahoma City (sprained right wrist), that’s what happened to them in Portland. The Trail Blazers played their best defensive game of the season, they sagged back and packed the key — there always seemed to be three guys in there on Thunder drives — and the result was the Thunder shot 40.4 percent in the paint. The Blazers didn’t pay for that strategy as the Thunder shot 29.6 percent from three (and were 1-of-7 on corner threes). OKC turned the ball over on 19.4 percent of their possessions (big men Domantas Sabonis, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter combined for 11 turnovers between them).

This combined Tuesday night with the fact the weight of this offense seems to be wearing a little on Westbrook — he had 20 points, but it took 19 shots to get there. This is a trend now — in his last 10 games he’s still averaging a triple-double (29 points, 12.4 rebounds, 11.2 assists) but he’s shooting just 39.5 percent overall and 28.6 percent from three. Check out his shot chart from the last 10 Thunder games.

Westbrook shot chart

Oklahoma City has succeeded this season on a combination of a top-10 defense and Westbrook doing it all on offense. It’s gotten them off to a 15-10 start. But Tuesday night the hot shooting that Portland can bring undid the defense (particularly the OKC bench units), and the loss for the Thunder points to bigger questions: Can they maintain that pace? Can Westbrook?

3) Fightin’ Kristaps Porzingis puts up 34, but that’s not enough for Knicks. Phoenix beat New York 113-111 in overtime Tuesday night, a nice home win for a Suns team that has had its share of struggles this season.

But that’s not what everyone is talking about. Knicks’ fan favorite (and New York’s best player) Kristaps Porzingis put up 34 points and showed a lot of fight Tuesday. Almost literally after Suns’ rookie Marquese Chriss threw KP to the ground.

Porzingis had a monster night, and if he doesn’t foul out maybe overtime looks a little different.

Kings hire WNBA’s Lindsey Harding as assistant coach

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Sacramento Kings have hired former WNBA player Lindsey Harding as an assistant and player development coach on Luke Walton’s staff.

The team also hired Stacey Augmon and Rico Hines on Friday.

Harding played nine years in the WNBA before working as a pro personnel scout and then player development coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.

She becomes the latest woman to serve as a coach in the NBA, joining others like Boston’s Kara Lawson, San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, Dallas’ Jenny Boucek and Cleveland’s Lindsay Gottlieb.

The Kings have a history of hiring female coaches, notably Nancy Lieberman and Boucek.

 

Wizards reportedly to finally remove interim tag from GM Tommy Sheppard

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Tommy Sheppard has been doing the work as the Wizards GM since April when Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM.

Sheppard was the GM through the draft. Through free agency. All the time with the “interim” tag on his job title. In Las Vegas for Summer League, plenty of other executives wondered why that tag was still on Sheppard’s title.

It’s finally coming off, reports Candace Buckner of the Washington Post.

The Washington Wizards removed the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard’s title Friday, promoting him to be the 12th general manager in franchise history, according to a person with knowledge of the situation…

The promotion of Sheppard, who will be entering his 17th season with the Wizards, mirrors the internal hiring decision Leonsis made with his hockey team. In 2014, Leonsis elevated Brian MacLellan as the Washington Capitals senior vice president and general manager after firing George McPhee. Before the promotion, MacLellan had spent the previous seven years under McPhee as an assistant general manager.

This likely will be made official in the next 48-72 hours.

Part of the delay may have been that a couple of prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at different times. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri coming to the District, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

Making Sheppard the full-time GM provides some stability just as the Wizards reach their most important moment of the summer.

On July 26 the Wizards can offer star two guard Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million extension. The Wizards have been talking to Beal’s people and the offer will be made.

What Beal decides will decide the Wizards future for years. If Beal doesn’t sign that offer, the Wizards have to look at trading him. If he signs it, they need to build more around him.

Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards. However, there was plenty of informed speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and could choose to not sign it and essentially force his way out.

Either way, Beal’s decision will define the next steps for Sheppard for years.

 

Child tries to call out James Harden for step-back travels, he says it’s no travel

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If you tried this move in a high-school game 10 years ago, you would have been called for traveling.

In today’s NBA, as the rules are interpreted, James Harden‘s step back is not a travel.

At an event on Friday, a young fan tried to call Harden out on the travel and he defended himself. Via Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Harden’s stepback is not a travel (when he executes it properly). Even if it looks like it is.

Here is the play in question.

The official response — meaning from officials:

I know when you played Junior High basketball in 2002 that was a travel, but the NBA hasn’t called it that way in years.

The NBA rule here (Rule 10, Section XIII) simplified is a “gather and two steps.” Meaning one step while Harden is gathering the ball, plus two more. Nobody pushes the boundary of the gather step like Harden, he has mastered the grey area. But when he executes it properly — and he doesn’t every time — it’s not a travel.

No matter what that young boy’s father tells him.

Justin Holiday reportedly reaches deal with Pacers, will join forces with brother

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The Pacers just added the wing depth and some defense at the position they have been looking for.

It’s through someone they have long had their eye on, Justin Holiday, the six-year NBA veteran who split time last season between Chicago and Memphis. He has reached an agreement to join the Pacers — and his brother, Aaron Holiday — for a season in Indiana. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

The Pacers have been in touch with Holiday for a while, reports J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Holiday averaged 10.5 points a game last season, shot 34.7 percent from three, and played solid wing defense.

Victor Oladipo is the team’s best wing player, once he returns from injury (the Pacers are hoping around Christmas or a little after). Beyond him there is Jeremy Lamb, C.J. Wilcox, T.J. Warren, Doug McDermott, and Brian Bowen. Holiday can find minutes in that group.

This also sparks the dream of an all T.J./Holiday lineup. The Pacers have two Holidays, Justin and Aaron, as well as three un-related players named T.J. — T.J. McConnell, T.J. Warren, and T.J. Leaf. We need to see those five on the court together next season, if only for a few minutes.