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Bulls ride Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler to 100-92 win over Magic

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Dwyane Wade trusts his natural feel for the game when it’s time to defer and allow Jimmy Butler to take over down the stretch.

The 14-year veteran guard also knows when his new team needs more of him late in the games. He sensed it Tuesday night, scoring seven of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to propel the Chicago Bulls to 100-92 road win over the struggling Orlando Magic.

It was the second straight game that Wade took over in the fourth quarter to lead Chicago to victory.

“Each game is different and it calls for something different,” Wade said of how he and Butler play off each other. “Like I said earlier in the year, I think we are both more dynamic when we are both able to score.”

Both took turns in the fourth as the Bulls pulled away in otherwise close game. Butler scored six of his 20 points in the fourth quarter as they took turns pulling up for jumpers and driving to the basket against a Magic team that was playing without three of its top four guards.

But Wade just seemed to have a little more energy as he played the role of scorer and facilitator in setting up his teammates for easy baskets throughout the fourth quarter.

“He’s been huge lately,” Butler said. “He’s taking and making shots, tough ones at that, passing the ball to the open guy. Me and him both decided to miss a couple of wide-open layups tonight, that’s part of it. But he has been huge.”

His performance took a little pressure off Jerian Grant, who was inserted back into the starting lineup at point guard before the game. Wade’s vision also played a part in backup center Cristiano Felicio‘s 12-point, 10-rebound performance.

“He is obviously a guy who can get it going at any time,” Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said of Wade. “He had three big buckets going into halftime to get him some confidence and little rhythm and then was awesome in the fourth quarter to close the game.”

TIP-INS

Bulls: Chicago shook up its point guard position before Tuesday night’s game. Grant replaced Carter-Williams in the starting lineup. Hoiberg said Carter-Williams, who didn’t play, has been demoted and will come off the bench and did not immediately name a backup, although Rajon Rondo was the first off the bench.

Magic: Injuries caused the Magic to shuffle their starting lineup for the second game in a row. With Augustin out with an ankle injury from Sunday’s loss to Golden State, Vogel shifted C.J. Watson, who started at shooting guard Sunday, to backup point guard and coming off the bench. Jeff Green and Aaron Gordon both started at the wings to match up better against Butler and Wade, Vogel said. Fournier, the starting shooting guard, missed his sixth straight game with a sore right foot. …The MRI on Augustin’s sprained ankle came back negative but he is listed as day-to-day. … Meeks had surgery on his right thumb Tuesday morning and is out indefinitely.

DEPLETED BACKCOURT

With Evan Fournier, Jodie Meeks and D.J. Augustin all out with injuries, the Magic’s backcourt struggled.

That was most evident in the 19 turnovers the team committed. Point guard Elfrid Payton, who had to play 38 minutes because of the lack at the position, committed eight of the costly turnovers.

“Well, they’re good at turning teams over and we know we can’t over penetrate,” said Orlando coach Frank Vogel. “But we’re missing our shooting guards so it’s a little bit of a challenge with what we have in terms of perimeter shooting.”

MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Felicio, who struggled with catching the ball in the paint early in the season, thrived underneath most of the night when Chicago went to its smaller lineup.

He defended Nikola Vucevic decently in the paint and when Butler and Wade found him for lobs inside he made good, converting four of six.

UP NEXT

Bulls: Chicago returns home to take on the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.

Magic: Orlando hits the road for a three-game stretch with Boston as the first stop on Friday night.

Jayson Tatum throws down epic dunk on LeBron James (VIDEO)

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The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers held a barnburner of a Game 7 on Sunday, with Boston’s Jayson Tatum going head-to-head with LeBron James.

For his part, LeBron was everything we expected in a Game 7. The King played spectacularly, willing his Cavaliers squad to yet another NBA Finals appearance as Cleveland edged Boston.

But before things were sealed, and the game decided, Tatum got off a raucous dunk right in James’ eye that made many wonder if the torch was on the cusp of being passed.

The play came with 6:45 left in the fourth quarter with Tatum driving down the lane and LeBron moving over to help recover on defense. It would have been easy to anticipate another big LeBron playoff block, but Tatum continued his surprising season by dunking all over The King.

Via Twitter:

Cleveland won the game, 87-79, but Tatum’s dunk on the big stage is just one of many reasons why the Celtics are going to be a complete hassle next year when they’re back to being fully healthy.

LeBron James is the greatest player of all-time

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He’s done it again. LeBron James, the King in the East, played 48 minutes en route to his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance after beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 at TD Garden on Sunday, 87-79.

Bow down to the greatest player of all-time.

Much has been made of LeBron’s place in history as his legacy has began to galvanize toward the end of his career. The conversation has raged on about LeBron vs. Michael Jordan, or Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Preference varies greatly between fans, while some still pick the centrist route and say there’s no simple way to compare across eras. There’s been mathematical attempts to rank the two, and even MJ’s old teammates have said LeBron is a more complete player.

On Sunday, James bounced yet another Eastern Conference Finals opponent, carrying his teammates on his shoulders and playing without All-Star Kevin Love. There was never a doubt for many watching Sunday’s matchup in Massachusetts. Before the final buzzer, LeBron had won 23 straight Eastern Conference playoff series. His determination was absolute, and the cards were always stacked against Boston even given their postseason record at home.

You could sort of just see it coming.

James was the motivating force in the first half for Cleveland, scoring 17 points while no other teammates tallied in double digits. The Cavaliers shot an abysmal 12 percent from beyond the arc, and the Celtics looked like they would be able to control the rest of the game as the crowd at home motivated them forward.

But Cleveland came roaring back in the second half, continuing to put on a defensive show, the kind we would not have expected of them during the regular season. Without Love, the Cavs had to make do with Jeff Green, who turned in a surprising performance. Green scored 19 points, shot 50 percent from the field, and grabbed eight rebounds.

In the face of a strengthening Cavaliers attack, the Celtics seems to retreat. Boston’s final offensive possessions in the fourth quarter were hectic, slow, and unsuccessful. While the Cavaliers tried their hardest during the final eight minutes to get Al Horford switched on to LeBron in isolation sets, the Celtics surprisingly mirrored the same offensive tactics. Instead of playing their regular offense, or running plays to get shooters free, or trying to attack the paint against James (who was in foul trouble) Boston resorted to trying to exploit any mismatches found through Cleveland’s switches.

The result was four field goals inside the 3-point line for LeBron in the fourth quarter, as much as the entire Celtics roster combined.

The play of the game came with 1:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers leading by nine. LeBron was out on the break, with Marcus Morris trailing behind him. Morris went to foul LeBron, making no obvious attempts on the ball as he grabbed onto the Cavaliers star’s shoulders. Even with all of his might, Morris couldn’t stop James from scoring while drawing the foul. It was indicative of the entire fourth quarter for the Celtics, who scraped, clutched and grabbed as much as they could but did not have an answer for LeBron.

So here we are, with LeBron having won another Game 7 out in the Eastern Conference as he heads to another Finals. He probably won’t match Jordan’s championship mark. But Jordan didn’t match Russell’s. Or Horry’s. Or Havlichek’s, either.

Instead, we have to rely on what we see in front of our eyes combined with their dominance, weighted for context. Sunday night’s performance should help push LeBron over Jordan, if he wasn’t there already. James is a more complete player, which has always been apparent, and now he’s survived every challenge that’s been thrown at him. Declaring James the best player of all-time did not come because of Sunday’s game. It’s been years in the making, throughout the entirety of his 15-year career. The win over Boston was just an indication of his place in history.

LeBron has gone nuclear with 40+ point performances. He was part of the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history against the Golden State Warriors. He beat the Indiana Pacers all by himself, in the playoffs, just this very season. James has had a career season at age 33, playing 48 minutes in the 100th game of the 2017-18 season. LeBron has willed his way to yet another NBA Finals, with perhaps his worst team since the 2007 squad that was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. To add further insult to injury, LeBron pushed this team past a very good team in the Celtics, on the road, and without Love.

James is the greatest American sports story of our generation, and he’s the best player the NBA has ever seen. If you disagree, that’s OK. But after Sunday night, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.

Watch Victor Oladipo drive the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 (VIDEO)

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Victor Oladipo is Indiana’s favorite son after the Indiana Pacers guard blasted through the competition during the 2017-18 NBA season.

Oladipo averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and led the league with 2.4 steals per game. Oladipo’s 3-point shooting improved year-over-year, and his VORP skyrocketed in his new leadership role. Many feel the Pacers won the Paul George trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder thanks to Oladipo.

Thanks in part to his stellar play, Oladipo was invited to drive the pace car at the start of the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Turns out he was pretty good at it.

Via Twitter:

Oladipo is apparently going to be honored with the steering wheel from the pace car he drove. No doubt taking part in a classic local sporting event like the Indy 500 will help ingrain Oladipo into the sports fabric in Indianapolis even further.

Steve Kerr on Chris Paul: ‘More than anything, I feel bad for Chris’

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul didn’t play in Game 6 on Saturday night. The Rockets failed to eliminate the Golden State Warriors, who forced a Game 7 with a 115-86 win in Oakland.

Paul’s status for Game 7 is still unclear, although things aren’t looking good. Paul’s hamstring injury will be hard to heal in such a short amount of time, even with round the clock treatment and the power of will the veteran point guard brings to the table.

The Point God has a tendency to get hurt at just the wrong time. Paul famously broke his hand in April of 2016, and along with Blake Griffin‘s quad injury, allowed the Portland Trail Blazers to get the better of the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs that year. Paul also missed two games against the Rockets in the playoffs with a sore hamstring in 2015, a series the Clippers and Paul lost in seven games.

The NBA is not blind to Paul’s bad luck, either. Opposing head coach Steve Kerr commented on it to reporters, outlining not only what he thought they might do rotationally but his feelings about Paul’s injury history.

Via ESPN:

“More than anything, I feel bad for Chris,” Kerr said before the Warriors’ 115-86 rout of the Rockets at Oracle Arena. “The guy’s a phenomenal player and competitor and pretty much willed his team the last two games. He’s just been haunted by these types of injuries in his career, and it’s a shame. I hate when anybody gets hurt.”

Kerr mentioned that he knew the reality of the situation is that by the end of the season, not everyone is going to be healthy. No doubt it’s a good thing for Kerr and the Warriors that Paul will likely miss Game 7. It’s unfortunate for a veteran like Paul, whose stellar career is dogged by unfair narratives of playoff failures.

Maybe Houston can try again next year when they have LeBron James?