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Nikola Mirotic’s return sparks Bulls to 6-game win streak

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CHICAGO (AP) — Nikola Mirotic has turned into a matchup nightmare. Kris Dunn looks like one of the NBA’s most promising young point guards, and Bobby Portis and David Nwaba have provided a spark off the bench.

For a team that was supposed to be tanking this year, the Chicago Bulls look awfully competitive all of a sudden.

Led by Mirotic and Dunn, Chicago beat Philadelphia 117-115 on Monday night for its sixth consecutive victory on the heels of a 10-game slide – a turnaround unlike any other in NBA history. The Bulls are perfect since Mirotic returned Dec. 8 after missing the start of the season with facial fractures following a fight with Portis.

“I think the biggest thing is, the reason why we are winning, is because we are having fun with it,” Dunn said. “When you are having fun, when you are winning, things (are) a lot smoother.”

This was not exactly the plan for Chicago after it went 41-41 last season and lost to Boston in the first round of the playoffs. All-Star Jimmy Butler was traded to Minnesota in June and Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Taj Gibson departed for greener pastures as Chicago embarked on a potentially painful rebuilding process.

Then Mirotic and Portis got into an altercation during practice on Oct. 17, and the Bulls became the laughingstock of the league. Portis was suspended for eight games and Mirotic needed weeks to recover from his injuries.

For a while, no one was quite sure whether Mirotic and Portis would be able to play together again. But they figured it out over time, validating Chicago’s patient approach to the situation.

“I was very, very excited to start the season,” Mirotic said. “Putting in all the work and gaining 20 pounds of (muscle) on my body, but sometimes things just happen (for) a reason. You never know why is the reason. Even maybe could be looking very bad in the beginning, but at the end of the day, now, I’m not saying it’s good, but just trying to be positive out there, making my life simple in the game.”

The 26-year-old Mirotic, who re-signed with Chicago in September on a two-year contract that could pay as much as $27 million, was maddeningly inconsistent during his first three years in the league. But he has been an absolute terror since coming back from the preseason fight, averaging 20.3 points and 7.3 rebounds during the streak.

He has been more aggressive after often deferring to his teammates early in his career. Offseason weightlifting work has helped with his low-post game and defense.

“He’s a real threat, you have to know where he is,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “I think when we study, what does a modern-day player look like, it looks like him. It looks like him. Big athlete, got a bounce, can make shots, and seemingly he’s been one of the key things to connect the dots.”

The 6-foot-10 Mirotic can shoot over smaller players or take the ball to the basket when he is guarded by a big man. With Dunn, Portis and rookie Lauri Markkanen creating their own matchup problems, the Bulls are becoming a tough team to defend.

Chicago (9-20) had seven players score in double figures in the victory over Philadelphia. It is averaging 111 points during its win streak.

“These guys have made leaps and bounds from where we were as far as making plays down the stretch and going out and playing with confidence when it matters most,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Dunn, who came over in the Butler deal, hit a couple of big shots down the stretch against Philadelphia and finished with 22 points and six assists. He has scored in double figures in a career-best eight straight games.

Portis and Nwaba, who missed a chunk of the season with a sprained right ankle, have had their moments as well. Portis scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Friday night’s 115-109 victory at Milwaukee, and Nwaba has scored in double figures in six of his last seven games.

“David is doing a lot of little things for this team,” Hoiberg said. “We missed him a lot when he was out of the lineup.”

Next up for Hoiberg’s team is a visit from lowly Orlando, losers of five in a row and six of seven. Then Chicago hits the road for a challenging three-game trip to Cleveland, Boston and Milwaukee, and Zach LaVine could make his Bulls debut next month in his return from knee surgery.

After looking completely lost at times during a 3-20 start, there is suddenly reason for hope in Chicago.

“It’s still about taking positive steps and our team has done that in these past couple weeks,” Hoiberg said.

 

Lakers fan paints another LeBron mural in Los Angeles (PHOTO)

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There was already one LeBron James mural in Los Angeles. Several people decided to attack it with paint, ruining a nice gesture by a local artist in Venice and proving how annoying (presumed) Kobe Bryant fans can be.

Now, there is another mural in LA and this time it paid a little more attention to former Lakers legends. Hopefully this time around the subject matter will help stave off would-be vandals.

Via Twitter:

This LeBron piece was done by another Venice muralist, Gustavo Zermeño Jr., who posted photos of his work. In it, LeBron is seen looking up at Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

No doubt that should satisfy some Lakers purists around the area, at least enough to keep them from throwing white paint all over it and ruining and impressive piece of artwork that took the artist a long time to create.

Lakers fan should just be happy that LeBron is in their state.

Clippers sign free agent Luc Mbah a Moute for second stint

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LOS ANGELES — Luc Mbah a Moute is back with the Los Angeles Clippers, signing a free-agent deal.

The 31-year-old forward averaged 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.18 steals in 61 games for Houston last season.

Mbah a Moute played two seasons for the Clippers from 2015-17, averaging 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 155 games, including 137 starts.

He was selected 37th overall by Milwaukee in 2008 after three seasons at UCLA. Besides the Clippers and Rockets, Mbah a Moute has played 10 seasons with Milwaukee, Sacramento, Minnesota and Philadelphia.

Terms of the deal announced Thursday were not announced.

DeMarcus Cousins relishing fresh start in Golden State

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins spent his first eight seasons in the NBA chasing two things – peace and the playoffs.

After signing with Golden State as a free agent, the four-time All-Star center has no doubts he’ll finally find both, and that those will help dispel the notion that he’s a bad teammate.

“Just a chance to play for a winning culture,” Cousins said Thursday. “I also have a chance to play with some of the most talented players of this era. Those two things alone, that pretty much sums it up.”

Looking relaxed while sitting on a stage next to Warriors general manager Bob Myers, Cousins was at ease during a news conference at the team’s practice facility.

Golden State’s fiery big man seems content in his new surroundings and wants the hardware to show for it.

“Every guy said let’s go get another championship,” Cousins said. “They are a well-established team and they could have easily been like, `No, we don’t need him.’ But they were excited like a team that’s never accomplished anything.”

While his signing in Golden State drew mostly groans from around the NBA, Cousins didn’t need much persuading to join the two-time defending champions. He has never played in the postseason, is coming off Achilles surgery in January and didn’t attract much attention in free agency until signing a $5.3 million, one-year contract with Golden State.

From the Warriors’ side, it’s a case of the rich getting richer. They’ve won the championship three of the past four seasons with an attack heavy on perimeter shooting and defense. In the 6-foot-7-inch, 270-pound Cousins, they now have a dominant presence on the low block as well.

“It’s a different dimension,” Myers said. “It’s not something that we’ve ever had as far as a low-post threat since I’ve been here. I’m excited. I hope he’s excited.”

Cousins averaged 25.2 points and career highs in rebounds (12.9), assists (5.4) and minutes (36.2) with New Orleans before getting hurt. He has been frustrated by the tediousness of rehab but is being cautious in his approach.

“I’m progressing weekly, which is a positive,” Cousins said. “As far as a timetable . to be determined. I have to be smart about it. I’m in a unique situation as well where I’m not needed right away. Time is kind of on my side so I have a chance to get to 100 percent.

“Making it to the playoffs won’t be an issue for this team obviously. Once the basketball part comes, everything else will take care of itself.”

A throng of media attended the news conference, flanked by 150 young fans who were taking part in a basketball camp held by Warriors. Cousins answered questions from two of the youngsters who were eager to know who his favorite players were growing up.

The 27-year-old with a quick temper and a history of piling up technical fouls at a rapid rate showed a playful side when he joked about the possibility of fighting with new teammates Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, two players with whom he’s had on-court issues in the past.

“Might as well,” Cousins said as the crowd laughed.

Cousins turned serious at one point when asked about reports that he had been offered a new contract by New Orleans before signing with Golden State.

“Only me and (Pelicans general manager) Dale Demps know what was said on the phone that night,” Cousins said. “We both know the truth and I’ll leave it at that.”

As for his new team, Cousins has assimilated quickly. He played with several members of the Warriors while winning a gold medal as part of Team USA during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“Me and Draymond clicked right away,” Cousins said. “We’re two goofballs that like to joke around a lot. Same with KD and same thing with Steph (Curry). It’s a great group. I think we’ll mesh well.”

Until he is medically cleared to play, Cousins will continue to rehab and learn coach Steve Kerr’s system. He’ll also reach out to the Oakland community, something he made a quiet habit of while in Sacramento playing for the Kings.

“I get out in the `hoods,” Cousins said. “I want to go to the worst, the grimiest places. That’s where I want to be. Those are usually the kids or the communities that kind of get left behind or forgotten about. I feel like I was in that situation at one point. That’s where my mindset is and that’s what I stand for.”

 

Trade, buyout clears way for Carmelo Anthony to join Rockets

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There were a few things that were a given back on July 1 heading into free agency: Kevin Durant would re-sign with the Warriors, Chris Paul was going to stay in Houston, the Washington Wizards would find a way to make their bad locker room chemistry worse

And Carmelo Anthony would end up in Houston.

Every source I have talked to through free agency and at Summer Leagues saw ‘Melo as a Rocket as all but inevitable. Anthony’s people have not exactly been subtle about their efforts.

Thursday’s three-team trade that sends Anthony to Atlanta — where he will be bought out at full price, no discount — clears the way for him to become a Rocket. After Anthony clears waivers, the deal will get done.

Is that a good move for the Rockets is another question.

Anthony and coach Mike D’Antoni had their problems in New York. Both say they are past those now, but when issues flare up again, will the history? And issues will flare up.

With James Harden and CP3, the Rockets offense is built on efficiency — there may be a lot of isolations, but they get threes and shots at the rim with a team of guys willing to move the ball for a better shot. That’s not Anthony. He can still get buckets, and he shot 35.7 percent from three last season, but Anthony is not a guy who moves the ball or is efficient anymore (40.4 percent shooting overall last season). He relies heavily on post up and isolations ( 32.5 percent of Anthony’s possessions last season), and he’s still reasonably efficient on those. But he’s a ball stopper, something Harden and Paul are not for all their isolation plays.

Defensively he is nowhere near Phoenix-bound Trevor Ariza or Clippers-bound Luc Mbah-a-Moute. Anthony will get targeted on switches and played off the floor at the end of games and in the playoffs. James Ennis is a better option for the Rockets in many lineups.

If Anthony can accept a sixth man role, he could really help the Rockets. However, after the Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs last year, Anthony was asked about doing that for OKC and literally laughed the question off. Maybe playing with Harden and CP3 on a contender changes things, but I will see it when I believe it.

Anthony is going to be a Rocket next season. How well that works is something to watch.