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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Nikola Mirotic to Pelicans trade

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Nikola Mirotic was going to get moved at the trade deadline, the only questions were where, and would the Bulls get the first round pick they wanted?

Yes, they did — from a Pelicans team desperate to make the playoffs, battling a major injury and who needs both shooting and more big men. The Mirotic trade to the Big Easy was put together on Thursday and will be official soon.

As a reminder of how this trade shakes out:

Chicago receives: Omer Asik, Tony Allen, Jameer Nelson, a 2018 first-round pick (with a Nos. 1-5 protection this year, so it conveys unless the Pelicans miss the playoffs then land in the top three in the lottery) and the right to swap second-rounders with the Pelicans in 2021.

New Orleans receives: Nikola Mirotic and the Pelicans’ own 2018 second-round pick (New Orleans traded it to Chicago in the Quincy Pondexter salary dump last summer).

So how did everyone do in this deal? Let’s break it down Clint Eastwood style with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good: Nikola Mirotic. He got what he wanted most — the Pelicans agreed to pick up his $12.5 million contract option for next season. Yes, Mirotic wanted to get out of Chicago after the “Bobby Portis broke his face with a punch” incident (although the fallout from that seemed to have mellowed out), and yes he wanted the opportunity to show off his skills, but mostly he wanted the cash. It’s always about the money.

That said, he’s going to get a chance to shine in New Orleans and really help a team trying to hold on to a playoff spot. If the Pelicans sign Greg Monroe (bought out by the Suns) as expected, Mirotic will be the third big, the first off the bench, and they are going to lean on him to create looks and get shots with the second unit. Mirotic is not going to finish the season shooting 42.9 percent from three, that’s already started to slow down, but he can score the rock inside and out, and the Pelicans can use that with DeMarcus Cousins sitting in street clothes and a cast. (Alvin Gentry did a great job of staggering Anthony Davis and Cousins, now that second unit needs the boost.) Plus it means less Darius Miller at the four, which is a good thing.

What’s more, Mirotic may be the perfect guy at the four when Anthony Davis is at the five. That’s why we get to the next “good” part of this trade.

The Good: The New Orleans Pelicans (mostly). New Orleans prioritized making the playoffs this season (read: Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps like their jobs), and since Cousins went down with a torn Achilles the Pelicans have lost to the Clippers and at home to the Kings. It felt like they were about to spiral, but this move (and likely signing of Monroe) likely helps them hold on to a postseason berth.

The Pelicans are not as good as they were with Cousins — and they are locked into playing Mirotic next season — but they will be good enough (considering the Clippers probably take a step back). Also, having Mirotic on the roster next season is some insurance in case Cousins does leave via free agency (most people think he stays, but you never know).

Here may be the best part of the Mirotic trade: We can finally see some Pelicans’ lineups with Anthony Davis at the five and actual shooting around him. How about this lineup: Davis, Mirotic, E'Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, and Darius Miller. That lineup has potential. (I just hope Gentry doesn’t screw it up and put Rondo in rather than Miller.)

The only downsides here for the Pelicans are giving up that first-round pick, and adding $1.2 million more in salary to the books next season (that’s how much more Mirotic will make compared to Asik). The Pelicans will be flirting with the luxury tax next season, the advantage is Mirotic will be a contributor to the team on the court, unlike Asik.

The Good: The Bulls “effort” to get a high draft pick. The Bulls will not use the word “tank,” but they should be closer to the bottom of the standings than they are. Chicago started poorly this season but has played well of late (gone 15-13 in their last 28) and if the draft lottery were today it would be seeded sixth (a 6.3 percent chance at the top spot and a 21.4 percent chance of landing in the top three). With this move the Bulls should lose a little more, and stand a better chance of sliding behind the Suns out West and maybe other teams to improve their lottery (and ultimately draft) position.

The Bad: The rest of this deal for Chicago. The Bulls did land the Pelicans first-round draft pick (likely in the high teens somewhere), and that has some value (as long as they learned their Jordan Bell lesson and don’t sell it). But to do that they gave up a strong trade asset in Mirotic, took on salary almost up to what Mirotic would have made had they had just picked up his option, and did they need to give the Pelicans their second-round pick back?

I don’t hate this deal, it’s not selling the Jordan Bell pick bad (or giving up the No. 16 pick in the Jimmy Butler deal), but it’s not great.

The Bad: Anyone who thought the Pelicans would try to trade Anthony Davis this summer. Most non-crazy Celtics fans realized that if New Orleans comes to the realization it has to move Davis or lose him, they won’t do it until the summer of 2019. Go ahead and try to rationalize the “they will get more for him now” arguments if you want, but the reality in New Orleans is far more straightforward: They are not going to see a player like Davis come through for a long time so they need to do everything they can to keep him. Davis isn’t just a No. 1 pick, he’s a top-five NBA player who brings it on both ends, a first-team All-NBA level player, and he is just entering his prime. You don’t trade a guy like that unless you have to.

The Pelicans are going to try to make this all work. Maybe it doesn’t and Danny Ainge can swoop in from the vulture’s perch he’s sitting on and pick the carcass clean, but that’s not happening for more than a year.

The Ugly: The playoff dreams of the Utah Jazz. It was going to be a longshot for the Jazz to make the postseason anyway, they probably need to go at least 21-9 or better the rest of the way to make the cut. However, with the Cousins injury and the Blake Griffin trade from the Clippers, it may have felt in Salt Lake City like the door to the postseason was opening a crack.

This trade to get Mirotic to New Orleans pretty much slams that door shut. It will stop the bleeding in the Big Easy. Sorry Jazz fans, hopefully next year the core can just stay healthy.

Russell Westbrook outduels Damian Lillard, Thunder pick up win to get back in series

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook called his play in Game 2 “unacceptable.”

It was more than acceptable in Game 3. He had 33 points and 11 assists and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-108 on Friday night to cut their series deficit to 2-1.

Paul George added 22 points, Jerami Grant had 18 and Dennis Schroder 17 for the Thunder. They will host Game 4 on Sunday night.

Damian Lillard scored 32 points, but he had just three in the fourth quarter after scoring 25 in the third.

C.J. McCollum had 21 and Enes Kanter added 19.

Oklahoma City closed the second quarter on a 10-1 run to take a 49-39 lead. Lillard was held to four points on 2 -or-6 shooting and the Trail Blazers shot 37.5% in the half.

George hit a 3-pointer, was fouled and made the free throw in the opening minutes of the second half to push Oklahoma City’s lead to 55-43. Westbrook backed down Lillard, hit a bank shot and was fouled. Westbrook brought out his “rock the baby” celebration, then made the free throw to put Oklahoma City up by 15.

Lillard scored 23 points the rest of the quarter to help cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 86-82 at the end of the period. McCollum hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 89 early in the fourth.

Oklahoma City regained control, then kept it. Westbrook’s jumper with just over two minutes remaining put the Thunder up 10.

 

Celtics beat Pacers 104-96 to take 3-0 series lead

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and Kyrie Irving added 19 to help the Boston Celtics beat the Indiana Pacers 104-96 on Friday night for a 3-0 lead in the first-round series.

The Celtics can close out the Eastern Conference series Sunday in Indianapolis.

Irving also had 10 assists and five rebounds.

Tyreke Evans matched his career playoff high with 19 points for the Pacers. Bojan Bogdanovic had 15, not enough to prevent Indiana from losing its sixth straight to Boston in the regular season and playoff.

Indiana desperately needed a win to avoid facing its second sweep in three years, but Boston started fast and closed it with a 10-4 spurt late in the fourth quarter.

And once again, Boston’s defense turned the game by allowing just 12 points in the third quarter.

It’s been that kind of series for Indiana, which erased a 15-point first half deficit to take a 61-59 halftime lead. Myles Turner opened the third with a 3-pointer to make it a five-point game.

But Boston charged back with eight straight points to retake the lead, closed the quarter on a 9-2 run to make it 80-73 and pulled away late.

The Celtics took control quickly by going 8 of 10 on 3s in the first quarter to build a 37-22 lead.

Evans finally got the Pacers righted with 12 second-quarter points including bookend 3s to start and finish the 17-3 spurt that allowed Indiana to tie it at 52. The Pacers closed the half on a 9-2 run to take the lead.

 

Pascal Siakam scores 30, leads Raptors past Magic for 2-1 series lead

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Toronto Raptors think Pascal Siakam should be selected the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

He was their MVP on Friday night.

And the East’s No. 2 seed has the home-court edge back again.

Siakam had 30 points and 11 rebounds, hitting a floater with 1:33 left to help snuff out a big Orlando rally and the Raptors held off the Magic 98-93 to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.

“He’s unbelievable,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year and he’s only going to get better.”

Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor and the Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting.

“It’s just taking what a defense gives us and going with it,” Siakam said.

Kawhi Leonard — battling illness this week — had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Danny Green had 13 points and Lowry finished with 12 points and 10 assists, plus ran down a huge offensive rebound with about 15 seconds left to extend a critical possession and spoil Orlando’s first home playoff game since 2012.

“It was really what I thought it was going to be tonight,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I really thought this was going to be a tough atmosphere to play in.”

Terrence Ross led Orlando with 24 points, and Nikola Vucevic shook off a slow start to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds.

Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.

“Our turnovers hurt us again,” Vucevic said, lamenting Orlando’s 16 giveaways. “We had too many of those. Empty possessions for us and against a team like that you can’t have that.”

The Raptors trailed 61-60 midway through the third after a brief Orlando spurt, then went on a 16-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead for good. Siakam and Green were both 3 for 3 during the run, the Magic missed 10 consecutive shots over a span of 6 1/2 minutes and had to play uphill the rest of the way.

That being said, they went down swinging.

Lowry’s 3-pointer with 7:48 left gave Toronto its biggest lead at 86-69. The Magic came flying back, and Ross’ 3-pointer with 41 seconds left got Orlando to 96-93.

Leonard was short with a jumper on the next possession — but the Magic couldn’t control the rebound, Lowry ran it down and Leonard made a pair of free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to clinch the win.

“Critical,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said.

Orlando, which finished the regular season by winning 13 of its final 14 home games, was 13 of 44 from 3-point range.

Toronto scored the first 10 points — the last five by Siakam, who was a problem from the outset for the Magic — and led by as many as 11 in the first half. The Magic got within 48-45 at the break after Ross beat the clock from midcourt at the buzzer.

The Magic got the lead twice in the second half, once by one point, the other by two points. And both leads lasted exactly 15 seconds, getting taken away on 3-pointers by Siakam and Green.

And now it’s up to Orlando to regroup, the same way Toronto did after dropping Game 1.

“It’s 2-1,” Clifford said. “It’s not like it’s 3-0. It’s 2-1…. Handling disappointment is a huge part of NBA basketball and it’s a bigger part of playoff basketball.”

Watch Orlando’s Terrence Ross drain halfcourt buzzer beater just before half

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Back on their home court, the Orlando Magic are hanging right with the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the 1-1 series.

This helped.

It looked like the Magic would go into halftime down by at least six, and then Terrence Ross did this.

Ross’ name came up a lot just before the trade deadline when other teams thought the Magic would decide to tank and move on from their players who could bring back assets to help the rebuild. The Magic were 10 games below .500 and four games out of the eight seed. Orlando decided instead to push for the postseason, and they made their first playoffs since the Dwight Howard era, climbing all the way to the seven seed. That would not have happened without Ross.

Now they are making the most of their opportunity.