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Bulls remain committed to keeping Jim Boylen beyond this season

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls insist they remain committed to keeping coach Jim Boylen beyond this season and that he is delivering the way they anticipated despite their poor record.

Executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said the Bulls “absolutely” plan to retain him. He said Boylen is “doing the right things” and is “promoting the right message to our players.”

The front office also took the blame Thursday for signing Jabari Parker last summer in a failed experiment. He was traded along with Bobby Portis and a protected 2023 second-round draft pick to Washington for Otto Porter Jr. on Wednesday.

“We thought at the time it was worth the roll of the dice given where we were at,” Paxson said. “It didn’t work out for either party.”

The Bulls have lost 16 of 18 games and own one of the worst records in the NBA at 12-42.

There have been few signs of progress in a season where they hoped to show some. They were hit hard by injuries and have been stumbling all season.

That might put them in better position to win the lottery and draft Zion Williamson. But it wasn’t the way they drew things up.

“I think losing definitely feeds into doubt and the way people act or react to you and feel about you,” Zach LaVine said. “I think that’s partly on us as well. We’ve got to go out here and do our job regardless. I’m not a front-office guy, I’m not a coach, so I can’t tell you what they’re thinking, what the direction is. … I’m going to do everything I can to continue to try to get this franchise back to where we need to get it to.”

The Bulls were 5-19 when they fired former coach Fred Hoiberg on Dec. 3. They have gone 7-23 under Boylen.

Chicago got blown out by a franchise-record 56 points by Boston in Boylen’s third game. The starters got benched for about the final 20 minutes that night, and some players raised the possibility of boycotting practice the following morning. There was a players-only meeting instead, and the team met with coaches and management.

“That was a bad way to start, but when you’re in it every day, you see his passion, commitment and the care he has for his players and this organization,” Paxson said.

The Bulls could be paying three coaches if they decided to let Boylen go. But Paxson said money has “nothing” to do with the decision to keep him.

As for the trade, the Bulls see it as a correction-of-sorts for the failed Parker signing as well as a logical move given where there are in their rebuild.

Parker simply did not fit in Hoiberg’s pace-and-space offense and didn’t really mesh with the defensive-oriented Boylen. The Bulls viewed it as a low-risk move when they signed him to a $40 million, two-year deal because of his age (23) and the fact that the second year was not guaranteed.

“What we saw in Jabari was a guy who’s 23 years old and had talent,” general manager Gar Forman said.

They see a fit in the 25-year-old Porter, a career 40-percent 3-point shooter and a versatile defender at small forward.

Trading Portis made sense to them because he is set to become a restricted free agent and they’re locked into Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. at power forward and center. The two sides were unable to agree to a contract extension in the offseason. And as much as the Bulls liked Portis, they viewed Porter as a wiser investment even with two years left on a four-year, $106.5 million contract.

“Is he making a lot of money? Of course he is,” Paxson said. “And it does take away some of that cap space. But we also felt that we tried to re-sign Bobby this past offseason.”

One more move the Bulls could make is a buyout with Robin Lopez that would free the veteran center to sign with a contender. Paxson said there are no plans at the moment.

“My feeling right now – it can change – is Robin will be with us,” Paxson said. “Our players love him. He’s a great teammate. He’s a good guy. We don’t feel it’s an absolute given that we have to just buy a guy out to help another team.”

NBA players, fans react to Damian Lillard’s series-ending shot

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Damian Lillard is the best Portland Trail Blazers player of all time. We’ve established that, it’s time to move on.

Lillard hit yet another game-winning, series-ending shot in the playoffs on Tuesday night as the Blazers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 at Moda Center, 118-115.

Lillard hit a step-back 37-foot 3-point shot over Paul George to win the series at the buzzer. It was reminiscent of the shot Lillard hit in 2014 over Chandler Parsons to beat the Houston Rockets and send Portland to the second round.

Of course the league was watching as the game went down this track too late into the night on the West coast, and early in the morning on the East.

After Lillard hit the shot, NBA Twitter left into action. NBA players who were awake reacted as well, including Parsons, who was cavalier about the whole thing.

What an incredible night in the NBA.

Damian Lillard did it again

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Damian Lillard did it again.

On Tuesday night when the Portland Trail Blazers needed him most, Lillard came through. Things were tight between Portland the Oklahoma City Thunder late in Game 5 at Moda Center. Both Russell Westbrook and Paul George played with five fouls in the fourth quarter, and after an explosive first half where Lillard scored 34 points, things had slowed for Portland.

In the second half, Westbrook played the part of the bully against CJ McCollum, and George was fantastic, eventually scoring 36 points with nine rebounds and three assists.

But things seemed to turn around when Jusuf Nurkic, out with a broken leg, returned to the Blazers bench with three-and-a-half minutes left and Portland down by eight. Nurkic said he left his house with a few minutes to go in the third quarter, anticipating his team could use his good spirits. Indeed, Nurkic’s presence seemed to fuel Portland. When Nurkic showed up, the home team immediately went on an 8-0 run.

Then, Lillard did what he does best.

After hitting the two-for-one shot with 32 seconds left, Lillard found himself with the ball, the game tied, and the shot clock off. As time ticked down and with the game on the line, Lillard hit the biggest shot of the night, right as time expired.

It was the shot that won the series.

You wouldn’t be mistaken if you equated Tuesday night’s big shot to the one Lillard hit in 2013 to beat the Houston Rockets and send Portland into the second round of the playoffs. In fact, I was at that game and I can tell you it was a defining moment for the franchise over the past half-decade.

But this was so much more.

Lillard’s shot to beat the Thunder solidified several things, both about the team and about the star guard himself. The Blazers have been a squad that have relied on its bench and supporting cast all season long, even more so with Nurkic out with a broken leg. But when the Thunder played perhaps one of their best games of the postseason, it was Lillard’s 50-point performance that moved them forward.

Portland is a team’s team, but in the end, it was their star that they needed.

There’s no doubt that Portland and Lillard have had it their fair share of doubters over the past several years. The idea that they could — or should — have a team built on the backs of Lillard and McCollum has raised the eyebrows of many, including myself. But externally, and particularly after their playoff sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans last season, it appeared most were ready to write off this team altogether.

But this playoff series, and this team, is different. They’ve been different all season long, right down to the rotations and flexibility that head coach Terry Stotts has enabled this season. Stotts has gone deeper into his bench, and altered his Flow offense in a way that is helped Portland stay fresh after years of running the same old song and dance.

Guys like Jake Layman, Seth Curry, Zach Collins, and Enes Kanter have all stepped up over the course of the season to be able to contribute to a squad that is needed more than just Lillard and McCollum.

To that end, Portland rose again and again to the challenge. Despite some of their losses, the Thunder gave numerous gut punches to the Blazers that would have seen previous iterations of this team fold. But Portland has been stronger, both as a unit and as Lillard has solidified himself as a more complete two-way player.

The idea that Lillard came back stronger and as more of a leader, ready for adversity, is not a supposition. At this point, it’s fact. You can see how the rest of the team has banded behind him in support of his path forward. Hell, Kanter told reporters after the game on Tuesday that he separated his shoulder and had to have an injection at halftime. That’s how bad these Blazers wanted to win, and how much they wanted to push not just for themselves, but for Lillard.

Thanks to Lillard’s shot (and McCollum’s jumpers, and Maurice Harkless’ free throws) Portland beat the Thunder, 118-115. They advance to the second round, and Rip City will be buzzing all week long. They deserve it, and they’ll be real contenders to challenge for a Western Conference Finals berth.

But where does that leave us when we think about Lillard, and these Blazers? If his famous “0.9” shot from 2014 was the thing that put him on the map, Tuesday’s 37-foot step-back jumper over George was the thing that made Lillard a legend.

The impossibility of that jumper — and the sheer gal to take it — is what makes Damian Lillard who he is.

The greatest Blazer of all-time.

Nuggets have figured out Spurs, how to win, dominate Game 5 to take 3-2 lead

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The coach who made the adjustment that changed the series is not the Olympic team coach, not the “why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame already guy. Instead, it’s Michael Malone. He has been the Bobby Fischer.

Malone’s adjustment: Starting Torrey Craig. Exactly the move everyone expected before the series.

Defensively, Craig has used his length to slow DeMar DeRozan (as much as anyone is going to), while Gary Harris could focus on the young Derrick White and Jamal Murray could hide on Bryn Forbes.

Craig was supposed to drag down the Nuggets offense too much to play him, but he was 5-of-7 from three in Game 4, and in Game 5 it didn’t matter because the San Antonio had no answer for the Jamal Murray/Nikola Jokic pick-and-roll.

The result was a 108-90 Denver thumping of the Spurs, giving them a 3-2 series lead. Closing out the Spurs in San Antonio will be a tall order, but a Denver team that came into the series needing to learn how to win at playoff basketball looks like a team that has figured it out.

“They just outplayed us in every facet of the game,” Gregg Popovich said succinctly.

Murray had 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, plus dished out seven assists and was +33 on the night.

Murry and Jokic have developed a tremendous pick-and-roll chemistry that leads to easy buckets off cuts, rolls, or open threes. Jokic is going to be good — 16 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists — but when Murray is hitting shots too the duo is nearly impossible to stop.

More important than the offense has been how Denver has started to defend the Spurs well — something Craig helped bring to the table. The Nuggets were stepping in and blowing up pick-and-rolls, forcing the Spurs into dry stretches of offense that allowed Denver to pull away.

The Spurs at home cannot be written off, but their role players need to make more plays — LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan each had 17 points, but the rest of the Spurs shot 38.7 percent on the night. Against this Denver offense, that’s not going to be good enough. Denver has figured out what it needs to do to win, the ball is in the Spurs court to adapt. And just make shots.

A bunch of players got ejected at the end of Sixers-Nets (VIDEO)

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The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on to the second round. They beat the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, 122-100. They will meet in the Toronto Raptors in the next series after Kawhi Leonard & Co. took care of the Orlando Magic earlier in the evening.

Brooklyn was a spunky team, and they gave the Sixers some headaches. They also exposed some of Philadelphia’s more obvious flaws, which we will no doubt see Toronto try to exploit moving forward.

The Nets are a prideful team, and they weren’t too pleased about getting bumped out of the playoffs by Philadelphia. At the end of the game, a scuffle between Jonah Bolden and Rodions Kurucs resulted in the ejections of several players.

Via Twitter:

Greg Monroe and Dzanan Musa were also ejected.

It’s a bummer of a way to end the year for Brooklyn, but they should hold their heads high given they gave a championship-hopeful team in the Sixers a scare and cast some serious self-doubt in their hearts.