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Kendrick Nunn’s surprise arrival on the NBA scene is no surprise to Kendrick Nunn


LOS ANGELES — Kendrick Nunn’s sudden arrival on the NBA scene seemed to catch everyone off guard.

It did the front offices of 30 NBA teams, who passed on him in the 2018 draft. It did — but not as much as you’d think — the Golden State Warriors, who had him in training camp a year ago but sent him to the G-League then did not sign him. It did the Grizzlies, Bucks, Timberwolves, and Hawks, who watched him rack up the most points through five games (112) of any rookie since Kevin Durant back in 2007.

Nunn surprised everyone.

Except himself.

“It’s not no surprise at all,” Nunn told NBC Sports. “I’ve known who I was since years before this happened. I envisioned it and wanted to make it come to life working hard every day. The results have shown.”

Nunn’s start, including 44 points in a preseason game, impressed coach Eric Spoelstra enough to move Nunn into the starting lineup, allowing Spoelstra to bring Goran Dragic off the bench as a weapon (ala Lou Williams with the Clippers). It’s worked for a Heat team off to a 6-3 start, a team defending well and outscoring opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions.

Nunn’s fast start has stalled out some the last four games — 9.3 points per game on 34.1 percent shooting overall and 19 percent from three — as defenses have stopped wondering who he is and started blitzing him more. He’s drawing a lot more defensive attention and having to learn how to adapt his fearless playing style to that reality.

That was evident against the Lakers last Friday, a team where Spoelstra (and Doc Rivers, and every coach that has faced them) has talked about their length. It bothered Nunn early. On the Heat’s first possessions of the game Nunn got Anthony Davis switched onto him out on the wing, Nunn fearlessly put the ball on the floor and drove and blew right past him. However, when Avery Bradley slid over to help and forced Nunn to make another move, Davis caught up and swatted Nunn’s shot. Meanwhile, Nunn didn’t see the open pass to Bam Adebayo along the baseline. It’s all a learning experience.

“Just watching film, see the mistakes that I made and try to learn from it,” Nunn said of how he grows after games like the last few. “Little mistakes, but I’ve got to correct them. Just watch the film.”

It’s that grinding, hard-working attitude that endears Nunn to Miami — he fits perfectly with the Heat culture. Overlooked but talented and willing to put in the work, it’s a mold that applies to the team’s marquee name in Jimmy Butler, and it applies to Nunn. It’s why Butler and Nunn have developed some quick chemistry.

“It’s easy because [Butler and the veterans] love my work ethic and the kind of player that I am, that I can do it on both ends of the floor,” Nunn said. “So you’d love to play with someone who plays defense and can score the ball.”

Nunn grew up where grit mattered, on Chicago’s South Side. He was high school teammates with Jabari Parker at Simeon High and won several state titles, and he impressed enough as a young player to get a scholarship to Illinois. However, Nunn was booted from that program after pleading guilty to a domestic violence misdemeanor battery charge, one where he was accused of hitting a woman in the head, pushing her, then pouring water on her. When you talk about why Nunn went undrafted, this was part of the reason — teams were concerned about his character.

Nunn bounced to Oakland University in Michigan, where he put up numbers — 25.9 points per game and shooting 39.4 percent from three — but teams are leery of guards who put up big numbers at smaller schools. Often, they and their games don’t translate. It was all enough for Nunn to get passed over in the draft.

The Golden State Warriors, a team known for finding diamonds in the rough, gave Nunn a chance at Summer League in 2018, and he impressed enough to get an invite to their training camp. That was a stacked, deep roster for Golden State looking to contend, so it’s no surprise he was waived then assigned to their G-League team in Santa Cruz, where he scored 19.3 points per game.

The character questions from college didn’t follow him to the G-League, where sources say he was mature, and a good leader in the locker room. On the court, he was draining threes but also was aggressive on straight-line drives to the basket.

Nunn impressed the scouts in Miami enough that in the final days of last season, they signed him to a non-guaranteed contract.

There now are a lot of questions from Golden State fans about how they let Nunn go — the Warriors could undoubtedly use another solid, scoring guard right now — but when you think about their roster in the final days of last season, still with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, a player like Nunn was just not a need. Not even on a 10-day contract. Plus, they were a luxury tax team, keeping him would have gotten very expensive fast. If Miami hadn’t snapped up Nunn, maybe the Warriors do sign him after Thompson went down with a torn ACL. We’ll never know because the Heat were the aggressors.

The rest is history in Miami, and Nunn said he feels like he found his home.

“Just being in this organization where I fit in and I love everything about it is an honor,” Nunn said. “Everything is good — Miami, the organization, the culture, where I live…

“It’s a lot warmer (than Chicago), I don’t like the cold.”

Nunn, however, likely will be back in Chicago in February — All-Star weekend, for the Rising Stars Game on Friday night with teams of rookies and second-year guys. Those rosters are not yet chosen, but Nunn seems a very likely inclusion.

The rookie is pumped about the idea, and he can handle the cold weather.

“I’m looking forward to that for sure, just for a couple days, though,” Nunn said.

He wants to get back to Miami. It’s warmer. And he knows where he fits, where his home is now.

Giannis Antetokounmpo drops 33 on Heat, Bucks secure No. 1 seed

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton scored 33 points each, and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a huge early deficit to get a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat led by as many as 23 points in a first half where the team piled up 73 points despite playing without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. Miami cooled off after the break and the Bucks took the lead in the third quarter but were down by 6 to start the fourth.

Antetokounmpo, the favorite to win his second MVP award, sat out about five minutes of the fourth quarter after collecting his fifth foul with 11 minutes to go. Milwaukee trailed by 1 with about five minutes remaining before using a 20-0 run, with three dunks from Antetokounmpo, to make it 130-111 with less than a minute to go and cruise to the victory.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton played 30 and 34 minutes respectively after the stars both sat out the entire second half of their last game on Tuesday.

Duncan Robinson had 21 points for the Heat, who lost to Milwaukee for the first time this season after winning the first two meetings.

The Heat led by 6 with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Antetokounmpo picked up his fifth foul on a charge and headed to the bench. Andre Iguodala made a 3 for Miami before the Bucks scored the next 13 points, capped by a 3 from Bledsoe, to take a 107-103 lead with about seven minutes remaining.

Robinson made a 3-pointer to end a scoring drought of almost four minutes for Miami with about 6 ½ minutes to go and Antetokounmpo re-entered the game soon after that.

The Heat led by 12 with about 10 minutes left in third quarter before Milwaukee used a 16-3 run to take an 82-81 lead with five minutes left in the quarter. Antetokounmpo and Wesley Matthews each had five points each in that span to help close the gap.

The Bucks cut the lead to 3 with a dunk by Antetokounmpo late in the third. But the Heat wrapped up the quarter with a 5-2 spurt to take a 98-92 lead into the fourth.

Report: Bulls likely to keep Jim Boylen as coach for financial reasons

Bulls coach Jim Boylen
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The Bulls appeared ready to fire Jim Boylen. After all, Chicago just hired a new team president in Arturas Karnisovas who’d want to pick his own coach. That was unlikely to be Boylen, whose tenure had been defined by players disliking him, ill-timed timeouts and losing.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

But as the Sun-Times learned this week, even if Karnisovas didn’t like what he would have seen from Boylen he would likely be handcuffed from making a change.

According to several sources, there is strong growing momentum that financial concerns the Reinsdorfs have about the 2020-21 NBA season will keep Boylen in his current seat, as well as most of the coaching staff.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has earned a reputation for his frugality. However, the economic downturn surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has caused many teams to tighten their belts. The financial consequences will likely continue into next season.

But this puts Chicago at a disadvantage.

Boylen has looked like one of the NBA’s worst coaches. Though Bulls ownership is more optimistic than most on Boylen and he could exceed expectations, it’s telling that Chicago probably wouldn’t have kept him based on merit. This is about saving money and hoping for the best.

That’s obviously great news for Boylen. He has improved significantly since taking over last season. More time on the job could allow him to grow into it. That said, improving from a near-mutiny in his early days doesn’t exactly mean he’s in an acceptable place now. Boylen still has a long way to go, and it could be more difficult if players are tired of him.

Nets fined $25K for injury-reporting violation

Brooklyn Nets
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Earlier this season, Kyrie Irving missed several weeks with a shoulder injury. Throughout the absence, the Nets provided few details and no clear timeline. Eventually, a report said Irving could miss 2-3 additional weeks with bursitis. The Nets denied it. Later, Irving confirmed he had bursitis then returned nearly three weeks after the report.

Finally, Brooklyn caught the league’s ire.

NBA release:

The NBA today announced that the Brooklyn Nets have been fined $25,000 for failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.

It’s unclear what specifically caused this violation. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Jamal Crawford and Rodions Kurucs have all appeared on the Nets’ injury report during the resumption. As 19-point underdog, Brooklyn pulled a historic upset of the Bucks. Remember, public injury disclosures are primarily about preserving gambling integrity.

For the NBA not to reveal even basic details while fining the Nets for their lack of transparency is ironic. It’s also ironic this fine comes amid a restart that featured the NBA being highly secretive about player heath.

The Clippers got fined $50,000 earlier this season for saying Kawhi Leonard was healthy. What did Brooklyn do that was less egregious but still worth of a fine?

LeBron James says Lakers have off-court issues, out vs. Rockets (groin)

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers’ offense has stumbled so far in the bubble.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

LeBron gave a weird answer about this. He agreed that he and the Lakers were looking for a rhythm on offense. And then he said: “It’s just some things that you can’t control that’s here, that I really don’t want to talk about, that’s off the floor.”

Mike Trudell of the Lakers:

Was LeBron referring to his groin injury? I wouldn’t call that an off-court issue, but maybe he would.

LeBron knows how to work the media. This subtle comment will draw attention and sets up LeBron to look better if he leads the Lakers through this mysterious issue.

Without more context, it’s easy for imaginations to wander – especially about a team with Dwight Howard, Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith. The Lakers could be facing a major hurdle. Or a minor nuisance. Who knows? But the unknown is scary.

It’ll be difficult to detect the Lakers’ progress during remaining seeding games. The Lakers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and without a home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, there’s no reason to chase the NBA’s best overall record. That’s why LeBron missing tonight’s game against the Rockets could be mostly precautionary.