The Last Dance recap
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The Last Dance recap, episodes 1 and 2: Setting up drama, tension that would drive season

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In some ways, the primary challenge for the makers of “The Last Dance” documentary is the same one that Christopher Nolan faced making “Batman Begins”: Everybody already knows the story. It has become mythology. What new details, what new twists can be added to pull everyone into a story arc they may love but already know where it leads and ends?

With this Bulls documentary, it is the details and honest commentary we have not seen before. The new footage. It made the old feel new again (and the lack of basketball, or any sports, on our televisions for a month helped fuel that hunger).

Episodes 1 and 2, broadcast Sunday on ESPN, gave us a lot of details setting up the drama and tension that made the 1997-98 Bulls so memorable. So legendary.

And so you don’t miss anything, here’s The Last Dance recap of those episodes.

Ego was at play early on

Episode 1 worked hard to show how general manager Jerry Krause — with the blessing of owner Jerry Reinsdorf — was ready to blow up one of the great teams of all time. Krause’s ego was on full display, rather than trying to keep the greatest and most marketable player in the world happy, rather than keep a coach who could reach the players, rather than keep the core of a team that had won titles five of the last seven years together, he was ready to break it up.

“We’re entitled to defend what we have until we lose it,” Jordan is shown saying after winning the 1997 title. “If we lose it, then you look at it and change. Rebuilding? No one is guaranteeing rebuilding is going to be two, three, four, five years. The Cubs have been rebuilding 42 years. If you want to look at this from a business thing, have a sense of respect for the people who have laid the groundwork so you could be a profitable organization.”

Krause was convinced he could rebuild quickly. It was a terrible miscalculation. It’s also worth noting just how much the power has shifted in the NBA toward star players: If LeBron James wanted Rob Pelinka fired, if Giannis Antetokounmpo wanted Jon Horst fired, there’s no doubt who wins that battle. (Maybe Jerry Reinsdorf is the exception, he did stick with Gar/Pax far, far too long.)

What Krause did was give Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan a target they used to unify the team. Jackson seized on it early, he was the one who titled the season The Last Dance.

Pippen’s rise

Krause, unfortunately, is not alive to defend himself. Episode 2 does get into the things Krause did right in building that team, such as drafting Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, trading Charles Oakley for Bill Cartright, and more. Krause put this team together, but as Steve Kerr said well, he couldn’t get out of his own way. He set himself up as the villain.

Episode 2 also tells the Scottie Pippen story, starting with his rise from rather “meh” 6’1″ guard entering college to 6’8″ dominant forward owning small college games a couple of years later. His game, like his height, progressed much faster than anyone expected.

Pippen came to the Bulls and became the Robin to Jordan’s Batman, one of the league’s elite players and a perfect second option for the team. He also had agreed to a seven-year, $18 million contract — he came out of real poverty and wanted the security for his family — that left him woefully underpaid. The Bulls would not renegotiate the contract (something that could have been done under the rules at the time, but the Bulls would have had to do it with cap space, and they didn’t have any). It’s a situation no modern player would find himself in because the CBA mandates shorter contracts (the owners wanted that to prevent long, bad contracts, opening the door for today’s player movement and power).

And then Pippen wanted to move on

By the time of the 1997-98 season, Pippen was done with Krause. Pippen admitted delaying foot surgery until close to the season because he didn’t want to spoil his summer, and implied his contract issues were part of the reason.

“I’m not going to f*** my summer up to rehab for a season,” Pippen said to the camera. “They’re not going to be looking forward to having me, so I’m going to enjoy my summer. I’ll use the season to prepare.”

Jordan called Pippen’s decision “selfish.”

Episode 2 also has more Jordan highlights — of course — including the 63 point game against Larry Bird and the Celtics in the 1986 playoffs. It’s the game that led Bird to say he played against “God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

There were other highlights from the first two episodes. There was Bulls GM at the time Rod Thorn admitting he would have taken Hakeem Olajuwon over Jordan.

“Olajuwon would’ve been first by anybody who picked, including me,” Thorn said.

In that era, teams were built around centers and Olajuwon went on to be an all-time great — two NBA titles, MVP, 12-time All-NBA, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and eventual Hall of Famer. With hindsight, you can say Jordan should have been the top pick, but nobody could or should question that pick. The episode briefly touches on Portland thinking they already had Clyde Drexler so they took Sam Bowie over Jordan.

Then there was Reinsdorf talking about how Krause — a scout/front office guy for the MLB’s White Sox — came up to him and said he wanted to be GM, everyone told Reinsdorf it was a bad idea, and he did it anyway. Can you imagine if a baseball scout tried that in today’s NBA?

And now, Barack Obama

The funniest moment of the first two episodes was the description they gave Barack Obama.

A close second was Jordan’s reaction to the Bulls before and just after his arrival being described as a “traveling cocaine circus.” Jordan talks about distancing himself from that drug culture on the team at the time.

Mostly, however, the first two episodes of the 10-part Bulls documentary laid a foundation for the drama to follow. That drama includes a lot of Dennis Rodman in Episode 3, airing next Sunday.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

Suns star Devin Booker vs. Heat
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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on


And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊


Cancun on 3😂😂😂


keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps


@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:


Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.

76ers star Ben Simmons leaving bubble for surgery

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Ben Simmons injured his knee, and the 76ers didn’t hide their concerns.

This is serious.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Obviously, the surgery itself is a setback. If Simmons becomes healthy enough to return before Philadelphia gets eliminated, he could be required to quarantine in his hotel room – which would limit rehab and training.

And of course it will be difficult for Philadelphia to advance deep into the playoffs without Simmons.

There are even graver concerns beyond this season. Will Simmons now be more susceptible to future injuries? This could derail a budding championship contender with Joel Embiid and Simmons.

Embiid already has long-term health concerns. It was always uncertain how long Philadelphia’s window would remain open despite Embiid and Simmons being so young.

Even next season could be perilous. How long will Simmons take to recover? Next season could be right around the corner (or not). If the 76ers’ outlook looks worse – especially amid the economic downturn caused by coronavirus – they could no longer follow through on their plan to pay the luxury tax. Slashing payroll could further reduce the roster’s effectiveness.

Already, expectations shrink this season without Simmons. Philadelphia appears increasingly likely to land the No. 6 seed and a tough first-round series against the Celtics (rather than a spot in the 4-5 series against the Heat or Pacers).

Will these difficult circumstances give 76ers coach Brett Brown more leeway to keep his job? Or do they just make it more likely the 76ers lose early in the playoffs and fire him?

He has plenty of options for proceeding without Simmons. Simmons was a multi-positional star who spent most of the season at point guard but had been playing power forward in the bubble.

Without Simmons, Al Horford moved back into the starting lineup, and Mike Scott – who had been out with a knee injury – joined the rotation. Glenn Robinson III could also get an expanded role once he’s healthy.

Many sans-Simmons lineups could give Philadelphia more spacing around Embiid, which makes the star center even more dangerous.

But this loss of talent can’t be offset and significantly lowers the 76ers’ ceiling this season and maybe reduces their odds of reaching their ceiling in future seasons.