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B.J. Armstrong recalls how Dennis Rodman went from Bulls nemesis to Jordan sidekick

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Dennis Rodman was one of the rivals Michael Jordan had to conquer on his way to his first run of three straight NBA titles. And Rodman then became one of the teammates who helped Jordan pull off his second three-peat.

B.J. Armstrong saw both sides.

Armstrong was there in the beginning, when Jordan and the Chicago Bulls needed time to figure out how to eventually beat Rodman and the Detroit Pistons for Eastern Conference supremacy and a trip to the NBA Finals in 1991 that started the title run. And Armstrong was on the other side in 1997-98, playing for a Charlotte team that lost to Jordan, Rodman and the Bulls in the East semifinals that season.

For as good as the likes of Jordan and Scottie Pippen were, Armstrong – the longtime NBA guard and three-time NBA champion with the Bulls who is now a California-based sports agent – cautions against underestimating Rodman’s role on those Chicago title teams in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

“The thing I always admired about Dennis was he was a very, very intelligent player, and after all of the hair colors and semantics and all those things, underneath that was a really, really good basketball player, very fundamentally sound,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “And I would argue that it would have been very difficult for the Bulls to win without him, because it’s hard to win when you don’t have bigs who can play with the physicality that’s necessary to win at a championship level. And Dennis could meet the challenge.”

Rodman’s colorful tenure with the Bulls was one of the primary story lines covered Sunday night when the third and fourth episodes of the ESPN and Netflix documentary “The Last Dance” – a 10-part series built around Jordan’s final season with the Bulls in 1997-98 – aired for the first time. Among the Rodman stories covered Sunday night: His “vacation” to Las Vegas, one that went longer than the 48 hours that the Bulls were willing to allow him for a break.

“Dennis always brought energy and always brought effort,” Armstrong said. “And the way he did it, it was contagious.”

The Pistons famously had “The Jordan Rules” when they were atop the NBA and holding off the up-and-coming Bulls during Detroit’s title runs in 1989 and 1990.

Armstrong said in 1998, Charlotte had its version of special rules as well – not for Jordan, but for Rodman.

“I mean, the guy just understood how to rebound,” Armstrong said. “We had an assistant coach on our staff at the time, Paul Silas. And Paul used to always tell us that what Dennis is doing, you can’t prepare for. He was that good. You couldn’t box him out. You had to face-guard him. The reason he was a great rebounder was he understood offensive schemes and he understood the timing of the shots.”

The Rodman rules didn’t work: He averaged 17.6 rebounds, by far the best in the series, and Chicago ousted Charlotte in five games.

“All the other things that went on around him, that was just Dennis,” Armstrong said. “But make no doubt about it – when he was between the lines, he was an excellent, excellent basketball player.”

Two new episodes of the documentary will air each Sunday night through May 17.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.