Bulls’ Joakim Noah: ‘I still think we’re the toughest team to beat in a seven-game series’


The Bulls clinched a playoff spot with their win over the Hornets on Monday, and despite their current position as the four seed in the standings, many believe they’ll be one of the East’s tougher outs.

Chicago has a history of playing hard under head coach Tom Thibodeau in the postseason, even when undermanned. And with so many games missed by the team’s stars this season due to injury, the fact that they are beginning to get healthy may be reason enough for the rest of the league to take notice.

Joakim Noah may be perhaps the Bulls’ most important player, and he knows as well as anyone that his team will bring it once the playoffs begin.

From K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

“I still think we’re the toughest team to beat in a seven-game series,” he said.

Would anybody be surprised if this season ended with either an NBA Finals appearance or a first-round exit? That’s how up-and-down it has been, with moments of brilliance and buffoonery. The Bulls remain 15-4 in the mere 19 games their starters have been intact.

In a perfect microcosm of this season, one of those injured starters returned, with Jimmy Butler posting 19 points and nine rebounds in 39 minutes, 30 seconds after missing 11 games to a left elbow injury. But Noah was a late scratch with what the team called “general soreness” but in truth was a precautionary move tied to his offseason left knee surgery.

Derrick Rose may return to contact practice this week, and obviously having him back would be a huge boost to Chicago’s chances. Butler appears to be good to go, and Noah was sidelined simply due to maintenance, which comes with it a minutes limit that may be a point of contention once the playoffs begin.

Noah’s not wrong. But the Bulls are going to need their full complement of players available in order for his statement of bravado to become one of reality instead.

Celtics’ Marcus Smart says he’s ‘not a dirty player’ after being suspended for hitting Matt Bonner in the groin


Marcus Smart is known as an aggressive defender, but he was a little too dogged defensively in a recent game against the Spurs.

Smart caught Matt Bonner in the groin while trying to fight through a screen, and after a review from the referees, he received a flagrant two foul, which comes with it an automatic ejection.

A day later. Smart also received a one-game suspension.

But despite the way it looked, Smart wanted to make it clear that he’s not a dirty player, and that this may have simply been an isolated incident.

From Jay King of

“I still look at it the way I looked at it,” he said Monday night before visiting the Brooklyn Nets. “I can definitely see where it comes off to where the NBA made the decision. I respect the decision they made. I’ve gotta live with it.

“Looking at the film, it does look a little intentional. But that’s not who I am. I’m not a dirty player, nor was I trying to (hit Bonner below the waistband). But looking at the film, I can definitely see where that comes into play. The NBA made the right decision with the one-game suspension and I’m just glad to be back out here tonight with these guys.”

Smart’s other flagrant two came earlier this month, when he elbowed Elfrid Payton in the head on a drive to the basket.

It’s too early to label Smart as a dirty player just yet. But he is beginning to build himself a bit of a reputation.

Flip Saunders angry after Jazz broadcasters accused Timberwolves of trying to lose on purpose


The Timberwolves had only seven players available for Monday night’s contest against the Jazz, and that was a blatant attempt at tanking, at least as far as Utah’s television broadcast crew was concerned.

Rookie sensations Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine played heavy minutes, but so did guys most fans have never heard of in Adreian Payne, Lorenzo Brown and Sean Kilpatrick. The rest of the more well-known Timberwolves, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Garnett included, were all out due to injury.

Minnesota won in overtime anyway, behind a 27-point performance from LaVine which included a couple of huge threes down the stretch. But once word of what the broadcasters said on the air reached Flip Saunders, he was in no mood to celebrate.

From Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune:

Instead of being in a celebratory mood, he was incensed after he returned to a joyous locker room and found what he said were 25 text messages informing him of comments made by Utah’s television broadcast earlier in the game. …

Jazz announcers said, to paraphrase, that teams purposely losing games to improve draft lottery odds by dressing only seven available players is bad for the league, bad for fans who pay good money to see Kevin Garnett and the league needs to do something about it. …

“That’s totally irresponsible, we’re not tanking games,” Saunders said. “If that’s so, then [Utah] got beat by a team who was tanking. … We’re playing to win. Our guys are out there: We won two games ago at New York, we lost in the fourth quarter against Charlotte last night. We’re not tanking games. It is irresponsible for them to go on TV saying that. If you work at ESPN, you get fired for saying stuff like that.”

Only Saunders and the Minnesota training staff know the extent of his players’ injuries, but the reality is that he wouldn’t need to fake their status.

Plenty of teams are resting healthy stars these days for various reasons, and Saunders could do so whenever he wanted, publicly and without penalty, even under the guise of wanting to develop his young players by giving them the bulk of the available minutes.

It’s worth reminding that tanking is an organizational decision to field the least talented lineup possible, and that the players and coaches who are involved in the games are never trying to lose on purpose. The Jazz broadcast crew may have believed the former was true, even as the latter was evident once the game was finished.

Marc Gasol says he hasn’t ruled out joining Knicks as a free agent


Marc Gasol (along with LeBron James, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge) is one of the best players who will technically be available to sign elsewhere this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Like the other names mentioned, though, it’s more than likely Gasol remains where he is — due to the combination of the money he can receive, along with the fact that he’s playing in a winning situation.

Gasol at one point said he’d listen to everybody’s offers once free agency begins, but a few weeks ago, a report surfaced that said he’d already ruled out playing for the Knicks.

With the Grizzlies in town to beat up on New York, Gasol (predictably) was asked about it.

From Ian Begley of ESPN New York:

“I haven’t ruled anything out because I haven’t thought about anything so it would be [premature],” Gasol told a small group of reporters after the Grizzlies’ morning practice at Madison Square Garden. “The reports and stuff like that, I don’t know where they come from because in my mind I haven’t thought about it. I have no [idea] how they can go there. I don’t know. … We’re in the final stretch of the regular season and we want to get in a good feeling for the playoffs so, trust me, I’m not worrying or thinking about those things yet.” …

If he re-signs with the Grizzlies, Gasol can ink a max contract that starts at around $18 million in the first season with 7.5 percent raises in each season thereafter. If he signed with the Knicks or any other club, his max contract would be for four years starting at around $18 million in the first season with annual raises of 4.5 percent. …

“I know what [the Knicks] are trying to accomplish as a team, but like I said we’re trying to accomplish the same thing in Memphis and we’re trying to get to have a chance to go for a ring,” Gasol said. “I see this [Knicks] team being in the same spot we were six or seven years ago when we were winning 20 games and we were trying to create something for the future.”

That last part is the biggest reason why Gasol is unlikely to join the Knicks.

There’s simply no logic in believing he’d be willing to start over completely from scratch, in a new situation, with an unproven head coach, all for less money.

But of course, the rumors will continue to fly, just as they always do.

Celtics’ Evan Turner notches triple-double in win over Nets (VIDEO)


Evan Turner has had his share of rough spots during his career, which is part of the reason he’s playing for his third team in five seasons.

But things have begun to click for him with the Celtics this year, with Monday night’s triple-double performance in a win over the Nets being the latest example.

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Turner finished with 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting, to go along with 10 rebounds and 12 assists in 40 minutes of action — and unlike some triple-doubles, this one’s likely to stick.