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Chicago early surprise of playoffs after taking two at Boston

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CHICAGO (AP) — For a team that bickered and barely made the playoffs, the Chicago Bulls are the early surprise of this postseason.

They hold a stunning 2-0 lead over the top-seeded Celtics as the series shifts to Chicago for Game 3 on Friday night.

“The credit through this team sticking together through injuries to put ourselves in position to make the playoffs goes to everyone from the coaching staff to the leaders to the young guys, everyone did it together,” Dwyane Wade said.

The Bulls took a commanding lead in the series with Tuesday’s 111-97 victory, and they come home looking like a strong contender to become just the sixth No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1. None has swept a top seed.

It was hard to see the Bulls in this position. They didn’t clinch a playoff spot until they beat Brooklyn in the final regular-season game. That put Chicago back in the postseason, after missing out a year ago for the first time since 2008.

The trip to the playoffs comes on the heels of a turbulent regular season for a transitioning team.

There was the big trade last summer when the Bulls sent hometown favorite and former MVP Derrick Rose to New York after going 42-40. Chicago also split with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, helping clear the way for young players such as Bobby Portis to get more time.

They brought in Rajon Rondo and then Wade in free agency, moves that seemed to go against the idea of getting younger. And even though they came with a combined four championships, neither veteran filled the team’s biggest need: better shooting.

There was a big flare-up in January when Wade and Butler teed off on the team following a loss. Rondo fired back while defending the younger players, and all three veterans got fined by the organization. Rondo was also suspended for a game by the team earlier in the year, and he was in and out of the rotation this season.

The Bulls sat him for five straight games at one point, but had him start 13 of their final 16 games. In Game 2, he just missed a triple-double with 11 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. Just as important, he helped contain Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics’ dynamic, high-scoring point guard.

“He’s a confident kid and that rubs off on all the other guys,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s been in a lot of these big moments, championship experience and he’s going to continue to lead us as long as we are playing.”

At the moment, everything seems to be going right for the Bulls.

Butler is averaging 26 points through the first two games. The 35-year-old Wade is coming off a 22-point performance in which he scored 16 in the second half. Not bad, considering he missed three weeks late in the year because of a fractured right elbow.

The Bulls have also gotten big contributions from their role players and have pounded the Celtics on the glass, outrebounding them by 22 through the first two games.

Chicago got 19 points and nine rebounds from Portis in the opener. In Game 2, Robin Lopez chipped in with 18 and eight, while Paul Zipser scored 16.

“I’m just trying to shoot it with confidence,” said Lopez, who hit several midrange jumpers. “I’m sure Bobby told you the same thing. Whenever we’re passing the ball we’re told shoot it if you’re open. That makes it easy to shoot the ball. It makes it easy for it to go in.”

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Dwight Howard answers almost every postgame question with “I don’t know”

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Down 2-0 to the Washington Wizards but heading home to Atlanta, there are a lot of questions for the Hawks and what they need to do to get back into this series.

Just don’t ask Dwight Howard what they are.

A frustrated Howard — who sat the entire fourth quarter — was not in the mood to talk to reporters answered virtually every postgame question with “I don’t know.” You can see the video above.

Howard has struggled to defend the Wizards’ pick-and-roll this series, but that is far from the only challenge Atlanta faces going forward. The Hawks have to feel that they could have won either game on the road with better execution late, but then again every team with losses in the playoffs think “what if?”

Howard needs to be part of the solutions, whatever they are, or this series will be over quickly.

PBT Podcast: Why Bulls are owning Celtics, plus more East talk with Sean Highkin

Associated Press
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Going into the playoffs I thought Boston was a flawed team, the kind that could get exposed in the second round or maybe the Conference Finals.

However, I never saw this coming — the Bulls have owned them for the Celtics for the first two games of the playoffs. Nobody else did either. But the Bulls have the best player in the series in Jimmy Butler, they have been far more physical, they have defended aggressively, and the Bulls have owned the glass. Not only is Chicago up 2-0, but it’s also hard to see a way for Boston to get back in the series.

Kurt Helin of NBC and Sean Highkin who covers the Bulls for The Athletic break down this series and also discuss the rest of the matchups in the East, plus a little awards talk slips in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Russell Westbrook doesn’t give a %&@# about 51-point triple-double, his team lost

Associated Press
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This game was a blow to Oklahoma City’s moral and ego. They played hard, they got the ball inside and owned the paint in the first half, they led by double digits in the second half, and they got a 51 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assist night from Russell Westbrook. That’s the first 50-point triple-double ever in the playoffs.

And the Thunder still lost.

After the game, Westbrook didn’t want to talk about his historic night.

Well, that ends that line of questioning.

Westbrook is understandably frustrated, this was the Thunder’s chance to steal a game on the road, and they blew it. He has to shoulder some of that blame with his 4-for-18 fourth quarter, but he was clearly tired, and Billy Donovan couldn’t take him out (the one time he did in the second half the Thunder were outscored by 9 in 2:21). Westbrook didn’t trust his teammates, they stood around and watched him, and the Thunder went into a downward spiral.

The first two games of this series simply validate what we said going into this series: Westbrook can be brilliant, but James Harden has a better team around him in the Rockets and they are going to win because of that.

Stephen Curry nailing threes, throwing lobs as Warriors cruise past Trail Blazers

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Kevin Durant was resting his strained calf muscle.

Not that it changed what was happening on the court, we just wanted to make note of it. The rest of the Warriors picked up the slack and cruised to a 110-81 win, putting the Warriors up 2-0 in the series.

There’s not a lot to break down here — one team is vastly superior, particularly on defense. That was the biggest key to this blowout, the Warriors played better defense, holding the Trail Blazers to 33 percent shooting on the night.

Meanwhile, the Warriors did whatever they wanted on offense, such as Stephen Curry hitting the deep three you see above. Curry finished with

Or, Curry was throwing lobs to JaVale McGee, who had 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting.

Curry did that a few times.

You get the idea how this game went from those clips.