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Spurs Fan

Spurs picture coming into focus or is it? posted by Spurs Fan

The San Antonio Spurs have always been more than the sum of their parts, but some parts seem to be proving more essential than others.

Reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard's 9.75-inch-long hands are one of those parts.

Unfortunately, he tore a ligament in his right paw during a Dec. 9 loss to the Utah Jazz, dealing the franchise a significant blow amid what's almost certainly its most difficult month of competition.

In turn, San Antonio has lost six of its last eight games without Leonard and six of its last seven overall. 

At the moment, there's no timetable for the fourth-year pro's return. Nor has there been any news that could be construed as particularly good.

Leonard is averaging 15.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals in 32.2 minutes per contest—all on pace to be career highs. He's also looking for his offense more assertively, attempting 12.3 field goals and 4.1 free throws per game.

Having played 29.1 minutes and taken 9.8 shots per contest a season ago, the additional playing time and touches have had a lot to do with that evolution.

Leonard is the player who seems to tip the scale in making this Spurs squad the best in the organization's history. Even with past players such as Mario Elie, Sean Elliott, Robert Horry and Stephen Jackson, the Spurs have never had a player like Leonard on any of their championship rosters. Leonard turned the Big Three into a Fab Four. It makes them the one Spurs squad that could beat the other championship squads in franchise history if they were to mythically play each other in the Finals. Kawhi 

Continue reading "Spurs picture coming into focus or is it?"

Blazers Fan

Damian Lillard leads wild Blazers comeback in Oklahoma City 115-111 in OT posted by Blazers Fan

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers came out on top in a wild point guard match-up against Russell Westbrook 115-111 in overtime in Oklahoma City.

The Blazers comeback would not have been were it not for a boneheaded series of plays from Westbrook. Westbrook was the biggest reason the Thunder were winning but a useless personal foul in the backcourt coupled with a technical allowed the Blazers to cut the lead to seven with no time coming off the clock.

Then Lillard came down and hit a deep three off a screen. In the blink of an eye the lead went from 10 to four.

Aldridge and Lillard combined for 32 of Portland’s final 42 points.


Another key to Portland’s success late was head coach Terry Stotts decided to match the Thunder’s 3-guard line-up with Steve Blake and bring in more athleticism in Dorell Wright. Wright didn’t play since his crucial role in Friday’s 3OT win against the Spurs.

Wright didn’t have the 3-point barrage he had against San Antonio but grabbed some crucial rebounds and had a nice tip in in overtime to give the Blazers breathing room.

The Blazers capped off an incredibly successful trip with wins against the Spurs, Pelicans and Thunder without Robin Lopez and getting two of those without Nicolas Batum. The Blazers are nearing the end of a grueling December which had 10 of 16 games on the road.

The Blazers are succeeding when schedules and injury continue seem to say they shouldn’t.

And with 7 of the next 10 days off, the Blazers have earned a considerable amount of rest. They are banged up and sick and certainly need it. Although Lillard and Matthews have played every night, you could tell with the amount of miscommunications the Blazers had tonight they were running out of gas.

Continue reading "Damian Lillard leads wild Blazers ..."

Thunder Fan

Russell Westbrook helms Thunder's cruise past Hornets posted by Thunder Fan

Thunder coach Scott Brooks was worried his team would be tired after a tough win in San Antonio a night earlier.

Russell Westbrook scored 29 points to lead Oklahoma City to a 98-75 victory over Charlotte on Friday night, snapping the Hornets' season-high four-game win streak.

"We talk about playing a defensive brand every night and in back-to-back games to come back with a defensive effort for 48 minutes," Brooks said. "I'm really proud of our effort. I thought that set the tone. We locked in defensively and throughout the game it was solid."

Charlotte scored the game's first basket then the Thunder reeled off nine straight points to take a lead they never relinquished in winning for the second straight day.

Westbrook scored 13 points in the first quarter, and Oklahoma City opened a 59-40 halftime lead.

"It was good that we didn't come out flat and came out with some energy," Westbrook said. "We were hungry."

Brian Roberts came off the bench to lead the Hornets with 17 points, 11 in the final period.

Al Jefferson, averaging 19.1 per game, didn't get his first basket until there were four minutes left in the first half and finished with just four points.

The Thunder played their fifth straight game without MVP Kevin Durant, who has a sprained ankle.

Westbrook, coming off of a 34-point effort in Thursday's win at San Antonio, started the game shooting 7 of 9. He finished with his 11th straight game of 25 points or more.

"They're so good defensively, in the first quarter we just had a tough time making shots and everything was contested," said Hornets coach Steve Clifford. "They are just so long and so big. That's why their defense has been good all year."

Continue reading "Russell Westbrook helms Thunder's ..."


Spurs Fan

2014 San Antonio Spurs Preseason Report posted by Spurs Fan

San Antonio Spurs performance was almost perfect, which earned them the 2013-14 season, championship title. The players performed as expected, and there was not a single contract, which could be considered bad. The Spurs ended the season with an impressive 62-20 record.

For the 2014-15 season, San Antonio Spurs have second best chance of winning the title again. The Spurs have met Miami Heat in the finals two times in a row, which makes Miami the favorite this season; however, changes in the team could keep shifting the odds between them. San Antonio Spurs have an excellent system in place for a long time, and Gregg Popovich could again lead the team to victory. The three star players, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan are no doubt getting older, but Popovich has managed their time excellently up to now, and he continues to do so this season as well.

Kawhi Leonard, who is a star and MVP of the last series, has been retained for $3million for the next season. Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, and Paddy Mills are all key players, and are re-signed by the Spurs, and Greg Popovich, the coach, obviously had his contract extended. San Antonio Spurs are focusing completely on this season and considering legacies as well. Tim Duncan who was a rookie in 1999 anchored the team's first championship. He has five rings up to now, and he will be concentrating on getting his sixth, even though he is aging. For Duncan, a sixth title would make him all-time great, and he will not want to miss this opportunity.

Coach Popovich, and international stars, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will also be aiming for the same thing of being listed as the all-time greats, and hence will be working hard towards their sixth win. Quite a bit is riding for these players this season, and hence we can expect the best from them.

Continue reading "2014 San Antonio Spurs Preseason Report"


Brad Hurt

Gasol out indefinitely with MCL sprain posted by Brad Hurt

An MRI on Marc Gasol's left knee, which he injured in the first half of the Grizzlies' loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night, revealed a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament (MCL).  The injury, similar to one suffered two years ago by Zach Randolph, will keep Gasol out of action indefinitely but will not require surgery.  Kosta Koufos will start in his place.  This is a huge blow for the team, both in terms of production and morale.  The injury has been called "non-contact", although there could have been some contact as it occurred while the Spurs' Danny Green posted up against Gasol and backed into him.  Even so, it's still a freakish, unfortunate injury.Continue reading "Gasol out indefinitely with MCL sprain"

Brad Hurt

Gasol leaves loss with knee sprain posted by Brad Hurt

The Grizzlies had reason to be proud as they returned home Friday to face the perennially tough San Antonio Spurs.  They had just finished the most successful West Coast road trip in a decade.  Now they would have the FedEx Forum crowd behind them to urge them to victory.  Unfortunately, the Spurs would have none of that, playing the role of the rude houseguests with a 102-86 victory.

Potentially far worse for the home team, however, is the fact that center Marc Gasol left the game after suffering a non-contact injury to his left knee early in the second quarter and did not return.  The team is calling it a sprain, and Gasol will undergo an MRI today.  Losing Gasol for any extended period of time would be a crushing blow to the team.  He is currently averaging 16 points and more than 7 rebounds per game, teaming up with Zach Randolph to form an imposing post duo.  Randolph has been putting up monster numbers in his own right, but losing Gasol would undoubtedly change the way teams choose to defend Randolph, enabling more double-and-triple teams.  The Grizzlies currently have the 23rd-ranked offensive output in the league, averaging 94.1 points per game.  Ideally, they would like to see that number increase as they work toward a return to the playoffs come April.  Gasol is also a great veteran leader for the team, and intangibles are difficult to replace.  So let's hope the sprain isn't too severe and Gasol can return to action soon.

Continue reading "Gasol leaves loss with knee sprain"


Paul Hansborough III

Change needs to come! posted by Paul Hansborough III

I love the Spurs but, Duncan needs to retire, Parker needs to develop a jumpshot in the worst way, Rj needs to go somewhere else he couldn t buy a bucket against Memphis, we need to get a bonified athletic shooting forward and shooting guard in the draft or via free agency. Another center would help because again Duncan is on his last leg!Continue reading "Change needs to come!"


nbaball

Parker has no desire to transfer to other NBA teams posted by nbaball

The starting pointguard of the San Antonio Spurs has categorically denied persistent report that he had the desire to transfer to other National Basketball Association (NBA) teams.
Tony Parker told the media that there is no truth to the report since his heart belongs to the Spurs and he wants to stay with the team for many years to come.
Parker said he had a house in San Antonio and had no intention at the moment to move to other NBA teams other than the Spurs.
He revealed that he has confidence that a suitable agreement will be reached between him and the Spurs so that he will remain with the team for many years to come.
To show his desire to remain with the Spurs, Parker has decided to skip the World's Basketball Championship slated on August 28 to September 12 in Istambul, Turkey.
The superstar pointguard said he decided to forego his chance to play for France in the global basketball event to help the Spurs in the next NBA season by keeping himself from injury.
The 27-year-old pointguard had been a vital factor for the success of the Spurs the past 10 years wherein he won championship with the ball club.
Parker is very significant for the Spurs management since he do not only orchestrate plays but also contribute and offense and defense as well.
The Spurs was earlier defeated by the red-hot Phoenix Suns 4-0 in their best of seven NBA second round playoff match-up.
The French pointguard and the rest of the Spurs roster tried their very best to inflict defeat to the Suns but their effort were futile as the Suns proved hotter in the end.
Continue reading "Parker has no desire to transfer ..."


john howard

Big Week for the Thunder posted by john howard

Losing to Indiana last night was tough.  If they had one last night, they would be tied for the 5th seed with Phoenix and 2 games ahead of 7th in front of San Antonio.  But, that didn't happen.  All is not lost, it just makes this week more difficult.  Tonight they are at home against the Spurs.  They have a one game lead over them.  A loss tonight would put the Thunder in 7th.  A win would keep them in 6th and put 2 games between them and San Antonio and more breathing room going into the last 14 games.

The Thunder play the Spurs, the Lakers, Houston, and Portland. Going 2-2 would be fine.  That would keep them in the playoffs and still have a shot at a good seed. Anything above that would be great. Anything below that would put them in danger of falling to the 8th seed.  It all starts tonight with San Antonio. 

Houston may be the biggest game of the week.  Right now, they are the first team not in the playoffs. They can win 50 games if they run the table.  That makes the Thunder's magic number 9, since they have 42 wins. So, winning that game would reduce the magic number by 2. 

Portland is a game and a half behind OKC.  Sweeping the Spurs and the Trailblazers would distance OKC from the bottom to seeds and keep them in the hunt for the 5th seed.  With the 5th seed, they would likely face Utah, the team they have had the most success with of those in the top 4.

As a sidenote, Russell Westbrook played limited minutes with a stomach virus last night.  Eric Maynor did good, as usual, in his absence.  But, they are going to need everyone at full throttle this week.

Continue reading "Big Week for the Thunder"


Paul Stengel

New York Knicks, what the salary cap future holds posted by Paul Stengel

CLAAAANG!!!  Another errant Knicks shot glances off the rim.  The New York Knickerbockers have mastered the art of losing for the past 10 years.  The only silver lining after this season is the possibility of signing two big name, “max contract” players.  The Knicks traded away their upcoming draft pick (along with Jared Jeffries and others) to Houston,  to free up more money for these players.  Nothing is guaranteed, the Knicks aren’t necessarily getting anyone for their trouble. 

 

The losing that the Knicks have been doing is a relatively new experience for their head coach, Mike D’Antoni.  D’Antoni came over from Phoenix, where he had an outstanding winning percentage, playoff appearances every year, and usually a late-season meeting with the San Antonio Spurs that ultimately would decide who would come out of the west.  Before he coached Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash and Shawn Marion to 60 wins a year.  Now he leads Al Harrington and a band of inexperienced, below average knicks to likely two 30 win seasons. 

 

The Knicks have been on a downward spiral since they decided to trade away their franchise player of the 90’s Patrick Ewing.  They have been compiling bad contracts ever since, and it wasn’t until Donnie Walsh became the active general manager that their attitude toward free agents began to change.  Starting with the trades of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph, Walsh has managed to free up more and more salary cap space, and with it, the possibility of greater things in the future. 

Continue reading "New York Knicks, what the salary cap future holds"

San Antonio Spurs News

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Wiser LA Clippers prepared for 1st-round showdown with Spurs (Yahoo Sports)

The San Antonio Spurs have faced almost every postseason obstacle imaginable during their 18-year run of steady success. They've never had their team owner banned from the NBA for life in the middle of a playoff series, though. ''Yeah, we've had some challenges as a team,'' Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. ''And we're tougher because of it.'' The Clippers hope their unique experience during last year's supremely turbulent postseason gave them some of the tenacity necessary to survive a first-round meeting with the defending NBA champions. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports


Spurs-Clippers Preview

LOS ANGELES (AP) The San Antonio Spurs have faced almost every postseason obstacle imaginable during their 18-year run of steady success. [read full article]

From FOX Sports Digital


As Spurs know, international players can impact NBA playoffs

Kawhi Leonard was the MVP of last year's NBA Finals, though the San Antonio Spurs wouldn't have won without their incredible international presence. [read full article]

From FOX Sports Digital


LA Clippers'Jordan prepared if Spurs send him to line again

LOS ANGELES (AP) After DeAndre Jordan learned the Clippers had drawn the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs, the Los Angeles center must have thought about just going straight to the free throw line. [read full article]

From FOX Sports Digital


NBA Playoff Picture Update: The Spurs send the Warriors, and everyone else, a message (Ball

With just about two weeks remaining until the NBA postseason, every night can impact the standings. The NBA Playoff Picture Update keeps you up to date on all the most important news for all 16 berths and seeds. [DraftKings: FREE entry to huge cash Fantasy Basketball Contest with first deposit ] Spurs of the moment: Another Sunday, another statement game from the San Antonio Spurs. After dismantling the East-leading Atlanta Hawks on March 22 and hammering a potential Round 1 opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies, on March 29 , the Spurs faced off with the Golden State Warriors — winners of 12 straight, owners of the league's best record and home-court advantage throughout the entire NBA playoffs  — and mopped the floor with 'em. The 107-92 final's impressive enough — it's the largest margin of defeat the Warriors have tasted during this season for the ages — but it scarcely tells the story. Golden State never led, trailed by as many as 28 and finished the third quarter down 22 before turning the final frame over to the likes of Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday, James Michael McAdoo and Festus Ezeli. San Antonio blitzed Steve Kerr's crew from the opening tip. Emerging star Kawhi Leonard keyed both a game-opening 8-1 run (six points of his own, plus an assist on a Tim Duncan jumper) and a 14-3 mid-quarter jolt that knocked the 63-win Dubs on their heels and gave the Spurs a 15-point lead less than eight minutes into the contest. The Spurs' ball movement had the Warriors' league-best defense scrambling early ... ... and often, as San Antonio logged 27 direct assists on 44 made field goals. The Spurs beat the Warriors with backdoor cuts in the half-court, with alley-oops on the break, with long-distance bounce passes in transition, and with just about every other weapon Pop and company could muster. San Antonio's most dangerous weapon, once again, was Leonard, who served as the tip of the spear that punctured the Warriors' free-flowing offense: The quick-as-a-cat perimeter mauler with the massive hands snared a career-high seven steals on Sunday. He opened the game by making life miserable for Harrison Barnes (four points on 2-for-7 shooting) and later switched assignments to cool down a Stephen Curry early third-quarter explosion. The MVP candidate scored 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in just under two minutes to cut the Warriors' deficit to 14; Popovich called a timeout and put Leonard on Curry; Curry didn't score another point for the rest of the quarter, and the Spurs ripped off six straight to rebuild the lead. Leonard's offense might never impress quite as much as his masterful defense, but his ascent into something like San Antonio's primary scorer continues. The 23-year-old tied a regular-season career-high with 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting in just 24 minutes, topping the 20-point mark for the 12th time in his last 19 games. He showed his combination of improving handle, increased confidence and strength against contact with plays like this drive and finish right through Andre Iguodala: Duncan (19 points on 6-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds) and Danny Green (18 points on 7-for-10 shooting, 4-for-6 from 3-point land, six rebounds, three assists, three blocks, great defense on the Warriors' Klay Thompson) also turned in great games for the Spurs, who have now won seven straight, 10 of their last 11 and 17 of their last 20 overall. During that stretch, San Antonio's outscoring its opposition by 15.2 points per 100 possessions — the best net rating in the league over that span, head-and-shoulders above even the league-best Warriors' historic full-season mark . There remain bits of disharmony in the system that keep the Spurs from looking exactly like the well-oiled machine that overwhelmed the Miami Heat last June — Tony Parker (eight points on nine shots in 23 minutes) still seems to look more like a caretaker than a gamebreaker, the "Foreign Legion" shot a combined 6-for-22, etc. But as the regular season draws to a close, San Antonio's offense is humming and its defense is suffocating, which is the kind of thing that can make a No. 6 seed look an awful lot like the team to beat. The Warriors likely won't panic much about Sunday's whitewashing: "This is the first time I think since Christmas that we haven't really been in a game," Curry said, according to Raul Dominguez of The Associated Press . For his part, Kerr intimated after the game that Golden State will have some different looks to offer San Antonio should these two teams meet in the postseason and Pop decides to once again sic Kawhi on Curry. Even so, after seeing San Antonio short-circuit his squad — making the Spurs the only team to have beaten the Warriors twice this season (Golden State also beat San Antonio right after the All-Star break ) — you wouldn't blame Kerr if he'd just as soon not see No. 2 in black and silver again come playoff time. “Kawhi was phenomenal,” Kerr said after the game, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News . “He was the best player on the floor.” Which helped serve notice that, on any given Sunday, the Spurs can still be the best team on the floor, too. Star Wars: Sunday's marquee matinee matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder largely lived up to its billing, with MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook matching big shots in trying to propel their teams to a much-needed victory in their respective tight playoff fights. But despite a league-leading 11th triple-double — 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds — for the Thunder star ... ... it was his hirsute former teammate who'd carry the day: [ Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr:   The best slams from all of basketball] Harden scored a game-high 41 points on 12-for-22 shooting (6-for-9 from 3-point land) to go with six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 38 minutes to push the Rockets to a 115-112 win . It was the league-leading 10th 40-plus-point performance for Harden this season. He cranked up the heat late, scoring eight points in a 70-second span to break a 100-all tie, to quell a comeback that had seen the Thunder rise up after trailing by as many as 13, and give the Rockets just enough breathing room to finish the game at the foul line. And I mean just enough — Oklahoma City had a chance to tie it up in the closing seconds, but Westbrook's 3-point try came up short , thanks in part to a close contest by Rockets wing Corey Brewer. It was a little too close of a contest for Russell's liking, actually: Westbrook on if he was anticipating a foul from Brewer on the last play: "He did. He did actually." — Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 5, 2015 Be that as it may, it was lacking defense on the interior (54 points in the paint for the Rockets, including 22 in 23 minutes from Dwight Howard) and in transition (26 fast-break points or Houston) that did Oklahoma City in far more than a swallowed whistle. Steven Adams and Mitch McGary battled foul trouble throughout, and Enes Kanter continued to put up big numbers (21 points, 17 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive glass) while giving just about all of it back on the other end. It's bad enough that Oklahoma City has given up 106.5 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break, a bottom-five mark over that period. But during the 1-5 skid that's put their playoff hopes in jeopardy , that's dropped to 112.7 points-per-100 allowed, barely above the defensive efficiency marks of league lowlights like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers. With no Kevin Durant , with  no Serge Ibaka and with San Antonio coming to town Tuesday, the 42-35 Thunder must stop the bleeding immediately if they're to hold off the New Orleans Pelicans, who sit a half-game behind OKC in the race for the eighth playoff spot out West. Houston, on the other hand, has now won three in a row, seven of eight and 10 of 12 to improve to 53-24. The Rockets now have a one-game lead over the Grizzlies in the race for the No. 2 spot in the West and seem to be weathering their recent rash of injuries well, thanks to both the depth provided by general manager Daryl Morey and the irrepressible offensive orchestration of their bearded wonder. Here comes the Ax and here comes the Smasher: When the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers met on Sunday, the result — as has tended to be the case over these past couple of "Freaky Friday" seasons — was  demolition . There were flashy, thunderous dunks: And there was Chris Paul dribbling the ball through Carlos Boozer's legs at midcourt in a moment that neatly encapsulated just how vastly the fortunes of the two Staples Center tenants vary right now: The Clippers won, 106-78 , and the game wasn't that close. Well, that's not entirely true. This was a seven-point game after 12 minutes, a 13-point game at halftime, and a 13-point game midway through the third. But then the floodgates opened, with the Clippers ripping off a 22-5 run that got the lead to 29 after three, followed promptly by a 16-2 burst to open the fourth that pushed the advantage to its high-water mark of 43 points with 8:09 remaining in the game. It's the second one that likely really hurt Lakers fans. I mean, at least the first came primarily with stars Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the floor. The 16-2 spurt was produced entirely by the Clippers' threadbare second unit — Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Austin Rivers, Spencer Hawes and recent addition Lester Hudson. That's the kind of thing that'll make Byron Scott fold his arms in a huff on the Laker sideline. Then again, so is literally everything. The Clippers, who boast the NBA's top offense (110 points scored per 100 possessions) and second-best efficiency differential (+6.9 points-per-100, behind only the Warriors) this season, have now won 10 of their last 11 to keep pace in the pack behind Golden State in the West's second tier. Doc Rivers' club sits just a half-game below No. 3 Memphis and, just as importantly, a full game above the No. 4 Portland Trail Blazers. (That's a weird thing that we'll discuss in some more detail later.) With injured sixth man Jamal Crawford expected to return this coming week , everything seems to be going the Clips' way right about now ... including the schedule, which matches them up with these very same Lakers again on Tuesday night . Quick, somebody find the Pharrell hat : Yeah, his Cleveland Cavaliers beat the division-rival Chicago Bulls to win for the 31st time in their last 38 games, but LeBron James didn't seem too happy afterward, according to ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin : With two weeks until the NBA playoffs open up and fewer and fewer dress rehearsals remaining for James to direct his group into postseason form, he saw Sunday's win as somewhat hollow because of the shoddy way the Cavs closed things out. Cleveland was ahead by 13 with 9:59 remaining, but ended up winning by just five as the Cavs had as many turnovers in the fourth quarter (five) as they had in the first three quarters combined and also attempted 12 of their 15 shots as a team from outside the paint. "I think we turned the ball over and we got out of attack mode," James said. "I think we settled for a lot of jumpers in the fourth quarter. And those are things that we, as a young team, will have to just learn from and get better with it the next time. So, we controlled the game, but we allowed them to get back in the game because of what we did offensively and that's a very good team. You know a Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) team is never going to give up and we have to understand every single possession means everything and we can't take one off." Despite not quite sticking the landing, Cleveland won its 50th game of the year behind an all-around effort from James, who chipped in 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting, 12 assists, 10 rebounds, three steals and a block for his first triple-double of the season. LeBron did a bit of tone-setting, too. In the early going, he took Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler into the post for several scores just to prove he's too strong for the Chicago defensive ace down there. Later, he locked up power forward Nikola Mirotic just to show the Bulls rookie sensation that, when he puts his mind to it, he can make just about any scorer's life miserable on the defensive end. While LeBron was out here handing down life lessons , his teammates were bombing awary from deep. Like, really deep: J.R. Smith went 8-for-17 from 3-point land — no, he did not attempt a 2, and yes, that is a record — for 24 points. Kyrie Irving added a game-high 27 on 8-for-19 shooting, including a 4-for-5 mark from downtown, as the Cavs extended their lead over Chicago both in the Central Division and for the No. 2 seed in the East to four games. And yet, despite the absence of guards Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls wound up playing Cleveland close enough that Smith and Irving's circus shots — "three heaves that went in," as Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau called them — constituted the difference. That didn't exactly rattle the veteran Bulls' confidence that they could hang with a Cavs squad that's been arguably the best team in basketball since mid-January. "It would be great to play them in the playoffs," said Bulls center Joakim Noah, who finished with six points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals in the loss, which cut Chicago's lead over the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed in the East to just one game. "That would be very, very exciting. That's something I really hope happens." We're with him. Your dreams were your ticket out: Welcome back , Paul George: Our man Jeff Eisenberg has your full on-the-scene story from Paul George's first game back after breaking his right leg last August, so I'll go with the broad strokes. The Indiana Pacers beat the Miami Heat, 112-89 , behind 23 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench from Luis Scola and a somewhat un-Pacer-y 14-for-30 mark from 3-point land, with wings Solomon Hill and C.J. Miles combining for eight triples in 15 tries. Indy pulled even with the Heat at 34-43, but nudged ahead of Miami in the standings by virtue of a 3-1 season-series win over Erik Spoelstra's club. The Pacers now sit in ninth place in the East, one game behind the eighth-seeded Boston Celtics (to whom they lost the head-to-head tiebreaker) and 1 1/2 games back of the No. 7 Brooklyn Nets (ditto). The Heat won their season series with both Brooklyn and Boston, but in order to cash them in, they'll need to stop their current four-game skid and get back on the good foot against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday. Monday's Most Important Games Only Game Knowing the eyes of the basketball-watching world will be focused on the NCAA championship game , the NBA's scheduling wizards decided to go light on Monday, slating just one game. (Actually, there weren't supposed to be any, but a January snowstorm interceded, so here we are.) Blazers at Nets , 7 p.m. ET: The Nets have been a tough squad to draw a bead on over the past three weeks. Lionel Hollins' crew has won 10 of its last 13 games, but has operated in feast-or-famine fashion, amassing both gut-it-out victories with boat-race beatdowns : In last 13 games, Brooklyn is 10-3 & a minus-8. Avg. margin of victory: 6.8 Avg, margin of defeat: 25.3 http://t.co/qceh9kkxys — John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 5, 2015 Sitting in seventh place in the East at 35-41, just a half-game ahead of a Celtics squad that owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Nets, Brooklyn could surely use the former on Monday. The Blazers seem to have made the Nets' job a bit easier by deciding to keep three key contributors — All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, starting swingman Nicolas Batum and backup center Chris Kaman — back in the Pacific Northwest. On one hand, it's a bit of a surprise that the Blazers would leave three major rotation players at home while still in the midst of a tough race for home-court advantage in the West playoffs. While Portland's guaranteed a top-four seed after locking up the Northwest Division title on Friday night , the Blazers head into Monday's game at 50-26. The fifth-seeded Clippers now sit at 52-26; the sixth-seeded Spurs are 51-26. If whoever finishes fifth ends the season with a better record than Portland, the Blazers will open the playoffs on the road, so it'd seem to be in their best interest to go after every win they can. Then again, all three players are dealing with injuries — torn thumb ligaments for Aldridge and Kaman , a lower back injury for Batum — and played heavy minutes to help Portland seal up the Northwest. With three more road trips on the way before the end of the regular season, the Blazers' brass seems to have decided that it just made more sense to let the wounded rest rather than flying them across the country for one measly game before flying 'em back for Wednesday's home game against the Timberwolves. While several Blazers didn't make the trip, center Robin Lopez did, meaning we'll get yet another installment in his ongoing rivalry with his twin brother, Brook Lopez. The Brooklyn big man sounds ready for battle, according to Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily : "Ah," Lopez said, laughing. "Same old same old. I hate that guy and we'll probably hopefully destroy him." That probably wouldn't make the rest of the Lopez family too happy, but it'd be just fine for Nets fans eager to see their club get a bit more breathing room. [read full article]

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