“When we’re committed to playing 48 minutes of moving the ball (and) generating good shots, however long it takes, that’s when I think we’re at our best,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan told reporters after the win over Utah on Tuesday.
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Playing better when it matters most tends to help, too, and this latest stretch has been a major improvement for the Thunder during “clutch time” (defined as the last five minutes of a game in which the teams are separated by five points or less).
Through 20 games: Oklahoma City was 1-9 in “clutch” games, with a net rating of minus-42.2, ranked 28th.
During this three-game winning streak that has included “clutch” time in each game: The Thunder have a net rating of plus-40.2 during that same span. -Amick
The Bulls didn’t get fleeced in the Jimmy Butler trade:
The draft-night deal that netted Chicago Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen in exchange for budding superstar Jimmy Butler was hardly received well from a national perspective. Few saw the Bulls’ return as proper value for a franchise centerpiece with two years left on his contact, and many were dubious that that was the best deal they could get. But months removed from the franchise-altering trade, and weeks away from LaVine’s return from his ACL tear, the Bulls have reason to be excited about their yield.
Markkanen has knocked down 51 three-pointers (second among rookies) on 34% shooting from outside and has shown surprising athleticism for a seven-footer. Dunn, though nowhere near seasoned, has also had several promising games after he looked lost last season with the Timberwolves. Over his last four games, Dunn’s averaged 16 points and 6.5 assists as a starter. And LaVine, coming off a career-high 18.9 points per game last season, is said to have improved his vertical leap that already earned him two slam dunk championships. Not only did the deal make sense at the time, with the Bulls electing not to quasi-compete in the Eastern Conference for two years, but it’s looking less and less lopsided as Chicago’s foundational pieces continue to develop. -Singer
Jamal Crawford will gain Tom Thibodeau’s trust by the New Year:
No one should be surprised that Minnesota’s Tom Thibodeau is riding his starters harder than any other coach in the Association, but his reluctance to use three-time Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford has been odd.
Crawford has seen his minutes plummet from an average of 26.3 per game with Doc Rivers and his Clippers last season to 17.5 per game with the T-Wolves (14-11). Meanwhile, there’s a massive gap in workload between Minnesota’s starters (all averaging at least 33.1 per game) and the reserves (point guard Tyus Jones averages the sixth most at 17.6, followed by Crawford).
But based on Crawford’s track record as a super sub, who can not only score in bunches but be a capable playmaker, it’s only a matter of time before he’s helping Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler get more frequent breathers on the bench. The season is too long and taxing for Thibs not to let him help more.
“For me, (the minutes reduction has) probably been the toughest part of the adjustment because I’m more of a rhythm guy,” Crawford told USA TODAY Sports on a visit on the NBA A to Z podcast. “That’s why I’m always playing basketball, even on my All-Star break or in the summer, I’m playing. I like to stay in rhythm. I feel like if I miss a day, if I miss a couple days playing, I just don’t feel right. My handle’s not as tight, not as crisp. My shot doesn’t feel as good…I think with the minutes now, it’s just a little bit tougher trying to figure it out.
“I think things will change a little bit as we get used to each other, and this is having been together two months. I’m not sure Thibs has had a Sixth Man of the Year type guy (before)…so that’s different as well. I remember Doc told me that when I first (had) him…It was kind of the same thing – maybe not as extreme with the minutes, but just that he had to figure out how to do it.”
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Crawford, who was traded to Atlanta during the summer and signed with Minnesota after reaching a buyout agreement with the Hawks, faces his old Clippers team in Los Angeles for the first time on Wednesday night.
“I have no complaints,” Crawford said. “I mean everybody wants to play. I love playing. That was part of the reason I came (to Minnesota) was because the role, I thought, would be there, and the team was on the rise, and Thibs – I’ve always been a fan of him. I think over time, hopefully it increases and kind of works itself out. I just think I can help. He’ll gain trust of the bench.” -Amick
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