Hornets hit jackpot in NBA Draft lottery

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Hornets hit jackpot in NBA Draft lottery

One way to look at Wednesday night's NBA Draft lottery is that the fix was in. Another viewpoint is that the idea of being rewarded for alleged "tanking" died, or at least it should have.

After setting an NBA record for the lowest winning percentage in a season, albeit a lockout-shortened campaign, the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Bobcats suffered a mild upset, as the New Orleans Hornets won the luck of the draw, receiving the No. 1 pick in next month's draft. It has to be noted that although the Hornets will soon be owned by Tom Benson, who owns the NFL's New Orleans Saints, that purchase hasn't officially gone through yet, meaning the Hornets are still currently owned by the NBA.

But regardless of whether the Hornets getting the top pick in the draft is a mea culpa by the league for blocking the proposed Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers blockbuster deal prior to the regular season or not, it certainly affects a number of issues. This year's draft, while viewed as a solid group of prospects overall, is considered to possess only one franchise-changing player: Chicago native Anthony Davis.

The mediocrity of Jordan's Bobcats was hard to stomach this season, but with a 25-percent chance to acquire Davis, they had a shot to instantly improve and build a foundation for the future. Now, though they're still far under the cap, allowing them to at least throw a heap of money at the feet at the top free agents in a middling group, as well as the No. 2 pick--while the spot is up for grabs, especially with Charlotte having so many needs throughout the roster, no other prospect is seen as a no-brainer choice--the Bobcats' future isn't quite as bright as before Hornets head coach Monty Williams' face lit up with delight Wednesday evening.

New Orleans, on the other hand, still has a lot of improvement to make, but Williams is regarded as one of the league's top young coaches and despite not having an impressive record, the Hornets were mostly competitive in a lot of their losses this season. Now, the organization still needs to figure out if Eric Gordon, who missed most of the campaign with knee issues, is even interested in returning--the young shooting guard is a restricted free agent, so they can match other teams' offers for him--or if they should attempt to facilitate a trade, as the likes of his hometown Pacers are interested, with Indiana leading scorer Danny Granger, coincidentally a New Orleans native, and his potential departure conveniently clearing room for budding star Paul George to move to his natural small-forward position.

While Davis will have to adjust his mindset to one of patience after coming off a national-championship season at Kentucky, it's not as if he hasn't been on a losing team before. By now, almost everyone knows his story of sprouting from an unknown 6-foot-2 guard to a 6-foot-10 phenom and the nation's top prep prospect before his senior year, but few remember that his Perspectives Charter high-school team wasn't even in the Chicago Public League's top division and still had a losing record.

Obviously the shot-blocking phenom--in addition to winning national Player of the Year and top-freshman awards, Davis was also the top defensive player in college basketball--has improved since then and there are aspects of his game he didn't always get to display on a loaded Kentucky team. But while his overall skills, perimeter ability and underrated scoring will surprise people, it will take a while before Davis, who also needs to add strength to his spindly frame, will experience even close to the success in his future residence as the last time he was in New Orleans, where his University of Kentucky team won the national title last month.

Still, conspiracies and growing pains aside, both the Hornets, who seemingly have got the short end of the stick since their 2008, Paul-propelled playoff run, is finally having a run of good luck, as the All-Star Game will return to the city for the first time since that year, they have local ownership and now, the low-key Davis, whose personality fits the laid-back Crescent City. In the mold of the Bulls' Derrick Rose, a fellow South Sider, Davis is a genuinely nice young man and currently a better person than player, though with a game somewhat reminiscent of a young Kevin Garnett, who ironically played his final season of high school hoops in the Windy City, there's a chance that gap is evened in the future.

Other teams also had enjoyable evenings--Portland made out like bandits in the lottery, getting the sixth pick from the Nets as a result of the mid-season Gerald Wallace trade (if it was in the top three, Brooklyn, which was hoping for Davis, but ended up empty-handed, would have kept the pick); Golden State can breathe a sigh of relief, as they keep the seventh pick (instead of having it go to Utah, which would have occurred if it was eighth or lower); while New Orleans also received the 10th pick via the Paul trade--but although Davis is unlikely to make New Orleans a playoff team immediately by himself, it gives the franchise hope. Just maybe not enough to keep the local Times-Picayune a daily newspaper instead of just three print editions a week.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."