Bulls

Bulls fall to Knicks in Easter OT thriller in Rose's return

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Bulls fall to Knicks in Easter OT thriller in Rose's return

NEW YORK Derrick Roses return to the lineup after missing 12 consecutive games with a strained right groin was far from picture perfect, but while the All-Star point guard showed hes ready to make an impact, he also showed that hes far from his previous form, though his rust alone cant be blamed for the Bulls (43-14) 100-99 overtime loss to the Knicks (29-27) at Madison Square Garden.

On Easter Sunday afternoon, the Bulls recovered from a horrendous start, then succumbed to a brilliant performance from Carmelo Anthony, the leader of a team that may be a frequent visitor to Chicago in the near future and not just Tuesdays regular-season game, but the opening round of the postseason as Tom Thibodeau continues to try to push his squad toward the No. 1 overall seed while balancing his starting backcourts mend from injury woes.

Despite Roses (29 points on 8-for-26 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, eight turnovers in nearly 39 minutes) return, the Bulls found themselves in a 9-0 hole to start the game as the Knicks scored with ease and on the other end, prevented their guests offense from thriving, all of which surely caused Thibodeau much consternation and led to two timeouts in the contests first four minutes. After scoring the games first five points, Anthony (43 points, seven rebounds) was the hosts' offensive focal point while New Yorks much-improved defense the home team has taken great strides under the leadership of interim head coach Mike Woodson forced the Bulls into hurried attempts with the shot clock winding down or outright violations.

Big hole to start the game. Missed free throws, turnovers, open threes. We beat ourselves, said Thibodeau, adding, nope, when asked for an explanation to one of his teams chronic slow starts. They get into the ball, so we were on our heels. Then, when we started getting aggressive, we were able to come back, get the lead and we werent able to hang on in the end.

Remarkably, even after Thibodeau made adjustments such as going small to match up with the smallish Knicks by inserting reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer for starting center Joakim Noah (10 points, five rebounds) the Bulls continued to flounder, as turnovers seemingly became contagious and Rose looking rusty alongside teammates who were the antithesis of their coachs readiness to play mantra. Although the likes of second-year swingman Landry Fields (10 points) ensured New York kept a large winning margin, a late-period charge led by Duke products and starting forwards Carlos Boozer (13 points, 16 rebounds) and All-Star Luol Deng (13 points, nine rebounds) brought the Bulls within 31-19 at the conclusion of the opening quarter.

About what we expected. Some good, some bad. Handling the ball was a problem, but our whole team, we didnt take care of the ball, so we put them in the open floor and because youre cross-matched, theyre going to be open. Youve got to be ready to handle the pressure, youve got to hit free throws down the stretch, which we didnt do, and youve got to limit their second shots Tyson Chandler kept batting the ball out so you get what you deserve, said Thibodeau, who was asked about Roses performance. We should be able to overcome all that stuff. Just have to do the right things. Do the right things, youre not going to have those problems. Youre not going to have those turnovers. Simple plays. Protect the ball, keep the ball moving, quick decisions, hit the first open man, sustain your spacing, protect the ball. Tuck it on the catch, fight for your space, get your space. Simple.

While the Bulls level of play and, more importantly, effort really, there was nowhere to go but up the Knicks and Anthony, in particular, remained hot, as the All-Star starter was remarkably efficient and showcased the offensive tools that make many observers consider him the best pure scorer in the game, even with a stellar defender like Deng draped all over him. Contributions from role players like Fields, Jared Jeffries and Chandler (eight points, 16 rebounds, three blocked shots) also helped New Yorks cause, but the visitors starters and Bench Mob alike simply struggled, especially on offense, but mostly in the sense of not having the ball bounce their way.

Ive played with Derrick for years now. Thats not really the problem. We had a slow start defensively. We didnt make shots offensively, but we didnt do a good job moving the ball tonight and even early, it kind of hurt us, said Deng. Nothing went our way. The free throws really hurt us and the turnovers.

Chicagos rising level of frustration was evident in not only their woeful field-goal percentage and unforced errors, but also uncharacteristic incidents, like mild-mannered backup point guard C.J. Watson picking up a technical foul and Noah earning a flagrant foul for grabbing Knicks rookie guard Iman Shumpert (15 points, nine rebounds, six assists, four steals), a Chicago-area native, in mid-air all while New York maintained a comfortable double-digit lead. However, buoyed by reserve Taj Gibson (11 points, four blocks), the Bulls showed more fight as the first half wound down, making it a single-digit game, 53-45, at the intermission, following a Rose layup, plus the foul for a traditional three-point play.

Even with a boisterous Garden crowd voicing its support for the home team, the games momentum stayed largely on the Bulls side after the break, as they used transition basketball to quietly get back within striking distance. Their mission was aided by Rose knocking down a pair of three-pointers, though he continued to struggle driving the basketball, often getting stripped or bottled up by Shumpert, who ignited the audience with a vicious follow-up dunk and subsequent scream, earning him a technical.

In concert with Chicagos defense improving the Knicks no longer got uncontested jumpers, let alone layups, at will; New York guards Baron Davis and J.R. Smith (14 points) both struggled mightily with their outside shooting Rose also turned it up a notch, taking better care of the basket, finding a semblance of a rhythm and splashing perimeter jumpers, both from deep range and off the dribble. Rose aside, the Bulls continued to surge, eventually tying the contest. They took their first lead of the afternoon affair on a Brewer jumper with under a minute left in the third quarter and headed into the games final frame with a 75-72 advantage after backup center Omer Asik rejected a Knicks layup attempt at the buzzer.

Chicago, featuring a reserve-heavy lineup that saw Watson and designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver chip in with long-distance bombs, held on to and even slightly extended its slim cushion early in the final stanza, but New York remained right on the visitors heels. However, while the Bulls were no offensive juggernaut, the Knicks increasingly errant shooting not to mention Roses ability to get to the foul line and accurate marksmanship, which included a four-point play allowed their guests to widen the gap between the teams heading into the games stretch run.

Not to be overlooked was the Bulls interior play, as Boozer was a major factor on the glass and Gibsons play on both ends in addition to timely buckets and his usual energy, his defense on Anthony greatly slowed down the Knicks go-to scorer, putting the never-bashful Smith in the position of going one-on-one and jacking up tough shots, while the rookie Shumpert thrived in the role, showcasing his offensive versatility, to go along with his pesky defense on Rose but as the game progressed, New York continued to hang around and following an Anthony layup to make it a 91-88 game, Deng missed a pair of attempts with 34.1 seconds remaining. After the ensuing timeout, Knicks fan favorite Steve Novak, one of the leagues top three-point threats, rimmed out an open triple and Rose was fouled on the ensuing possession.

The South Side native stepped to the charity stripe with 19.4 seconds left in the contest and, like his All-Star teammate, bricked both attempts from the line, leading to Anthony draining a game-tying triple with 11.2 seconds to go, sending the home crowd into a frenzied state. Rose had a chance to redeem himself on the final possession of regulation, as his teammates cleared out for him to operate, but he missed a pull-up jumper at the buzzer with Shumpert guarding him, completing a miserable stretch for himself personally and the Bulls as a whole, as the Knicks blanked them over the final 3:45 of the fourth quarter, with the reigning league MVP playing no small role in his squads meltdown.

Turnovers. Turnovers. Missed free throws. We got fouled, went to the free-throw line and missed. Cant do that, said Thibodeau. You cant be giving up that shot. Its the only thing that gets you in trouble, is the three. You dont give it up. You make him drive. You make him take the two.

Recounted Rose: Jumped on us. We came back. Free throws, turnovers. Thats the reason why we lost this game. I had a lot of turnovers, just getting back into rhythm. Its just one of those games at the end, missed those free throws. Hopefully next time, if I get the opportunity, Im going to knock them downI told them if I was out there and we needed to win the game, I wanted to be in the game and he put me in. I missed those damn free throws and next time, I know Ill for sure hit one of them.

New York held all of the momentum going into the extra period, but Noah, a New York native, picked the right time to make an appearance on the afternoon as the centers offensive rebounding sparked the Bulls early in the session, leading to Rose finding his touch and playing with his trademark aggressiveness. Conversely, Smith, who had struggled for much of the matinee game, was the Knicks saving grace early, although the visitors were still able to make it a two-possession game and maintain that margin as time waned on.

However, Anthony wasnt done yet, as his driving layup with 1:04 on the clock made it a 99-97 contest and after a Rose turnover and multiple offensive rebounds on the same possession the Knicks superstar knocked down a three-pointer with 8.2 seconds left to give New York a 100-99 lead, prompting a Thibodeau timeout. Chicago had one last chance and fittingly, the ball ended up in Roses hands, but his floater to beat the buzzer was off the mark, giving the Bulls a loss against a potential first-round playoff opponent.

Give us credit for fighting back for getting the lead and getting the lead at the end of the game, and the end of overtime, as well. Usually, we close out games a lot better, but we made some mistakes. We missed some free throws, we missed a couple of offensive rebounds that we could have got. Then, Melo hit some incredible shots. Youve got to give him credit. He took some tough shots and he made them, to his credit. Its a tough one to come up on the short end of because it was a pretty big game, but we look forward to playing them again. We play them again on Tuesday, so itll be another good game, said Boozer. Trust me, well dissect the tape. We made a lot of mistakes in this game, a lot of turnovers. But listen, like Thibs always says, In every win, theres things to learn from and in every loss, theres things to learn from, so well learn from this and be better next time.

Chimed in Rose: Oh, its tough. Its definitely tough. When you lose a game, especially for us, its tough. Its going to hurt us, no matter who we lose to. But their team played great, man. Knocking down shots, didnt give up when we went up, had a big lead.

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

MINNEAPOLIS — The misses have come wide, long and short for Lauri Markkanen in the last couple games, perhaps a sign he’s hit the popular but unseen “Rookie Wall.”

Since coming back from the All-Star break, Markkanen has hit the same amount of jump shots as a dead man, only scoring with two dunks and missing all seven 3-point attempts.

He’s hit the point of the season where the legs turn to spaghetti as the grind of the season catches up. Last year at Arizona, he played 37 games and then went through Summer League following the draft before playing for the Finland national team. The Bulls have been careful with his minutes, particularly early on in the season when they didn’t have the depth at power forward, but Markkanen is still adjusting to the rigors of the NBA.

After seemingly peaking in January, averaging 17 points and 8.4 rebounds on 48 percent shooting and 43 from three-point range, he’s averaged just 10.8 points on 37 percent shooting and hitting just four of 27 from deep.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg tried to pump Markkanen up recently, comparing his shooting to a golfer who’s lost his stroke. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to Markkanen, who looked at his coach as if he grew a third eye.

By the time Hoiberg compared it to curling, he wound up confusing the press corps last week.

And yet, Markkanen hasn’t broken out of his slump. It’s been quite a while since Markkanen’s devastating performance on Broadway where he nailed eight 3-pointers against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10 for a career-high 33 points.

“It’s been a long season, I’m not denying that,” Markkanen said Saturday night following the Bulls’ loss to the Timberwolves. “I just gotta work through it. At times I feel it. I felt good today. As the game went on, a little tired.”

Consistency has been a hallmark of Markkanen’s season to date. He scored in double figures 21 straight games before the last two, where he scored three points in the last two Bulls losses.

As a whole, he’s only scored fewer than 10 points six times. To compare, rookie of the year frontrunners Donovan Mitchell (nine) and Ben Simmons (six) are right around the same number.

Hoiberg boldly predicts Markkanen will burst out in a big way soon, but the rookie wall takes no prisoners, especially in the dog days of the season.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

His looks have been relatively clean, although one can’t discount the difference between playing alongside Cristiano Felicio compared to Robin Lopez. Lopez assisted on 39 field goals, tied with Jerian Grant for second-highest feeds behind Kris Dunn.

Both Lopez and Grant are out of the rotation, while Dunn is still getting his legs back after missing nearly a month in concussion protocol. Lopez was used in a lot of dribble handoff offense with Markkanen, while also setting solid screens to free him.

Felicio doesn’t have that level of experience in this offense, and the Bulls are also running more through Zach LaVine as a primary ballhandler.

“He’s had a lot of really good games. It’s never gonna be an 100 percent season,” LaVine said. “It’s so many games you’ll eventually run into some slumps so I just think he needs to get into a rhythm. We’ve gotta help him with that too. Help him find easier shots on the floor. He’s cool, he’s good. We tell him to shoot the ball every time.”

The postseason begins in the latest Preps Power Rankings

The postseason begins in the latest Preps Power Rankings

The IHSA playoffs are finally here for all of boys basketball as regionals begin this week in the Class 3A and 4A. Since Class 2A only has one team in the top 25, defending champion Orr, most of the focus on the Power Rankings falls on teams in the Class 3A and 4A fields. 

1. Simeon (25-3, 9-0) (1) -- The heavy favorites in Class 4A, the Wolverines start the playoffs against Hubbard or Reavis before potentially facing Sandburg or Crete-Monee for a regional title.

2. Orr (22-4, 9-0) (2) -- The Spartans won a regional in Class 2A as they move on to play Uplift in the sectional semifinals on Wednesday. The Titans might be the toughest team Orr faces in its quest to repeat as 2A champions. 

3. Curie (23-4, 8-1) (3) -- The No. 1 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional of Class 4A, the Condors could face York or Riverside-Brookfield for a regional title as that could be a tough matchup. 

4. Whitney Young (22-7, 7-2) (4) -- The defending Class 4A champions are the No. 2 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional as they could face St. Joseph or St. Ignatius for a regional title next week. 

5. Morgan Park (18-9, 7-2) (5) -- The Mustangs will try to repeat in Class 3A as they might face Vocational or Perspectives/Leadership for a regional title. Now that Ayo Dosunmu is healthy and back, Morgan Park should be the favorites once again.

6. Fenwick (19-7, 8-0) (6) -- Catholic League champion Fenwick is up in Class 4A this year as they're a No. 4 seed in a loaded Riverside-Brookfield Sectional. The Friars might have a showdown with Proviso East for a regional title if both teams win earlier in the week. 

7. Evanston (21-5, 8-2) (8) -- The Loaded Maine East Sectional will be tough but Evanston is the No. 1 seed. The Wildkits could have a tough regional title game ahead of them as Maine West and Notre Dame are both capable of making it a close game.

8. Oak Park-River Forest (22-5, 12-0) (9) -- Knocking off Hinsdale South for the West Suburban crown, the Huskies have a lot of positive momentum entering the Class 4A playoffs. OPRF is the No. 3 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional as they could play Lincoln Park for a regional title.

9. Benet (23-4, 8-1) (10) -- With a 14-game winning streak entering the playoffs, the Redwings are red hot. Benet is the No. 2 seed in the Glenbard East Sectional in Class 4A as they could match up with Naperville Central or Glenbard West for a regional title. 

10. West Aurora (21-4, 10-0) (11) -- Winners of 13 straight, West Aurora is the No. 2 seed in the Romeoville Sectional. The Blackhawks could face Andrew or Plainfield North for a regional title at Plainfield South. 

11. Marist (24-4, 7-2) (12) -- An impressive 24-win season has Marist as the No. 2 seed in the Thornton Sectional as they host a Class 4A regional. The RedHawks might play Thornwood or Bloom to win that regional on Friday night. 

12. Niles North (24-4, 6-4) (13) -- The Vikings took down New Trier to pick up a great win right before the loaded Maine East Sectional in Class 4A. Niles North, a No. 3 seed, might have to face ESCC champion St. Viator for a regional title, which would be one of the most-anticipated matchups in Class 4A. 

13. New Trier (22-5, 8-2) (7) -- Dropping two games during the week, New Trier is limping into the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the Maine East Sectional. It won't get any easier for the Trevians as they might face Mid-Suburban champion Prospect for a regional title.

14. Naperville North (24-2, 15-1) (15) -- The top seed in the Glenbard East Sectional, Naperville North hosts its own regional in Class 4A. The Huskies might play Geneva or Downers North for a regional title. 

15. DePaul Prep (21-6, 5-3) (16) -- The No. 1 seed in the North Chicago Sectional, DePaul Prep hosts its own regional in Class 3A. The Rams could face Foreman or Sullivan for a regional title as DePaul Prep has a winnable sectional. 

16. Loyola (22-6, 5-3) (17) -- Loyola is the No. 4 seed in the Maine East Sectional. The Ramblers could have a tough regional final against host and No. 5 seed Maine South as that would make for a great matchup.

17. Marian Catholic (20-5, 5-4) (14) -- A No. 1 seed in the Pontiac Sectional of Class 3A, the Spartans will be one of the teams to watch in that field. Marian Catholic could potentially take on Thornridge or Rich Central for a regional title during the week. 

18. Hillcrest (21-5, 13-0) (18) -- The Hawks are a No. 2 seed in the Pontiac Sectional in Class 3A as they try to make another deep run in March. Hillcrest could face Rich East or Oak Forest for a regional title.

19. Homewood-Flossmoor (19-6, 9-1) (20) -- The Vikings had some close wins during the week preparing for the Class 4A field. Homewood-Flossmoor could play Oak Lawn for a regional title at T.F. South this week. 

20. St. Viator (23-5, 9-0) (22) -- The unbeaten champs in the ESCC, the Lions are on a six-game winning streak. A No. 6 seed in the Maine East Sectional, St. Viator could have a major test against Niles North for a Class 4A regional title. 

21. Bolingbrook (19-6, 7-3) (23) -- Top seed in the Romeoville Sectional, the Raiders have been a major threat in the postseason the past few years. Bolingbrook might play Lemont or Plainfield East for a regional title.

22. Maine South (21-7, 6-4) (24) -- The Hawks have the recent win over Niles North as they're the No. 5 seed in the Maine East Sectional. As the host in the regional, Maine South could get a home game against No. 4 seed Loyola.

23. Hinsdale South (20-6, 10-2) (21) -- Hinsdale South dropped a close one to OPRF right before the postseason. The Hornets might face Willowbrook for a regional title as the No. 4 seed in the Glenbard East Sectional as the two teams split the season series. 

24. Willowbrook (23-5, 9-3) (25) -- The Warriors had an outstanding season as they are in the tough Glenbard East Sectional. A No. 5 seed, Willowbrook could face Hinsdale South for a regional title, which could be the best title game of the entire week. 

25. Jacobs (24-3, 16-0) (NR) -- Winners of the Fox Valley for the fourth straight year, the Golden Eagles are on a roll as they're a No. 2 seed in the Jacobs Sectional in Class 4A. If Jacobs gets senior Ryan Phillips back from hand injury they could be dangerous.