Bulls

Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way

Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way

ATLANTA — Here are the observations from the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena Saturday afternoon.

Not a shooter, but a scorer: The Atlanta Hawks’ gameplan was clear on Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen: Do anything but let him shoot.

They succeeded at that objective but in the words of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, they “won the battle but lost the war” as Markkanen missed all four of his 3-pointers and didn’t hit a jump shot.

But he scored 19 including six dunks—after coming in with 28 dunks in the first 42 games. The Hawks kept putting smaller players on him after switching pick and rolls and the Bulls smartly and patiently went to Markkanen inside after ball movement.

Shooting over 6-foot-10 guys who aren’t as agile is certainly satisfying for the rookie but as Markkanen said, “dunking is fun.”

“Trying to be a complete player,” Markkanen said. “If that was their game plan, I don’t know. I can do much more than shoot. I missed how many three’s today? But that wasn’t going for me tonight so I went to something else.”

Clearly while Markkanen’s game is growing the easiest thing for opposing teams to do is to see how he’ll perform against smaller players, but as the season has gone on he’s shown more comfort with his back to the basket and being two passes away, ready to step into the lane when defenses collapse.

“I know I can’t just shoot threes, I gotta get to the rim,” Markkanen said. “Eventually it’ll open more space for 3-pointers and stuff like that. Trying to mix it up.”

Dead legs or settling in for Zach LaVine: It was tailor made for Zach LaVine to get his second slam of the season, getting the ball on a breakaway with only Taurean Prince trailing him.

Whether LaVine heard footsteps or knew he didn’t have the full lift to get there, Prince caught up with him to foul from behind as LaVine tripped before liftoff, missing a layup.

It was indicative of his early showing, as the adrenaline from the first two games has worn off and LaVine is having to get used to his body’s limitations in the moment—especially as his minute restriction was raised to 24 minutes for the next three games before he’ll be re-evaluated again.

He was 0-for-4 in the first half before catching a bit of a rhythm in the second half, finishing two-for-nine with eight points in 18 minutes, adding nine rebounds. His explosion isn’t there yet, going to the rim. And his legs on his jumper feels a little flat, too.

“I don’t have all of it (legs),” LaVine said. “A couple possessions down the floor, I get tired. Get fouled and have to walk it off. I have to get the game legs back and I can’t practice it, it comes with playing.”

In two months, one would think he’ll finish that with little issues but he admitted fatigue caught up with him more than anything.

“My first two (games) I was extremely excited, energized,” LaVine said. “I just feel like it’s something I gotta get used to playing NBA games again. I feel it a little bit.”

Especially in watching Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas go through a similar up-and-down period with his return, nobody should’ve expected LaVine’s performances to just keep rising and rising without dropoff.

This is part of the rehab, and the Bulls feel as if they’re prepared for it. Their reasoning for only marginally increasing LaVine’s workload from 20 to 24 minutes is simple: They want him to have off-days to continue strengthening his surgically-repaired knee, not just having him take the practice days as recovery from playing heavy minutes.

“You can’t anticipate any of it,” LaVine said. “I felt good the first two, I feel good now. No injury, no knick-knacks or anything. Just energy-wise and your legs, making sure you’re getting up and down the floor, making sure you’re getting elevation on your jumper and in the lane, I gotta get better at it.”

As self-aware as anyone considering what he’s been through over the past year, he offered an assurance to any who may be concerned.

“I gotta play through it, find ways around it,” LaVine said. “Regardless I’m not scared or anything. I feel fine.”

Dunn out vs. New Orleans: Kris Dunn will be out against the New Orleans Pelicans and it appears more likely he’ll miss Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia as well as he recovers from the concussion he suffered in a scary fall against Golden State earlier this week.

“He has no change in his symptoms,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll know more tomorrow but his symptoms haven’t changed.”

Initially the Bulls didn’t believe Dunn had a concussion but the symptoms emerged early the next morning.

“From what I understand with concussion symptoms, they can take up to 24 hours to develop. It sounds like the initial tests, he passed,” Hoiberg said. “Then he woke up the morning, had a headache, had some dizziness, was re-checked and that’s when they put him in concussion protocol. There’s been very little change since. He’s still having trouble with sleeping. The biggest thing is making sure he’s getting rest and he stays hydrated.”

The tank: One team successfully executed how to tank, and that was the Atlanta Hawks. Yes, the Bulls forced them into missing 37 of 48 3-point attempts, and the Bulls jumped on them early and never allowed the Hawks to take a lead, much less get too close.

“We opened with a double-digit lead right out the gate,” Hoiberg said. “Overall, really complete performance for our guys.”

“We knew we had to come out the gate with great effort.”

Robin Lopez continued his impressive play with 20 points and Justin Holiday hit a few shots late to score 13, while Bobby Portis scored 14 in 18 minutes.

But pretty, it was not.

The Bulls haven’t completely abandoned their plans for the season, as they’ll field calls for Holiday, Lopez and of course, have Nikola Mirotic’s exit being first on their docket.

But while this team is relatively whole, this is a game they should win handily.

And they did.

Yet and still, though, this applies to the 13-32 Hawks:

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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USA TODAY

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”