Bulls

Well, that was an ugly ending: Observations from Bulls-Mavericks

dunnsmith.png
USA TODAY

Well, that was an ugly ending: Observations from Bulls-Mavericks

The Bulls earned a victory on Friday night, and the box score will read that they did it scoring 127 points, shooting 56 percent and making 14 3-pointers.

That's fine, and it came against a Dallas team that had won four straight before barely losing to the Warriors two days earlier. Kris Dunn scored a career-high 32 pioints, Justin Holiday was an efficiency monster scoring 23 points on seven shots, and Nikola Mirotic double-doubled.

So why was it such an ugly victory?

The Bulls led by 10, 114-104, with 1:08 left in the game. They wound up needing Yogi Ferrell to miss a wide open 3-pointer as time expired to avoid overtime. From that point on the Mavericks scored on eight consecutive possessions before Ferrell's missed triple. Dallas got as close as 125-124 with 3.2 seconds to play. In that same span the Bulls missed just one free throw, but Nikola Mirotic had a costly turnover that led to a dunk, and Dallas also grabbed two offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive.

Simply put, it was ugly. Even the Bulls' inbounds were a nightmare down the stretch. It was indicative of a young Bulls team still learning how to close games, so count it as a teaching moment. As for Fred Hoiberg? He and his coaching staff will likely be going to the drawing board on how to close games out.

When it's all said and done the Bulls picked up their first victory of 2018. But despite a packed box score it was ugly as can be down the stretch.

Fun fact from our buddy, Chuck Swirsky:

Wowza indeed.

Kris Dunn dominates Dennis Smith Jr.

If you were to ask anyone during the Las Vegas Summer League (including this author) whether they'd rather have Kris Dunn or Dennis Smith Jr., the consensus would have been Smith. He was the hottest rookie and looked like the steal of the draft after the Mavericks took him 9th overall in June.

Dunn, on the other hand, was struggling mightily. So what's changed since then? Let's look at Friday night. Dunn was everywhere, scoring a career-high 32 points and handing out nine assists in just 32 minutes. He made four of his five triples and grabbed four steals. It was arguably his best game as a pro in a second season that contiues to add superlatives.

Smith was absent most of the evening. He finished with 15 points and seven assists, but 10 of those came in the wacky final 68 seconds (see above). It'd be silly to write off Smith just yet, but for now Dunn looks very much the part of a franchise point guard Smith was being touted as a few months ago.

Justin Holiday boosting his trade value?

We'll begin here by admitting it's unlikely the Bulls find a trade partner for Justin Holiday. He isn't much of a ball handler, and his streaky shot doesn't have much value on a contender's second unit. That being said, he's been excellent the last two weeks and could at least give teams a second thought about dealing for him.

Holiday posted 23 points on just seven shots, going 5-for-7 from the field (5-for-6 from deep) and a perfect 8-for-8 from the line. He had just one turnover in 37 minutes, though he also didn't have an assist and grabbed three rebounds (Andrew Wiggins is blushing somewhere).

But Holiday has turned the calendar over to 2018 and looked like a different players. He's averaging 21.0 points on 59 percent shooting in three January games, and he's doing so while logging his continued heavy minutes (41, 39 and 37 in January). Perhaps he sees the writing on the wall with Zach LaVine's impending return, or he knows minutes and, more importantly, shots might be freeing up if Nikola Mirotic is traded. Either way he's looked the part in January, and maybe the Bulls could get something for him if they want to free up the wing log jam. Just a thought, and a small sample size to think about at that.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

2-18_markkanen_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.