Bulls

Ask Aggrey: Are the Heat or Thunder a bigger threat?

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Ask Aggrey: Are the Heat or Thunder a bigger threat?

The minds of Bulls fans might still be on Sunday's humbling loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City, the basketball world as a whole is focused on Monday night's NCAA Championship game between Kansas and Kentucky. For NBA purists who aren't fans of the college game, this could be the year to watch, given that Kansas has one of the top individual talents in the nation in junior All-American power forward Thomas Robinson, while Kentucky has a whole host of future pros, led by Chicago native Anthony Davis, a freshman, odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and the national Player of the Year. I'm not necessarily the biggest advocate of Kansas coach Bill Self, but he did a masterful job in what was supposed to be somewhat of a rebuilding season, leading a team featuring no McDonald's All-Americans and arguably only the third-most talent in its own conference (behind Baylor and Missouri) to the title game.

However, the Jayhawks' run will probably end Monday, as the sheer talent and athleticism of the Wildcats should get Kentucky coach John Calipari his first national championship. In addition to Davis, Kentucky features an overwhelming supporting cast, including fellow freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (a high-motor wing who could be the No. 2 pick in the draft) and Marquis Teague (the younger brother of Atlanta Hawk Jeff Teague is a likely first-round pick in a weak draft for point guards), sophomores Terrence Jones (a versatile forward, the team's leading scorer and a projected lottery pick) and Doron Lamb (the guard is one of the best shooters in the country and another probable first-rounder) and senior swingman Darius Miller, who's the squad's sixth man and also should play in the NBA next season. I won't be able to see the game because of the coinciding Bulls-Rockets game, but I'm going with Kentucky by a dozen. With that, on to this week's edition of the mailbag.
Who should the Bulls be more afraid of - the Heat in Eastern Conference Finals or the Thunder in the NBA Finals? -- Mark H.
Mark, "afraid" isn't the word I'd use, but certainly after Sunday's outing, the Bulls are probably more wary of the Thunder. Keep in mind, they played without their starting backcourt, but the Bulls' lack of fight was somewhat disturbing, as that just doesn't occur under Thibs. That said, it's just one game and a regular-season one at that. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook really had it going and as good as they are, they won't have games like that every night against the Bulls' defense and even if they did, the Bulls' offense endured one of its worst performances of the season. But the Bulls aren't a team to, in Thibs' words, "skip steps," so with two more regular-season matchups against the Heat looming, they're certainly more concerned about Miami at this point. That's the team that ousted them from the playoffs last season and all signs point to an Eastern Conference Finals rematch this spring, so even if the Thunder advance to the NBA Finals -- which isn't a guarantee, no matter how dominant they looked Sunday -- the Bulls won't put the cart before the horse.
Would last year's Bulls team would have had as much success WITHOUT Derrick Rose than the team this year is having? -- Pablo T.

Pablo, no way. Last season's team was still getting used to Thibs' system and if you recall, Derrick bailed them out of several games individually. Even in games when they got a solid collective effort, it took MVP heroics to win. This season, even with Derrick in the lineup, they've been much more balanced. Another major reason the Bulls have been able to weather the storm without Derrick is that the frontcourt has been relatively healthy. It was the opposite last season, with Joakim and Carlos being out for long stretches, while the starting perimeter trio of Derrick, Luol and the departed Keith Bogans missed one game combined. But now, with the system ingrained and the bulk of the players back from a year ago, the Bulls are equipped to still play at a high level without Derrick, at least until the playoffs hit. That was unthinkable last season.

Yo Aggrey! What's the best and worst part of being a beat-writer for the Bulls? -- Greg S.

Greg, the best part of my job, by far, is getting to know the players and coaches on the team. I can't speak for every team in the league, but the Bulls have genuinely good people around and they're all unique, have a variety of interests and opinions, both on and off the court, and make coming to work every day an enjoyable task. The worst part is probably the travel. It sounds exciting and it can be fun, but believe me, two-week road trips and getting out of arenas after midnight, then having to wake up a few hours later to catch an early-morning flight can be exhausting. Overall though, the good definitely outweighs the bad.Do you have any insight on where Jabari Parker will be going to college? I'm a DePaul student and would LOVE to have him here! -- Jasmine Q.

Jasmine, I won't pretend to know which school Jabari will pick, since things change in the course of high-profile recruitment sagas all the time, but if I had to guess, I'd put my money on Duke, though many of the other national powers involved, such as Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisville, Michigan State, and even the likes of Washington and Stanford -- Jabari's father, Sonny, played professionally with Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, while Jabari has family on the West Coast and Stanford's academics likely appeal to him -- also have a chance. I've gotten to know Jabari a bit and he's an excellent student, but he's probably going to be a one-and-done player. Thus, Duke fits him from both an academic standpoint and after winning three high school state championships -- and likely a fourth next season -- as well as providing him with an opportunity to develop under a coach with a track record of having won national championships and coaching pros, something that's been enhanced by Coach K's work with USA Basketball.

However, I wouldn't completely rule out DePaul just yet, simply because Jabari has a lot of civic pride, is close to his family and is good friends with AAU teammate Billy Garrett Jr., a junior point guard at Morgan Park, one of Simeon's rivals. Billy, who's also an excellent player, has already committed to DePaul, his father is on the coaching staff and I'd imagine he's constantly in Jabari's ear about joining him and putting the program back on the map.

Keep the questions -- whether theyre about the Bulls, the rest of the NBA, other levels of basketball or life in general -- coming. Youll get a much better explanation, though not as instant, than you would via Twitter with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.

Unbelievable performance, unexplainable failures leads to Bulls' collapse in New Orleans

Unbelievable performance, unexplainable failures leads to Bulls' collapse in New Orleans

Weird things tend to happen in New Orleans. Things filed under “unbelievable” or “unexplainable.”

The Bulls’ double-overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans doesn’t exactly fall under either, but the circumstances leading to it certainly do.

Justin Holiday, the reliable 84 percent free throw shooter missing the last of three freebies that would have ended the game in regulation after being fouled with 0.3 seconds left?

Unexplainable.

“Could’ve won the game with a free throw,” Holiday said, dismissing the notion of nerves. “Thought it was cash, it just didn’t go in. Wasn’t meant to happen, I guess. I was hyped. You get that opportunity, I don’t miss free throws. When you get an opportunity like that, that’s what was on my mind.”

Holiday raced to the 3-point line after the Bulls fell behind 114-112 with three seconds left, drawing a whistle on Darius Miller as the buzzer sounded—giving them a chance to win a game they had no business losing in the first place.

“He made the hard ones, which the first one is the hardest,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He made a great play to be fouled in the first place to even get himself to the line.”

It seemed so unlikely the Bulls would find themselves in their wildest game of the year after seemingly driving the Pelicans to insanity and frustration, taking a 17-point lead with 5 minutes left.

Zach LaVine looked comfortable in his fourth quarter minutes, while Denzel Valentine and Nikola Mirotic hit big shots to extend the Bulls lead—ignoring the irritated atmosphere at the Smoothie King Center as the Pelicans fans felt their team had gotten an unfair whistle.

Then the Pelicans—and their maddeningly talented star DeMarcus Cousins—got mad and took all his frustration out on the Bulls in a historic performance. He needed every bit of the 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists to put the Bulls away, as he bullied the game inside and finessed things from the outside (five 3-pointers) as his teammates finally caught up to his intensity in those frenetic five minutes.

His numbers put him in the company of Wilt Chamberlain—not surprising considering he did everything down the stretch including bringing the ball upcourt as if he were the world’s biggest point guard.

Unbelievable.

“It’s cool to be in company with a guy like Wilt (Chamberlain). He’s a guy that’s put up videogame numbers his entire career,” Cousins said. “Just to have a little game like his, that’s pretty cool.”

His alley-oop to Anthony Davis with 1:39 left in regulation gave him a triple-double and cut the Bulls lead to 110-107, and the Bulls seemed to be in full panic mode. Davis fouled out in the first overtime but not after inflicting 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists of damage in 43 minutes.

“The inability to get a rebound late cost us,” Hoiberg said. “Their pressure, getting into us, really lost all of our pace that we did a good job of for the most part all game. It really slowed us down. That’s what got their run started.”

Jerian Grant, who had performed solidly in Kris Dunn’s absence, then became a target for the Pelicans defense as they harassed Grant, taking the Bulls’ offense out of its rhythm.

Grant had six turnovers in 47 minutes and was visibly bothered by the pressure employed by the Pelicans’ defense, nearly negating his 22-point, 13-assist, five-rebound performance.

“I thought we had really good flow,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Jerian had a really good game. But the pressure really did bother us. Gotta do the things that got you the lead we had. A lot of pace, a lot of movement. A lot of good things.”

The good things certainly included Lauri Markkanen holding his own against Davis and making big defensive plays in the fourth quarter and overtime when the Pelicans foolishly tried to switch Markkanen onto their guards.

But Markkanen kept his composure, moved his feet and was never exploited. Although he shot just 5-for-12 and missed all four of his 3-point attempts, Markkanen took steps forward defensively as he finished with 14 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.

Robin Lopez went at Cousins on the other end, as both were exhausted at the end of the marathon. Lopez scored 22 points in 39 minutes, his only regret likely getting stripped by Cousins at midcourt during the Pelicans’ comeback, leading to free throws.

“We just decided to play defense,” Davis said. “It was tied up going into the fourth quarter. They went on a crazy run. There was like eight minutes left, we just said we going to play defense. Play defense one possession at a time and we are going to be able to come back here.”

Jrue Holiday, Justin’s younger brother, was the main irritant late, along with former Bull E’Twaun Moore, giving just enough support for Cousins and Davis. The Pelicans’ Holiday scored just 12 points with six assists, but had big baskets in the first overtime after Davis fouled out.

“They turned it up, physically,” Justin Holiday said. “My brother started guarding full court. They all starting pressuring us a little more. Sometimes, it’s tough. When they turn the pressure up like that and we have the lead, we don’t necessarily want to be in a rush to score. Then they’re scoring on the other end. We gotta get stops.”

It was hard to ignore how the pressure affected the Bulls. The composure and poise they’ve played with over the last several weeks gave them a level of confidence in hostile environments, but missing Dunn meant they were without a critical part of their offense.

“I don’t wanna say trouble but it bothered us for sure,” Holiday said. “We kinda got sped up. Forget about the offensive end but if we get stops and rebound, we win the game. Again, they have all-stars and things like that, supposed to do their job.”

Even then, though, everyone walking away from the Smoothie King Center knew they witnessed a historic, unbelievable performance as well as an unexplainable collapse.

DeMarcus Cousins made some serious history in the Pelicans' win over the Bulls

DeMarcus Cousins made some serious history in the Pelicans' win over the Bulls

DeMarcus Cousins made serious history on Monday night in New Orleans. And no, it wasn't that he played 52 minutes and didn't commit a technical foul.

No, Boogie put together one of the most impressive statlines in NBA history in the Pelicans' double-overtime win over the Bulls. Cousins finished with 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists in win. He became the first player with a 40-20-10 line since Wilt Chamberlain did so in 1968 playing for the 76ers. Chamberlain accomplished the feat four times, and Oscar Robertson did it once in 1965 with a 42-21-10 night for the Cincinnati Royals. 

In 1968 Chamberlain had himself a mammoth night, playing all 48 minutes and going for 53 points, 32 rebounds and 14 assists. In fact, in Chamberlain's four instances of accomplish the feat he averaged 44 points, 27 rebounds and 12.2 assists.

Back to Cousins, he did his damage all over. His wild night included 13-for-29 shooting, five 3-pointers, and he went 13-for-14 from the free throw line. He added four steals and a block and was a +13 in what turned out to be a four-point game.

Cousins played the final 18:36 (minus seven seconds late in the fourth on an offense-for-defense sub), entering the game with 8:36 to play in the fourth quarter and never coming out again. He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Pelicans rallied back down 17 points to force the extra periods.

In the first overtime Cousins had four points and three rebounds, but it was assumed Cousins was going to be the focal point the rest of the night when teammate Anthony Davis fouled out with 2:05 to play.

In the second overtime Cousins gave his last burst, scoring the first five points of the second additional period to give New Orleans a lead. He wound up missing his next and final four shots, but his free throws with 8 seconds left iced the game and gave the Pelicans a four-point lead.

It's no wonder Cousins will start in next month's All-Star Game alongside Davis, who had 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists himself before fouling out in 43 minutes.

Combined the two All-Stars had 78 points, 31 rebounds and 15 assists.