Bucks offense stagnates with lack of passing in Game 2 loss


Bucks offense stagnates with lack of passing in Game 2 loss

Early in the third quarter of Game 2, second year swingman Giannis Antetokounmpo took a handoff from Zaza Pachulia on the left wing, dribbled for 6 seconds as the shot clock wound down and missed a 19-footer over Pau Gasol. It was one small sequence in a game the Bucks were competitive throughout, but also a microcosm of the poor offense they've displayed in the first two games of their series with the Bulls.

For a second straight game the defensive minded Bucks struggled from the field, scoring 82 points on a night in which their defense was good enough to earn a victory. And as was the case in Saturday night's loss, ball movement again was the culprit. After a Game 1 in which they passed more than 100 times less than their opponent, per NBA.com, the Bucks were stagnant with the ball in their hands, too often settled for jump shots and failed to capitalize in a game where they turned the ball over just four times. The Bucks finished with 13 assists on 32 made field goals, including two in the decisive fourth quarter of their 91-82 loss.

[MORE: Jimmy Butler comes up big in fourth quarter for Bulls]

It was a stark contrast to what made the Bucks successful this season, ranking 7th in the NBA in assists per game (23.4) and field goals made (62.4 percent). On a team with few, if any, isolation scorers ball movement was bound to be an important tactic against a Bulls defense not giving anything easy. Instead, they took open jumpers Tom Thibodeau's defense was clearly allowing them and didn't take advantage of aggressive run-outs on Chicago's 3-point defense.

"We’re not built like that," said shooting guard O.J. Mayo. "We’ve got to do a better job of creating shots for each other. Offensively 13 assists is not going to cut it."

Added Zaza Pachulia: "It’s terrible for our team, especially the way we’ve been playing all year long sharing the ball."

Still, the Bucks feel as though they're making strides. There were positives to take away from the loss, even on the offensive side of the ball. The four turnovers were a great sign from a team whose rotation features four players making their playoff debuts at 23 years old or younger.

Also, the Bucks were able to find their way into the lane, attempting 43 shots in the paint (though they made just 18 of those). Whereas their first quarter in Game 1, scoring 29 points, was a case of "fool's gold," as Jason Kidd put it, that got the Bucks into thinking they could compete in a shootout, Game 2 featured a slower, half court game where the two teams combined for just eight fast break points.

[RELATED: Bucks get physical in attempt to swing series vs. Bulls]

But ball movement will be the key that takes Milwaukee from simply competing late in games to closing contests out. It's an area in which the Bulls are perhaps playing their best; in the first two games the Bulls have assisted on a whopping 81 percent of their made field goals. That number has largely increased due to the Bucks double-teaming Pau Gasol throughout most of the series, with the Bulls rotating to find open shooters (24 made 3-pointers in the first two games) but it's an area the Bucks can exploit off dribble-drive penetration from Carter-Williams, Antetokounmpo and Mayo.

"We've got to take another step offensively, he said. "The ball's got to move from side-to-side and better shot selection for this young team. It's something we've got to learn on the fly."

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


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.”

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


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.”