Bulls

Bulls avert crisis in close win over Magic

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Bulls avert crisis in close win over Magic

“Force” and “intent” should’ve been the words written on the whiteboard in the Bulls locker room before Sunday evening’s game against the youthful, athletic Orlando Magic.

On the immediate heels of the disappointing loss to Detroit, two things were clear: When cutting down on silly plays and allowing old bugaboos to haunt them, they held a double-digit lead for most of the night.

But the lesson they’re learning very early is opposing teams have no problem challenging the notion of this new Bulls identity that relies more on skill than will.

And the Magic proved to be a worthy but not-quite-yet-ready adversary, making them sweat before the Bulls compose themselves for a 92-87 win at the United Center.

“The last five years they’ve been taught very well on the defensive end,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, referencing the man he replaced, Tom Thibodeau.

[MORE: Bulls working to 'clean up and fix' turnover issues]

A 14-0 run that rendered the Bulls scoreless for nearly four minutes in the fourth quarter is giving more credence to the team’s lack of comfort level running whatever they need to in crunch time.

Derrick Rose found Pau Gasol for a free-throw line jumper shortly thereafter to break the ice, but the play with 2:50 remaining, one that gave the Bulls an 86-82 lead was their last basket of the night.

“He had a really nice pass to Pau, I thought he played really well,” Hoiberg said. “It was good to see him bounce back with a good one.”

From there, a little defensive muscle memory kept the Magic at bay, as Jimmy Butler did his best defensive back imitation, intercepting a pass from Andrew Nicholson at three-quarter court after a Bulls’ miss where a Magic player got behind the defense and would’ve had an easy dunk.

“Jimmy made a fantastic read,” Hoiberg said. “He got a deflection and we got the ball back.”

Butler, donning a Denver Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas jersey, described the play in football jargon.

“Me being a Denver Broncos cornerback, I backpedaled and saw Aaron Rodgers try to throw it over the top. I was Chris Harris on the play and I smacked it to Derrick, who was Von Miller.”

“I was just watching the guy to tell you the truth. I knew he was gonna throw it.”

Luckily for them, the Magic couldn’t do much offensively with the opportunities the Bulls gave them, until Victor Oladipo’s triple with 17.1 seconds left cut the lead to three—meaning free throws had to be made to seal the game, and the Bulls were perfect in their last six attempts.

“It’s a concern but we gotta learn from it,” Hoiberg said. “Thankfully we hit those free throws down the stretch. If you get them down by 15, you have to build it up to 20. We let teams back in.”

The Bulls corralled an early Magic surge when Joakim Noah and Doug McDermott came off the bench to provide a much-needed spark, with McDermott providing the shooting and Noah bringing everything else, illustrated by a two-handed dunk from Rose, a rare finish.

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Noah finished with eight points, nine rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes, splitting the time with Gasol at the center positon.

“It was real good,” Hoiberg said. “Pau got us off to a good start and he had a good rhythm. Joakim’s energy off the bench was terrific.”

Rose was in facilitator mode again, with eight assists in 32 minutes, as he failed to crack double figures in scoring as he still battles double-vision.

“Right now there’s no point in shooting if I can’t see,” said Rose, who took just eight shots, making two. “I’m just paying attention to the way they play me and I need to either drive, shoot a floater or get the ball out to my teammates.”

Had the Bulls made a few more shots, it could’ve been an easier finish but they again struggled from the field, shooting 38 percent and missing 21 of their 28 3-pointers. Nikola Mirotic, Gasol and McDermott were the consistent scorers, with Gasol and Mirotic putting up 16 each and McDermott scoring 10.

McDermott hit a buzzer-beating triple and another wing three from penetration to give the Bulls a 12-point lead before halftime, one they seemed to hold dear until turning the ball over opened the door.

But they again played solid enough defense for the fourth straight game, keeping the Magic under 40 percent and not allowing them to creep on the glass too much, at least not in the way the Pistons did Friday.

Only committing 15 turnovers, it certainly wasn’t a game featuring pristine effectiveness but they appeared to learn a quick lesson from a smarting loss in Detroit.

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

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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.