Bulls

Bulls clinch home-court in first round with win over Nets

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Bulls clinch home-court in first round with win over Nets

BROOKLYN — It was all coming together for the Bulls, the timing, cohesiveness and muscle memory that comes when a group plays together for a long time during a season.

Except they hadn’t played together except for a few tantalizing stretches and even on this evening against the desperate Brooklyn Nets, they were without Joakim Noah who sat out with tendinitis.

But portions of what makes this team potentially great were on full display in their 113-86 win at the Barclays Center, if you could follow the zipping ball that moved around the floor all night on the way to the Bulls clinching home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, which start Saturday.

Leaping touch passes from Jimmy Butler to Nikola Mirotic, when Butler cut to the middle of the floor but had his eyes on the sweet-shooting rookie in the corner the entire time, who obliged the unselfish play with a swish.

[MORE: Mirotic responds to chiding from teammates in Bulls rout]

Or Derrick Rose looking ahead to find a streaking Pau Gasol ahead of the defense—while returning the favor to Butler for a layup when his backcourt mate galloped downcourt as Rose blazed his way through transition defense that looked like driving cones.

The piece that brings it all together lifts everyone and it appears the Bulls are nearing peak efficiency.

“Getting Derrick back is the big thing,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When you look at what Pau has brought to our team, it's an entirely different dimension, then add it Jimmy and what’s he’s doing, then all the other parts fit well.”

Rose had more moments where he looked like himself from an explosive standpoint, getting to the basket with ease, but his control of the game from the point guard spot was probably just as encouraging, as he had another efficient night with seven assists and just two turnovers to go with his 13 points in 23 minutes.

“I think the real function of the point guard is how the team plays,” Thibodeau said. “I thought he had a good pace, good tempo. He got the ball movement for us. I thought he gave us rhythm into our threes.”

[MORE BULLS: Why playoff seeding matters for Derrick Rose and the Bulls]

Rose’s vision was again a valuable part of his game, as his “point guard IQ” has risen in his various absences.

“I’m seeing the floor better,” Rose admitted. “They’re playing me different almost every game. Tonight they’re forcing me into the big. So Pau was open almost the majority of the pick and rolls.”

It was like that all night for the Bulls, who shot 50 percent from the field and took the life out of a road building yet again—like they did so casually in Miami. Mirotic, who was somewhat a favorite to the crowd that had a lot of red in the seats, nailed three straight triples to end the third quarter, to give the Bulls a 22-point lead.

The rookie scored 26 on six triples in just 24 minutes, while Gasol scored 22 with 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Butler scored 17 and Taj Gibson, starting in Noah’s place, scored 15 with nine rebounds and four blocks.

“You miss people because of injuries,” Rose said. “People getting sick, missing games here and there so we need everybody to be healthy to make this run. Jo sat out tonight getting his knee together. We’re gonna need everybody to make this huge push.”

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

Mirotic was the beneficiary of great ball movement, as were most of the Bulls who registered field goals, with an impressive 26-8 assist to turnover ratio on the evening.

As their offense got crisper, the defense got tightened up, even with Noah. The Nets came into the game looking to make amends for a puzzling road loss in Milwaukee Sunday night, attempting to regain the magic that brought them to the thick of playoff contention, but needing some help in the final games to earn a berth.

The Bulls had nothing to offer but advice, taking a 25-point lead after back-to-back feeds from Aaron Brooks to Gasol for dunks a few minutes into the fourth quarter, as Gasol passed the 18,000 point mark for his Hall-of-Fame bound career.

After trading baskets for the second quarter, the Bulls had enough of that, holding the Nets to 15 points in the third, running away with the ballgame and heading into the season finale playing with the type of rhythm that could make springtime in Chicago a long one.

 

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

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AP

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

The Bulls made headlines on Tuesday when VP John Paxson announced that David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne would be entering the rotation, thus continuing the youth movement in Chicago.

On the surface the moves make sense. The 24-year-old Nwaba, the 25-year-old Felicio and the 23-year-old Cameron Payne will be replacing 28-year-old Justin Holiday, 29-year-old Robin Lopez and 25-year-old Jerian Grant. The Bulls want to see what they have in these younger players who haven't played much; they already know what they have in Lopez and Holiday, and Grant (like the other two) is under contract through next year.

OK, got that? Here's why they're making the move: they're sitting 8th in the NBA Lottery standings and really want to move into the top-5 to give themselves a chance at what should be a loaded front-end of the draft class. It's pretty obvious, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either named Gar Forman, John Paxson or Fred Hoiberg.

And here's why: On Wednesday Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined a whopping $600,000 by the NBA for comments he made on a podcast regarding tanking. The Mavericks are currently 18-40, the third worst record in the NBA. This comes a season after they finished 33-49, netting them the No. 9 pick that turned into talented point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

So when Cuban was asked about the best interests of his Dallas team, which touts young talent but clearly isn't headed for the postseason in 2018, he said this on the House Call with Dr. J Podcast:

"I'm probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren't competing for the playoffs. I was like, 'Look, losing is our best option. [Commissioner] Adam [Silver] would hate hearing that, but I at least sat down and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we're not going to tank again. This was, like, a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me. But being transparent, I think that's the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability."

Cuban isn't wrong, and the Mavericks sure as hell aren't the only team tanking. But to come right now and admit that losing is the team's best option wasn't, as Cuban predicted, going to sit well with the league office.

Commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo with the fine that said Cuban's comments "which concerned his perspective on the team's competitive success this season" were "detrimental to the NBA."

So while the Bulls are going about their business in trying to lose as many games down the stretch as possible, don't expect anyone to admit it's the reason behind their personnel moves. There are 600,000 reasons why.

NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Miles Bridges

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Miles Bridges

NBA general managers were fully expecting to see Miles Bridges declare for the 2017 draft after a solid, but unspectacular freshman season at Michigan State. Bridges arrived in East Lansing as one of the nation’s top prospects, and his impressive leaping ability led to a number of highlight reel plays for Tom Izzo’s Spartans.

Problem is, Bridges didn’t show much versatility to his offensive game because of an inconsistent outside shot and inability to create shots off the dribble. Bridges probably would have been a late lottery pick last year on athletic talent alone, but to his credit, he decided to go back to Michigan State for his sophomore season and work on some of his weaknesses.

Unfortunately for Bridges, he really hasn’t shown much improvement year to year. Yes, he’s leading the Big Ten in free throw shooting at 89%, but his other numbers are basically flat from season to season. Bridges averaged 16.9 points a year ago, 17.1 this season. He shot .486 from the field in 2016-17, .477 this year. Even with all the work he put in on his 3 point shooting, his percentage has dropped slightly this season, from .389 to .376. Rebounding is also down slightly, from 8.3 to 6.8. 

Bottom line, Bridges is once again projected as a late lottery pick.

How does he fit for the Bulls? It’s no secret small forward and center are the two positions of need heading into the 2018 draft, and the 6-7 Bridges would give the Bulls another athletic frontcourt player who fits the pace and space game Fred Hoiberg prefers. Bridges could be a real weapon running the floor with Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine for alley-oop dunks, and he should continue to improve as a 3 point shooter.

The Bulls are hoping to land a top 5 pick to add one of the elite players in this draft, and unless the Pelicans drop into the late lottery, Bridges will probably be gone by the time that selection comes up. He’s probably a bit of a reach in the 6 to 10 range, but if positional need and athletic potential are the most important factors for the Bulls, Miles Bridges could be the choice if they don’t improve their position in the current lottery watch standings.

Personally, I would prefer either Kentucky’s Kevin Knox or Villanova’s Mikal Bridges (no relation) over Miles Bridges as a small forward prospect, but all 3 players offer different skill sets that could be helpful to a young, developing team like the Bulls.

The dream scenario would be drafting a young center like Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Mo Bamba with a top 5 pick, then coming back to add one of those 3 small forward prospects with the 1st rounder they acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade with New Orleans. We’ll all have to wait until the lottery is held on May 15th to see if the Bulls are in position to add two more foundation pieces to their rebuilding project.