Bulls

Bulls looking to right ship after two-game losing streak

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Bulls looking to right ship after two-game losing streak

Following Wednesday afternoons practice, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was in high spirits, almost chipper. Perhaps it was because the basketball junkie finally had a chance to see his full roster practice, but his mood was in sharp contrast to the negative vibe emitting from him after Mondays home loss to Houston.

Our team needed it. We havent a lot of opportunity to practice, so it gave us a chance to clean up some things and hopefully itll carry over tomorrow, he said. Offensively, we havent been scoring the way we would like and its probably a compilation of things. Were playing low energy, so weve got to try to get some easier baskets. Now, weve shot the three fairly well, so thats been a plus, but overall, we havent shot well and were in a little bit of a lull. Hopefully the two days off will be good for us.

We feel great about our depth and weve got some guys who are nicked up in the backcourt, and theyre playing, but we do have good depth and sometimes you go through stretches where youre not shooting it well, and hopefully your defense and your rebounding will carry you through that, he continued. I thought the big thing in the last game was the whole year weve been a very good low-turnover team, but the Houston game we turned it over 19 times for 25 points. That really lost us the game.

Thats contrary to the message he sent Monday.

No edge, no defense, Thibodeau said after the Bulls blew a 15-point lead to lose to the Rockets at the United Center. I felt like we let go of the rope. Usually, were a team that has shown great fight all year, great resolve. Get down, fight back, never let go of the rope. The last two games, I felt we let go of the rope. We have to get that fight back. We have to get that edge back. Right now, were not playing well. We have to work our way out of it.

Its collective. Were capable of playing much better. The one thing I know about this league is things change quickly, both from good to bad and bad to good. We have a Boston team thats coming in and playing great. At this time of the year, you have teams playing with great urgency. Houston played a great game. They played hard. They fought. Theyre fighting for a playoff spot. Every night when you come in, you have to be ready to fight. People are playing for things. You relax, let your guard down, youre going to get knocked on your ass. Thats the way it is, he continued. If you do three things -- defend, rebound, keep your turnovers down -- youre going to be in position to win regardless of how you shoot. Right now, were bogged down scoring. If we do those other three things, well be in position to win. But were not defending, were turning it over and were not scoring. You cant win like that. We have to correct that. Thats the first step. We have to get that down.

His players didnt deny that the team is currently in a malaise.

I don't think we let go of the rope, but anytime we lose two in a row, questions creep in. Look, the only way we're going to get out of it is us. We fix it ourselves, We put ourselves in this great season and we're going to finish with it a great season. It's up to us to fix it, said Carlos Boozer. We'll figure it out.

Added Luol Deng: We've got to get back to the way we play, just find ways to win. We're not doing that right now.

It's a lot of things throughout the game that we've got to look at. The first thing is always defensively, but it's a lot of stuff, a lot of things we've got to go back, see what we're not doing and try to get back to what we do.

We just didn't bring it. There's still games left in the season to try to fix it. We know where we want to get to and what we want to do. It's definitely something that you don't want to go through, but we've got to turn it around as fast as possible," he continued. "We've got enough guys in here to win. We've proven that. We've got guys that can play. Guys have stepped up all year. Teams are going through the same schedule as us, so it's not that Rose being out. They've got guys out, too. Derrick's a big part of what we do, but we've still got enough guys in here to win games. If we lost every game with the injuries that we've had, then we would say that, but we've beaten good teams.

We can't wait for him to be back.

Thibodeau agreed that Roses ongoing 11-game absence the All-Star point guard could return in the Bulls next game isnt the reason for the teams slide.

To me, thats the convenient excuse. At this time of the year, you can say injuries. You can say condensed schedule. I dont know, what else is there? Back-to back, four in five, three in a row? The fact of the matter is we lost the last two games because of our mistakes. Not because of injuries. Not because of Derrick. Not because of any of that, he explained. The guys we have have shown we have more than enough to win with. We can fall back. But every team in the league is dealing with injuries and the same schedule. We have to have a determination that were going to get it done regardless of the what the circumstances are. The teams that succeed in this league find a way to win. And thats what we have to do.

Overall, however, theres no reason to push the panic button. After a 62-win regular season a year ago and having the leagues best record for the majority of this campaign, its easy to get spoiled, but the fact that people are up in arms about the Bulls simply losing two games in a row is a testament to just how good this team has been.

One could view Sundays embarrassing loss at Oklahoma City as especially concerning the fact that Thibodeau tinkered with his starting lineup (inserting Kyle Korver and bringing Ronnie Brewer off the bench to match up with Thunder sixth-man extraordinaire James Harden) was surprising, even considering the matchup, for the by-the-book coach and not giving a full effort against Houston was another mild shock, but in the course of an NBA season, things happen. To Brewer, the answer to the Bulls problems is simple.

We just have to get a sense of urgency. We've only got so many games left. Miami's right on our butt and if we don't start to play better, we're going to lose home court, so that's very important to us. You never want to lose a game, especially two, he said. We've just got to play better. We've been rebounding pretty well, but we're not making teams miss and the rebounding goes out of the window. That's one of the things that have made us successful all year long -- dominating the boards, getting stops and getting into our offense.

Not to take anything away from Houston, but the way we've been playing all year and last year, if we play our style of our basketball, play hard and cut down on all the mistakes, we're supposed to win games like this, so whenever you lose to a team you're capable of beating, it's always a little tough, Brewer, back in a reserve role with Rip Hamiltons return to the lineup, continued. We didn't play our best basketball against the Thunder, so you try to wipe that game out and come back Monday and try to play better, but unfortunately, we didn't.

Still, it isnt as if the Bulls are suddenly a middle-of-the-pack team, fighting for their playoff lives and with the rival Heat also enduring their own struggles and even the mighty Thunder dropping a game Tuesday night, its just that time of the year where title contenders especially those missing their best player might not look as dominant when matched up with squads in need of simply qualifying for the postseason. Brewer reasoned that losing two games shouldnt put people in a frenzy.

It's not the end of the world. We still have a lot of games left. I don't think we're going to have a demise and we're not going to make the playoffs. We need to continue to get better, continue to work on things and turn it around sooner than later, the backup swingman said. When you lose games, you can look at everything. You can say we didn't shoot a high percentage from the three, we gave up a high a field-goal percentage, you can say we missed free throws, you can say we didn't get defensive stops. You can point a lot of different things in a loss.

Everybody plays the same amount of games. Everybody's has back-to-back-to-backs, everybody's had back-to-backs, four in five nights, so to say the short season with a lot of games and guys are getting tired, to me, that's an excuse, Brewer went on to say. We play basketball. We get paid fairly well to do it, so you find a way to fight through and continue to play at your highest level. There's stretches where you don't play your best basketball -- you miss shots -- but effort should never be one of the things that is not there.

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

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AP

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

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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.”