Bulls

Bulls make it six straight

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Bulls make it six straight

ORLANDO, FLA.Another one bit the dust Friday evening, as the Bulls (7-1) used a strong all-around effort and contributions from multiple sources to gut out a 97-83 win over the Magic (5-3) at the Amway Center. Clearly tired from its hectic schedule and frequent travels, as well as having several players either sidelined or at less than 100 percent, Chicago survived various runs from the hosts to eventually conquer Orlando, mostly based on its familiar staples of strong defense and balanced offensive play.

Anything to win, that was the whole mindset, said Derrick Rose, who battled through a bruised left elbow. Just try to come out aggressivewe tend, in the past, to come out kind of sluggishso try to get guys going early and that was the whole game plan, especially with Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard.

The visitors were at the wrong end of an 8-2 start at the games outset, as a Howard (28 points, 15 rebounds) jump hook to open scoring and a thunderous dunk were sandwiched around two Jason Richardson (17 points)the veteran shooting guard was pursued by the Bulls in free agency before he re-signed with the Magicbuckets, prompting an early Tom Thibodeau timeout to restore order. His goal was accomplished, as the Bulls found their offensive rhythm, highlighted by pushing the tempo and excellent ball movement, with Rose (21 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds) and Luol Deng (21 points, five rebounds, four assists) leading the charge as both scorers and playmakers.

I didnt like our first quarter, but I thought after the first quarter, we were pretty good, said Thibodeau. We had a lot of guys come in and do a really good job.

With Chicago back in the thick of things, Thibodeau atypically used his bench liberally in the opening periodperhaps because the absences of starting shooting guard Rip Hamilton (groin) and backup point guard C.J. Watson (elbow) altered the regular rotationshuffling in the likes of Omer Asik and Kyle Korver (18 points, 5-for-7 shooting from three-point range) earlier than usual, though the moves did little to stop a dominant quarter by Howard. Although Orlandos shooters went cold, the Bulls continually swarmed Howard and aggressive play from Joakim Noah (10 rebounds), Deng and Rose as penetrators attacking the basket persisted, the Amway Center guests trailed, 27-26, after a quarter of play.

Definitely with Rip not playing, I wanted to be aggressive early and no disrespect or anything, but playing Orlando, I knew they were going to be up for it and they were going to try to take touches away from Derrick, said Deng, who admitted before the game that he was fatigued in Wednesdays win over Detroit, though he didnt have to exert himself much offensively that night, as his teammates picked up the slack. I just wanted to be aggressive and make sure I was an option on the floor.

It remained a close-knit affair early in the second quarter, as the Bulls reserves held down the fort, with designated marksman Korver, in particular, making significant contributions.

It felt good, said Korver. I felt good in warm-ups and tried to be aggressive tonight, and guys were looking for me, set some pretty good screens and I was in the flow of the game.

Added Thibodeau: Hes shown that hes a big shot-maker and I liked the way we moved the ball. We had good ball movement tonight and guys were sharing it. When they were helping, they found the open man and made the extra pass.

Thibodeau reinserted his starters and the combination of continued solid ball movement, Noah using his ballhandling ability to pull Howard away from the basket, team defensive awareness, timely outside shooting, opportunistic up-tempo play and both Rose and Deng making plays off the dribble, allowing power forward Carlos Boozer (20 points, 13 rebounds) to get involved in the action, gave the Bulls a slim cushion.

Just take whatever the game gives me. Im just trying to work hard out there. Dwight is definitely a handful and hes a great player, very physical, but it was a great team effort tonight. Everybody came in and chipped in and helped in a positive way, said Noah. Hes such a presence down low defensively that I was just trying to make plays from the elbow and do whatever I could.

Chimed in Thibodeau: I liked his aggressiveness. I thought he missed a couple of bunnies, but hes not hesitating as much, his timings getting better, hes rebounding the ball. I thought he competed with Dwight. Dwight is big, hes strong and its a physical pounding that youre involved with. From the start of every time he hits the paint, hes going to hit your body, so he was engaged. He did a really good job. I think his offense will come around.

The dinged-up Rose frequently went to high-arcing floaters when faced with the proposition of the behemoth-like Howard, while Deng showcased his improved ballhandling skills as driver and playmaker, as well as knocking down jump shots, propelling the Bulls to extend their advantage to double figures as the first half wound down.

Explained Rose: A lot of floaters tonight, knowing that when I did go to the holeI think I got fouled a couple times tonight, but they didnt call itbut Im used to throwing floaters up and tonight, some of them fell.

Although Chicago would suffer lapses toward the end of the period, the visitors, buoyed by their usual strong defensive effort, went into the intermission with a 53-43 lead, following an improbable Boozer fadeaway at the buzzer off a beautifully-executed set inbounds with 0.9 seconds left.

Chicagos defensive effort and unselfish offensive play continued after the break, as the visitors went on a 9-2 run to open the third quarter, punctuated by a Rose alley-oop finish from Deng in transition, leading to frustrated Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy calling for a halt to the proceedings. Orlando responded with three straight triples to make a 9-0 run, cutting its deficit to single digits and leading an irked Thibodeau to call a timeout of his own to combat his former bossex-Knicks and Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy was courtside, calling the game as a television analystbrothers strategy.

The Magic continued to gradually chip away at the Bulls winning margin as the period waned on, but the Bulls bench, led by the active reserve big-man tandem of Taj Gibson and Asik, as well as third-string point guard John Lucas, playing in place of the injured Watson, gave them a boost, aiding Chicago in pushing their lead back to double figures. Heading into the final stanza, the visitors maintained a 73-62 edge.

Orlando made an early fourth-quarter stand, led by its familiar combination of Howards inside dominance and three-point marksmanship, not to mention a jolt of energy from backup power forward Glen Davis (eight points, 10 rebounds), making a 9-2 run at the beginning of the period to get back within striking distance. The Magic continued to close the gap through the contests midway mark, making it a one-possession game, as Thibodeaus vaunted defense failed him for a critical stretch, although the Bulls, dead on their feet as a wholeDeng, Noah, Boozer and Rose were clearly laboringsomehow obtained a bit of breathing room entering the games stretch run.

Your lead is never safe against them because of the way they shoot the three, so they can make up ground quickly on you, said Thibodeau. When you have the lead, youre concerned about the three, so we used some fouls. Dwight has really improved; theyve done a great job with him and their team is tough. The pressure is on you constantly. You can never let your guard down against them.

By grinding out possessions on both endsThibodeau went small up front with Boozer and Gibson, whose defense on Howard and off the ball was crucial, while Boozer made shots from the field and charity stripe when it countedand receiving timely shooting by Korver, who found his way out of a slump, the Bulls again made it a double-digit game late.

This is the NBA, man. Youre not going to make every shot that you take, but youre going to have an opportunity to take another shot. This is my 10th year; I dont get rattled by too much. Ive seen a lot, said Boozer. We just keep playing.

The one thing that I can always tell you: no matter what happens offensively, our defense has been great all season. Were holding teams to 80-something points, were keeping their field-goal percentage low and thats why well always have a chance to win, he continued. We just play, man. Were a veteran group, just because of what we went through last year.

We always keep our poise. We believe in our system, we believe in each other and they made a runbut we knew that we would have a chance to make our run, and we did.

Said Rose: Kyle is someone that youve definitely got to look out for. He can definitely put the game away and you see thats what he did tonight. Give him any type of space and hell knock it down.

The Amway Center crowd hit the exits early and the tired visitors cruised in the end, headed to Atlanta for a rematch against the equally, if not more, haggard Hawks the following night.

We just played great, especially at the end. Every time they made a run, we answered to it. Someone came up and made the big play, and at the end, with six minutes to go, we just made plays to win the game, said Deng. We just stuck together. They made their run. NBA teams are going to make runs; its how you answer back to it. Our whole mindset was just, stop, score, stop, and we got a couple stops in a row and guys are making big plays right now.

Concurred Korver: I think weve had a bunch of close games this year. Weve kind of had to pull it out in the end and I think were fairly confident that when we have to do that, were going to be able to.

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.