Bulls rally in fourth quarter to beat Davis, Pelicans


Bulls rally in fourth quarter to beat Davis, Pelicans

The Bulls want to become this fluid offensive bunch that flows into sets, gets up and down in a hurry while winning pretty.

But winning pretty isn’t an identity that describes this group right now. If they’re gonna win, it’s gonna be ugly, and sometimes ugly has to be beautiful.

After sleepwalking through most of the night, the Bulls pulled it together to knock off the New Orleans Pelicans at the United Center on Saturday, 98-94, with a late fourth-quarter surge that seemed to erase extended stretches of inactivity, and a little disinterest.

The only pretty thing might have been the play of Aaron Brooks, who hit a leaning, floating hook shot with 40.3 seconds left to break a 94-all tie.

For a man that’s been short his entire life, taking such contorting and downright awkward shot attempts come easier than it appears—and returning to the rotation after a few games on the bench, it appears Fred Hoiberg likes using him and Derrick Rose together to close games.

“Aaron was awesome. Out second unit saved the day for us,” Hoiberg said. “They went in there in the last 4-5 minutes of the third and through the fourth and was phenomenal.”

Not to be outdone, Rose, the man who played without a mask, nailed a pull-up jumper with 11.5 seconds remaining to put the game away—his first jump shot attempt and only make.

Brooks only had two going into the fourth but scored 15 in the final 12, as the Bulls struggled for any form of offense all evening.

“I didn’t feel like I was in a zone. I just took open shots,” Brooks said. “I didn’t realize I was in a zone. Just made open shots. I got to the spots I wanted to get to and shots went in.”

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Hoiberg had to lean on the bench, as Joakim Noah, Brooks, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic all scored in double figures to help out the lagging starting unit. More than anything, they played with the type of pace Hoiberg envisioned when he took the job last spring.

The Bulls scored 34 points and shot 65 percent in the fourth quarter.

“It was such a grind out, ugly and slow motion type of game and finally got some energy injected,” Hoiberg said. “It was fun. Fun to watch, fun to sit there and see it as opposed to moseying into our offense.”

Rose scored nine with three assists while Jimmy Butler made just 4 of 15 from the field but scored 15 thanks to some hard drives to the basket and free throws.

Brooks hit two straight triples to start the fourth and tied the game at 70 before Kirk Hinrich hit a corner 3-pointer to finally give the Bulls a lead.

It was short-lived as a five-point lead turned to a one-point deficit when Tyreke Evans hit a wing triple with 7:31 remaining.

Rose’s penetration set up two crucial baskets, a Brooks triple and Pau Gasol midrange jumper, to give the Bulls a 94-91 lead with 2:05 left. Anthony Davis’ three-point play made it nervous time for the Bulls again, but they shut down the lane just enough for the second straight game after their panic-inducing three-game losing streak.

Davis and Evans scored 22 each, but Noah helped hold the Chicago native to just 8 of 24 shooting, making everything difficult aside from a highlight play here and there. Davis finished with 13 rebounds and four blocks but also committed four turnovers.

[WATCH: Hoiberg: Bulls 'were having fun out there' in win over Pelicans]

But the negative signs were still around, the Bulls just overcame it. They shot 42 percent but it was their hot fourth that made it look respectable after they shot 35 percent through three quarters.

The ball movement was choppy and the players often resorted to playing one on one as opposed to flowing through the system. It resulted in a variety of bad shots, bad decisions and plenty of guys standing around.

The Bulls committed seven turnovers in the first eight minutes of the game, being careless and cavalier, allowing the Pelicans to easily get into the passing lanes for steals and easy layups.

“We weren’t making good decisions, weren’t holding guys off and giving them layups at the other end,” Hoiberg said. “We had a nice little flash, a little burst in the second that got us going.”

Alonzo Gee had three steals in the first alone, as he, Evans and Norris Cole repeatedly attacked the Bulls’ defense and dared them to challenge shots at the rim. They were undeterred and the Bulls looked a little out of it until receiving their wake-up call.

Even if they’re playing games that shouldn’t be so close, learning how to win in less than ideal circumstances can only bode well for down the road.

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.”