Bulls

Bulls weather storm from Nets, climb back over .500

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Bulls weather storm from Nets, climb back over .500

It was a reprieve for 24 minutes, a slight deviation from the dangerous reality the Bulls find themselves in to date.

Then they were snapped back rudely by one of the worst teams in the NBA, a team so nondescript the team’s their starters are a combination of “Who?” and “He’s still in the NBA?”.

It wasn’t decided for sure until the last five minutes, when Doug McDermott hit a 9-1-1 Emergency triple followed by Derrick Rose doing the same thing to give the Bulls a 13-point lead over the Brooklyn Nets with three minutes remaining.

It closed the door on a Nets run and led to an 118-102 win at the United Center, yet another game where the Bulls were staring down the barrel of falling under .500 and this harder-than-it-should’ve-been win put them a half game up on the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot in the East.

Ugly as it may have been, equaled by the amount of “scary”, it’s a win.

“I thought we had good focus early on, defended well,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We lost it for a little but we did get it back.”

Not to be outdone by the schedule, the Nets will make a donation to the Pistons on Saturday night in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

It wasn’t before they put a genuine scare into the Bulls, who might not have won without McDermott’s 25 points in 29 minutes, as he hit five of the Bulls’ 10 triples.

“We needed it big time, we came off a tough loss in D.C.,” McDermott said. “We got off to a good start, had a big lead. I feel real comfortable out there. I got it going early, which always helps.”

Three straight games with 20 or more, his performances are coming at the most critical of times, especially with Pau Gasol out at least for the next game and possibly next two.

“His confidence is at a very high level right now,” Hoiberg said. “He’s finding good shots and taking him. They’re really hugging him at the half court so if he can free himself up in transition, he can get a good shot.”

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It helped build a 24-point lead in the first half, as the Bulls were buoyed by the presence of Taj Gibson, a man who didn’t seem likely to play after pulling his hamstring 24 hours ago in Washington D.C.

“If you can go, then you go,” Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. “If you can’t, you can’t. Taj was like, ‘Yo, I’m going’. You respect him for it.”

Gibson was a gametime decision but played 27 minutes and scored 12 with six rebounds while defending Brook Lopez and keeping him out of comfort zones, along with help from Cristiano Felecio, who played 20 minutes and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Lopez only mustered nine points and three rebounds in 31 minutes. Had he gotten going, it would’ve been an even scarier situation.

“I thought Bobby (Portis) and Cris were key,” Hoiberg said. “I thought our whole bench gave us a lot all night.”

Portis had some miscues but played with extreme energy and scored 12 points with 14 rebounds. Butler scored 22 with seven assists and Rose, who wasn’t aggressive most of the night, had 12 with five assists in 29 minutes.

The Nets made it interesting, with a 37-point third quarter that brought back all the Bulls’ demons—demons that have come to life and are no longer a talking point. Open shots, open layups and more than anything, a new lease on life.

“Obviously we want to have good habits and that third quarter, we can learn from it,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we had pretty good urgency. You give a team rhythm like that, then they get comfortable. Some of the shots they were hitting was tough shots. It was because of us.”

They allowed the Nets to have confidence and it carried through the entire second half. Critical plays from the Bulls were countered by a carefree style, a team with no expectations and nothing to lose.

Point guard Donald Sloan scored 11 in the period, being joined by Bojan Bogdanovic scoring 11 of his 26 as the Nets shot 64 percent for those 12 minutes.

“We won, man. We just wanted to win the quarter,” Butler said. “We’re not supposed to give up that many points in a quarter.”

Meanwhile, that pressure continues to mount on the Bulls and it showed, as they allowed themselves a moment to breathe—with this team, they don’t have that luxury.

Their third-quarter output equaled what they accomplished in 24 minutes and cut it to single digits by the fourth, coming to within five early in the period and hanging around like a nuisance until the Bulls got serious—or the Nets simply ran out of pro talent.

Thaddeus Young had 16 with 14 rebounds, but the Bulls keeping Lopez in check, it led to a win that was a wee bit tougher than it should’ve been.

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.