Bulls

Deng, Bulls make scoring tough for Pierce

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Deng, Bulls make scoring tough for Pierce

When you think of the Bulls and Boston Celtics, you cant help but to remember their epic seven-game first round series that included a total of seven overtime periods.

Luol Deng would miss the entire series as his season was cut short due to injury and has always regretted not being able to be a part of that series.

Celtics small forward Paul Pierce averaged 23 points in that series and without the services of power forward Kevin Garnett -- who was done for the season with a knee injury -- its wouldnt be too far of a stretch to say things would have been different had Deng been available to guard Pierce.

An interesting fact has stood out from the last two seasons the two teams have matched up as Deng has held Pierce under 20 points in six out of the last seven meetings between the Bulls and Celtics.

While Pierce is no spring chicken, these days, hes always been one of the craftier scorers in the league, capable of getting to his spots with hesitation dribbles and pull-up jumpers and also getting himself to the free throw line with head fakes to get his defender in the air, or attacking the rim.

So whats been the key in Dengs success in limiting Pierce?

I got a lot better in just knowing guys are going to hit tough shots but every time down, Im listening to the opposing teams plays; knowing what play is coming helps a lot and if not, just try to get in my best defensive position, says Deng. If he scores, then the next time down the floor Im going to try my best again. Its just staying focused and reminding myself every time he comes down, I have to play my best D.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau may be the best in the league when it comes to preparing his team on what to expect from their opposition, from what sets theyre going to run during certain parts of the games to where guys like to get their points and the things they do to get them.

Its also a good thing that -- after spending three seasons in Boston -- he knows their offensive and defensive sets like the back of his hand.

Its good but one thing about that Boston team is its even tougher because we kind of do the same things they do offensively and defensively, Taj Gibson told CSNChicago.

One thing about our team is were able to switch a lot, deny the ball. Luol is really talkative on offense and defense, so when hes on defense, he communicates well and we all help him but hes really active on the defensive end as far as shot-blocking, contesting and hes athletic."

While Dengs defense gets high praise, its important to note any individual recognition for holding Pierce below his averages is more a reflection to the Bulls team defense as finding easy baskets against them is a rarity as all five guys are tied to one another.

We have good vocal leaders and Thibodeau lets the bigs decide on what to do on the defensive end, said Gibson. We call theopponents plays out, we call out the defensive adjustments for the guards to hear us. We call out to the guards and they respond to us and it works in a great way.

After playing under a Thibodeau-instructed defense that helped Boston win a title in 2008 and return to the Finals one season later, Paul Pierce would agree with Gibsons assessment.

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.