Bulls

Focused Bulls blow out Cavs with ease

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Focused Bulls blow out Cavs with ease

CLEVELANDThe killer instinct required to be the last team standing at the end of the season was on full display Friday night, as the Bulls (30-8) handily dispatched the Cavaliers (13-21), 112-91, at Quicken Loans Arena.

Though the Central Division rival presented a challenge early in the contest, they wilted under the Bulls defensive pressure and offensive efficiency, as five Chicago players scored in double figures on the evening.

With Cavaliers starting point guard Kyrie Irvingthe No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and Rookie of the Year front-runnerout with a bug he caught during All-Star weekend in Orlando, it appeared the Bulls would win in a rout. Particularly, with a fully-intact starting lineup, as compared to the two teams last matchup near the shores of Lake Erie, which Derrick Rose (19 points, nine assists) missed.

However, Cleveland had other ideas, as fill-in starter Ramon Sessions (16 points, seven assists) more than made up for Irvings absence, while veteran forward Antawn Jamison (22 points) had a flashback to his All-Star past, helping to erase the visitors early lead.

Theres things we can do better and were going to have to do better. I dont think we started the game out the way were capable of. I thought they got going, they got some confidence, so we want start a lot better than we did, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Offensively, of course, I thought we played very unselfishly31 assists, high percentageso Im pleased with that, but our defense, we can do a lot better with that.

Ineffectiveness from the tandem of post duo Carlos Boozer (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Joakim Noahthe latter picked up two quick foulsled Thibodeau to go to reserve big men Omer Asik and Taj Gibson, but even the defensive-minded pair couldnt slow down the home teams offensive pace.

Chicago was bailed out by first-time All-Star Luol Deng (24 points, 4-for- three-point shooting, six rebounds, four assists), who knocked down three shots from behind the arc, shouldering the scoring load as the guests led, 30-28, after the opening period.

Its how the game went. We moved the ball well, guys made some good plays and my shot was falling, so I stayed aggressive, Deng explained. The last game against San Antonio, I didnt come out aggressive. I made it a point to myself tonight that I was going to come out aggressive and we moved the ball well, and knocked down shots and it kind of opened up the game, and guys were making smart plays. Jo was all over the boards, Boozer was making his shots, Rip was moving real well, keeping the defense occupied and I was open, and Derrick was penetrating. We all connected tonight.

I said it about Derrick, I said it about Rip, having everyone makes everyones job easier. You look at the way we played tonight. Its so much easier. You dont have to overdo it. With me, my game, when I try to overdo it, I struggle. Keeping it simple and being smart out there is my game, the games high scorer continued. I said it from the start of the year: I think weve just got to find a way to win. I really dont care, at the end of the night, what my line looks like. Im just lucky and blessed to be on a team that all we care about is winning. At the end of the night, we won, were happy, we get on the bus, we leave. When we lose, thats when you start thinking, What could I have done better? But as long as youre out there playing hard, we get the win, thats what its about.

Thibodeau, who described his ironman small forward as a good winning veteran added: He was very aggressive right from the start. He spaced the floor great. I thought our guys made very unselfish plays, either kicking the ball out from the double team and the post-up or in the pick-and-rolls, making the extra pass, and that got him going.

Rose chimed in: Shooting with confidence. There were some shots that I got on him about and we need him to shoot it. If he doesnt shoot it, our offense becomes stagnant and thats something that we cant look forward to.

The game remained close knit at the outset of the second quarter, as neither team could muster up consistent scoring, though the Cavs continued to plug away behind Jamison and Sessions.

But the Bulls reserves began to wear away at their hosts, as sharpshooter Kyle Korver drilled a trio of triples, while swingman Ronnie Brewer (13 points) made an impact with his energetic defense, twice stealing inbound passes, as well as making an impact as a scorer.

Whatever my role is on this team, when my name is called, Ive got to do it to the best of abilities. Weve got Rip back. Hes an excellent scorer, one of the best in the history of the game at moving without the basketball and he adds another asset to this team, so with him in the lineup and me back to the Bench Mob, I feel comfortable with those guys, moving and getting the ball, being more aggressive. I just try to do my job, night in and night out, Brewer, who Boozer described as like an octopus, told CSNChicago.com.

It makes my job a lot easier when youve got guys like Taj Gibson and Omer inside holding it down, rebounding, blocking shots. It allows me to be more aggressiveJoakim in there, rebounding, blocking shotsIm able to play the passing lanes, be more aggressive, run the floor because were getting defensive stops. All those guys getting a lot of attention, especially Derrick, it makes my job a lot easier.

Praised Rose: Brew changed the game with stealshuge stealsplaying defense, knocking down his shot. He has a lot of confidence in his shot now and we just need him to keep playing like that.

Thibodeau concurred: Ronnie has really played at a high level all year long, whether its been as a starter, bench guy, in all areashis defense, his offense, running the floor, making hustle plays, like he came up with those stealshes uncanny with just reading things, so hes playing very well right now.

Chicago gradually opened up a double-digit winning margin, as Rose was in cruise-control mode, Boozer started to find his groove and the teams defense stifled the once-efficient Cleveland offense. At the intermission, the Bulls held a 56-44 advantage and had sapped whatever energy was left from the audience.

The ball movement was great. The ball didnt stick. Everyone was conscious of making the extra pass, hitting the open man, said Thibodeau. In the second quarter, Kyle got us going. We had good ball movement, inside-out and he got some good looks at the basket, so that gave us a little bit of a cushion. Our second unit, their defense was really good and that sort of turned things around for us.

Added Rip Hamilton: Its hard to guard. If we continue to do that, well be tough to beat because you really cant lock in on anything and I think thats the biggest part.

The thing about it is we care about each other so much, so when a guys got it rolling, we make a conscious effort to get him the ball and that tells you what type of great team we have, he continued. Nobodys selfish or anything like that. You see a guy rolling and you try to keep it going.

Echoed Brewer to CSNChicago.com: We have a lot of unselfish guys on this team. Youve got a guy flying at you and you see a guy open in the corner, you make the extra pass, so it shows that weve got good guys on this team, willing to make the extra plays to win games.

Rose and Boozer asserted themselves even further after the break, enabling the Bulls to widen the gap even more against the largely inexperienced home team, which had little offensive firepower to speak of.

Another positive to the Bulls ongoing onslaught was Hamiltons (10 points) solid outingthe veteran played the entire first quarter and eight minutes of the thirdas the shooting guard was efficient and scored within the flow of the offense.

After the back-to-back, he was feeling fine, said Thibodeau, who admitted that he didnt intend to play Hamilton for the entire first quarter, but couldnt get a substitute into the game due to a lack of stoppage of play.

He felt great in the shootaround and he moves so well without the ball that it helps to create good opportunities for us and just the poise that he plays withhes hard to guard off the screens, he reads things extremely wellso were encouraged by that.

Said Hamilton himself: I felt a lot better today. Moving around and getting to my spot, I was fine the last two nights. That was the biggest thing to me. Today was to make cuts and things like that. tonight I felt good. My rhythms coming back; it was better tonight. My timing was great, so it was good.

Noah, who wasnt in rhythm due to early foul trouble, also began to contribute, hitting a jumper from the elbowfollowed by his trademark finger guns celebration, then converting a transition layup off a feed from Rose. Rose himself dominated the action as a scorer as the period waned on and heading into the final stanza, the Bulls had a 94-71 edge.

I just played aggressive, said Rose. I think, the first half, just getting guys into the game until we got the lead and just picking my spots.

Added Thibodeau: Thats the way he plays. Hes not going to force anything. Hes aggressive. I think he reads situations really well and if playmaking is what he has to do, thats what he does.

The pattern continued in the fourth quarter, as Chicago scored with remarkable ease against the sieve-like Cavaliers defense, then turned around on the other end and smothered the opposing scorers, with the lead ballooning as time ticked away.

The entire period was extended garbage time, allowing rookie wing Jimmy Butler and fan favorite Brian Scalabrinewho scored toward the end of the game, drawing cheers from the crowdto see action in the lopsided affair.

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.”