Hoiberg calling for Bulls to ride emotion for final stretch


Hoiberg calling for Bulls to ride emotion for final stretch

The United Center crowd was on its feet minutes before Saturday night’s game against the Houston Rockets, as the feeling in the building was part anxious excitement and the other, more dominant emotion was plain-old anxiety.

It had the feel of a Game 3 in the playoffs, where a team is coming back down 0-2 and knowing a loss in a seven-game series would essentially end their season.

In other words, the result was predictable as the Bulls rode the wave of emotion, and despite their own 26 turnovers, held on to beat the Rockets on national TV.

“Every game is a playoff game,” Derrick Rose said afterward, having limped into the locker room, playing through taking a hard fall on his tailbone courtesy of a charge from James Harden.

The Bulls surged with new life, buoyed by the returns of Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic, as Saturday was as close to full strength as they’ve been all season — and as they’ll be for the remainder of it.

And make no mistake, how long the season has in it is entirely up to the players and Fred Hoiberg, as through the wave of disappointment this season has brought, there is still enough opportunity to salvage something of this.

Rose’s blow-by’s to the basket, still capable of being one of the few lead guards to go end-to-end in a moment’s notice, was evidenced by his forays and reverse layups, along with his lightning-quick passes to Mike Dunleavy and Pau Gasol for dunks and jumpers.

Gasol, playing as well as a 35-year old can at this stage, putting up numbers that don’t seem like it during the game, but his pinpoint passes and stand-still jumpers bring a dimension that’s necessary offensively when things do slow down.

Butler still has that extra lift in his jumper, which he displayed in going to get an alley-oop from a bad Gasol pass in the first quarter and crowding James Harden to make his life miserable despite Harden scoring 36 in a one-man show.

“It was great tonight, his energy was awesome,” said Dunleavy of Butler’s return. “He provided a huge boost for us, especially on the defensive end and dealing with Harden. We look forward to keeping him healthy and keeping him out there.”

At Sunday’s light practice, where Hoiberg was still impressed with the urgency his team displayed, he took the unexpected stance of saying this team will have to rely on emotion for the last 21 games — a dangerous proposition considering the stage of the season.

He shrugged off the notion of emotion wearing off at a certain point, once the return of Butler and Mirotic wears off.

“Well, it can't. We can't afford that,” Hoiberg said. “We're at a point in our season right now where every game has to be played with unbelievable urgency and unbelievable effort. That's got to be the constant for this team. Whether we're making shots or not, you've got to give effort, you've got to defend, you've got to give yourself an opportunity, and I thought we did that last night.”

Ironic the criticism of Tom Thibodeau was his so-called lack of ability in seeing the big picture, and belief he would sell his soul — and yours too — to win one meaningless basketball game in January.

Or March.

Now the Bulls have seemingly co-opted that mentality, and Hoiberg expects to see that type of emotion and desperation every night for as long as it takes.

“That was our focus last night, was going into that game with a playoff mentality,” Hoiberg said. “We felt that going home after the Florida trip, it was important to get back on track. Getting our guys back was a big part of that, and I thought they went out and competed from the beginning.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Certainly the strong start, where the Bulls got after it in the first quarter, gave room for hope as they arose from their slumber that seemed to last for the better part of two months.

“We went out and jumped out to a good lead early in that game and set the tone and got the pace where we wanted it,” Hoiberg said. “We got an 18-point lead early in the fourth and hung on, but the right mentality coming out of the gate. We defended well for the most part.”

Defending is about executing, energy and yes, emotion, but it requires more of the first attribute than the latter. For the last several weeks the Bulls were sleepwalking on both ends of the floor, relying on their continuity and offensive know-how rather than choking the life from their opponent.

And when it came to crunch time — if it came to that — they didn’t have enough muscle memory or toughness to prevent opposing teams from imposing their will and making the Bulls fold.

It’s contributed to the Bulls’ losing nine fourth-quarter leads this season, third to only the talentless Philadelphia 76ers and confounding, confusing Oklahoma City Thunder, coached by fresh-from-college coach Billy Donovan, who lead with 10 each.

“It’s defense,” Rose said. “When we’re up, and we think the game is over with, teams are playing hard and that’s when they go to just shooting threes.”

That’s a sign of desperation and simply where the game is going, as the Bulls are struggling to find their way in this new NBA with their own set of unique circumstances.

On paper, they should beat out the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and even leapfrog the likes of the Charlotte Hornets to obtain something other than a death-knell 1-8 matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But paper hasn’t helped the Bulls be anything aside from mediocre, and the usual void-of-emotion Hoiberg is relying on the only thing he has left perhaps in this underachieving season: riding the emotional wave.

At some point, though, it does wear off and you show what you’re made of.

Game “3” was a success, but Game “4” is the litmus test.

Starting Monday at the United Center.

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.”

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.