Bulls

John Wall remains the constant for shorthanded Wizards

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John Wall remains the constant for shorthanded Wizards

No team in the NBA has missed more games to injury than the Washington Wizards.

But John Wall has yet to contribute to that number, and Monday night in Chicago he proved that whomever the Wizards have at their disposal, as long as No. 2 is around they've got a shot to compete.

Wall spearheaded a lethal offensive attack, leading the way for the undermanned Wizards in a 114-100 win at the United Center. He finished with 17 points and 10 assists, shaking off a rough shooting night by engineering an assault against a susceptible Bulls defense that resulted in 31 assists and just nine turnovers.

"That’s who he is and he’s obviously the motor for us," head coach Randy Wittman said. "And when he moves the ball like that and sees the floor like that, that makes everybody better. It makes everybody’s job a little bit easier."

Shooting guard Bradley Beal missed his 16th consecutive game with another stress reaction in his right leg, and starting center Marcin Gortat was ruled out minutes before tipoff. Reserves Kris Humphries and Alan Anderson sat out with injuries, leaving head coach Randy Wittman with 11 healthy players at his disposal.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

But that's all he'd need. After the Bulls erased an eight-point first quarter lead the Wizards' bench responded with an 18-2 run that extended their lead to as many as 15 before halftime; the bench, led by Ramon Sessions and Gary Neal, scored 27 points alone in the second quarter, with those two contributing 18.

Drew Gooden, moved up in the rotation with Nene starting for Gortat, grabbed five offensive rebounds in the second half that resulted in 13 points as the Bulls attempted to narrow the deficit. Otto Porter, Nene and Garrett Temple all contributed 14 points, and Jared Dudley buried a pair of 3-pointer while at times playing power forward against the Bulls' much bigger frontcourt.

The Wizards bench outscored the Bulls' 47-32, and as a team they grabbed 13 offensive rebounds in what should have been an easy size mismatch for a Bulls team ranked No. 1 in rebounds per game.

It was a team win, which Wittman alluded to after the game. All 10 Wizards who played 13 minutes or more finished with a positive rating, while eight of them scored between eight and 17 points.

[MORE: Bulls defense picked apart in loss to Wizards]

But the win was possible because of Wall, the Wizards' fearless 25-year-old leader who's kept the team afloat as different bodies enter and exit the lineup more frequently than any other team.

Wall could have squared up counterpart and fellow former No. 1 overall pick Derrick Rose and attempted to win it on his own. Instead he found four different players for assists in the first quarter alone, also taking eight shots but playing within the offense against a Bulls defense that two days earlier had allowed 120 points to the Hawks.

Though his shot wasn't falling in the first three quarters, the Wizards maintained their lead thanks to the trio of Nene, Gooden and DeJuan Blair out-working the Bulls' superior interior. That gave Wall just enough time to find his rhythm late. Following Doug McDermott's four-point play that cut the deficit to four, Wall hit a jumper, fed Nene for a layup and finished a fast break layup in a four-possession span to push the lead back out to 11, 98-87. He then found Nene for another bucket inside and closed the door with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc inside five minutes to play, prompting Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to empty his bench.

"As a person he’s our beat, kind of like for the Bulls it’s Joakim Noah, for (us) it’s John," Dudley said. "When he’s got that energy and he’s flying around, it’s so contagious for our team. He has a lot of pressure on him right now because right now without (Beal), he has to do it. And it’s incredible what he’s doing for our team, putting us on his back."

Wall's been asked to do more each season after signing an $80 million extension in 2013. But as the face of the franchise, he's now been tasked with keeping the Wizards afloat in a surprisingly competitive Eastern Conference. He's fought through various injuries that he admitted could have kept him out of the lineup, playing in all 36 of the Wizards' games, understanding his importance to an already depleted group.

[ALSO: Noah's return could affect Portis, McDermott positively]

Losers in five of seven, on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, and on the road against a Bulls team that had won four straight at home, the Wizards faced a tall task. They needed Wall to lead the charge, and Wall needed his teammates to respond. They did, shooting 48.5 percent from the field and making nine 3-pointers against the Bulls, who lead the NBA in field goal percentage defense.

"I believe in these guys. If they’re open I’m going to give it to them, and if they make it they make it. If not, I’ll live with that result of making the right play. That’s the most important thing."

With the win the Wizards move to 17-19, two games out of the final playoff spot in the East. Beal could return this week while Gortat said after the game he didn't believe there was anything structurally wrong with his swollen knee. Wittman's group has won 44 and 46 games the last two seasons - both playoff appearances - and believe they'll be in prime position to make a similar run once they're back to full strength.

Until then, they'll have to make due with their 25-year-old All-Star leading whichever four players take the court with him on a given night.

"I think we're fine. We want to be higher (in the standings) than where we are right now," Wall said. "But you have a lot of injuries and a lot of teams are healthy. The main thing with us is just try to keep it close. Keep it around .500, above .500 if we can, and we'll get everybody back and hopefully get on a long streak and get it going."

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.