Bulls

LeBron lauds Delly's, Thompson's efforts in Cavs' Game 6 win

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LeBron lauds Delly's, Thompson's efforts in Cavs' Game 6 win

When the playoffs began Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson had distinct roles. The two reserves were expected to come off the bench and provide energy on a second unit that had ranked dead last in points per game, while maintaining the output provided by the team’s star power in LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

Ten games later, both found themselves sitting at the postgame podium on either side of the game’s best player after providing unlikely primary performances in Cleveland’s Game 6, series clinching victory over the Bulls.

“They want to be good. They want to be great,” James said after the game. “And every single day they prepare the right way, and they just go out and they play with instincts. They’ve played basketball their whole lives, and for them to go out there and put it out on the floor, good things happen for guys who are true to the game.”

In two rounds of the playoffs the Cavaliers have been met with unforeseen injury circumstances to Love and Irving, twice trailed in their series against Chicago and had to deal with the realistic question of whether or not a team built on that star power could sustain their high expectations with a group of role players touting little to no postseason experience.

[MORE: Lifeless Bulls fall to Cavaliers in series-clincher]

Thursday night they got their answer.

It was a turbulent series for Dellavedova, who heard boos rain down from the United Center after getting tangled up with Taj Gibson in their Game 5 victory. But when Irving aggravated a left knee injury and exited the game for good early in the second quarter, the Cavaliers didn’t miss a beat on either side of the ball when Dellavedova took over.

The second year guard hounded Derrick Rose (14 points on 16 FGA) defensively and found his outside shooting touch in the second half, scoring 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting after halftime, with each basket extinguishing any chance of a Bulls comeback any time the hosts showed any signs of life.

Dellavedova went 15-for-27 in the series, handily outplaying his bench counterpart Aaron Brooks throughout and providing necessary defense on Rose while the Cavs attempted to hide Irving’s limited mobility on the defensive end.

“He’s an incredible competitor,” Irving said. “I’m so happy for him.”

Head coach David Blatt’s attempt to use James at power forward backfired in Game 1, prompting him to insert Thompson at the power forward spot to allow James to play on the perimeter. And though it left the Cavs paper-thin on the second unit, Thompson’s play in the series was invaluable. On Thursday night he scored 10 points in the opening stanza, helping Cleveland withstand a 31-point quarter from the Bulls. He continued his assault on the glass, grabbing 12 rebounds after halftime as the Cavs clamped down a Bulls team that scored 42 points after the opening quarter.

He increased his scoring total all six games of the series, and averaged a double-double after entering the starting lineup in Game 2 (10.4 points, 11.8 rebounds).

“Just being part of the playoffs and having the opportunity to play with (James) over here, it definitely is special,” Thompson said. “What a ride. I’m glad I could be a part of it and help this team win.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

It doesn't appear Irving will be playing at full-strength anytime soon, while Thompson has cemented himself in a starting role. And while James' production will always be a direct correlation of how the Cavaliers are playing - he added nine rebounds and 11 assists - Cleveland's role players suddenly have taken on a far greater role than they expected when the playoffs began.

Contributions from J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert hold value to the Cavs, but on Thursday night it was Thompson and Dellavedova who delivered the knockout blow to a championship-aspiring Bulls team and moved the Cavaliers one step closer to their ultimate goal.

"This guy here," James said pointing to Thompson, "he’s not the most athletic guy right here, he’s not the tallest power forward in our league, he’s not the strongest power forward in our league. But not too many guys can keep him guys off the glass.

"This guy here," James continued, turning to Dellavedova, "is not the most athletic, fastest, doesn’t shoot it as great as all the other point guards in our league. But I’ll put him out there against anybody.

"When your mind is true, I think the game gives back to you."

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.”