Bulls

LIVE: Bulls trail Heat 65-63 after third

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LIVE: Bulls trail Heat 65-63 after third

Sunday, March 6, 2011
10:20 a.m.
Associated Press

After the Miami Heat lost their last two games in stunning fashion, questions are mounting about their toughness and confidence.

The Heat can silence some of their critics with a victory over the surging Chicago Bulls on Sunday. A loss, however, would likely still leave them searching for answers.

Miami hopes to earn a rare victory over one of the league's top teams while the Bulls, winners of eight of 10, look to hand the Heat another stinging loss.

The last two games for Miami (43-19) have gone about as bad as they could go.

The Heat blew a 24-point lead in Thursday's 99-96 home loss to Orlando, and fell behind by 24 in the first quarter in Friday's 125-95 defeat at San Antonio, their most lopsided loss of the season. It was the third straight defeat for Miami and the fourth in five games, with the first loss of that stretch coming in Chicago.

"We're still a confident bunch," said LeBron James, 2 for 15 from 3-point range in the last five games. "We know it's a tough stretch for us right now. We lost three games in a row, but I feel like all it takes is one win."

A victory over the Bulls (42-18) would also help show they can contend with some of the league's elite. The Heat, who are opening a six-game homestand, are 1-8 against the NBA's top five teams, including 0-2 versus the Bulls.

"We got to make a stand on Sunday against a team that is gaining confidence," coach Erik Spoelstra said.

The Bulls, 17-9 against teams over .500, have moved percentage points ahead of Miami for second place in the East.

When the Heat visited the United Center on Feb. 24, Derrick Rose, one of the top MVP candidates along with James, had a team-high 26 points and Luol Deng scored 20 - including a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 16 seconds left - in Chicago's 93-89 win.

Dwayne Wade had 34 points in that game and James finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds, but Chris Bosh missed 17 of 18 shots and scored just seven.

Chicago won the first meeting 99-96 on Jan. 15 behind Rose's 34 points. Wade scored 33 for the Heat, who played without James (sprained ankle).

The Bulls were without Joakim Noah (right thumb), their top rebounder at 11.7 per game and a longtime adversary of James.

Despite missing Noah for one of the games in this series, Chicago has dominated the boards, outrebounding the Heat 95-69. The Bulls are second in the league in rebounding at 44.4 per game, and Miami is 3-8 when allowing a team to grab 45 boards.

Chicago, concluding a five-game road trip, outrebounded Dwight Howard and the Magic 50-30 in Friday's 89-81 win in Orlando.

Rose scored 24 points and Deng added 16 for the Bulls, who bounced back from Wednesday's discouraging 83-80 loss to Atlanta, when they blew a 19-point lead.

"Just staying solid," Rose said of Chicago's effort. "That was the biggest thing. When we got the lead, we just wanted to keep it."

The Bulls did that by keeping the defensive pressure on the Magic and forcing them to take bad shots. Chicago, second in scoring defense at 91.9 points per game, held Orlando to its fewest points in a month.

The Heat have scored 96 or fewer in three straight and are 10-15 when failing to surpass that mark. The Bulls are 38-4 when holding opponents to 96 points or less.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen continues to impress.

The 20-year-old rookie had a career-high 26 points in the Bulls' 113-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. He also picked up 13 rebounds.

After the game, in which the Bulls fell to 3-11 on the season, coach Fred Hoiberg had high praise for the Finnish.

"I thought Lauri was phenomenal," Hoiberg said. "But when he is open, we gotta get him the ball. When he's got it rolling like he did tonight, guys were switching and we had him a couple of times with the point guard buried in his back and we didn't get him the ball."

Watch what Hoiberg had to say about the Bulls' tight loss in the video above.