Bulls

Mountain finally too high to climb for resilient Bulls?

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Mountain finally too high to climb for resilient Bulls?

From bad to worse, to terrible.

Instead of a third-quarter collapse, it was a fourth-quarter failure.

Instead of Derrick Rose going down with a torn ACL, it was Joakim Noah with a severely sprained ankle.

And instead of a repeat trip to the Eastern Conference Finalsstill a possibility after Roses injury; vanquishing the 76ers appeared to be a foregone conclusionthe Bulls are now in danger of losing in the first round.

Its tough, acknowledged Kyle Korver. Thats just the way our years been.

Indeed, it seems like what began as such a promising season and still seemed like it could end up with a title run, despite Roses multiple injuries, might just not be in the cards. The Bulls have beaten the odds all year, but even their tremendous resiliency might be stretched too thin by the recent run of misfortune.

Next man up. Its the way it is. Weve got more than enough to win with. On the road, youve got to play 48 minutes and going into the last two minutes, the game was right there, right there to be had. Weve got to find a way to win. Find a way to win, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Weve got to be ready. Thats our job. Weve got to be ready to go. Cant feel sorry for ourselves. Weve got one day to make some corrections and then be ready for Sunday.

It sounds good, but looking at Thibodeau, his face didnt contain that same fighting spirit and while interpreting facial expressions shouldnt be left to journalists, simply observing him on the sidelines during Game 3 spoke volumes. Sure, hell be questioned for allowing Noah back into the game after his gruesome injurythough the center wouldnt have been able to play if he didnt insist on it and the teams medical staff didnt allow itbut more than anything, it appears that last seasons NBA Coach of the Year just doesnt have any more rabbits to pull out of his hat.

Everyones got to play to their strengths and theyre not here by accident. Every player has strengths, so weve got to play to their strengths and weve got to find a different way to score, and weve got to do it quickly. Theres going to be a quick turnaround here. We cant feel sorry for ourselves. Sunday, when that ball goes up, weve got to be ready to go, said Thibodeau, still refusing to bend to what everyone else can see is a stacked deck. Injuries are part of the game, so youve got to have a mental toughness to get past all that. Weve had injuries all year and you just deal with it, but if you look, you can find something every night, every game. Short-handed, regular season back-to-back, early start, late start, whatever it is, or you can find a way to win and thats what you need. You need guys that have great will to win and no matter what the circumstances are, will find a way to win.

Hey, at least if the captains going down with his ship, his crew is staying on board with him.

Weve got to get one here, right? queried Kyle Korver, ironically a former 76er. So if we didnt get tonight, weve got to get it on Sunday and go back home tied 2-2, home-court advantage, so thats our focus.

Thats the way it is with this Bulls team. Unfortunately, good intentions wont make up for the loss of arguably their two most important players, after back-to-back crushing defeats.

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.