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NBA not only game making noise this time of year

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NBA not only game making noise this time of year

Monday, April 4, 2011Posted: 4:00 p.m.

By Aggrey SamCSNChicago.com
While the Bulls were making quick work of the Timberwolves in Minnesota last Wednesday, basketball fans at the United Center were treated to a glimpse of the future. The 2011 McDonald's All-American Game was held in Chicago for the first time in two decades and judging from the sellout crowd, it won't take as long for the annual high school all-star game to return to the Windy City.

The East team knocked off its West counterparts, 111-96, but as it goes in these type of affairs, the talent on hand was more important than the final result. New Jersey native Michael Gilchrist, a 6-foot-7 Kentucky-bound small forward that has drawn Scottie Pippen comparisons and James McAdoo, a skilled 6-foot-9 power forward from Virginia who's headed to North Carolina--like his famous uncle, former NBA scoring champion and current Miami Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo--earned game co-MVP honors.

Perhaps the most impressive player, however, from a potential standpoint, was a Chicago resident. Anthony Davis, who attends Perspectives--a charter school that's far from a city basketball powerhouse--is a versatile forward with the rebounding and shot-blocking ability of the big man combined with perimeter skills of a guard.

In fact, the 6-foot-10 Kentucky recruit--the Final Four team had four players in the game, with Indianapolis point guard Marquis Teague (brother of Atlanta Hawks reserve Jeff) and Oregon forward Kyle Wiltjer joining Davis and the aforementioned Gilchrist--actually was a guard until an eight-inch junior-year growth spurt transformed him from a run-of-the-mill high school player into one of the nation's top prospects, especially after he dominated summer All-American camps and AAU tournaments. With Davis' length, athleticism, non-stop motor and tremendous upside--he's often compared to a young Kevin Garnett--some observers believe he's an early favorite to be the top pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Davis scored 14 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked four shots Wednesday.

Another Chicago prospect, 6-foot-5 Wayne Blackshear of Morgan Park High School, also participated in the game. Despite suffering a shoulder injury in the practices leading up to the main event, the Louisville-bound swingman started the contest, although he only scored two points in limited minutes.

Another player in the game with Windy City ties was Austin Rivers, regarded by many as the nation's top overall prospect. An exciting 6-foot-4 scorer, the Duke recruit is the son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.

The elder Rivers--who sat courtside at the game--participated in the event himself during his days as a prep standout at Proviso East High School in nearby Maywood, which also produced former NBA player Michael Finley, Lakers guard Shannon Brown and Kansas State star Jacob Pullen.

Michigan State recruit Branden Dawson, an athletic, 6-foot-5 wing from nearby Gary, Ind., also played in the game.

McDonald's has hosted a girls game for some time now and this year's event featured one local prospect, Ariel Massengale from Bolingbrook High School. The three-time state champion and Tennessee-bound point guard was Illinois' Ms. Basketball, and only added to her long list of accolades by leading the East to a 78-66 victory over the West Wednesday night.

Her counterpart for the boys "Mr. Basketball" award--shared with Stanford recruit Chasson Randle of Rock Island--Ryan Boatright of East Aurora High School, was a surprise snub in the minds of many observers. An electrifying 5-foot-10 guard with an incredible knack for scoring, jaw-dropping leaping ability, tremendous ballhandling skills and the speed of a sprinter, the Connecticut-bound showman was the biggest attraction in the Chicagoland area this past high school season.

At UConn, he will attempt to fill the big shoes of another small guard with a huge heart, All-American Kemba Walker. Walker's entire season--particularly his run from the Big East Tournament to Monday night's NCAA championship game--has been awe-inspiring. A big-time scorer this season, NBA personnel types are quick to forget that his point production on an inexperienced Huskies team is out of necessity; he was a playmaking, defensive-minded point guard prior his first two years in college, something that should aid his transition to the next level.

One of Walker's young teammates, freshman wing Jeremy Lamb, has been receiving rave reviews throughout the postseason, in which he has emerged as an excellent secondary scorer. At 6-foot-4, with excellent athleticism, length and range, he has shot up the boards as a prospect, although his slender frame may make at least another year in the college game in his best interests.

UConn's championship-game opponent, Butler, is no stranger to the big stage--the Bulldogs also made it to the finale last season, losing to Duke after current Utah Jazz rookie Gordon Hayward's halfcourt heave rattled out at the buzzer--and pro scouts are likewise familiar with their star junior guard Shelvin Mack. But while a significant amount of time throughout the season is spent evaluating college prospects, NBA executives are only human, leading to Mack's potential pro stature suddenly rising, albeit in a shallow pool of a guard class.

Mack's teammate, senior forward Matt Howard fits the NBA prototype even less--mainly due to his lack of explosiveness--but his skill, strength, ability to knock down jumpers, toughness and various intangibles have also been winning scouts over as of late, despite a collective insistence that clutch performances in the "Big Dance" don't make a difference come draft day.

March Madness, indeed.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”