Rose, Bulls continuing to show solid effort under Fred Hoiberg


Rose, Bulls continuing to show solid effort under Fred Hoiberg

The process of learning the concepts and terminology behind Fred Hoiberg's up-tempo offense will be ongoing, something the first year head coach understands.

But regardless of scheme, terminology or personnel, there's no substitute or excuse for a veteran team like the Bulls not to show effort each time they step on the court.

And for the few bumps in the road the Bulls have had early in the season, none of those have stemmed from a lack of effort, Hoiberg said Thanksgiving Day at the Advocate Center.

The head coach singled out the Bulls' last six games as a barometer. Since going scoreless in overtime against the Timberwolves at home on Nov. 7, the Bulls have won five of their last six, with three of those victories coming on the road. The Bulls returned home from their West Coast trip that included stops in Phoenix, Golden State and Portland, and will head out tomorrow for a Friday showdown in Indiana, with an ongoing sense of confidence after taking two of three.

"The biggest thing is the effort. I think the consistent thing, especially these last six, the only loss coming at GOlden State and we had a chance at the end of that one. So the effort's been terrific, and if we can keep that going we're going to have a chance most nights," Hoiberg said.

"To get two out of 3 on that trip was very important I felt. With that Phoenix win, that's another team that had won several in a row, very powerful, explosive backcourt. That's what we played on this trip; you had three of the top backcourts in the league with Pheonix (Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe), Golden State (Steph Curry and Klay Thompson) and Portland (Damian Lilard and C.J. McCollum) and to get two out of those three was big for us. Just got to keep our focus."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Earning two wins out west was made more impressive in that they played two of those games without Derrick Rose, who returned Tuesday after missing a pair with an ankle sprain. Rose wasted no time making his presence felt, scoring 17 points, handing out six assists and limiting counterpart Damian Lillard to 4-for-22 shooting as the Bulls picked up a 93-88 win.

It was yet another solid effort from the Bulls defense - the Blazers shot 35 percent from the field and committed 14 turnovers - that has been perhaps better than expected in Hoiberg's early tenure. Entering Thanksgiving Day, the Bulls ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, second in opponent field-goal percentage and were allowing a league-best 1.07 points per shot. It's a stark contrast from the offense, which ranks 20th in effective field goal percentage and 26th in efficiency.

Those offensive lulls have put the Bulls in difficult positions attempting to put teams away. Tuesday night the Bulls led by 13 early in the fourth quarter before missing 10 straight shots, a scoreless drought more than 5 minutes that allowed the Blazers to eventually tie the game. Rose, who shot 2-for-6 in the fourth quarter, put the onus on himself 

"Only thing you can do is just learn from your experiences, learn from the previous game. (Tuesday) we had a lead numerous times," Rose said. "I think it's on me where I have to put guys in the right position when we go up big leads to do something positive for the team instead of letting go of the ropes."

They'll next chance Friday against the Pacers, a team they fended off two weeks ago at the United Center thanks to Jimmy Butler's defensive heroics on Paul George. It pits two of the top three teams in the East against each other, and features a Pacers team that has won three straight, and nine of 11 since an 0-3 start. And as much as Hoiberg has liked his team's effort of late, he knows they'll need to continue it on the road to pick up win No. 10.

"It's a team that's playing with a ton of confidence right now," Hoiberg said. "We're going to have to come out with great effort if we want to have a chance at the end."

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


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


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.”