Bulls

Silent Night: Bulls quiet Thunder with impressive wire-to-wire victory

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Silent Night: Bulls quiet Thunder with impressive wire-to-wire victory

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Chicago Bulls were angry and on edge after three straight losses. They channeled those emotions into one of their best wins of the season.

Jimmy Butler scored 23 points, and Pau Gasol had 21 points and 13 rebounds in the Bulls' 105-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.

In a game that featured several skirmishes, the Bulls outrebounded the NBA's No. 2 rebounding team 53-48.

"We've just got to go out there and attack," Chicago forward Taj Gibson, who got a double technical with Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, said. "It's no time to be friends with anybody right now. We've got enough friends in here. We're with each other 24-7. We can't go out there and look to be nice to everybody."

[MORE BULLS: A look back at the Bulls on Christmas Day]

Derrick Rose added 19 points, and Gibson had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Chicago held the Thunder to 38.5-percent shooting, Oklahoma City's third-worst showing of the season.

Kevin Durant had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, and Russell Westbrook added 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. The Thunder had won three straight and nine of 10.

"I think we did a really good job of making sure we closed out to 3-point shooters," Rose said. "We trusted the game plan. We know K.D. is a great 3-point shooter, (Anthony) Morrow, and Westbrook when his feet are set, and you just can't let them get hot. Everybody else on the team, we forced them to make shots and make plays."

Durant said he didn't like the way the Thunder played at times when they got behind.

"If you try to get it all back in one play, try to get a steal, try to come down and shoot a pull-up 3 - just doing stupid stuff that we did all night, it will be tough to win," Durant said.

[MORE BULLS: Joakim Noah joins NBA in anti-gun violence PSA]

Chicago led 51-37 with 4:58 left in the first half, but the Thunder cut it to 54-52 at halftime. Durant scored 19 points in the half, and Westbrook had 12 points and five assists.

Gasol and Butler each scored 11 points in the first half for the Bulls.

Chicago scored the first eight points of the second half to go up 62-52 and force the Thunder to call a timeout. The Bulls led 86-68 at the end of the third quarter.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The Bulls led by 18 at the end of the third quarter. Oklahoma City changed things up and played Morrow and Enes Kanter with Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka for most of the fourth quarter. A pair of 3-pointers by Morrow cut Chicago's lead to 97-89 with just under 5 minutes to play, but the Bulls hung on.

"We withstood their run, which I think everyone knew they were going to go on in the fourth quarter, and they (the Bulls) made big plays down the stretch," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

STAT LINES

The lineup that Oklahoma City started the fourth quarter with - Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Kanter and Morrow - outscored the Bulls 28-19. Morrow and Kanter don't start, in part, because of defensive shortcomings, but that group held the Bulls to 6-for-20 shooting.

KANTER'S SOCKS

Kanter wore Christmas socks with green stripes and red snowflakes. He is a Muslim, but he said he respects different cultures. "Well, I live in the U.S. now, and I'm just really cool with all of the holidays - Christmas, Thanksgiving," he said. "It's pretty cool."

QUOTABLE

Gibson, on defending Westbrook: "Russ is a hard opponent to go against, especially with the way he attacks," he said. "We just all wanted bodies in front of him. Put bodies in front of him and make sure somebody contested him at the rim, and compete."

TIP-INS

Bulls: Ran out to an 11-0 lead. ...  Joakim Noah sat out with a left shoulder sprain. ... Beat the Thunder 104-98 at United Center on Nov. 5. ... Butler hit a 35-foot 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter. ... Rose fouled out.

Thunder: Missed their first five shots. ... Steven Adams picked up two fouls in the first 2 minutes. Kanter entered the game and had six points and seven rebounds in the first quarter. He finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds. ... Had just one assist in the first quarter. ... ... Morrow made three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

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.”