Bulls

Three observations from the Bulls' 3-0 lead

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Three observations from the Bulls' 3-0 lead

MILWAUKEE — A few observations on the Bulls-Bucks series, where the Bulls can pull off a sweep and take a week of rest before the second round begins, presumably against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

1. The Milwaukee Bucks are giving them a great fight and will be a formidable foe in the future:

Like most teams down 3-0, the Bucks feel they’re a couple plays or moments away from being in this series or leading. That may be delusional thinking, but Khris Middleton did have a good look at the end of regulation Thursday night before the extra 10 minutes of basketball drained everyone in the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

[MORE: Goodwill: Game 3 provides Bucks, Bulls playoff lessons]

The Bulls certainly played with fire throughout, as the Bucks gave them all they could handle before succumbing late. But a nucleus of Michael Carter-Williams, Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker is an excellent foundation to a future power in the East. The Bucks are going to go away for the summer soon, but they’re not a flash in the pan for future references. They’re going to be a legit threat in what should be a vastly improved Eastern Conference in the next couple years.

2. This is a different Derrick Rose:

A lot has changed in the NBA since that day Derrick Rose went down with his gut-wrenching knee injury in 2012, but somehow he’s expected to be the same, reckless and consciousless player that won the 2011 MVP. Just because he’s missed, in his words, “damn near three years,” it doesn’t mean his interpretation of the game is supposed to retard. Sitting on the sidelines may have thrown off his timing but the way he processes the game has continued its maturation.

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If you’re expecting to see THAT Derrick Rose, you’ll be waiting. But a player who sees the floor better, who utilizes his teammates more and yes, a player who shoots that streaky perimeter jumper more (46 percent 3-point shooter in this series), that’s what Rose is. What he lacks in explosiveness, Rose has gained in basketball IQ. His defense on Michael Carter-Williams was magnificent late in Game 3, and he was often in the scrums retrieving loose balls, helping his big men out before starting his Sonic the Hedgehog fast break. He hasn’t completely lost what made him special from an athletic standpoint; He’s more selective about when to employ his athleticism compared to using his brain, which should be a welcome sight.

3. Rose and Jimmy Butler play off each other better than expected:

Rose and Butler each have the ability to take over stretches of playoff games, which isn’t a surprise. But the way they’ve complemented each other while the other goes on a game-changing run should be noted. In Game 2, Butler tattooed his name on the game late, hitting jumpers and driving to the basket to close the Bucks out. But Rose did his part in feeding Butler and staying aggressive without disrupting Butler’s flow — a fine line to balance.

In Game 3, Butler did the same for Rose, concentrating a lot of energy on defense (note that step-in-front steal to start the second overtime) while also making himself enough of a threat to keep the Bucks from keying solely on Rose. If nothing else, the Bucks’ defensive intensity is great preparation for a Cleveland Cavaliers team that sorely lacks in that category — as Butler and Rose getting to know each other better here can only bode well for down the line.

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.”