Bulls

High-flying Nuggets end Bulls' four-game winning streak

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High-flying Nuggets end Bulls' four-game winning streak

The short-handed Bulls finally met their match Monday night, as the deep, dangerous and talented Nuggets came into the United Center and absolutely ran them out of the United Center with a second-half blitz that led to a 108-91 victory.

The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the team with the NBAs best record, a squad that had played with fire in recent outings and didnt come up with the necessary energy to subdue one of the leagues top transition teams.

Three consecutive Carlos Boozer (14 points, seven rebounds) jumpers to begin the contest, followed by a Ronnie Brewer steal and transition dunk propelled the Bulls (40-11) to an 8-0 lead, but it wouldnt last long.

Denver (27-23) mounted a swift comeback, led almost exclusively by the starting backcourt of shooting guard Arron Afflalo (22 points) and point guard Ty Lawson, (27 points, nine assists) to quickly climb back into the contest.

C.J. Watson (17 points, 3-for-4 three-point shooting, eight assists), starting at point guard as Derrick Rose missed his seventh consecutive game with a strained right groin, became the Bulls offensive focal point, as both a scorer and playmaker, but it wasnt enough to slow down the Nuggets potent transition attack, which gained steam with veteran sixth man Al Harrington (17 points) in the game.

After weathering the storm and seeing the visitors overtake them, the hosts, buoyed the presence of backup center Omer Asik, fought back to finish the opening quarter with a 27-25 advantage.

The outset of the second period saw the Bench Mob, led by fan favorite John Lucas IIIs (17 points, 5-for-8 three-point shooting) scoring prowess and Kyle Korvers (14 points, 4-for-4 three-point shooting) outside marksmanship, extended the Bulls winning margin.

Denver countered with Harrington and the playmaking of veteran point guard Andre Miller (12 points, 10 assists), and once again made it a close-knit affair.

Korvers torrid shooting and the inside-outside game of Boozer, inserted back into the game midway through the quarter, were what the Bulls hung their hat on, but with Lawsons speed, Millers savvy and JaVale McGees defensive presence as equalizers, their guests again surged in front.

At the intermission, the home team faced a 54-52 deficit.

After the break, Denver immediately blitzed the Bulls, going on a 12-0 run to start the third quarter, as McGee and rookie Kenneth Faried wreaked havoc on the interior, giving the visitors a double-digit lead. The Nuggets fast-break simply overwhelmed the Bulls, as Lawsons open-court explosiveness was just too much to handle and armed with an array of finishers, he either converted himself or dished off for easy baskets.

Watson remained effective for the hosts, but had to sit when he picked up his fourth foul later in the period and with his teammates mostly unable to muster up enough offense to spark a comeback, the Bulls fell into a deeper hole.

At the conclusion of three periods, Denver had a comfortable 81-68 lead, as the games uneven officiating raised the ire of the home crowd.

In the final stanza, rookie swingman Jimmy Butler provided a spark in the early going and with Lucas providing his usual instant-offense contributions; it appeared as if the hosts would make one of their patented dramatic comebacks.

However, the Nuggets proved to be rude guests, and extended the lead with their depth, balance and overall talent, featuring the likes of Afflalo, Harrington, Lawson and Miller all making an impact.

Atypical to what occurs in most Bulls games, the hosts defense failed them, as they couldnt stop Denver in transition or prevent the visitors accuracy from deep range and uncharacteristically watched the deficit balloon as time went on, sending a good number of fans to the exits much earlier than usual.

Despite the Bulls shooting 13-for-20 from behind the arc, the Nuggets put the game far out of reach with flurry after flurry, demoralizing their normally defensively-sound hosts until the final buzzer mercifully ended the rare home loss.

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

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AP

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

The Bulls made headlines on Tuesday when VP John Paxson announced that David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne would be entering the rotation, thus continuing the youth movement in Chicago.

On the surface the moves make sense. The 24-year-old Nwaba, the 25-year-old Felicio and the 23-year-old Cameron Payne will be replacing 28-year-old Justin Holiday, 29-year-old Robin Lopez and 25-year-old Jerian Grant. The Bulls want to see what they have in these younger players who haven't played much; they already know what they have in Lopez and Holiday, and Grant (like the other two) is under contract through next year.

OK, got that? Here's why they're making the move: they're sitting 8th in the NBA Lottery standings and really want to move into the top-5 to give themselves a chance at what should be a loaded front-end of the draft class. It's pretty obvious, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either named Gar Forman, John Paxson or Fred Hoiberg.

And here's why: On Wednesday Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined a whopping $600,000 by the NBA for comments he made on a podcast regarding tanking. The Mavericks are currently 18-40, the third worst record in the NBA. This comes a season after they finished 33-49, netting them the No. 9 pick that turned into talented point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

So when Cuban was asked about the best interests of his Dallas team, which touts young talent but clearly isn't headed for the postseason in 2018, he said this on the House Call with Dr. J Podcast:

"I'm probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren't competing for the playoffs. I was like, 'Look, losing is our best option. [Commissioner] Adam [Silver] would hate hearing that, but I at least sat down and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we're not going to tank again. This was, like, a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me. But being transparent, I think that's the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability."

Cuban isn't wrong, and the Mavericks sure as hell aren't the only team tanking. But to come right now and admit that losing is the team's best option wasn't, as Cuban predicted, going to sit well with the league office.

Commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo with the fine that said Cuban's comments "which concerned his perspective on the team's competitive success this season" were "detrimental to the NBA."

So while the Bulls are going about their business in trying to lose as many games down the stretch as possible, don't expect anyone to admit it's the reason behind their personnel moves. There are 600,000 reasons why.

NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Miles Bridges

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USA TODAY

NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Miles Bridges

NBA general managers were fully expecting to see Miles Bridges declare for the 2017 draft after a solid, but unspectacular freshman season at Michigan State. Bridges arrived in East Lansing as one of the nation’s top prospects, and his impressive leaping ability led to a number of highlight reel plays for Tom Izzo’s Spartans.

Problem is, Bridges didn’t show much versatility to his offensive game because of an inconsistent outside shot and inability to create shots off the dribble. Bridges probably would have been a late lottery pick last year on athletic talent alone, but to his credit, he decided to go back to Michigan State for his sophomore season and work on some of his weaknesses.

Unfortunately for Bridges, he really hasn’t shown much improvement year to year. Yes, he’s leading the Big Ten in free throw shooting at 89%, but his other numbers are basically flat from season to season. Bridges averaged 16.9 points a year ago, 17.1 this season. He shot .486 from the field in 2016-17, .477 this year. Even with all the work he put in on his 3 point shooting, his percentage has dropped slightly this season, from .389 to .376. Rebounding is also down slightly, from 8.3 to 6.8. 

Bottom line, Bridges is once again projected as a late lottery pick.

How does he fit for the Bulls? It’s no secret small forward and center are the two positions of need heading into the 2018 draft, and the 6-7 Bridges would give the Bulls another athletic frontcourt player who fits the pace and space game Fred Hoiberg prefers. Bridges could be a real weapon running the floor with Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine for alley-oop dunks, and he should continue to improve as a 3 point shooter.

The Bulls are hoping to land a top 5 pick to add one of the elite players in this draft, and unless the Pelicans drop into the late lottery, Bridges will probably be gone by the time that selection comes up. He’s probably a bit of a reach in the 6 to 10 range, but if positional need and athletic potential are the most important factors for the Bulls, Miles Bridges could be the choice if they don’t improve their position in the current lottery watch standings.

Personally, I would prefer either Kentucky’s Kevin Knox or Villanova’s Mikal Bridges (no relation) over Miles Bridges as a small forward prospect, but all 3 players offer different skill sets that could be helpful to a young, developing team like the Bulls.

The dream scenario would be drafting a young center like Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Mo Bamba with a top 5 pick, then coming back to add one of those 3 small forward prospects with the 1st rounder they acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade with New Orleans. We’ll all have to wait until the lottery is held on May 15th to see if the Bulls are in position to add two more foundation pieces to their rebuilding project.