Milwaukee Bucks

Three Things to Watch: Bulls host Giannis, Bucks


Three Things to Watch: Bulls host Giannis, Bucks

The Bulls are looking to break a losing skid Sunday afternoon at home against the Bucks on NBC Sports Chicago presented by Motorola. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine are fun, but the main reason you're tuning in Sunday afternoon is for the Greek Freak. We'll let his numbers do the talking: 28.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.6 blocks, 1.3 steals and 55 percent shooting on 18 FGA per game. Yeah, he's really good, and he just dropped 41 on the Nets on Friday.

2. Jerian Grant: The Bulls really need a bounceback performance from Grant. Yes, he had eight assists and no turnovers on Friday, but has shot 4-for-12 in his last two games and isn't quite getting the offense going like Kris Dunn has. With Dun out Sunday and potentially into next week Grant needs to be better.

3. Zach LaVine: We will see Zach LaVine play better because, frankly, it can't get worse. LaVine shot 3-for-17 in Friday's loss to the Lakers and disappeared down the stretch. He's not worried, and neither should we. He was playing great basketball before that one and, most importantly, he looks healthy out there. Giannis vs. LaVine will be a fun Central Division matchup for years to come.

NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft


NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft

The majority of the NBA universe is speculating about which players will be traded before the Feb. 8 deadline — but we already did that a couple days ago.

So, with the college basketball season past its halfway point, how about an early projection of what the 14 lottery teams might do with their first-round selections?

It's never too early for a mock draft.

1. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke. The Kings have been whiffing on lottery picks for most of the last decade, but taking Bagley would be a no-brainer. Sacramento is pretty thin up front after the DeMarcus Cousins trade last season, and Bagley looks like a multiple-time All Star with a variety of post moves and shooting range out to the 3-point line.

2. Atlanta Hawks: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona. The Hawks have completely torn down the roster just a few short years after finishing with the best record in the East. They could use help at every position, but as we saw when the Bulls visited on Jan. 20, the Hawks have absolutely zero rim protection. Enter Ayton, an athletic seven-footer with an NBA-ready frame who should be able to anchor the Atlanta defense for years to come.

3. Orlando Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma. The Magic are another team in major need of a roster makeover, and after watching Elfrid Payton struggle for four seasons at the most important position in the modern game, isn't it time for an upgrade at the point guard position? Young leads the nation in both scoring and assists with Steph Curry-like shooting range. He would definitely be a big-gate attraction in the Magic Kingdom.

4. Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic, SG/SF, Slovenia. After riding international star Dirk Nowitzki to their only NBA title in 2011, how about bringing in the best player currently competing in Europe? Mark Cuban has never been afraid to take chances with personnel moves, and the highly skilled Doncic could turn out to be the best perimeter player in the draft. At the age of 18, his shooting and passing ability have drawn rave reviews from NBA scouts.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: Michael Porter, SF/PF, Missouri. Porter only played two minutes for the Tigers before leaving his first college game with what turned out to be a season-ending back injury. Still, scouts love his potential to play both forward spots at 6-foot-10, and if Porter decides to apply for the draft, it's hard to see him falling beyond this point.

6. Phoenix Suns: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama. The Suns used to be drowning in point guards, but after trading Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe in recent years, their starter is now 5-foot-9 Chicago native Tyler Ulis. Sexton has tremendous scoring and ball-handling skills, showing up on the national radar after almost single-handedly beating Minnesota in a Thanksgiving tournament game when Alabama was forced to play with only three players for a good portion of the second half because of injuries and ejections.

7. Boston Celtics: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas. The Celtics continue to stock up on young talent by virtue of all the great trades made by general manager Danny Ainge in recent years. Boston has just about every position but center covered, and now they get a chance to add a defensive anchor with a 7-foot-9 wingspan. The Celtics are poised for a long run as the beasts of the East.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Michigan State. Power forward really isn't the Cavs' biggest position of need, but if LeBron James leaves in free agency, Cleveland could be heading into rebuild mode. Jackson has a soft shooting touch from 3-point range and is quick off his feet as a shot blocker. He could team up with Kevin Love on a new-look Cavs team post-LeBron.

9. Bulls: Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova. With four starting positions already covered (assuming Robin Lopez remains on the roster), the Bulls would have the luxury to add another shot creator on the wing. Bridges is tall enough to play the small forward spot and has a lightning-quick first step to get to the rim. He also is shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line and 50 percent overall. Adding Bridges to a lineup that features Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn would give the Bulls a young and versatile unit capable of playing with tremendous pace.

10. Charlotte Hornets: Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky. The Hornets could be ready to push the reset button after watching their veteran-laden team underachieve this season. Charlotte will be looking to trade the big contracts of Nic Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, which means they could be in need of a versatile frontcourt player with high-end scoring potential.

11. Utah Jazz: Wendell Carter, PF, Duke. With Derrick Favors likely to leave in free agency, the Jazz could definitely use a young power forward with Carter's ability to score inside. Carter has played in Bagley's massive shadow at Duke, but he figures to get more touches and shot attempts in an NBA offense. The Jazz have had pretty good luck drafting power forwards in the past with Karl Malone and Paul Millsap.

12. New York Knicks: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State. Bridges surprised a lot of NBA executives with his decision to return to Michigan State for his sophomore season considering he was a likely lottery pick last year. Bridges has become much more than just a spectacular dunker, adding a more consistent 3-point shot to his offensive arsenal. He could be an excellent fit in New York alongside Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter.

13. Detroit Pistons: Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky. Diallo hasn't really stood out on a young Kentucky team, but his physical tools are off the charts. He's a great finisher at the rim but needs more consistency with his outside shot. The Pistons could be in need of a shooting guard with Avery Bradley heading to free agency.

14. Denver Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky. Another talented young athlete who gets kind of lost in a somewhat dysfunctional Kentucky offense. The Nuggets are ready to move on from the Emmanuel Mudiay experiment, though Gilgeous-Alexander offers similar concerns as a raw, underdeveloped prospect.

Around the Association

The big news this week involves the Milwaukee Bucks' decision to fire head coach Jason Kidd, who originally came to Milwaukee because of his longstanding friendship with Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry. Kidd signed a contract extension in 2016 and has a good relationship with All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So why the change? Clearly, Kidd and his staff have not done the best job of developing the talent on the roster. The Bucks made an early season trade with the Suns to acquire point guard Eric Bledsoe, giving them another shot creator to go along with the Greek Freak. They've also loaded up on long athletes over the years, drafting frontcourt players John Henson, Thon Maker and D.J. Wilson, while also adding point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year. And the Bucks starting lineup features a third proven scorer in swingman Khris Middleton, with Chicago native Jabari Parker expected back next month after completing his second ACL rehab.

With the Bucks scheduled to move into their new downtown arena next season, ownership is clearly not satisfied with a team hovering around .500 and in danger of missing the playoffs. Assistant coach Joe Prunty will take over for now, but the names of David Fizdale and Monty Williams have already surfaced as leading candidates to replace Kidd.

The San Antonio Spurs have long been held in high regard as the NBA's model organization. But now ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright are reporting there's a growing disconnect with star forward Kawhi Leonard over the handling of his rehab from a quad injury. Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season because of the injury, and according to the report, he wasn't always on the same page with how the rehab process was done. Leonard is currently sidelined again because of the same injury, and the Spurs aren't sure when he'll be ready to play again.

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford denies there is any problem between the organization and its star player, but it's definitely a situation to watch considering Leonard can opt out of his current contract following the 2018-19 season. If the Bulls decided not be active in this summer's free-agent market, is there a chance they could make a run at one the NBA's top 10 players with a max offer in 2019?

While the Bucks have been one of the league's most disappointing teams this season, the Washington Wizards aren't far behind. Washington currently holds the fifth seed in the East, but that has more to do with the quality of the conference rather than the Wizards' outstanding play. Washington players recently decided to hold a clear-the-air meeting, but things didn't go exactly as planned.

According to the Washington Post, the meeting actually had a negative impact on team morale. John Wall said, "We had our team meeting. A couple guys took it the negative way, and it hurt our team. Instead of taking it a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a little bit."

Wizards leading scorer Bradley Beal added, "Honestly, it was probably — I won't say pointless, but we didn't accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting. We just need to win ballgames. Like I told the guys, it doesn't matter how many meetings we have. We can have a meeting after every game, but if we're not mentally prepared for each game, we're going to lose again."

And that's exactly what happened. In the next game after the meeting, the Wizards got pounded by the Hornets, 133-109. Clearly, there's a lot of work to do before Washington can be considered a legitimate threat in the East.

Speaking of bad team meetings, how about Wojnarowski reporting the embattled Cavs got together before practice on Monday and actually questioned the legitimacy of Kevin Love's illness after he only played three minutes in a blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder? According to the report, Love had to explain to his teammates why he left the arena before the game was over and then missed practice the following day. The Cavs might eventually get their act together before the playoffs, but it sure doesn't look good now.

Quote of the Week

Former Cavs coach David Blatt felt blindsided when he was fired and replaced by Ty Lue midway through the team's 2015-16 championship season. Blatt eventually went back to Europe to resume his coaching career, and he directed one of the teams in a Turkish BSL All-Star Game on Sunday.

When asked about his goals for the game, Blatt offered this classic that resonated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean: "I hope we don't give up as many points as the Cavaliers gave up last night."

Very funny line after the Cavs were torched for 148 points in that loss to the Thunder, which matched a franchise record. Problem is, Blatt's All-Star squad gave up 151 in losing their game. You know what they say about karma.

Observations from Bulls-Bucks: Closer Dunn, Defender Nwaba, Niko and Hoiball(!)

Observations from Bulls-Bucks: Closer Dunn, Defender Nwaba, Niko and Hoiball(!)

Dunn, the closer: It was an amazing sight but one that isn’t all too surprising if you’ve seen Kris Dunn play over the past few weeks—attacking a defender late in a game for a layup.

Except the defender was one of the longest and perhaps most athletic player in the game, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Dunn repeatedly attacking Antetokounmpo when they were matched up in the fourth quarter, as opposed to ceding to Antetokounmpo’s length.

Rocking the ball from right to left, he gathered momentum toward the rim and finished with his off-hand for a creative finish with 53.8 seconds left to give the Bulls a 111-104 lead.

“I feel like I had the matchup,” Dunn said. “I wanted to be aggressive the whole game. He’s long and athletic, but I thought I could get at his feet and that’s what I tried to do.”

The intelligence in that statement, realizing if there’s a place to attack a player like Antetokounmpo, it would be his feet. It helped complete perhaps one of Dunn’s most complete games as a pro, with 20 points, 12 assists, four steals and two blocks.

Dunn had four turnovers, but three of them occurred in the first quarter—a period where he had six assists. With a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, it’s a lot easier to swallow—in fact, the turnovers mean next to nothing when you take care of the ball late and finish the way he does to close out games.

“He didn’t settle,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought he did a good job of attacking and getting into the paint. He had really good finishes tonight.”

More important than helping the Bulls win their eighth game in 10 tries was the way he bounced back after their Saturday night loss to the Celtics in Boston. He took the loss on the chin and instead of it spiraling to a place where bad performances repeat themselves, Dunn washed it away.

“We’re resilient,” Dunn said. “Each and every game we’re trying to improve as a team.

“Me trying to be a leader, I had to show them I could be positive. I can’t have my head down. This team believes in me. I’m gonna keep being aggressive.”

Nwaba, the stopper: Antetokounmpo had two fouls midway through the second quarter and was playing with fire, barreling into David Nwaba on a fast break, hitting him square in the stomach.

The officials swallowed their whistles as Nwaba was doubled over catching his wind after Antetokounmpo’s layup.

The superstar calls are a way of life in the NBA and Antetokounmpo has earned that treatment. Nwaba will have to make his living absorbing plays like that, knowing the benefit of the doubt won’t go his way in most cases—while still having to crowd the superstar wing men of the league to make life difficult.

“It’s exciting, so I enjoy it,” Nwaba said. “It’s nothing I need to prepare for. I just need to know what I can bring to the table and know I have to lock in.”

Nwaba’s lock-in turned to a lockdown of the NBA’s second-leading scorer in the fourth quarter. Antetokounmpo made his first five shots from the field and scored 24 in the first three quarters, but didn’t register in the score sheet in the fourth until there was 2:11 remaining—and the Bulls led by 9.

“People don’t realize how strong he is,” Dunn said. “He’s a muscle-head. Props to him for taking on that role and trying to make it difficult for him.”

It didn’t go unnoticed by Nwaba’s coach, either.

“Nwaba does a good job, you’re not going to complete stop (Antetokounmpo),” Hoiberg said. “Giannis is going to be in the MVP talk all season long. But David isn’t going to back down from anybody.”

Niko, again? Yes, again: The pump fake was back, although Nikola Mirotic wasn’t using it on every single possession. But the relentlessness remained and the confidence is overflowing from Mirotic, who led the Bulls with 24 points.

Eight of those came in the fourth when the Bulls outscored the Bucks 32-23. Mirotic hit a couple back-breaking jumpers from ball movement, unbothered by Antetokounmpo running out at him.

“All this work is from practice. We’ve been practicing great as a team,” Mirotic said. “You can see the chemistry of the team is a little different. Everybody knows his role, knows what he needs to do. Defensively we are improving.

“We are finally learning how to play with each other. This has a lot to do with Fred. Calling the right call each time. The team is executing very well.”

Averaging over 18 points and nearly eight rebounds, it mitigates the regression of rookie Lauri Markkanen, who watched the critical moments of the fourth quarter from the bench.

Markkanen, who used to be the lone dependable starter, was now the only starter not in double figures, going one of seven in 20 minutes. But Markkanen grabbed seven rebounds and had his first taste of being defended by Antetokounmpo.

He’ll learn.

Wait, what?

So let’s see: The Bulls had eight turnovers to the Bucks’ 20—and four of the Bulls turnover came in the first quarter….

Five Bulls scored in double figures and none of them were named LaVine or Markkanen…

Their best plus-minus performer didn’t score in double figures and according to the advanced stats, makes everyone better around him (Bobby Portis)…

It was Portis who grabbed Kris Dunn and kept him from getting into it even more with Bucks swingman Khris Middleton when both got tangled up in the final minute, going to the floor…

“Peace and love, that’s what I’m all about,” Portis said with a smile….

It was also Portis who swatted a shot into the expensive seats after a whistle had been blown, Kevin Garnett-style, prompting a smile from Hoiberg on the bench…

Was that Jerian Grant playing aggressive in the fourth quarter against Eric Bledsoe?...

And this Bulls team, being scrappy, playing confident, tough and sharing the ball to the tune of 26 assists—averaging 26.1 assists in their last 10 games?

That’s Hoiball.