Orlando Magic

Sometimes you lose (win), sometimes you win and sometimes you're just tanktastic

Sometimes you lose (win), sometimes you win and sometimes you're just tanktastic

Sometimes you lose:

Cue Rosie Perez from “White Men Can’t Jump”: “Sometimes when you lose, you really win and sometimes when you win, you really lose”

The Bulls wouldn’t have minded if the Orlando Magic put together an improbable performance, but the Magic authored a ending worthy of their conference-worst standing.

After putting together a gutsy comeback in the fourth quarter, rebounding from an 18-point deficit, they had a chance to win with 15.2 seconds left.

Except…

Someone forgot to tell Zach LaVine the Bulls were supposed to lose, as he cut off Shelvin Mack’s angle on the inbounds pass, stealing it and getting a breakaway dunk with 12.4 seconds left to essentially seal the 105-101 win Monday at the United Center.

“He made a great read on the play, shooting the gap and getting the steal,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We were awful in those last seven minutes, as far as closing out that game. Had the big lead and just took our foot off the gas.”

With two games separating the Bulls and Magic before the game, the loss would’ve been valuable to the Bulls. In a league where there’s eight truly bad teams, the Bulls are eighth and it’s a clear distance of sorts between them and the next-worst team.

They’d just rather it not appear that way in the standings, so when Mario Hezonja got hot from the 3-point line and scoring 14 in the final period, there probably weren’t too many folks shedding tears.

The Bulls were collapsing and headed to a crushing loss. But after a five-point lead turned into a three-point deficit in a two-minute span, Bobby Portis hit two baskets to keep things within striking distance.

First a leaning floater and then a triple from a pick-and-pop with Jerian Grant feeding him to tie the game at 101.

Portis scored 10 of his 19 in the fourth, adding seven rebounds and three triples in 26 minutes.

“That’s a play coach runs for me all the time,” Portis said. “I have confidence in that shot and it was open. Coach always says it’s the open shot that’s the best shot, because if you keep passing you might not get a good shot.”

That might explain the 17 shots Portis took, clearly being aggressive on both ends as he provided energy in what wasn’t a well-played game for the better part of 46 minutes.

“It’s a great learning opportunity,” Hoiberg said. “We have to find a way to close it. It’s always better to learn from a win, no doubt about that.”

The Bulls are clearly not yet fully tanking, although they’re straddling the line. Kris Dunn is out of concussion protocol but hasn’t returned. But Cristiano Felicio hasn’t cut into Robin Lopez’ minutes and Cam Payne was still inactive.

They’ll have time to make up the 2.5-game deficit the Atlanta Hawks have over them at the bottom of the East, while the Sacramento Kings hold the same “lead” at the top of the lottery standings.

Problem is, there’s 26 games left and seven teams between where the Bulls are and where they’d ideally like to be at the end of 82 games.

Talk to ‘em, Rosie.

Sometimes you win:

If there’s any solace in the win, for the lottery truthers, it’s the fact LaVine was the one making the late-game play. He forced a bad angle on Jonathon Simmons’ inbounds pass to Shelvin Mack, breaking free for the aforementioned dunk to prevent the Bulls from a stunning collapse.

LaVine was a game-high plus-16, scoring 18 with seven rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes. He took a wing jumper on the possession before and was perturbed he couldn’t come through, so with the Magic having a chance to take a lead, he stepped in—literally.

“I pushed up on him (Mack),” LaVine said. “Tried to make it tough. I bumped into Mack, made an aggressive play on the ball.”

If you like the bright side of things, two of the cornerstones for the Bulls are backcourt players who’ll have the ball in their hands late as the NBA is a guard’s league and neither is afraid of clutch situations.

“You always want to have options late in games, depending on who’s got it going,” Hoiberg said. “Tonight he missed a couple shots but then makes the big defensive play for us and knocks down the clutch free-throws for the second time in three games.”

Kris Dunn doesn’t scare, and as LaVine has shown in the last four days, with his big plays late against the Timberwolves, he doesn’t flinch either.

“I embrace it, you have to get it done,” LaVine said. “Everybody wants the ball in their hands at the end of the game. You have to have the confidence. I think I do. You have to be sharper. You’ve gotta be aggressive. You have to make a big play.”

And let’s be honest here. LaVine is up for restricted free agency this summer. All of these plays go into this dossier to frame during negotiations, when free-agent money will be scarce league-wide.

So if a negotiation can get on the contentious side, winning plays like the last few nights can be his trump card of sorts.

“You gotta play for yourself,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com. “You got front office evaluating you and things like that. There’s pride, you gotta go out there and show your worth. I definitely have something to play for.”

When it was mentioned LaVine had something specifically to play for, he cut off the question like he cut off Mack on the inbounds pass, telling NBCSportsChicago.com, “The contract, yeah. (That’s) Backup, yeah. To show that you’re worth it. Of course.”

In his three games leading up to Monday, LaVine was averaging 27.7 points and 5.7 rebounds for his best stretch of the season to date, capped off by the 35-point masterpiece against his former team.

But he doesn’t want to simply be measured by the numbers, telling NBCSportsChicago.com, “I’m giving you plays. It’s pride as well. At the end of the summer you have to stand up for yourself. You don’t worry about that, you let your play speak for itself. You’re not going out there and playing for money. It’s a big factor in our game.”

Tank-tastic!:

All bad teams aren’t created equal, and there’s reason the Magic are angling for the best pick possible because aside from Aaron Gordon, there isn’t much top-level talent on the roster.

They traded underwhelming Elfrid Payton at the deadline and didn’t exercise their 2018-19 option on former draft pick Mario Hezonja—yes, the guy who nearly shot the lights out and pulled a win out of nothing Monday night.

Next to the Atlanta Hawks, it may be the worst roster in the league but they play hard for coach Frank Vogel.

That being said, a favorite NBA commercial comes to mind—something the league could revive for the final stretch as several teams will be trotting out less than their best to improve lottery position.

(Just change the final slogan to “tanktastic!)

 

 

Okay, here’s another fave:

And last one:

 

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

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USA TODAY

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.

Easy win and a big statement as Bulls pick up seventh straight win

Easy win and a big statement as Bulls pick up seventh straight win

Here's the observations from the Bulls' 112-94 win over the Orlando Magic, Wednesday at the United Center.

Grand opening, grand closing: This one was over before it started as the Bulls jumped on a disinterested Magic team from the beginning with a 12-0 start and had Magic coach Frank Vogel disgusted early.

With Cleveland ahead on Thursday and coming off Monday’s thrilling win over the 76ers, Wednesday’s game was a trap game of sorts but the Bulls took matters seriously early.

“The start was key. We wanted to get out the gates,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s not the easiest thing to do is put that (Philadelphia) behind you, move onto the next. I was really pleased.”

Now, it helped the Magic looked as if they had one night too many on Rush Street in their three-day stay in Chicago, but the Bulls’ ball movement was crisp and it led to a season-high 31 assists as the Bulls got a combined 28 points and 13 assists from Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant.

It looked like the actual manifestation of Hoiberg’s offensive vision, even if the Bulls hit just 11 of 33 3-pointers. It was the spirit in which they moved the ball, leading to them taking a 30-point lead in the fourth quarter. As opposed to going through the motions, as they appeared to do to start the season, they now have purpose with ball movement.

They actually know where they’re going and what they want to do.

As much of a punching bag as he’s been through his time in Chicago, Hoiberg deserves credit for that.

For the way this team has stuck together through adversity of all kinds, they’ve seemed to take on Hoiberg’s demeanor through this phase.

He’s stressed the importance of ball movement and with six players in double figures, there’s no talk or worry about him losing this team.

“Justin (Holiday) had a great pass, we spread it to the corner and we had a ‘good to great play’ as we call it, where Justin had a good shot but he gave Denzel a great shot in an open corner three,” Hoiberg said.

For once, he can sleep easy in December.

Dunn and Valentine: In the way of player development, two of Hoiberg’s biggest successes have to come in the form of Dunn and Denzel Valentine.

Dunn has continued his torrid play with another stat-filling performance, scoring 15 with seven assists, six rebounds and three steals in 24 minutes. As for Dunn, he was averaging 16.8 points, 7.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals during the streak headed into Wednesday’s game.

He didn’t make the highlight plays, instead he took advantage of a lax defense, often finding Robin Lopez inside for easy, simple opportunities.

“The chemistry is good, positive energy,” Dunn said. “Executing well. Offensively, we’re starting to get more together.”

The Bulls have given him a mix of freedom and structure, and he’s responded in waves. He doesn’t hold onto the ball long before making some kind of movement and isn’t afraid to kick it out ahead to Holiday or Valentine to allow them to make plays.

“They’re making better reads in the offense, doing a much better job,” Hoiberg said. “So when you cut, and move, and understand where guys are going to be, that’s a big part of it and we’re getting a lot better shots.”

Valentine had arguably his most complete game of the year with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, along with a game-high plus-minus of +24.

When Zach LaVine comes back, one wonders where Valentine will fit in the starting unit or in the rotation completely. But placing Valentine at small forward in the meantime, both have made the best of things.

Valentine is seeing the floor better and shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. He made three of four Wednesday. And when given a chance to make plays, those passes finally hit the mark, none prettier than his no-look pass on the break to Nikola Mirotic for a lefty layup.
Of course, Valentine is a confident kid and offered up this gem about where this team sits with its winning streak.

“I just think, with our whole team back now, I think we’re one of the best teams in the East because of our matchups,” Valentine said. “We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things. I know we started off bad, but I think we’re one of the better teams in the East.”

Alrighty, then!

Markkanen not all the way back yet: Lauri Markkanen didn’t look like his usual self in his second game back from back spasms. On one hand, he was just three of 10 and missed all four of his 3-point shots in 19 minutes.

On the other, he and the Bulls recognized the natural mismatch of the Magic putting 6-foot-8 Mario Hezonja on Markkanen, and he hit two mid-range shots by positioning himself near the basket and shooting over the top of the smaller defender.

“We are being careful with Lauri right now,” Hoiberg said. “But he feels great, felt better today than he did against Philadelphia. He just looks a little off balance, so we’ll get back to work on that and fix a little with his mechanics. He’ll get it back, I have no concern with that.”

Luckily, power forward is his deepest position so Mirotic and Bobby Portis again did their work off the bench. Mirotic had 15 and 10 rebounds while Portis scored 14 with five rebounds in just 14 minutes of run.

Honesty: The Magic are terrible and the Bulls took advantage of a struggling team the way they were supposed to.

And LeBron James and the Cavaliers are waiting, along with the Boston Celtics on Saturday.

It’s likely the streak will end and another one of a different kind will begin, an expected streak against the conference leaders of the East.

But it doesn’t mean Hoiberg hasn’t relished the experience or recognized the change in the tone surrounding his team—especially in their own building.

“Our fans have been unbelievable,” Hoiberg said. “That game against Philly, it was absolutely rocking in here. It was a lot of fun, great experience for a lot of our guys to play in that type of environment. Following it up with a great crowd tonight. We really appreciate everything our fans have brought to us, they’ve been awesome this year.”