Sacramento Kings

Solemates: King James appreciates Lauri Markkanen's shoe game

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USA TODAY

Solemates: King James appreciates Lauri Markkanen's shoe game

Lauri Markkanen continues to impress the king of the NBA with his skills and his kicks. 

During Friday's one-point loss to the Kings, the Bulls rookie caught LeBron James' eye -- at least on Twitter -- when he laced up a pair of the superstar's signature shoes:  

That retweet is a hat tip of sorts to the 20-year-old from Finland, who has slipped on other LeBrons in the past

Oddly enough, though, when it comes to the "Phantom" LeBron 7s, King James and Markkanen have now worn the edition the same amount of times in NBA action. According to Comples, James rocked the sneaker -- which was released in 2010 -- only once, even though the design was praised for its classy and clean appearance. Markkanen shot only 5-for-13 while sporting them, so he may want to put the pair into early retirement, too. 

But this weekend wasn't the first time James acknowledged Markkanen. After a matchup early in the season, the three-time champ noticed something besides what was on the rookie's feet

“Very confident. Very confident. Watched him a lot at Arizona, Had to stay up very late to watch those Arizona games,” James said to reporters after the Cavs beat the Bulls on Oct. 24. “But very confident kid. Can shoot the heck out of the ball. He's going to continue to get better.”

Isn't LeBron a free agent after this season? 

Jokes aside, with the Cavs coming to the United Center on Monday for what will almost certainly be a blowout, the shoe storyline is something to watch.

Will Markkanen pay homage with LeBrons or opt for another pair from his closet? 

Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against Kings

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against Kings

Oh yeah, it's the Bulls and Kings tonight on NBC Sports Chicago! Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Lottery implications?

Let's be honest: the Bulls and Kings aren't going anywhere this season. The Bulls have lost seven straight and own the league's worst point differential and the Kings are giving significant minutes to 36-year-old Zach Randolph and 40-year-old Zach Randolph. Fun players and we're glad to still see them in action, but the Warriors aren't really looking over their shoulders. Sacramento owns the second worst record in the West (Dallas) and the Bulls are worst in the East. A loss is good for both these squads, but they've played tough: the Kings just knocked off the Steph-and-KD-less Warriors.

2. But there's young talent everywhere!

Hey, just becuase both teams would rather take L's than W's these days doesn't mean there's no reason to watch. Both sides tout really special young talent, starting with Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox. The latest graduate of John Calipari's School of Point Guards, Fox is averaging 8.3 points, 3.2 assists and 1.3 steals in his last six games (five starts). Then there's Lauri Markkanen, who was selected two spots after Fox in June's NBA Draft. Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn all make this a game to watch of what the future could hold for both squads.

3. Another back-to-back for the Bulls

Back-to-backs haven't been great for the Bulls this season, as they're 0-3 in the second halves of those sets. Most recently they lost by 30 in Utah, although it helps that this time they'll be at home: they took the Pelicans to overtime at home in their first back-to-back of the year, and two of their three wins this season have come at the United Center. Sacramento hasn't played since Tuesday, so you can bet they'll be rested and ready to roll after getting thumped at home by Giannis and the Bucks.

Ping-pong balls everywhere: Where do the Bulls rank among projected lottery teams?

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AP

Ping-pong balls everywhere: Where do the Bulls rank among projected lottery teams?

When your team is no longer in playoff contention it's always a good time to look forward. The Bulls finally have a direction after trading Jimmy Butler on draft night and will go to a youth movement to build the talent pool back up. And with free agency pretty much wrapped up (although Derrick Rose is making noise) it's time to look at where Fred Hoiberg's group stands among the teams looking for the most ping-pong balls on Lottery night next May.

The numbers in parentheses are the projected over-under win totals in Las Vegas:

Brooklyn Nets (20.5 wins)

The good news? Brooklyn had an excellent offseason. The bad news? It's going to take way more than one good string of moves to fix this mess. In dealing Brook Lopez and a first-round pick for D'Angelo Russell, the Nets gave away their best player for one with a bright future. Drafting Jarrett Allen was another solid move, but he's barely 19 and is more of a project than anything right now. Taking on DeMarre Carroll's and Timofey Mozgov's contracts provide them more talent, but neither should get much playing time during the youth movement. It may be tough for this team to get to 20 wins.

Phoenix Suns (25.5 wins)

There might not be a better young core in the Western Conference than in Phoenix. With Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson (all lottery picks) leading the way, there's optimism about the Suns' future. It just might not lead to many victories in 2017-18. Bender is 19 and the others are 20, and veterans Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler are prime trade candidates. Phoenix is going somewhere, but expect them to pick in the top 3 a year from now.

Chicago Bulls (28.5 wins)

It's difficult right now to project how many wins the Bulls will tally. Restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic is still unsigned, and there are questions about whether Dwyane Wade will be bought out at some point during the season. Zach LaVine's timetable on returning from ACL surgery is still unknown, and the Bulls will take a cautious approach in bringing him back. Robin Lopez could also be dealt at some point. The young guns are going to get all the run they can handle, helping the rebuild while not doing much in the win department.

Sacramento Kings (30.5 wins)

The Kings went 8-17 after dealing DeMarcus Cousins, which projects to a 26-win season over an 82-game span. The good news is Scott Perry made this roster a whole lot better before leaving for the Knicks. Drafting De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason III, and signing George Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph has this roster looking as deep as it's been in quite some time. They're in the West, which makes things more difficult, but they're a good bet to make serious improvement in 2017.

Indiana Pacers (31.5 wins)

Like the Bulls, the Pacers began their rebuilding phase after dealing a star in Paul George. Indiana grabbed an established two-way guard in Victor Oladipo (25 years old) and 21-year-old Domantas Sabonis, Potential trade candidates are Thaddeus Young, Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic. Myles Turner is a budding star, while young players in T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu and Glenn Robinson III will get plenty of playing time. Those four matchups against the Bulls could loom large as far as the Lottery balls are concerned.

Los Angeles Lakers (32.5 wins)

It looks like the Lakers hit on both their first-round draft picks, as Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma had monster Summer Leagues. Add Brook Lopez, who was outstanding last season, to a talented young core and it appears the Lakers are trending in the right direction. It wouldn't be surprising to see Los Angeles compete for a playoff spot. Plus, the Lakers have no incentive to tank, as their first-round pick in 2018 will go to Philadelphia or Boston. Expect them to move past the Bulls in the win total.

New York Knicks (32.5 wins)

Not sure about this one. It still seems there's a good chance Carmelo Anthony gets dealt, and depending on what they get back in a deal their second best player (behind Kristaps Porzingis) will be $71 million man Tim Hardaway Jr. They won 31 games a year ago, and it's hard to imagine they're better without Anthony, regardless of how inefficient he's become.

Atlanta Hawks (34.5 wins)

No team in the league took a bigger hit from where they were a year ago to now than the Hawks. After winning 43 wins and earning the No. 5 seed in the East, Atlanta lost Paul Millsap and Tim Hardaway Jr. to free agency and traded Dwight Howard. Essentially it's Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and a ton of question marks. Taurean Prince, DeAndre' Bembry and rookie John Collins are a good core, but this is going to be an ugly season in the ATL.

Dallas Mavericks (34.5 wins)

We'll go ahead and assume restricted free agent Nerlens Noel returns. So, too, is Dirk Nowitzki back for another year, and the Mavs look like they have a steal in rookie Dennis Smith Jr. They've entered a rebuild, which owner Mark Cuban admitted, but their talent across the board might be enough to get them to the 33 wins they had a year ago. Playing in the West makes it more difficult to project, but they should tally more wins than the Bulls simply on their talent pool.

Orlando Magic (34.5 wins)

This Las Vegas win total is a little confusing. Orlando made nice moves in the offseason, drafting Jonathan Isaac and signing Jonathon Simmons. But that's about it, and the Magic were lucky to win 29 games a year ago. True, they're in a depleted Eastern Conference but it's hard to see Frank Vogel turning around the franchise this quickly. That being said, their young players (Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic, Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon) have NBA experience, so maybe they make a jump and it results in wins.