Sacramento Kings

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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Dwyane Wade's heroics, Bulls gear up for Warriors

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AP

Bulls Talk Podcast: Dwyane Wade's heroics, Bulls gear up for Warriors

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, CSN Chicago's Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson discuss Dwyane Wade’s heroics to save the Bulls from a loss in Sacramento.

Also, Warriors insider Monte Poole (@montepoolecsn) fills us in on the Draymond Green—Kevin Durant drama and if Steph Curry was holding back in the first half of the season.

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

Later, Gill shares a ‘life on the road” story about the best pancakes he ever had, and did Tom Brady pass Michael Jordan for greatest team sports athlete?

Check out the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast here:

Dwyane Wade saves Bulls from disastrous loss, scores 31 in win over Kings

Dwyane Wade saves Bulls from disastrous loss, scores 31 in win over Kings

A sleepless night for Dwyane Wade, courtesy of Trevor Ariza stripping him of the ball and chance to be the hero in Houston two nights ago led him to a second chance three nights later.

A second chance, it should be noted, that didn’t seem likely considering a half hour before Wade had his moment in “the moment” as the Chicago Bulls held a 27-point lead over the Sacramento Kings in the third quarter.

But unlike last Friday night, Wade did more than rise to the occasion and bring the Bulls back to .500 with a 112-107 win at Golden 1 Center, as he literally saved the Bulls from a soul-crushing disaster that could’ve very well derailed the baby steps they’ve made in recent days.

“It was in my mind. The guys knew it, everyone knew it,” Wade said. “I kept telling them, if I’m in a position tonight, I’m redeeming myself. It’s uncharacteristic for me to get stripped twice like that. I wanted that game-winner in Houston and they hit the ball away, so I couldn’t sleep very well the last couple of days.”

After DeMarcus Cousins couldn’t complete a 3-point play that would’ve given the Kings their first lead of the game, Wade snatched the rebound and trudged upcourt for some personal redemption as Matt Barnes stood in his way this time instead of Ariza.

So he walked Barnes down to the right wing and nailed a pull-up jumper with 13 seconds left to put the Bulls up two. Then he added some extra flavor to the finish as the Kings had a shot to send the Bulls reeling with a three-pointer, as he darted into the passing lane for a pass intended for Cousins, finishing it off with a two-handed dunk with 10 seconds left.

Not bad for a guy who was being taunted by the crowd as “too old” while he took his rest in the first quarter.

“You wish I was on your team,” Wade shot back.

It was redemption of a different kind as Wade was bailed out by the officials in their earlier meeting on a similar play when he missed a dunk in the closing seconds but Cousins was called for a controversial foul when Cousins’ hand barely grazed Wade’s back.

He left no doubt this time, completing a 31-point performance where he was arguably his most efficient of the season, making 12 of 18 shots to go along with six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a game-saving steal.

Finding gold early against Arron Afflalo, Wade got easy scores on the block early which enabled him to get into a rhythm and produce his fifth 30-point performance this season.

“Dwyane’s been in this position a lot through the course of his career,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “One of the reasons he’ll be in the Hall of Fame one day is because of his ability to close games and play clutch, not be afraid of the big moment.”

“He made an unbelievable shot and followed it up with a great steal.”

It seemed unlikely the Bulls would need Wade to dust off his cape when they led by 27 with 4:13 in the third when Jerian Grant hit a three and it seemed the Bulls’ biggest problem was figuring out how to divvy up minutes between Grant (13 points, 4-5 shooting) and Michael Carter-Williams, who scored 21 with four assists and six rebounds in another start as the Bulls were without Jimmy Butler (right heel contusion).

“Michael was great all night, he really set the tone for us offensively,” Hoiberg said. “He got us out playing with pace.”

Wade didn’t feel uncomfortable taking on the extra workload with Butler out but he knew he had to be more economical with his usage.

“The guys look for me to score more, coach calls a lot of plays for me,” Wade said. “So I kind of take the Jimmy role from that standpoint, and obviously that’s what I’m used to. I’ve just got to do it in 30 minutes and not 38. But it’s a comfortable game for me, and it’s coming in early and playmaking.”

The Bulls’ ball movement was crisp early even before taking the 82-55 lead, as they assisted on their first 14 field goals, playing solid defense on the Kings and frustrating the All-Star Cousins, who torched the Bulls for 40 at the United Center.

Taj Gibson took the assignment of guarding Cousins and bothered him all night, not allowing the big man to get a rhythm and creating an atmosphere of frustration—although Cousins’ blowup toward the end of the third seemed to ignite the Kings later.

Cousins, who was ejected with one second half as he could no longer keep it together, finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five assists but only made five of 16 shots from the field.

From a gameplan execution standpoint, it looked similar to the Bulls’ win in Oklahoma City last week when they led nearly wire to wire, as they were finding Robin Lopez (17 points) and Taj Gibson (13 points) inside for scores against a lagging defense.

Perhaps ignited by a skirmish at the end of the quarter involving Gibson, Rajon Rondo and associate coach Jim Boylen with Cousins and Matt Barnes where it looked like Cousins shoved Boylen, they found new life and had the Bulls seeing double.

Ty Lawson scored a quick 10 in the first several minutes of the quarter, then back-to-back triples from the two Kings combatants, Barnes and Cousins, cut the lead to 107-105 with 56 seconds left.

They gave up six triples in the fourth quarter after allowing just five in the first three quarters, as Lawson scored 22 off the bench and Barnes 19.

“I think the big thing is continuing to play the right way,” Hoiberg said. “Early in the game we had been moving the ball, I think it got stuck a little bit in the second half when they got on that run. You have to realize what made successful, how you got that big lead.”

[SHOP: Buy a Dwyane Wade jersey]

Panic didn’t necessarily set in, although one can imagine if the feeling of “here we go again” was setting in for the Bulls.

“I was like, ‘Yes!’ I wanted to redeem myself. I wanted the ball,” Wade said.

For a long while, it looked as if Butler’s prudence was the right decision.

Then it looked like they needed to send in the bat signal for their All-Star.

They did, but Wade happened to be the one to answer.