Bulls

Bulls observations: Bulls blow lead, but grind out win against Timberwolves

Bulls observations: Bulls blow lead, but grind out win against Timberwolves

Though it wasn't the romp it appeared it would be early, the Bulls ground the Timberwolves out down the stretch, winning 117-110. Observations:

More trouble out of halves

The Bulls played their game to a tee for most of the early going. Or the Timberwolves were really bad. At times, it was difficult to tell.

Regardless, Minnesota committed 12 turnovers in the first half, off which the Bulls scored 15 points, and allowed the Bulls a 38-16 advantage on points in the paint at the break. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting (3-for-3 from deep), but none of his teammates had much juice.

Still, an, at one time, 19-point first half lead shrank to seven when Zach LaVine was whistled for a ticky tack 3-shot foul on Shabazz Napier at the second quarter buzzer. 

Towns was then forced out of the game after picking up his fourth personal (a shooting foul on LaVine) with 8:55 left in the third quarter. After LaVine’s ensuing free throws, the Bulls led 64-56, and it appeared would have a chance to reassert themselves.

But the Wolves — even sans Towns — had different plans. Over approximately the next three game minutes, the visitors staged a 13-4 run to seize their first lead since the first quarter. Going into the fourth, the Bulls led, but only 81-79. A familiar third quarter swoon.

Teamwork made the dream work

The Bulls got contributions all around in this one. Luke Kornet poured in 15 and Cristiano Felicio (!) logged a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds (seven offensive) — neither offered a ton of resistance against Towns, but Felicio ran the floor hard and drew some good-natured cheers from the UC crowd with his six points early in the fourth. Chandler Hutchison played big minutes again and swiped three steals, and Coby White chipped in 12 impactful points.

It was an especially encouraging outing for Lauri Markkanen. He began assertive, notching 10 first-half points and four rebounds, while moving downhill better than he has in a long while. Then, in the fourth, he canned a handful of big shots when the Bulls needed them. He finished with 21 on 14 shots (still probably not enough, but won’t harp tonight). That consistency from the first and the second half hasn’t been there, and is a nice development.

The Bulls closed with a sequence of seldom-used lineups, heavily featuring an uber-small unit of Tomas Satoransky, Coby White, Kris Dunn (14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals), Zach LaVine and Markkanen. Boylen has tried out a couple different combinations down the stretch recently with options limited.

And of course, LaVine grabbed the reins late. Even on a night that wasn’t his finest (8-for-18 shooting), he finished with 25 points. Five of those were in the last minute-and-a-half, which pushed the Bulls over the top for good. The Bulls are now 4-2 when he and Markkanen both score over 20 points.

No answer for Towns

Another skilled, bruising big roughed up the Bulls. Even without playing much of the third quarter (he ended the night with 31 minutes), Towns finished with 40 points on 16-for-24 shooting, 18 of those points coming in the fourth quarter. Whatever he wanted, he pretty much got. 

What pushed the Wolves so close to a monumental comeback, though, was his teammates waking up. Andrew Wiggins answered an ugly three-point, 1-for-4 shooting, four-turnover first half with 22 in the second. Napier’s energy was also key to sparking their aforementioned third quarter run.

But the shooting shut off late. The Wolves entered the fourth 41.9% from deep, but hit only 2 of 13 long-balls in the fourth. The Bulls ground them down, shooting 37 free throws and outrebounding them 50-43, and ended up with a much-needed (albeit much-too-close) victory.

We’ll stay right here in Chicago for a struggling Kings squad this Friday.

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Michael Jordan delivers heart-wrenching eulogy for Kobe Bryant

Michael Jordan delivers heart-wrenching eulogy for Kobe Bryant

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were more than competitors, more than peers... More than even friends. Jordan made as much clear in eulogizing Bryant at a public memorial for him and his daughter Gigi at Staples Center on Monday.

Amid a beautifully numbing overall ceremony, Jordan’s comments struck the perfect balance between reflective, hilarious, heart-warming and gut-wrenching. My words couldn’t possibly do it justice. Here are Jordan’s, in full:

 

“Maybe it would surprise people that Kobe and I are very close friends,” Jordan said. “Kobe was my dear friend, he was like a little brother. Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I. I just wanted to talk about Kobe.”

And so he did. Highlights included a perfectly-timed ‘Crying Jordan’ meme quip and Jordan recalling countless late-night (and early-morning) conversations with Bryant about everything from basketball to business to family. On a day meant to be a celebration of life, Jordan delivered a deeply intimate look into his and Bryant’s relationship, and all the ways Bryant inspired him. It was incredibly powerful.

 

“He wanted to be the best basketball player he could be. As I got to know him, I wanted the best big brother that I could be,” Jordan said.

That manifested in those aforementioned conversations, which Jordan said turned from an “aggravation” to a deep passion over the course of knowing Bryant.

“He knows how to get you in a way that affects you personally, even if he’s being a pain in the ass,” Jordan said. “But you always have a sense of love for him, and the way he can bring out the best in you. And he did that for me.

“I remember maybe a couple months ago, he sends me a text. And he said ‘I’m trying to teach my daughter some moves, and I don’t know what I was thinking or what I was working on, but what were you working on as you were growing up trying to work on your moves?’ I said ‘What age?’ He said: ‘12.’ I said, ‘At 12 I was trying to play baseball’... And this was at 2 o’clock in the morning. But the thing about him is we could talk about anything related to basketball and anything related to life.” 

Jordan’s most emotional moments of speaking came when he detailed Bryant’s passion for basketball and family, and his unwavering desire to make those around him better. Those are the things that will endure.

“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” Jordan said. “I promise you, from this day forward, I will live with the memories of knowing that I had a little brother that I tried to help in every way I could.” 

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NBA Power Rankings: Lakers dynamic duo will be tough to beat in the playoffs

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USA Today

NBA Power Rankings: Lakers dynamic duo will be tough to beat in the playoffs

The latest chapter in the storied rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers unfolded Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles with a national television audience watching all the drama.

Boston’s Jayson Tatum continued his ascension as one of the league’s clutch scorers by pouting in 41 points, helping his team grab a late lead at Staples Center. But when it comes to clutch performances, it’s hard to beat the Lakers’ superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

James hit a step-back jumper to give his team a one point lead and then Anthony Davis hit three of four free throws down the stretch to give L.A. a 114-112 victory, increasing their latest winning streak to five games.

The Lakers are now five games up on Denver for the top seed in the West and they’ve strengthened their bench with the addition of veteran forward Markieff Morris, who was bought out of his contract by the Pistons last week.

While many NBA analysts believe the crosstown Clippers should be favored over the Lakers in a potential conference finals, it’s hard to beat the chemistry that James and Davis have displayed in their first season together.

James has become the de facto point guard for the Lakers, with his primary focus to get the ball to Davis at his favorite spots on the court. James is more than willing to accept the co-star role at this point in his career as he looks to win a fourth championship. And that approach should serve the Lakers well as they get ready to start the playoffs in mid-April.

The Clippers might look good on paper, but with Paul George in and out of the line-up because of a variety of injuries, time is starting to work against Doc Rivers’ team in trying to develop the on-court chemistry that is critical to playoff success.

Barring an upset, the battle of L.A. should play out in an exciting seven game series in late May. Basketball fans can hardly wait.

Now on to this week’s power rankings.