Bulls

Four observations from the Bulls' demoralizing 116-108 loss to the Miami Heat

Four observations from the Bulls' demoralizing 116-108 loss to the Miami Heat

Woof. On a night the Bulls had an opportunity to make a statement on the state of their season (and rebuild, for that matter), they got run off their home floor 116-108 by the Miami Heat. (It wasn't as close as the score would indicate either.)

A lid on the basket

Remember when the Bulls were a first-quarter team? Tonight, they missed their first eight field-goal attempts and trailed Miami 13-0 at the 8:33 mark of the first. After a Jim Boylen timeout, they finally scored their first points, down 15-0, on a Lauri Markkanen floater with 6:56 left in the frame.

But the damage was done. The Heat finished the first 12-of-18 from the field (8-of-12 from three), leading 34-16. In just a week, the Bulls’ first-quarter point-differential has plummeted from a +42 on Nov. 15 (then first in the NBA) to +10 after tonight, a mark that will likely rank somewhere between 10th and 15th in the league when all of the night’s results are in.

Side note: In his first NBA game at the United Center, Simeon High alum Kendrick Nunn had 13 in the first quarter and finished with 21 on the night.

Bulls fall short of ‘Statement’ performance

A team that prides itself on its hustle, toughness, grit, heart (whatever platitude you prefer), the Bulls came out completely flat in this one. 

After showing flashes of prowess on the boards over their last three games, the Bulls were outrebounded 24-12 by Miami in the first half, ceding countless loose balls and turnovers in the process. They also gave up 23 three-point attempts in that half (Miami made 11), the vast majority of which were relatively clean looks. Those disparities stabilized in the second half (especially in the team's late fourth-quarter rally), but garbage time money don’t make money.

With the loss, the Bulls fall to 0-7 against teams with winning records this season. Forget the playoffs — if the Bulls want any aspect of their rebuild or development to be taken seriously, these types of performances can’t happen, especially at home.

LaVine vs. Butler matchup a no contest

Before tonight, Zach LaVine and Jimmy Butler had faced off twice since being traded for each other in June 2017. Each of their averages from those games:

LaVine: 37 pts, 5 reb, 2.5 ast, 50% FG

Butler: 30 pts, 5 reb, 4.5 ast, 41.3% FG

Nothing akin to their past battles occurred tonight. LaVine was conspicuously yanked by Jim Boylen less than four minutes into the game and went on to finish with 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting.

Butler had a solid night, logging 32 minutes even in a blowout and notching 27 points, seven assists and five rebounds on 7-of-10 shooting.

LaVine, of course, wasn’t the only one to blame for this performance. One night after appearing to turn a corner on a disappointing start to the season, Markkanen scored just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting. No other starter finished in double-digits. Ugly all around, but especially for LaVine, who has performed well below the preseason All-Star expectations.

Things that evoked cheers from the UC crowd tonight, ranked

1. Denzel Valentine and a scrappy bench unit leading a slightly-too-little, much-too-late comeback effort late in the fourth quarter to make the final score more respectable than the team probably deserved.

2a. Mascot race.

2b. Dunkin’-sponsored mascot race (Just an electric night from Cuppy Coffee, by the way. And Biggie Bagel is the quintessential heel. I’ll be pitching a column on this next week.)

3. Coby White sinking two straight threes to cut the deficit to 14 midway through the third (this was pretty cool).

4. Lauri Markkanen scoring the Bulls’ first points of the game — trailing 15-0 just over five minutes into the game. Yes, the applause was sarcastic.

5. A fan-made a three in a promotional contest (by a company I can’t recall) during a timeout in the first half. People liked that. 

6. Every Kendrick Nunn bucket.

7. Every time Jimmy Butler did legitimately anything.

Bulls look to get on track Saturday night in Charlotte. See you then.

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Picking All-Stars reserves depends on what you're looking for

Picking All-Stars reserves depends on what you're looking for

The NBA will announce the reserves for next month’s All-Star game at the United Center during a one hour special on TNT Thursday night.

My colleague Rob Schaefer did an excellent job of breaking down the numbers yesterday, and it’s hard to argue with any of his conclusions.

Here’s the way I see the coaches' picks shaking out on Thursday.

East Guards: Ben Simmons, Kyle Lowry. East Frontcourt: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Khris Middleton. East Wild Cards: Domantas Sabonis, Bradley Beal.

West guards: Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell. West Frontcourt: Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Brandon Ingram. West Wild Cards: Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul.

All worthy selections without a doubt. But for me, the All-Star game is about athleticism and exciting open court plays. So, I would focus on players who could brings the fans to their feet with slam dunks, 3-point shooting and creative passing.

With that in mind, I would have Bulls’ guard Zach LaVine and Celtics’ forward Jayson Tatum on the squad instead of big men Adebayo and Sabonis. Let’s face it, LaVine was born to showcase his talents in an All-Star game. Zach is a two-time slam dunk champion and he’s shooting the 3-pointer more effectively than at any point in his career. Plus, the fact that the game is being played at the United Center would create even more motivation for LaVine to put on a show.

Tatum is another high-flying wing player who can make spectacular plays in the open court. He’s only shooting 43.5% from the field, but who cares? It’s an exhibition game!

And even though Kyle Lowry is having another good season in Toronto, he’s currently third in the league in average minutes played. So, why not give the 14 year veteran a little extra rest during All-Star weekend to gear up for the stretch run?

Let’s replace Lowry with former Bull and Chicago native Derrick Rose. How much fun would it be to watch Derrick flashing his end to end speed in front of the hometown crowd! Rose is having a terrific season with the Pistons, and you can only imagine what it would be like for him to cap off his basketball re-birth by playing in the All-Star game in Chicago.

Over in the West, I’ve got to get one of my personal favorites, Memphis rookie point guard Ja Morant into the game. Morant has been a nightly staple on the national highlight shows with his spectacular dunks, spectacular ball-handling and twisting finishes between defenders. Morant can take Chris Paul’s spot.

I would keep Jokic in the game because of his passing wizardry and 3 point shooting ability. He’s painfully slow changing ends, but he can still help create highlight plays with his impressive passing. On the other hand, defensive specialist Rudy Gobert has to go. I mean, who plays defense in an All-Star game?

Give me Paul George instead. George has been limited to just 26 games because of shoulder and hamstring injuries, but he’s still averaging 23.5 points and has the perfect skill-set for an All-Star game with the ability to bomb in 3-pointers (39.5% this season) and sky above the rim for alley-oop finishes.

My last change? Give Phoenix guard Devin Booker a chance to showcase his scoring talent at the All-Star game, and let Russell Westbrook leave his scowl at home. Booker once scored 70 points in a single game, and is a threat to score the minute he crosses half-court. He’s averaging 27 points a game, shooting an incredible 50.8% from the field and 36.5% from 3-point range.

No matter which players eventually wind up in the All-Star showcase, it promises to be an exciting night for everyone involved. But as the league gets ready to honor the memory of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, why not put on the most high-scoring, exciting All-Star game the world has ever seen?

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Bucks owner Marc Lasry received some sound advice from Michael Jordan

marc_lasry-bucks_owner.jpg
USA TODAY

Bucks owner Marc Lasry received some sound advice from Michael Jordan

The Milwaukee Bucks, led by reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, are on quite a tear this year. Per NBA.com, the Bucks are No. 2 in the league offensive rating, No. 1 in defensive rating—and by the way, they are a full 2.7 points ahead of the second-best defense—and No. 1 by a very wide margin (5.1 points) in net rating. Any way you slice it, the 2019-20 Bucks have been one of the most dominant regular season teams in NBA history. So with all of that being said, it is no shock that Bucks owner Marc Lasry has lofty goals for his team, including matching the incredible 72-win season of the 1996 Bulls. 

According to a report from Eric Woodyard of ESPN, Lasry spoke with the leader of the '96 Bulls (guess who?) at Friday's Bucks-Charlotte Hornets matchup at AccorHotels Arena in France. Michael Jordan offered up some sound advice for Nasry, who told MJ that he wanted his 2019-20 Bucks to try to be like the '96 Bulls in becoming a part of the illustrious group of teams in NBA history to have won 70+ regular season games. All-time only two teams have won 70+ regular season NBA games, the MJ-Scottie Pippen led '96 Bulls and of course, the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, who went on to break the Bulls' record by winning 73 games. 

That memorable '16 Warriors season ultimately ended in heartbreak for the Dubs as they lost the NBA Finals in seven games to the LeBron James-Kyrie Irving-Kevin Love-led Cleveland Cavaliers. A prevailing thought was that the amount of energy the Warriors expended in going for the regular season record came back to haunt them in the playoffs, a similar sentiment shared by Jordan in his advice to Nasry. 

Look, my advice to you is don't focus on beating our record, focus on winning a championship.

-Michael Jordan's advice to Bucks owner Marc Lasry on how to handle this season

Nasry maintained that he wants the Bucks to "do everything," including winning 70+ games and collecting the second NBA title in franchise history. Milwaukee has 35 games left in the regular season and they don't look they have any intention of taking their foot off the gas anytime soon. Entering Wednesday morning, the Bucks are on a nine-game winning streak. Their latest win (on Tuesday night) came without Antetokounmpo playing, but guard Khris Middleton poured in a career-high 51 points in a game in which Milwaukee won by 20 and scored a whopping 151 points.

Head coach Mike Budenholzer has managed the Bucks minutes well enough to go all out and even try to break the Warriors' 73-win mark but as Jordan advised, NBA Championships should always be the primary focus. But Nasry is also aware of the place in NBA lore the 2019-20 Bucks would hold when we look back on it IF they can accomplish all of his lofty goals. As Nasry himself stated, "we're going to focus on beating your [the 1996 Bulls] record and winning a championship.' I think we should do everything, but that's me."

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