Bulls

Well, that was an ugly ending: Observations from Bulls-Mavericks

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USA TODAY

Well, that was an ugly ending: Observations from Bulls-Mavericks

The Bulls earned a victory on Friday night, and the box score will read that they did it scoring 127 points, shooting 56 percent and making 14 3-pointers.

That's fine, and it came against a Dallas team that had won four straight before barely losing to the Warriors two days earlier. Kris Dunn scored a career-high 32 pioints, Justin Holiday was an efficiency monster scoring 23 points on seven shots, and Nikola Mirotic double-doubled.

So why was it such an ugly victory?

The Bulls led by 10, 114-104, with 1:08 left in the game. They wound up needing Yogi Ferrell to miss a wide open 3-pointer as time expired to avoid overtime. From that point on the Mavericks scored on eight consecutive possessions before Ferrell's missed triple. Dallas got as close as 125-124 with 3.2 seconds to play. In that same span the Bulls missed just one free throw, but Nikola Mirotic had a costly turnover that led to a dunk, and Dallas also grabbed two offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive.

Simply put, it was ugly. Even the Bulls' inbounds were a nightmare down the stretch. It was indicative of a young Bulls team still learning how to close games, so count it as a teaching moment. As for Fred Hoiberg? He and his coaching staff will likely be going to the drawing board on how to close games out.

When it's all said and done the Bulls picked up their first victory of 2018. But despite a packed box score it was ugly as can be down the stretch.

Fun fact from our buddy, Chuck Swirsky:

Wowza indeed.

Kris Dunn dominates Dennis Smith Jr.

If you were to ask anyone during the Las Vegas Summer League (including this author) whether they'd rather have Kris Dunn or Dennis Smith Jr., the consensus would have been Smith. He was the hottest rookie and looked like the steal of the draft after the Mavericks took him 9th overall in June.

Dunn, on the other hand, was struggling mightily. So what's changed since then? Let's look at Friday night. Dunn was everywhere, scoring a career-high 32 points and handing out nine assists in just 32 minutes. He made four of his five triples and grabbed four steals. It was arguably his best game as a pro in a second season that contiues to add superlatives.

Smith was absent most of the evening. He finished with 15 points and seven assists, but 10 of those came in the wacky final 68 seconds (see above). It'd be silly to write off Smith just yet, but for now Dunn looks very much the part of a franchise point guard Smith was being touted as a few months ago.

Justin Holiday boosting his trade value?

We'll begin here by admitting it's unlikely the Bulls find a trade partner for Justin Holiday. He isn't much of a ball handler, and his streaky shot doesn't have much value on a contender's second unit. That being said, he's been excellent the last two weeks and could at least give teams a second thought about dealing for him.

Holiday posted 23 points on just seven shots, going 5-for-7 from the field (5-for-6 from deep) and a perfect 8-for-8 from the line. He had just one turnover in 37 minutes, though he also didn't have an assist and grabbed three rebounds (Andrew Wiggins is blushing somewhere).

But Holiday has turned the calendar over to 2018 and looked like a different players. He's averaging 21.0 points on 59 percent shooting in three January games, and he's doing so while logging his continued heavy minutes (41, 39 and 37 in January). Perhaps he sees the writing on the wall with Zach LaVine's impending return, or he knows minutes and, more importantly, shots might be freeing up if Nikola Mirotic is traded. Either way he's looked the part in January, and maybe the Bulls could get something for him if they want to free up the wing log jam. Just a thought, and a small sample size to think about at that.

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine let it be known the moment the NBA announced the All-Star game was coming to Chicago in 2020 that he would love to represent the Bulls in the Sunday night main event.

LaVine’s chances looked pretty slim when both he and the team got out of the gates slowly this season. LaVine averaged 20.2 points as the Bulls finished October with a 1-4 record, and he shot just 42.6% from the field in a 5-10 November.

But since that time, LaVine has picked up his offensive output, averaging 25.1 points in December and 30 points so far in January. He’s also had two of the best fourth-quarter performances of the season, carrying the Bulls to come-from-behind wins at Charlotte and vs. Cleveland at the United Center last Saturday.

In that road game against the Hornets, LaVine scored a career-high 49 points, making 13 of his 17 attempts from 3-point range, including the game-winner at the buzzer. LaVine finished one shy of the NBA record of 14 3-point makes, set by Klay Thompson against the Bulls last season.

Against the Cavaliers, LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the 4th quarter to help the home team erase a 15-point deficit heading into the final 12 minutes. Plus, he outdueled All-Star reserve candidate Bradley Beal earlier this month, outscoring the Wizards’ guard 30-23 in a 115-106 Bulls win.

LaVine faces a lot of competition for the four reserve spots that are potentially available for guards (three frontcourt, two backcourt, and two wild card players will be selected by conference coaches), and it could come down to whether the coaches put more emphasis on win-loss record or individual statistics. 

If Atlanta’s Trae Young and Boston’s Kemba Walker get the starting spots, LaVine will be competing with the likes of Beal, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Detroit’s Derrick Rose, Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon for anywhere between two and four spots, depending on how the wild card selections fall.

Given the recent history of coaches’ votes, you can expect Simmons and Lowry to get the nod for the two reserve backcourt spots, with LaVine and Beal the top candidates for one or both wild card selections. Plus, there’s always the chance NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have to replace one of the 12 Eastern Conference All-Stars because of injury, with LaVine the likely top choice to represent the home city.

Zach has told reporters he’s more likely to do the Slam Dunk contest Saturday night if he’s selected for the Eastern Conference squad, so a lot could be riding on the announcement of All-Star reserves on January 30th.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?

The NBA All-Star Game voting is almost up and the biggest question is if Zach Lavine make the cut. Jason Goff is joined by Will Perdue, and Kendall Gill as they give their official East and West All-Stars for this season.

(2:05) - If Zach Lavine makes the ASG, who doesn't go?

(3:54) - Eastern Conference selections

(8:12) - Debate on if Trae Young should go to the ASG

(13:48) - Does the League have influence on who makes the ASG?

(15:38) - Should Lavine use Dunk Contest as leverage for the ASG?

(18:23) - How Chicago will react to having All-Star Weekend

(19:15) - Chance that Derrick Rose will make the ASG

(20:51) - Western Conference selections

(22:26) - Fan voting needs to be gone

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Bulls Talk Podcast

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