Bulls

What to watch for: Bulls face Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo available

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USA Today

What to watch for: Bulls face Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo available

The Bulls are 0-2 against the Bucks this season, but will face them again tonight. The game tips off at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Bucks’ last five games (4-1)

  • Dec. 28 — W vs. Magic: 111-100

  • Dec. 27 — W at Hawks: 112-86

  • Dec. 25 — L at 76ers: 121-109

  • Dec. 22 — W vs. Pacers: 117-89

  • Dec. 21 — W at Knicks: 123-102

Storyline(s) to watch

Alright, Bulls. You’re 7-6 in December. You’ve got the 3rd-rated defense (?!) in the league. You’re 1.5 games out of the eighth seed. And now, the gauntlet begins.

Tonight’s game against the Bucks kicks off an 18-game stretch for the Bulls that features 10 opponents currently above .500. Unfortunately, 33 games into the season, the Bulls are 1-11 against such opponents. All empirical and sociological markers of growth from December are about to be put to the test. 

The burning question for tonight’s game was Giannis Antetokounmpo’s availability, but he's been listed as available. Antetokounmpo missed the Bucks’ past two games (wins over the Magic and Hawks) with a back injury. His return will be the greatest challenge yet for the Bulls’ new-look starting unit, which sports a 100.3 defensive rating in 14 games since Kris Dunn's insertion. Aside from being the reigning league MVP (and, at this point, this year’s MVP, too), Antetokounmpo is averaging 35.5 points, 13 rebounds and 16 free throw attempts per game against the Bulls this season. Lauri Markkanen has drawn the lion's share of time guarding him in the previous two meetings, with splashes of Wendell Carter Jr. and Thad Young, as well.

Bottom line: The Bucks have been the best team in the NBA this season, and even aside of Antetokounmpo, the Bulls will have their hands full with the steady Khris Middleton, revived George Hill, Lopez brothers, Eric Bledsoe and a host of others. This is a big game. And these aren’t the Hawks.

Player to watch: Khris Middleton

Middleton might be on his way to a second consecutive All-Star berth, averaging 18.7 points and 5.6 rebounds on 49/40.8/89.7 shooting splits, and he stepped up big time in Antetokounmpo’s absence. It’s obviously a miniscule sample size, but in the two games Antetokounmpo missed, Middleton averaged 18 field goal attempts (compared to his season average of 14.3) and 7 assists per game (season average 3.8).

His craft coming around screens and in isolation can be deadly, and is likely to give this wing-strapped Bulls team fits. Middleton missed both of these teams’ previous two meetings.

 

As an aside, Ersan Ilyasova slid into Antetokounmpo’s place in the starting lineup, and his play warrants mentioning, as well. He shot 13-for-18 from the field and 7-for-8 from three and averaged an uncharacteristic 15.5 rebounds per game in the Bucks’ last two. Still, Lauri Markkanen would undoubtedly fare better in a matchup with him than he has in two meetings with Antetokounmpo this season.

Matchup to watch: Shot profile

The Bucks are long, uber-athletic and adept at protecting the basket — they allow the fewest restricted area field goal attempts per game in the NBA (23.7) and league-low 54.3% shooting on such attempts. The Bulls, mind you, take the second-most restricted area field goal attempts per game (32.5) and shoot a league-worst 58.2% from that range.

In protecting the rim so stringently, the Bucks do sacrifice a bit around the arc, allowing opponents to shoot 36.7% from 3-point range (22nd in the NBA) on 38.4 3-point attempts per game (29th). It’s no coincidence, then, that the Bulls have shot a combined 30-for-77 from deep (39%) in their two meetings this season.

But the Bucks have the top-rated defense in the league for a reason. If turnovers don’t abound or jumpers aren’t falling, it will be interesting to see where the Bulls turn for offense tonight, especially if they get repeatedly stonewalled on the interior. The Bucks also rank in the top five in rebounds and blocks per game.

Nuggets to watch

  • A win tonight would clinch the Bulls’ first winning month (8-6) since Dec. 2017

  • Interestingly enough, the Bulls haven’t beaten the Bucks since Dec. 26, 2017, losing eight straight against their division rivals 

  • George Hill is leading the NBA shooting a preposterous 53% from 3-point range on the season

  • Injury updates:

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Posterized presents 'Chicagoland's All-Time Starting Five' plus Q&A with Jason Goff

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ShotByBOC

Posterized presents 'Chicagoland's All-Time Starting Five' plus Q&A with Jason Goff

Over the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago, the "Posterized: The Chicago Experience by Jim Beam" event celebrated the rich history of Chicagoland high school hoops by honoring an "all-time starting five," featuring five Chicagoland preps legends, voted on by Chicago sports fans. Fans had from February 6 to February 10 at 9 pm to vote for their top five from a list of names that included Candace Parker, Derrick Rose, and the late Benji Wilson. The final results were revealed on February 14th, at the Chicago Sports Museum & Harry Caray's 7th inning stretch restaurant.

At Posterized the event the Chicagoland all-time starting five was revealed: Derrick Rose (Simeon), Isiah Thomas (St. Joseph), Dwyane Wade (Richards High School), Anthony Davis (Perspectives Charter), and Antoine Walker (Mount Carmel). I was able to speak with the host of the event about the experience and the final list, NBC Sports Chicago's Jason Goff. Below is the Q+A with Goff on the event: 

 

Q: How was your experience at 'Posterized: The Chicago Experience' and what ultimately led to your interest in hosting the event? 

It was a terrific experience. Joy Glover and her team put together a really cool experience for locals and people who aren't from Chicago. All things party, Chicago basketball appreciation; and All-Star weekend rolled into one event. When Joy reached out through a mutual friend, I didn't hesitate. The idea was cool and the execution during the busiest time I've seen in quite a while was excellent. 

Q: The All-Time starting 5 selected by the fans was: Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker. Ultimately, do you think the fans got it right? Was there anyone you were shocked didn't make the final cut? 

There are so many names that were on the list that deserve recognition. We're all prisoners of whatever generation of basketball we grew up in. Quinn Buckner, Mark Aguirre, George Mikan, etc. Just to name a few. Also, the women's game could've received a little more gratitude by our voters as well. Candace Parker, Cappie Pondexter; and many others have had just as much success inside and outside of this city as anyone. 

Q: Who in your opinion had the best high school career out of the Chicagoland all-time starting five? (Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker)

Of the ones named? Probably Derrick Rose [at Simeon]. But nobody has done more winning than Quinn Buckner (a member of undefeated Thornridge High School team in 1972, one of the best HS teams ever.)

Q: When it's all said and done, who do you think will have the best NBA career of the Chicagoland all-time starting five? (Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, and Antione Walker)

Unless Anthony Davis wins a few titles, it'd have to be Dwyane Wade with Isiah Thomas as a close second.

Between the five players that make up Posterized's all-time starting five, there are six NBA Championships, an NBA MVP, and 17 All-NBA appearances. Below are some of the accomplishments of this illustrious group:

Isiah Thomas:

High school (St. Joseph-Westchester): State finalist (1979), McDonald's All-American (1979),  first-team Parade All-American, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980)

Indiana (NCAA): NCAA Champion (1981), NCAA Tourney MVP (1981), 2-time All-Big Ten, Consensus 1st team All-American (1981)

NBA (Detroit Pistons): Five-time All-NBA, Two-time NBA Champion (1988-89, 1989-90), 1989-90 Finals MVP, Hall of Famer

Derrick Rose:

Simeon (High school): State finalist (1979), McDonald's All-American (1979),  first-team Parade All-American, USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980)

Memphis (NCAA): NCAA Champion (1981), NCAA Tourney MVP (1981), 2-time All-Big Ten, Consensus 1st team All-American (1981)

NBA (Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons): 2008-09 Rookie of the Year, one-time All-NBA, 2010-11 MVP

Dwyane Wade:

Richards (High school): Led Ricards to the Class AA sectional finals in his senior year

Marquette (NCAA): First-team All-American (2003), Conference USA Player of the Year (2003), No. 3 jersey retired by Marquette

NBA (Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers): Eight-time All-NBA, Three-time NBA Champion (2005-06, 2011-12, 2012-13), Finals MVP (2005-06)

Antoine Walker:

Mount Carmel (High school): Chicago Tribune 1994 Boys All-State Basketball Team, First-team Parade All-American (1994)

Kentucky (NCAA):  SEC Tournament MVP (1995), First-team All-SEC (1996), NCAA Champion (1996)

NBA (Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves): 15,647 career points, 1996-97 All-Rookie, three-time All-Star, 2005-06 NBA Champion

Anthony Davis:

Perspectives (High school): First-team Parade All-American (2011), Jordan Brand Classic co-MVP (2011)

Kentucky (NCAA): 2011-12 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, 2012 SEC Player of the Year, Naismith Award, Wooden Award, NCAA Champion (2011-12)

NBA (New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers):  2012-13 All-Rookie, three-time blocks leader, three-time All-Defensive team, three-time All-NBA

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Roommates, brothers, opponents: Coby White, Cam Johnson reunite and show out

Roommates, brothers, opponents: Coby White, Cam Johnson reunite and show out

Cameron Johnson had just been selected by the Phoenix Suns with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. At the time, the move was a surprise — Johnson was projected to fall into the middle to late first round, despite averaging 16.9 points and shooting 45.7% from 3 in his last year at North Carolina.

So, elation was a natural response for all close to Johnson. And nobody displayed that elation more authentically — nor more publicly — than Johnson’s teammate, roommate and ‘little brother’ Coby White (who had been picked by the Bulls just four slots earlier). You remember the clip:

That familial bond was grown over many nights bunking together on the road during White’s one and only year at UNC. It all began on a week-long trip to the Bahamas in advance of last season.

“Coming in, I'm the type of dude where if I don't really know you, then I don't talk a lot,” White said. “And then Cam was like ‘Why you so anti(-social)?’ and then it kinda started from there. He became a guy I could always go to if I ever needed something, on or off the court.”

“You know, seniors pair with freshmen, make sure they're everybody they need to be on time,” Johnson, a fifth-year in 2018-19, said. “But he was, like, a mature, easy, no-drama freshman. His composure was at a very high level, his maturity was at a very high level.”

White scoffed at that, saying he got a similar rep (of being ‘mature’) in his first weeks with the Bulls. “I was like nah just trust me,” he said. “And now I'm like that little brother that's annoying them.”

Still, Johnson and White became fast friends over their overlapping year in Chapel Hill. Though it’s been tough to keep in touch amid the rigors of their first NBA seasons, they each agreed competing against each other was a fun change of pace.

“It was great seeing him, I hadn't seen him in a long time, so it was great seeing him,” White said. “We talk here and there, but because we're so busy — it's one of those things, like, you know no matter what we're gonna have each other's backs, we always gonna be there for each other when we need each other.”

“I love that kid, man. I tell you, most of the time when we talk it’s just saying what’s up and just reminding each other that we love each other,” Johnson said. “That’s my guy and I went over and gave him a big hug before I went on the court today.”

 

What ensued come gametime was special for all. In the contest — a 112-104 Suns victory — White poured in a career-high 33 points and canned seven 3-pointers, shooting 11-for-22 from the field. Johnson notched 11 points and three 3-pointers, and made all of them count.

“It was fun, but I hate him so much,” White said of Johnson, who hit two of his three 3-pointers in the game’s fourth quarter. “I just know whenever he shoots if he gets any type of open look it's going in. So every time he shot it in my head, I'm like mad cause I'm like, he's the one you just can't leave him open. The ball just kept finding him in open space.”

But then, with a smile: “But obviously it's all love. After the game, I talked to him, he told me he was proud of me and whatnot. He's like a big brother to me, so it means a lot.”

There’s just something about these Tar Heels. With Roy Williams at the United Center on Nov. 12, White set a Bulls record for 3-pointers in a quarter with seven in the fourth against the Knicks. Tonight, lined up across from Johnson, he scored the second-most points in Bulls franchise history by a rookie off the bench.

He, Johnson and Bulls fans everywhere, will be counting down the days until the team visits Phoenix on April 5.

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