Bulls

Boo-birds out as Rockets blow out Bulls

Boo-birds out as Rockets blow out Bulls

Turn your head for a second, the Houston Rockets will run you out of the building.

Your building.

Anyone’s building.

But how long did the Chicago Bulls turn their collective heads?

Apparently the Bulls went to sleep in the middle of the game against the Houston Rockets, giving up a run that’s hard to fathom in their 115-94 loss at the United Center, their fourth consecutive defeat in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

Only on the vintage arcade game “NBA Jam” could a team go on a 33-2 run in another team’s building, especially a team that has designs on staying in the playoff race with 18 games left to go.

“Wish I could tell you. I don’t know. We was down, they was up. I don’t know,” said Dwyane Wade in a statement that wasn’t as dismissive as it appears, but displaying the simplicity of the matter.

They had no rhythm, in part because there isn’t a consistent rotation and it’s 65 games into the season—something that’s frustrating to the veterans but also an aspect they have no control over.

“Yes, but we need to play who’s on the basketball floor. We have to be ready,” Wade said. “It’s tough when guys don’t know how many minutes they’re going to play. We just need to figure it out.”

The Bulls were overmatched, outworked and unwilling to compete with the Rockets when it became apparent that not even a 13-point Bulls lead would keep them from stalking their opponents.

In between the second and third quarter, the Rockets made their winning surge when James Harden’s triple gave the Rockets a 50-49 lead with 2:08 remaining in the first half.

“We jumped out to a double-digit lead, then they go on a big run and we tried to get it all back at once,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Obviously they’re a team that can get going in a hurry and can get hot. They did that and we didn’t respond well.”

So the talk about the Bulls having fourth-quarter issues in their three-game skid would no longer be necessary as the Rockets decided that narrative was too old to carry on another night.

Now there’s question, reasonable doubt about the Bulls’ objective to make a real run at the playoffs, as the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks look more like they know who they are at this stage of the season than the Bulls.

Hoiberg, in keeping with management’s objective to play the young guys to evaluate them for the future, played 12 players in the first half

“We’re doing everything we can to compete to win, at the same time we have some young guys we wanna get on the floor. It’s a balance,” Hoiberg said. “It’s guys, we want to get them out there and see how they play then make a decision in the second half.”

When it was mentioned to Hoiberg many teams don’t play 12 in a rotation, he said simply, “yeah, you’re right.”

It seemed like the Bulls forgot how to play at that point, or more pointedly, that a playoff spot is at stake with so precious few games remaining. And smelling blood, the Rockets pounced—one of the few teams capable of taking advantage of the Bulls’ all-around indifference.

“I don’t know. I think everybody is trying to play their role,” Jimmy Butler said. “It’s hard. Because we’re playing a lot of guys. Night in and out, you don’t know what it’s gonna come down to. Who’s gonna play minutes with what lineup. It’s hard. We just gotta keep playing, man. You gotta be a star within that role. It’s not easy but everybody gotta be ready.”

Taking a seven-point lead before the half, they essentially outhustled the Bulls into submission and there was no timeout Hoiberg could call, no smelling salts he could inject into his team that clearly had no feel for the game, no rhythm to fall back on.

By the end of the run, the Rockets led 80-51 and the Bulls all but declared their intentions for competing nil for the night.

It wasn’t Harden having a 50-point game, and no Rocket scored over 20 for the first 44 minutes of the game until Ryan Anderson cracked the mark late, finishing with 21. In fact, the Rockets shot just 32 percent from the 3-point line, below their average, hitting 15 triples.

But they kept launching and kept attacking as trade deadline acquisition Lou Williams came off the bench to score 18—while Bulls deadline acquisition Cameron Payne struggled in the minutes that mattered, getting the bulk of his 11 points when the game was already decided.

The impactful points were scored by Wade, when he emerged from his two-game absence to score 12 in the first quarter and all of his 21 in the first half, when the Bulls had energy and perhaps a little hope.

Jimmy Butler scored 16 with five rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes but the Bulls couldn’t keep up as the Rockets made a laugher out of the alleged contest, shooting just 39 percent and launching 36 triples at a 25 percent clip.

The result?

The boo-birds were out with more than 18 minutes left of playing time and they’d seen enough.

 

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.