Bulls

Bucks continue to have Bulls' number

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Bucks continue to have Bulls' number

After starting 2013 with three consecutive victories, the Bulls (19-14) were flying high, though they also had revenge on their minds with the Bucks (18-16) in town Wednesday night at the United Center.

But after a solid first half of play, instead of avenging their November 27-point collapse, the Bulls were overwhelmed by hot-shooting Milwaukee, particularly point guard Brandon Jennings, and dropped a 104-96 contest.

All five starters scored in the early going, as the Bulls got off to an 11-2 start against their Central Division rivals. The hosts recent trend of unselfish, balanced offense and seizing transition opportunities continued, while defensively, they smothered the Bucks, playing under interim head coach Jim Boylan, a former Bulls assistant under Scott Skiles, the man he replaced in Milwaukee.

The visitors quickly faced a double-digit deficit, as they couldnt muster up a cohesive offensive flow, nor stop the tandem of Carlos Boozer (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (eight points, 12 rebounds) on the interior, not to mention the combination of long-distance shooting and playmaking backup point guard Nate Robinson (19 points, six assists, five rebounds), filling in for injured starter Kirk Hinrich the veteran suffered an elbow injury in Mondays home win over Cleveland, giving him six separate injuries on the campaign brought to the table.

Led by Robinsons trio of three-pointers in as many attempts, the Bulls led, 33-23, after the opening period.

The Bulls second unit had been playing solid basketball as of late, but with rookie point guard Marquis Teague running the show, there was some slippage, which allowed Milwaukee to rapidly climb back into the game. The explosive backcourt tandem of Jennings (35 points, six assists, six rebounds, 5-for-10 three-point shooting) and Monta Ellis (14 points, five rebounds, five assists), along with veteran reserve guard Beno Udrih (10 points, four assists), propelled the Bucks, who narrowed the gap to make it a single-digit affair.

But behind the scoring of reserve Marco Belinelli and Boozer, who picked up right where he left off after being reinserted following his usual first-quarter rest, the Bulls gradually rebuilt their comfortable winning margin. Despite the play of their guests guards and versatile forward Ersan Ilyasova (13 points, six rebounds), the Bulls held a 57-50 advantage at the intermission.

After the break, Milwaukee, buoyed by Jennings scoring and the defense of league-leading shot-blocker Larry Sanders (12 rebounds, seven blocked shots), whittled away at the deficit they faced, eventually overtaking their hosts at the 7:20 mark of the third period, prompting Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to halt the proceedings. While the streaky Jennings point production and Sanders ability to protect the rim were factors in the visitors surge, the fact that the Bulls experienced one of their periodic scoring droughts was also significant.

Jennings shouldered the Bucks offensive burden, hitting four triples in the quarter after each of the last two, he stared down the Bulls bench and imitated Robinsons post-basket airplane celebration and as he caught fire en route to a 20-point period, Milwaukee acquired some breathing room.

Forwards Boozer and Luol Deng (18 points, five rebounds) sparked a furious late-quarter Bulls rally to minimize the separation, but headed into the final stanza, they still trailed the Bucks by a point, 81-80.

Milwaukee got the jump on the hosts at the outset of the fourth quarter, as Ellis and veteran reserve swingman Mike Dunleavy Jr. (16 points, 4-for-5 three-point shooting) led the way until the Bulls second unit fought its way back, closing the gap to a single point midway through the period.

The likes of Belinelli, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler were catalysts for the home team, which used an aggressive, scrambling defense to fuel the comeback attempt.

A close-knit affair heading into the stretch run, despite timely baskets from Jennings, Ilyasova and Dunleavy, who also lit it up from long range on the evening, the Bulls hung around, kept plugging away and with 1:50 remaining, it was a one-possession game, 100-96, in the Bucks favor, after Boozer split a pair of free throws.

But the hosts, facing a Milwaukee defense that leads the league in blocked shots they swatted 14 this evening couldnt get over the hump, as the inability to score late, coupled with a Jennings jumper with 24.6 seconds to go sealed the deal, giving the Bulls their first loss of 2013.

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 scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that 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.