Bulls

Bucks get physical in an attempt to swing series with Bulls

noah-henson-giannis-bulls-0420.png

Bucks get physical in an attempt to swing series with Bulls

Though they wouldn't admit wanting to send a message, the Milwaukee Bucks proved in Game 2 they won't be backing down from the Bulls.

Lacking for physicality in a Game 1 loss, Jason Kidd's youthful group showed off some veteran-like playoff chippyness on more than one occasion, earning four technical fouls in an attempt to shift the pace of the series back to what made them successful in the regular season. It didn't result in a win, as the Bulls topped Milwaukee with a 91-82 victory to take a 2-0 lead, but if anything the Bucks provided themselves a blueprint on how to keep themselves in the series and that playing their own brand of basketball can be successful.

"That's the way they play so it's the way we have to play," Khris Middleton said of the physicality. "We have to play intense and put up a fight."

The first sign of increased intensity came early in the second quarter, when Aaron Brooks attempted to draw a charge in the open court on John Henson. Henson collided with Brooks, who was called for a blocking foul, and stood over the Bulls reserve guard. Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah quickly came to Brooks' defense, and before the two teams eventually were separated Butler and O.J. Mayo had gone face-to-face jawing at each other. Henson, Mayo, Butler and Noah all were assessed technical fouls.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

In the second half Mayo collided with Butler while running down the floor, earning a personal foul in the process. That set the stage for Zaza Pachulia, who with 4 minutes remaining elbowed Nikola Mirotic in the head, earning a technical foul after the Bucks had closed within five points. Two possessions later both players went to the ground after a loose ball, and after Pachulia grabbed possession and passed from the ground he was shoved in the back by Mirotic. The two players had to be separated before both earning technicals, with Pachulia's second resulting in an ejection.

"It's playoff basketball," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "You have the same teams going at it. A lot of it is will, determination, how bad do you want it? It's sort of the nature of the business."

In two game the Bucks have attempted to shake the notion that they're just a young team that will be satisfied with the future payoff of gaining playoff experience now. The added physicality that boiled over into scrums stemmed from an attempt to play more of their style: an ugly, offensive struggle. The Bucks aren't going to win the series on talent alone, squaring off against a Bulls team with a former MVP, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and a pair of 2015 All-Stars. It'll take these kinds of games for them to hang with a more talented group, and they know it.

"It was more for us than sending a message. (The Bulls) can take it however they want to, but for us what was missing in Game 1 was intensity and playing hard, especially on the defensive end," said Pachulia. "If you say it was a message that means we were successful."

[MORE: Big fourth quarter from Butler lifts Bulls to 2-0 series lead over Bucks]

They were successful in certain areas. The Bulls committed 15 turnovers, scored 11 points in the first quarter and Game 1 hero Derrick Rose went just 4-for-14 from the field. Milwaukee's continued double-teaming of Pau Gasol and pressuring Derrick Rose on high pick-and-rolls worked once again. In all the Bulls shot 38 percent from the field, and the Bucks were within striking distance before going ice-cold in the final 10 minutes.

"I thought we played a pretty good game, on the road giving ourselves an opportunity to win," Kidd said.

Still, they need more production to complement it. Shooting 35 percent from the field and handing out 13 assists on 32 made field goals is a recipe for failure, regardless of opponent or pace. Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled once again, going 2-for-11 from the field, while the Bucks as a team went silent from beyond the arc, going 4-for-17. After Kidd noted in pregame availaibility that his team needed to be better on the glass, the Bulls grabbed a franchise playoff record 64 rebounds.

In Game 1 the Bucks proved they weren't going to be satisfied with just showing up. Monday night they proved they could be the more physical team and wouldn't back down. But proving capable of winning isn't the same as actually doing it, setting the stage for a Game 3 on Thursday in Milwaukee with a chance to earn a victory. They'll need to play better from an X's and O's standpoint, but they're pleased with where they are mentally after proving their toughness in a gritty road loss.

"Playoff basketball, what do you expect? It’s going to be intense, it’s going to be physical," Mayo said. "We’ve got the team playing hard."

Markelle Fultz's contract option reminds Bulls fans of '17 draft night luck

laurimarkkanenbulls.png
USA TODAY

Markelle Fultz's contract option reminds Bulls fans of '17 draft night luck

The 2017 NBA Draft class has started to show their true colors three seasons into their respective careers and we have a good idea of where each player stands with their franchise. The Orlando Magic have made a decent-sized commitment to 2017 No.  1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, exercising their fourth-year team option on the 21-year old guard. This keeps him under contract for the 2020-21 season for $12.3 million.

Bulls star forward Lauri Markkanen, drafted No. 7 overall in 2017, will likely have a decision made soon on his fourth-year option ($6.7 million), but his position with the Bulls was never in doubt, however, what the move by Orlando did was again bring to the forefront how impressive Markkanen has been as compared to the rest of the 2017 NBA Draft class.

Among the top 10 picks in the 2017 NBA Draft, Markkanen is second in win shares (6.1) to only No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum (12.0).

Markkanen was not a household name coming off of his lone year at Arizona and had the reputation of a floor-spacer who brought little else to the floor in terms of value, he quickly dispelled those notions, going on a historic tear that resulted in one of the best rookie campaigns in Bulls history.

He was the first Bulls rookie since Elton Brand to score 1,000 points and grab 500 rebounds in a season, and before Markkanen none of the 107 players to score 1,000 points and grab 500 rebounds had made 110 or more 3-pointers in their respective rookie seasons.

Unlike Fultz, who suffered to find his footing with a playoff-bound Sixers team and has yet to play for his latest team in Orlando, Markkanen's career was aided by the fact that the Bulls were thin on frontcourt depth right at the start of the 2017-18 season. Markkanen has not looked back since given an opportunity to be the Bulls starting power forward and has averaged 16.7 points and 8.2 rebounds for his career while shooting 36.2 percent from the 3-point line. 

Markkanen has become better in every aspect of his game and will need a similar sort of leap if the Bulls hope to turn things around in 2020. The Magic reaffirming their belief in Fultz is in no way shocking, but it should serve as a reminder to Bulls fans that the franchise made out quite well by selecting the Finnish big man back in 2017 amid the uncertainty surrounding the post-Jimmy Butler Bulls.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Zach LaVine excited for Year 2 of Wendell Carter Jr. after injury limited his rookie season

carter-118.jpg
USA TODAY

Zach LaVine excited for Year 2 of Wendell Carter Jr. after injury limited his rookie season

Zach LaVine is one of the faces of the Bulls and also isn’t shy about sharing his opinion.

LaVine did the rounds for a number of interviews for a promotion with CarMax and dished on several things Bulls related. One of the eye-catching quotes in an interview with FanSided was about Wendell Carter Jr.

“He was starting to get into a groove when he got injured man, that’s one of the worst things in all of sports,” LaVine said of Carter. ”He’s been in the gym working all year. He has great defensive intangibles as a rookie, especially for a big guy as a rookie. I feel like it’s always tougher for them, but he’s shown different little flashes to where he’s seemed above his experience level, so I’m really excited for him.”

LaVine himself has gone through a solid year-by-year progression in his career, with the exception of his injury-limited first season with the Bulls in 2017-18. If he thinks Carter can make the same type of progress, the Bulls will have a solid player soon enough.

Carter averaged 10.3 points and 7 rebounds per game before missing the second half of the season due to injury in mid-January. LaVine noted Carter’s defense, which was what impressed people most about Carter as a rookie. The next step will be improving his offensive game.

Carter is fully expected to start at center, especially considering he started all 44 games he played in as a rookie. Robin Lopez is gone, but Luke Kornet and rookie Daniel Gafford have joined Cristiano Felicio on the big man depth chart for the Bulls.

For more on Carter, check out our player preview for him as we lead up to the start of the Bulls season.