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Bulls drubbed by Sixers in lackluster effort

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Bulls drubbed by Sixers in lackluster effort

PHILADELPHIAEvery once in a while, no matter how driven or talented, an NBA team throws up a clunker of a game, whether its because of fatigue, lack of intensity or simply a bad matchup. With a day off Tuesday, the Bulls (18-6) cant blame being tired for their effort Wednesday night, a 98-82 drubbing at the hands of the 76ers (16-6) that was far worse than the final result indicated.

Although the Bulls came out the gates shooting at a torrid rate, their efficiency was matched by the Sixers energy. In a battle of two unselfish teams, the mid-range shooting of Kyle Korver, Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer set the tone.

Meanwhile, Derrick Rose (18 points, six assists) was his usual, attacking self, but his explosiveness was countered by the overall athleticism of the home team, led by versatile swingman Andre Iguodala (19 points, nine rebounds, four assists) and veteran power forward Elton Brand, as well as contributions from the likes of overlooked starter Jodie Meeks, sixth man Lou Williams (14 points, six assists), second-year wing Evan Turner and backup power forward Lavoy Allen (15 points, six rebounds), a second-round pick and hometown product.

With their pressure defense forcing turnovers and getting them into the open courtsomething Bulls head coach cautioned about, both before the teams morning shootaround and in his pregame media availabilitythe hosts led Chicago, 27-21, after the fast-paced opening period.

Theyre a good defensive team, making it hard, being scrappy. Theyve got a lot of athletic people on their team. Theyre a good team, said Rose. Theyve got a lot of athletic people on their team, especially their wings. Andre Iguodala came out and played great for them tonight, just playing aggressive and everybody else fed off of him.

We know that were a good team. We know that all of us are in condition. It was just one of those games. The starters didnt come out and play the way that we know how to play, he continued. Their defense was great, creating turnovers, playing the passing lanes pretty good, rebounding the ball. Thats something that they did do great tonight, tipping the ball back out and the guards couldnt get to it tonight, and that hurt the team.

Philadelphia was able to maintain its lead over the Bulls with its ability to push the pace and terrifically balanced scoring, with young floor general Jrue Holiday (17 points, five assists) running the show, the surprising Allen continuing his strong play and timely buckets from every Sixer who saw action.

The visitors undoing were their turnoversThibodeau inserted C.J. Watson (20 points, four assists), who attempted to give the Bulls a boost with his offensive aggressiveness, into the backcourt with Rose to counter Philadelphias speedand sharply plummeting shooting percentage, as the defensive-oriented home team started to put the clamps down.

We were out there sluggish. The energy wasnt there. I really cant explain it, Rose explained. We played a messed-up game, where we rubbed off on everyone else. It was definitely the starters, but when we came out, they got a big lead and we had to fight back, and they held us back pretty good, where they kept it on us and thats what youre supposed to do. But this is something were not going to forgetI know Im notand just tried to play hard next time.

Dynamic reserve forward Thaddeus Youngs (19 points, eight rebounds) energetic play was another boon for the home team, as his versatility and athleticism gave the Bulls fits. But as expected when the Bulls offense struggles, Rose went into takeover mode, almost exclusively driving to the rim for tough finishes to get the Bulls back into striking distance after the Sixers flirted with a double-digit advantage, cutting the deficit to 49-44, in favor of Philadelphia, at halftime.

After the intermission, the Sixers relentlessness persisted and propelled by Iguodalas assertivenessin addition to throwing down a vicious dunk over former teammate Korver, he knocked down a triple, not exactly the strength of his game, then, after a steal, completed a fake pass, behind-the-back dribble maneuver before dishing to Holiday for a pull-up jumper on the breakthe deficit grew to double digits. Philadelphia had all the momentum and with no Bulls other than Rose able to get much going offensively, things looked bleak.

Thibodeau tried different lineupshaving received little from the big-man duo of Boozer and Joakim Noah, as well as fellow starter Ronnie Brewer, he again went to the small backcourt of Watson and Rose, along with the defensive-oriented tandem of Taj Gibson and Omer Asikbut nothing changed. The backcourt scoring of Holiday and Williams, as well as solid play from the reserve frontcourt of Allen and Young, buoyed the Sixers, whose fans were appreciative, as they took a 75-55 advantage into the final stanza.

You cant do that. their speed and quickness, if you turn the ball over, puts them in the open floor. Live ball, very hard to stop. Twenty-nine points off our turnovers, you cant make that up. Very, very difficult, said Thibodeau, whose squad surrendered the basketball 17 times on the evening, but refused to blame the loss on missing injured starters Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton.

Were a deep team and its one thing if youre playing defense, and youre rebounding, youre taking care of the ball and you miss shots. Thats one thing, but when youre turning the ball over, youre beating yourself, so thats something that we have to correct and that was the story of the game, basically. They turned us over. They got easy points off of it.

Chimed in Rose: Im not trying to think that way, knowing that we do miss them, but theres no excuses. Weve still got to go out there and play these games, and put forth the effort, and tonight, its clear that we didnt.

Chicago, with a modified Bench Mob on the floorKorver, a temporary starter, joined Asik, Gibson, Watson and rookie swingman Jimmy Butlertried to push the tempo, but were combated by their run-and-gun counterparts doing the same thing, and better. Thibodeau seemed to be waving the white flag early, as he substituted deep reserve Brian Scalabrine into the game for Asik relatively early in the period, with Rose, Noah and Boozer all sitting on the bench.

Their defense was great. We were loose with the ball and you cant be. Theyve got great hands, theyre quick and youve got to make simple plays, simple passes. The balls got to move. We sort of got in a hole in the second quarter. We closed the half out OK, got ourselves back in it and then, the start of the third quarter, they played really hard. I give them a lot of credit. Our defense wasnt good and I thought our reaction to the balltheyre quick to the balland I thought our reaction to the ball was very poor, and they beat us to loose balls, the second-effort plays and then, the fourth quarter, we were scrambling and trying to get back into it, but the hole was too big, observed Thibodeau.

Our starters were so lethargic in the third, quite honestly, if we had gotten closer, I was going to finish with them, with the group that we had in there, because they were fighting to get us out of the hole.

Added Rose: When we got kind of close, then turned the ball over a little bit, I kind of knew that I was going to be out for the rest of the night.

While Gibson was effective on the interior in his trademark blue-collar fashion and Watson continued to drive to the basket, for all intents and purposes, it appeared to be a losing proposition. However, the hustle displayed by the reserve unit (by the games stretch run, third-string point guard John Lucas III was in for Korver) significantly trimmed the deficit, actually giving the Sixers first-line players a run for their money before finally putting them to bed.

This is something that were going to learn from, said Rose. We play tomorrow. Thats the good thing about this.

Lauri Markkanen's and Zach LaVine's best dunks of the year

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen's and Zach LaVine's best dunks of the year

Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen combined for 100 made dunks last season. But that would have been far too long of a video to make, so instead we condensed it down to their six best dunks of the season.

Which one was your favorite?

LaVine slams it home on the blocks leader (Mar. 5)

LaVine had a mini dunk contest in Indiana, but none more impressive than his dunk over Myles Turner. Robin Lopez set a high screen for LaVine, who attacked the rim instantly. LaVine got a step on Turner, who wound up leading the NBA in blocks per game, and flushed home a righty slam to tie the game early in the third quarter. LaVine finished with 27 points in the loss.

Lauri goes lefty on the Pistons (Mar. 8)

What’s more impressive than a 7-footer taking Blake Griffin off the dribble with his off-hand? That same 7-footer finishing a lefty dunk over Andre Drummond. That’s what Markkanen did early in this early March contest. Griffin got the best of Markkanen and the Bulls by the end of the night, but Markkanen started it out with a bang.

Arci saves, Otto oops, LaVine finishes (Mar. 6)

Sometimes the dunker gets the easy part. Ryan Arcidiacono had an incredible save to keep the ball in bounds in the Bulls backcourt. He tipped it right to Otto Porter who turned, took one dribble, and fed a perfect alley-oop to a streaking LaVine, who finished with an impressive one-handed slam. That it came during a nationally televised game (against Jimmy Butler) in a game the Bulls won made it all the more sweet. It was the Bulls’ best team play of the year.

Lauri’s R-rated drive past PG13 (Dec. 7)

Part of what makes Markkanen such an impressive talent is his versatility for a 7-footer. That was on full display against the Thunder in his third game back from his elbow injury. Markkanen set a screen for Zach LaVine and popped out to the 3-point line, with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Paul George switching on to him. Markkanen caught George just the slightest bit out of position and took advantage, driving past him and in for a dunk. This one was special because 23 game minutes later, Markkanen won the game with a spinning layup over George and Steven Adams.

LaVine goes 360 for 2 on the Cavs (Nov. 10)

We take Zach LaVine for granted sometimes. There’s nothing normal about a human being so casual jumping into the air, doing a full spin, and dunking a ball through a hoop 10 feet off the ground. But LaVine did just that early in the first quarter against the Cavs. He was still rising as he threw it down for his first two points of the game. LaVine finished with 24 points on just 9 of 22 shooting, but also added eight rebounds and five assists. Don’t let the ease of the dunk fool you: This was his best of the season.

Lauri baptizes Nikola Vucevic (Dec. 21)

You knew we saved the best for last. Markkanen went way up the ladder for his best dunk of the year, slamming one home on Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic. Making the slam all the more impressive was that the shot clock was winding down – Markkanen caught the ball at the logo with 4.2 seconds left on the shot clock – but he didn’t settle, instead heading straight to the rim where he met Vucevic for the slam. It was part of a monster night for Markkanen facing a defense that finished the season 8th in efficiency. He scored 32 points - at the time a season-high – on 12 of 20 shooting. The technical foul was worth it.

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Why a new and healthy Bulls rotation should mean a new Zach LaVine

Why a new and healthy Bulls rotation should mean a new Zach LaVine

Why didn't Zach LaVine receive more national praise last season?

Fresh off a $78 million contract, the 25-year-old averaged 25.6 points on 44% shooting, 5.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 36.1 minutes in October/November. He led the non-James Harden NBA in usage rate (32.5%), a slight tick above Kevin Durant (32.1%), Joel Embiid (32.0%), Devin Booker (31.4%) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (31.3%).

He was tasked with carrying a Bulls offense that was without its projected second leading scorer (Lauri Markkanen, elbow), starting point guard (Kris Dunn, knee) and Sixth Man (Bobby Portis, knee). On most nights, LaVine's second and third options were Jabari Parker and rookie Wendell Carter - Carter wasn't even a second or third option at Duke.

And he produced. The efficiency wasn't there - his 47.9% eFG was 24th of 27 players with a usage rate of 27 or higher - but that was to be expected. None of those 27 players had a weaker supporting cast than LaVine, who led the Bulls in scoring 17 of 22 times in that span.

LaVine's usage scaled back when the injured rotation players eventually returned. LaVine's usage rate from Dec. 1 until the end of the season was 28.4%, 23rd highest in the NBA and on par with Kyrie Irving (28.6%), Bradley Beal (28.7%) and Paul George (28.8%).

His efficiency picked up, too. His effective field goal percentage in that span was 54.9%, seven points higher than the putting-the-team-on-his-back-doe October and November. Of players with a usage rate of 28% or better, LaVine's eFG% was 11th of 25 players.

LaVine was born to score. His 23.7 points per game were all the more impressive considering how the Bulls slowed the pace once Jim Boylen took over, and the fact that he managed to shoot nearly 47% from the field after such a heavy October/November was a major positive.

So why didn't LaVine get more attention? Because points aren't everything and wins matter.

The latter isn't really LaVine's fault. The Bulls went 5-18 during LaVine's heavy usage stretch, but that was more a by-product of the injuries and decimated rotation. It would have been tough for Giannis Antetokounmpo to drag the Bulls to a win in late October when Cam Payne scored 15 points, Cristiano Felicio led the team in rebounds and Antonio Blakeney played 22 minutes off the bench. LaVine needed to play flawlessly for the Bulls to win - he averaged 30.6 points in the Bulls' five wins. The Bulls couldn't have won last season.

Offense is creeping back up to all-time highs in terms of pace and points, and efficiency has never been higher. That's good news for LaVine, who topped 30 points 11 times (in 63 games). Perhaps not coincidentally, the Bulls were 6-5 in those games. In the 52 games LaVine played but didn't top 30 points? The Bulls were 10-42 (a 16-win pace over an 82-game season). They were 2-21 when LaVine scored 21 or fewer points (a 7-win pace).

There's a lot to unpack here, beginning with the fact that LaVine really could have used some help last season. Lauri Markkanen's February surge and Otto Porter's arrival helped matters, but the season had been lost long before then and momentum never really picked up when all were benched late in March in the chase for ping-pong balls.

The Bulls will be better next season. LaVine may not average 23.7 points because Markkanen will need touches and Porter is a legitimate No. 3 scorer. Last season the Bulls' No. 3 scorer - of players who began and ended the year with the team - was Kris Dunn at 11.3 points.

That should mean an even bigger uptick in efficiency for LaVine, and it'll also allow him to flourish in other aspects of the game.

There's a debate among Bulls fans regarding LaVine's passing. He averaged 4.5 assists but did so in a high-usage capacity. He was 47th in assists per game and 60th in assist percentage (22.4%). But his turnover percentage was also 12%; of the 28 players who had a usage rate above 27% for the entire season, only Trae Young and Devin Booker had worse turnover percentages than LaVine.

LaVine isn't a bad passer, but he really isn't a good one, either. And that's fine! The Bulls overhauled the point guard position last season, adding Tomas Satoransky and Coby White. The expectation is LaVine's turnover percentage will decrease in, at times, an off-ball role where he isn't forced into making tough passes and decisions. That's just not who he is as a player, and it oftentimes showed.

He showed promise in pick-and-roll action with Wendell Carter and pick-and-pop action with Markkanen. Getting to pick and choose those spots with his big men will be a boon for the Bulls offense. It felt forced a lot of the time last season, and defenses could key in on the action knowing that the other option for the Bulls was a Ryan Arcidiacono jumper or Shaq Harrison cut to the basket. Not exactly a tough decision.

LaVine gets better as the Bulls' roster gets better. That sounds an easy enough concept, but it's even more true for a player whose perception unfairly took a hit because of his supporting cast. LaVine was asked to play a role he wasn't entirely fit for - it's REALLY tough to maintain that kind of usage rate and win - knowing team success was going to be nearly impossible.

He has defensive issues. They really didn't get better last season despite him pledging to improve off the ball. But again, consider the toll his offensive load took on his body on a nightly basis. Maybe it's a bit of a stretch, but a lower usage rate means a slightly smaller workload which means more energy over the course of 48 minutes.

LaVine was one of the few carry-overs who will have a similar role this season as he did a year ago. But a new roster, a new rotation and a new coaching staff could mean a new LaVine. Expect the numbers and efficiency to remain where they were, only this time around he'll get his due.