Bulls

Bulls fall in dramatic rematch with Heat

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Bulls fall in dramatic rematch with Heat

MIAMI Prior to his teams first rematch with the Heat (15-5) since the Eastern Conference Finals, Bulls (17-5) head coach Tom Thibodeau proclaimed, Last year was last year. This year is this year. This is the most important game to us because its the next game.

While that might be technically true, Sundays 97-93 final score, in favor of Miami, provided no solace to Chicago, who hoped for revenge and instead received the same outcome theyve had to remember since May.

Thats the way it is, a glum Thibodeau plainly stated afterwards. Derrick was Derrick, attacking. A hard-fought game, in position to win at the end. We didnt get it done.

Rose (34 points on 11-for-28 shooting, 12-for-14 from the free-throw line, six rebounds, six assists) may have been pressing too hard in the early going in an attempt to change what looked like a sluggish start offensively.

Already short-handed, two early fouls on Rose didnt bode well for the Bulls, something Thibodeau likely realized, as he mercifully reinserted Rose in place of an overmatched John Lucas III, playing the backup point guard role with C.J. Watson sidelined.

An aerial display shortly ensued for the Heat, as LeBron James (35 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) went high above the rim for a couple of crowd-pleasing finishes, as part of a spurt to give the home team some breathing room.

Chris Bosh (24 points, 12 rebounds) played a large part in Miami jumping out to their early edge, but the Bulls quickly closed the gap, by virtue of Rose making an impact via aggressive drives upon his return, as well as Joakim Noah (11 points, 11 rebounds, three blocked shots) playing strong inside and the subtle, yet effective stylings of Rip Hamilton (11 points on 4-for-16 shooting), a game-time decision.

Having weathered the mid-afternoon storm on a less than sunny South Florida day, the visitors trailed, 24-22, at the conclusion of the opening period.

Were a team where we dont let up. Even though were down, were still going to play hard, said Rose. We still have a lot of confidence in ourselves when were down.

Foul trouble and surprisingly, defensive lapses continued to bedevil the Bulls, as both starting power forward Carlos Boozer (10 points, nine rebounds) and understudy Taj Gibson were each saddled with a pair of fouls, adding fuel to the fire that came in the form of a 9-2 Miami run to start the second quarter.

Thibodeau, who had previously alluded to being interested in playing zone defense, actually went to the tactic in an effort to limit the Heats potent driving ability, best exemplified by diminutive rookie reserve point guard Norris Cole and All-Star shooting guard Dwyane Wade (15 points on 4-for-16 shooting), who dished out six first-half assists.

Sandwiched around a a big baseline flush by Gibson were two treys from reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who was previously mired in a slump, to slice into the double-digit deficit and get the Bulls within striking distance of their hosts.

Though the guests to a raucous American Airlines Arena had missed several easy bunnies around the rim, they had furthered decreased the amount of separation to go into the break trailing, 56-51.

Chicago continued to chip away at Miamis lead after the intermission, although a Heat flurry, featuring Wade punishing the rim in transition twice in a row after consecutive Bulls offensive miscues, briefly dulled the visitors momentum.

You turn the ball over against them, live ball, noted Thibodeau. Theyre going to be in the open floor and theyre going to make you pay.

It remained a close-knit affair, however, as the combination of Rose, utilizing his deadly floater, and Noahs confidence and high activity on the offensive end, were countered by the duo of James and Wade.

Despite the Bulls nipping at the Heats heels for the entire period a key for Chicago was Gibson subbing for Boozer upon the starter obtaining his fourth foul, as the third-year backups ability to guard perimeter players, even elite ones like James, was of great benefit they couldnt even things up, as blown opportunities to convert took their toll in a game where easy chances were hard to come by. A James jumper at the third-quarter buzzer gave Miami a 76-71 advantage heading into the final stanza.

James beat the buzzer yet again early in the fourth quarter, knocking down an impossibly deep triple at the end of the shot clock, drawing Thibodeaus ire and leading to a timeout. But the Bulls regrouped and eventually tied the contest at 84 apiece, following a tough Rose the point guards blend of scoring and playmaking had carried his team driving and spinning layup.

The whole game, we had opportunities to get over the hump, but we couldnt get over the hump. We never put them back on their heels, so when we made a run, they made a run. When they made a run, we made a run. If you know anything about the NBA, its all about a game of runs. We had the opportunityit was 84-84they came down and hit two shots in a row. It happens, explained Hamilton. Games like this happen. Its the NBA. Its a roller-coaster ride. Youre going to have your ups, youre going to have your downs, so you just pretty much have to have an even keel with it. A game like this, that happened tonight, from a fans standpoint, people have probably seen it time after time after time.

They would get no closer. As the game entered its stretch run, tensions ran high Noah and Wade received double technicals for a near-skirmish, broken up by Noahs fellow ex-Florida Gator, Heat power forward Udonis Haslem but Miami handled the emotions of the made-for-TV matchup better, as Wade delivered in the clutch to fuel a 7-0 run and James, like in last springs Eastern Conference Finals, was assigned to defend the smaller Rose.

Still, the Bulls refused to die and Boozer, saddled with five fouls, finished in the lane with 1:16 remaining (after repeated squandered missed shots at the rim), followed by Rose converting a three-point play in transition to make it 94-93 with 49.1 seconds left.

Weve been down in those situations in the fourth quarter a lot, Rose observed. We know that we can come back, but we never want to put ourselves in that position.

After James failed to finish a tough layup with contact, Rose pushed it coast-to-coast and was eventually fouled with 22.7 seconds on the clock, but the normally-unflappable star missed both free throws. Amazingly, after James was fouled with 17.6 seconds to go disqualifying Noah he too, missed a pair of attempts from the charity stripe and after the scramble on the rebound, an inadvertent whistle with 16.8 seconds to play resulted in a jump ball at midcourt.

James and Gibson were designated for the jump ball and the Heat recovered it, leading to point guard Mario Chalmers splitting a pair of foul shots with 13.6 seconds remaining. After yet another hectic sequence, the Bulls corralled the rebound and then called a timeout with 9.9 seconds left in the game.

On the final possession, Rose was forced to throw up a tough shot in the lane that was off the mark, Bosh ended up with the carom and was fouled, leading to the final margin.

The way the game unfolded, they kept getting up six points, eight, 10, wed tie it up. It happened over and over. I thought we had good resolve, kept fighting. Things didnt go our way at the end, said Thibodeau. Every game, whether you win or lose, I think its important to understand why. Hopefully you learn, move forward, strive for improvement and when we leave here, weve got to be thinking about Washington. Its a quick turnaround.

Added Hamilton: We had many opportunities, but like we always say, It doesnt come down to the last possession. They missed two, we missed two, so it was a lot of little things. It was kind of a freak game, but we expect it. I think they expected it, too. It was a hard-fought game from both teams and they got a win.

Not just against this team, but any team really, the last couple of minutes are big. They had opportunities, we had opportunities and we thought we had a chance, but the ball didnt go our way and thats the NBA for you, he continued. You try to win every game, every time step on the floor, regardless of who you play. They want to win and we want to win. They got the win tonight.

What to watch for: Bulls host Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors

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USA Today

What to watch for: Bulls host Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors

The Bulls welcome the Raptors, currently on a three-game losing streak, to the United Center on Monday. It is the second game in as many nights for each team. The matchup tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago; unitl then, here's what to watch for:

Raptors last five (2-3)

  • Dec. 8 — L at 76ers: 110-104

  • Dec. 5 — L vs. Rockets: 119-109

  • Dec. 3 — L vs. Heat: 121-110 (OT)

  • Dec. 1 — W vs. Jazz: 130-110

  • Nov. 29 — W at Magic: 90-83

Storyline(s) for each team

Both of these teams enter tonight on the back-end of back-to-backs — the Raptors got essentially trounced by the 76ers (they didn’t pull to within single digits until the game’s final two minutes) in Philadelphia Sunday night, and are riding a three-game losing streak into Chicago, overall. It’s a slight reality check for a team that began its first post-Kawhi Leonard campaign 15-4, but all three defeats came against good-to-great teams. There’s no real reason to believe that, tonight, Toronto can’t put forth a performance similar to the 108-84 drubbing they handed the Bulls at the United Center on Oct. 26 (a game in which the Bulls’ leading scorer was Wendell Carter Jr. with 12 points). 

The Bulls are coming off a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Heat that left some reasons for optimism, but ultimately stung as much as the defeats that preceded it (perhaps even more so). Neither Otto Porter Jr. nor Chandler Hutchison appear any closer to returning, and the team’s best players remain hot-and-cold on a night-to-night basis. The Bulls have demonstrated an ability to compete with teams of this quality, but a win tonight remains a tough proposition.

Player to watch: Pascal Siakam

Even in limiting Jimmy Butler to 3-for-14 shooting on Sunday, his game-high 21 free throw attempts and the gravity he attracted down the stretch (which freed up Tyler Herro to get going) were a reminder that the Bulls still sorely miss their big wings in Porter and Hutchison.

Want another reminder? Enter: Pascal Siakam. In the absence of Leonard, Siakam is currently making the leap of all leaps, averaging 24.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game on 46/36.5/81.6 shooting splits. He’s bumped his volume substantially (20.1 field goal and 6.2 3-point attempts per game) and taken on an increased number of pull-ups and drives, at the expense of catch-and-shoots (i.e. he’s creating his own offense).

 

Though he’s slightly cooled off over the Raptors’ aforementioned losing streak (38.9% shooting in his last three games), a trip to Chicago could represent a get-right game for the Raptors’ best player. The forward combination of him and OG Anunoby also presents difficult defensive matchups for Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, given that the Bulls will probably continue to roll with a three-guard starting lineup.

Matchup to watch: Transition (and everything that comes with it)

The Raptors are a high-octane group that plays with breakneck pace. They shoot the second-highest percentage on 3-pointers in the NBA (38.7%) on the seventh-most attempts per game (36.5), rank eighth in the NBA in steals per game (Bulls are first) and relish the opportunity to get out on the break.

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Raptors convert live rebounds into transition opportunities at the second-highest clip in the NBA (36%, trailing only the Bucks). The Bulls (32.4%) are sixth in that category, though the Raptors score on said possessions with greater efficiency. The Raptors (sixth) and Bulls (seventh) also rank among the league’s best in percentage of steals converted into transition possessions. We know this will be an up-and-down affair — what remains to be seen is which team can win the rebounding and turnover battles, and thus afford themselves more opportunities to get out, run and dictate the flow of the game.

The Raptors wore the Bulls down in most of these areas the last time these two matched up, out-rebounding the Bulls 65-56 and winning the transition points battle 25-7 (each team had nine steals) on Oct. 26. Even potentially without Fred VanVleet (who left Toronto’s Sunday night game with a knee injury), Toronto has the personnel to win this matchup again, between elite ball-pusher and outlet-passer Kyle Lowry, the fast, rangy and physical Siakam/Anunoby duo and ancillary sparkplugs like Normal Powell and Terence Davis. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka won’t make the Bulls’ lives easy on the glass, either.

Trends to watch

  • It’s only a four-game sample size, but Lauri Markkanen is averaging 19.3 points and 5.3 rebounds on 50.9% shooting (13.3 attempts) and 43.2% from three (9.2 attempts) in the month of December. Even that stretch has had its ups and downs, but it’s worth monitoring if he’s able to continue his generally positive upward trend against a big, physical and talented Raptors frontcourt.

  • Coby White played all but eight seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime in Miami on Sunday, closing over Tomas Satoransky. He shot 2-for-5 (both makes on 3-pointers) in those minutes, dishing out three assists and also committing two turnovers. Still, he looked like he belonged out there. Boylen has gone back-and-forth on rolling with the starters versus the ‘hot-hand’ down the stretch, but White certainly benefits from a developmental perspective from that type of increased responsibility. 

  • Kyle Lowry returned from a thumb injury that cost him about a month on Dec. 3, and in the three games since his return, he’s played 41, 42 and 38 minutes, respectively. So much for easing back in. With VanVleet likely out, his workload probably won’t lighten in this one, except in the event of a blowout (certainly plausible). Lowry’s a great player, but he’s shooting 35% since returning, including a 2-for-18 shooting night in his first game back.

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NBA power rankings: Antetokounmpo and Bucks keep up 14-game win streak

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USA Today

NBA power rankings: Antetokounmpo and Bucks keep up 14-game win streak

With the NBA season hitting the quarter pole, it’s a good time to check in on how the MVP race is shaping up.

After blowing a two games to none lead against Toronto in last spring’s Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo vowed to come back better than ever this season, and he’s done exactly that, improving his averages in points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage.

The one knock on Antetokounmpo had been his lack of a consistent outside shot, and while he’s still only shooting 31.6% from beyond the arc, he’s made at least three shots from long distance in three of his last seven games.

The Bucks are currently riding a 14 game winning streak after blowing out a very good Clippers’ team at Fiserv Forum last Friday. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers even joked about the result, saying, “It was Giannis’ 25th birthday, and we searched all over the city to find a gift, and we couldn’t find one, so we gave him this one. That’s all I can come up with because we were awful.”

Antetokounmpo still has to prove he can get the Bucks to the Finals, but through the first 23 games, he’s clearly the favorite to win his 2nd straight MVP award.

LeBron James’ Lakers are actually a half game ahead of the Bucks for the NBA’s best record at the start of the new week. James leads the NBA in assists, something that hasn’t been done by a player who doesn’t play the guard position since Wilt Chamberlain. James would rank 2nd on my MVP rankings at the quarter pole.

I wrote about Luka Doncic in last week’s power rankings, and after averaging a triple double in November and leading the Mavericks to an unexpected strong start in the West, Luka would be number three, followed by NBA scoring leader James Harden and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam.

Now on to this week’s rankings. Check them out here.