Bulls

Bulls try to rebound at home in clash with Hawks

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Bulls try to rebound at home in clash with Hawks

The Bulls are searching desperately to get back on track inside the United Center, where they've lost two of their last three, as they take on Josh Smith and the Atlanta Hawks on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill.

Of all the potential downfalls the Bulls could have suffered without Derrick Rose, wins at home likely were near the bottom of that list. But after going 62-12 at the United Center the past two seasons, the Bulls have almost matched that loss total through 35 games in 2012-'13, managing a 10-10 record in Chicago. That also includes losses in two of the last three home contests, which, before this season, had never occurred in Tom Thibodeau's tenure. But that stretch has happened four times already, and the Bulls will need to reclaim their homecourt advantage as the season nears the halfway point.

It doesn't get easier, however, as one of the surprises of the Eastern Conference makes their way to the Madhouse on Madison tonight. The Hawks made one of the major moves of this past offseason, sending All-Star Joe Johnson and the remainder of his max contract to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams, DeShawn Stevenson and a future first-round pick. In essence, it was a salary dump -- Johnson was due nearly 90 million over the next four seasons -- that didn't send back much talent for Atlanta to work with for the upcoming season. But in the weak East (and their awful Southeast Division) the Hawks have managed to jump out to a 21-15 record and sit in the No. 5 seed in the conference. Eight of those wins have come against the Wizards, Bobcats and Magic, teams with a combined 22-78 record, though they do have wins over Oklahoma City and Memphis.

Another one of those wins, however, came against the Bulls on Dec. 22, when Al Horford's 20 points and 10 rebounds paced the Hawks in a 92-75 victory in Chicago. The Bulls were without Rip Hamilton, but the offense suffered its second worst outing of the year as Luol Deng's 11 points led Chicago, which shot 42 percent and went to the free throw line just eight times. Carlos Boozer managed eight points and four rebounds in the loss, but the Hawks should see a different power forward tonight.

Boozer has been stellar through the Bulls recent woes, averaging 22.7 points and 10.2 rebounds in six games since the calendar flipped to 2013. He's connecting on better than 54 percent of his field goal attempts in that span after making 46 percent through 25 games. He'll need to be at his best once again against Horford and Smith.

Tonight also marks the second return to Chicago for sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who is in the midst of his best season in eight years. He's averaging 2.6 3-pointers a game, helping to fill the void left by Johnson, off the bench, and scored a reserve-best 13 points in December's matchup with the Bulls. Newcomers Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson have taken the majority of the outside shooting with Korver out of the lineup. The Bulls still rank last in the league at 4.6 3-pointers per game, but have improved to 10th in 3-point percentage (35.8).

The Bulls have lost two of three at home (and overall), while Atlanta stumbles into the United Center having lost five of its last six. One team will get back on track with a big win that may hold playoff seeding implications by season's end, so tune into Comcast SportsNet to catch all of tonight's action.

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

Anfernee Simons looks more like a ball boy than a 2018 NBA Draft prospect right now. He’s not considered small, what with having a 6-foot-3 frame with a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine at 183 pounds, “heavier” than Lottery-bound guards like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton.

But there’s plenty of potential to unpack from the soon-to-be 19-year-old, baby-faced combo guard. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Simons is one of the most talented players in the class, and a team patient enough to let him develop at his own pace could reap major benefits in due time.

You won’t find much video on Simons, as the IMG Academy star is preparing to be the first prospect to go preps-to-pros without a year in college since Thon Maker did so in 2016.

Simons, a consensus five-star recruit in the 2018 class, originally committed to Louisville in November 2016 and then decommitted the following September shortly after Rick Pitino was fired. Since he had graduated from Edgewater High School in Florida and was playing a post-grad year at IMG Academy, he became eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft because he is a year removed from high school. That’s where he played this past season, declaring for the draft and signing with an agent in late March.

“The opportunity is there. Me and my parents talked about it a lot and I feel like I’m confident in myself that I’ll be able to make this jump,” he said at last week’s Combine. “So I just felt like, do it now and not waste any time.”

Simons has been on the radars of NBA teams, even if he’s not a household name like Ayton, Doncic and Bagley. He’s currently projected outside of the Lottery, in part because teams haven’t seen him compete against collegiate level talent and because his wiry frame almost surely means time in the G-League as a rookie. But again, the skill set is there.

Simons is a point guard with solid range beyond the arc. He may struggle off the ball because of his size, though that long wingspan and a quick release from his chest should allow him to get off shots. He’s a blur in transition and finishes well at the rim – his 41.5-inch vertical was tied for third best at the Combine, and his three-quarters court sprint was eighth fastest.

He’s a mixed bag defensively. Wingspan is the fun buzz word these days, and that will help him at the next level, but his small frame means there’s work to be done. A strength and conditioning coach will salivate at bringing Simons into the weight room and getting his body NBA-ready.

“Just staying durable through 82 games,” Simons answered when asked about his biggest challenge physically at the next level. “Taking care of your body is real pivotal so I feel like learning how to take care of my body now is a good thing.”

Simons maturely answered that the “unknown” of his game will be both a positive and minus during the pre-draft process. While fellow prospects he may face in team workouts don’t know as much about him and, thus, his game, teams also need to find out more about Simons’ game and off-court habits.

“Coming in young, people don’t know who I am and haven’t seen me play much. That’s the good side about coming in early,” he said. “It could be the same thing (negatively). People haven’t seen me like that, so I feel like they don’t know who I am. They probably think I’m too young to play in the league.”

Simons met with the Bulls and has scheduled a pre-draft workout with them. Though the Bulls feel like their rebuild could go quicker than anticipated – especially if they hit on their No. 7 pick – there could be plenty to gain from drafting for upside on a player like Simons.

Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne will both be free agents in 2019, and Denzel Valentine’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Chicago. That leaves plenty of openings in the backcourt behind Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Simons won’t be ready to contribute much in 2018-19, but the Bulls wouldn’t need him to. A handful of outlets projected Simons as a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Bulls could snag him a year earlier, let him develop in Hoffman Estates and bring him up in a year when they’re a step closer to contending.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bulls use Lauri Markkanen as centerpiece of a trade to bring in a superstar?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Hub Arkush (670 The Score/Pro Football Weekly), Danny Parkins (670 The Score) and Lauren Comitor (The Athletic) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Manny Machado Mania continues in Chicago. Do the Cubs even need to trade for him to win the World Series this year?

Ricky Renteria has to bench another player for not hustling. Is this becoming a problem on the South Side?

Plus, Lauri Markkanen is named to the All-Rookie team. Could he be the centerpiece of a trade if the Bulls want to acquire a superstar or move up in the draft? 

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: