Bulls

Carter-Williams steals the spotlight from Rose, Bulls

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Carter-Williams steals the spotlight from Rose, Bulls

Through four games Michael Carter-Williams had been the other guard in the first round playoff series between the Bucks and Bulls.

Storylines, both positive and negative, revolved around Derrick Rose's play in his first postseason appearance in more than three years. The former MVP scored 23 points in Game 1, nearly triple-doubled in Game 2, added a season-high 34 points in Game 3 before committing eight costly turnovers in a Game 4 loss. He, the measuring stick for a Bulls team with championship aspirations, garnered the attention. And heading into a Game 5, the spotlight again was on Rose to close the series out at home and set up a date with LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Instead, it was Carter-Williams who stole the show, earning himself a spot at the postgame podium after handily winning his individual matchup with Rose and helping the Bucks stave off elimination in a 94-88 win in Game 5. Carter-Williams scored 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting, added eight rebounds and nine assists and played stifling defense on Rose and Jimmy Butler in a team-high 38 minutes.

"He looked good, like a veteran point guard," said OJ Mayo. "He really kept his poise, quarterback’d the team, made sure that we understood what we were doing on both ends of the floor. He played like an All-Star point guard tonight."

Carter-Williams was the aggressor from the opening tip, scoring on a layup on the game's first possession, the first of what became a 9-0 run for the Bucks to open the contest. Twice more in the opening frame Carter-Williams attacked Rose and finished inside. It became a trend for the night, the Bucks staying a step ahead of the Bulls' pick-and-roll defense, living in the paint and beating rotations with better ball movement and spacing. All 10 of Carter-Williams' field goal makes came in the paint, with the Bucks scoring nearly half of their 94 points as a team inside.

[RELATED: Bulls still can't close out Bucks at home]

A sprained right ankle forced him to the locker room in the opening minutes of the third quarter but he managed to return at the 2:54 mark of the period and didn't sit the rest of the night. It's when he did his best work, too, scoring eight points and handing out a pair of assists in the final stanza. His most impressive sequence came after the Bulls had used a quick 6-0 run to pull within three points at the 4:45 mark. Carter-Williams calmly cut left, received a pass from Mayo and hoisted a floating bank shot in over Rose to quiet the United Center crowd. The next trip down he blocked Jimmy Butler - one of the eight Bucks blocks in the final 12 minutes - and fed John Henson on a beautiful baseline bounce pass for a layup that pushed the lead back to eight with 3 minutes to play.

"I was just trying to get in the lane and find the open guy," he said after the game. "I was just being patient and that opened up the lane a little bit and I was able to score."

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Carter-Williams' offensive aggressiveness was a welcome sign after he had averaged 12.0 points on 39 percent shooting in the first four games, but he made his mark defensively. Kidd has preached the entire series that the Bucks would be as successful as their defense allowed them to be, and on Monday night it was Carter-Williams leading the charger.

He was credited with three blocks and one steal, but his pressure was felt throughout. Rose shot 5-for-20 and the Bulls committed 13 more turnovers, bringing their five-game total to 89 giveaways. Carter-Williams switched between assignments on Rose and Jimmy Butler (5-for-21), with his 6-foot-6 length giving Kidd options to mix and match between Mayo, Bayless and and Khris Middleton at the other guard position.

It's been a turbulent few months in Milwaukee for Carter-Williams, who was acquired in a three-team deal at the trade deadline that sent All-Star caliber point guard Brandon Knight from the Brew City to Phoenix. The transaction, done with eyes on the future - Knight was a free agent at season's end - was met with scrutiny, and the Bucks struggled most of the way with Carter-Williams at the helm; the Bucks went just 10-15 in games he started after the trade, nearly falling out of the No. 6 spot in the process.

But Carter-Williams has righted the ship and has the defensive-minded Bucks back feeling confident after two straight wins. And while his team's success doesn't hinge on his individual play much like it does for Rose and the Bulls, when that other guard is showing the aggressiveness on both ends of the floor like he did Monday night, the Bucks will be in position to win. The next test is Thursday.

"If that’s what we get form him as a player every night," Henson said, "we’re going to be tough to beat."

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”