Bulls

Circus trip will test Bulls defense that came up big against Pacers

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Circus trip will test Bulls defense that came up big against Pacers

The Bulls head out on their two-week long circus trip while the United Center is being preoccupied, giving them a chance to knock out a long road trip early in the season.

But this trip won’t be as strenuous and arduous as it usually has been in previous years, giving this team a lot of off-time and chance to close quarters as a unit.

Like last season, the Bulls head west with a 7-3 record and also like last season, Derrick Rose’s status is on a bit of shaky ground, as his left ankle sprain has him listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Phoenix, the first of the three-game western leg that’ll be completed in the next seven days.

Rose missed the first four games of the seven-game trip with injury, a left hamstring ailment that seemed to bother him upon returning midway through the trip. This time around, an ankle sprain is fairly common and shouldn’t be such a huge cause of concern although it’s hard to tell Bulls nation not to feel a certain way.

“That’s too far ahead,” said Rose after the Bulls’ 96-95 win over the Pacers Monday night. “Right now I just need to get treatment, put some ice on it for a little bit. After this, just get off my feet and put more ice on it.”

[MORE: Bulls Road Ahead - A spread out Circus Trip]

He’ll have plenty of time to recover until Friday’s game in Oakland, where the Bulls are the last team to beat the NBA champion Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in the regular season, a thriller last January.

“It’s exciting, it gives us a chance to bond as a team,” Rose said. “We have a young group. I’m one of the veterans on the team. It gives us a chance to really come together as a team, go out and learn more about each other and help us grow.”

If this trip is to be successful, Monday’s win is as good a primer as possible considering their pretty offense slowed to a crawl in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter and they had to rely on their old standby, tough defense.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has coyly put more defensive-minded units on the floor in second halves, choosing to sit the likes of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic for Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson—a clear message that he’s not just an offensive coach and has some idea of what this team’s foundation has been over the last several years—a foundation that has served them well.

“Defensive effort, you really can’t strategize for that,” Jimmy Butler said. “You can have schemes but you gotta play hard. We got guys that play crazy hard. They take it personal when they get scored on, so when it’s time to get stops we get stops.”

Butler, the man who blocked Paul George’s fadeaway jumper with seconds remaining, has clearly been preaching defense early in the season, along with Rose.

“The talk is always gonna be there, we can’t get involved in that,” Rose said. “Our job is to believe in each other, play well and get better individually.”

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The Bulls will be tested defensively, particularly on the perimeter during the trip by explosive backcourts. Phoenix’s tandem of Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe can go a mile a minute, as Knight just finished a 30-point, 15-rebound, 10-assist triple-double performance against the Lakers.

Golden State’s backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the best in basketball, period. Curry leads the NBA in scoring at 33.4 points per game and is unguardable.

And while the Portland Trailblazers are struggling at 4-8, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are both putting up over 20 points a night, with Lillard scoring 25.3 points a night, good for eighth in the league.

“It’s tough on the road, the crowd’s against us,” Butler said.

And not only that, the guards standing across the way will put up shots all night, every night.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.