Bulls

Five Things to Watch: Bulls clash with Raptors tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls clash with Raptors tonight on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Toronto Raptors tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

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Five Things to Watch:

1. Can the winning streak continue? Perhaps it’s not as wild as the #TNTBulls streak, but the fact that the Bulls have won 12 straight games over a Raptors team that’s had plenty of success since 2013 is absurd. Can it continue? The Bulls have played some of their best basketball this season against the league’s best, and the Raptors are hoping to avoid a second consecutive year of a season sweep at the hands of the Bulls.

2. Playoffs still a real shot. The Bulls will need help to get it done, but they’re just a single game behind the Pistons for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference. After head-to-head, conference record is the next tiebreaker, and that could come into play by season’s end with the Pistons. That means the Bulls need wins, and especially need to get them against East foes. To steal one on the road against a quality opponent would be huge.

3. The point guard rotation lessens by one. Cameron Payne has been sent to the D-League, and the point guard position looks like Rajon Rondo’s for now. Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams will fill in from there, but even against a Kyle Lowry-less team this is going to be a stiff test for this group. The Bulls will need Rondo to get going early.

4. Scoring won’t be easy. The Raptors have really picked it up defensively of late after adding both Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker at the trade deadline. The Bulls had a solid showing offensively against the Jazz and will look to replicate it against a Raptors team hitting its stride on that end of late. Defense won’t necessarily win it tonight; finding enough baskets late will.

5. Denzel Valentine filling in for D-Wade. Dwyane Wade of course is still out, but Denzel Valentine has played well the last two weeks. Valentine has scored in double-digits a career-best five straight games, averaging 11.4 points on 42 percent shooting in that span. The Bulls will continue leaning on him for those kinds of outings.

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Minnesota Timberwolves will enter offseason with critical decisions to make

Minnesota Timberwolves will enter offseason with critical decisions to make

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we'll be examining the impact of the NBA's current on hiatus on each team in the league. Today, the Minnesota Timberwolves are up.

Past installments: Chicago Bulls | Golden State Warriors | Cleveland Cavaliers

With the third-worst record in the NBA at the time of the suspension of regular season play (19-45), the Minnesota Timberwolves have some critical decisions to make.

Gersson Rosas is completing his first year as the head of basketball operations in the Twin Cities, and extended a vote of confidence to young head coach Ryan Saunders mid-season. But is Saunders the right man to continue the rebuild? And can the Timberwolves build a winning team around former All-Stars Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell? Or will Rosas need to explore trading one of the two for several assets?

Roster Evaluation

Rosas worked for the ultra-aggressive Daryl Morey in the Houston Rockets’ front office, and he made several trades in his first year on the job in Minnesota — moving Andrew Wiggins, Dario Saric, Jeff Teague, Robert Covington, Gorgui Dieng, Jordan Bell and Shabazz Napier off the roster while acquiring Russell, Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangómez, James Johnson, Evan Turner, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman.

Russell and Towns are good friends, and there is potential for them to form a lethal pick-and-roll combination. Towns averaged 26.5 points and 10.8 rebounds over 35 games in an injury-riddled season, and can be effective rolling to the basket or popping out for 3-point shots. He’s one of the top scoring centers in the NBA.

Russell averaged 21.7 points and 6.6 assists in the 12 games he played for Minnesota, but concerns persist about his shot selection and willingness to be a facilitator in half-court sets.

Still, Towns and Russell figure to be the offensive mainstays for whoever is coaching the Timberwolves next season. The bigger concern is finding three other starters who can effectively complement the high-scoring duo.

Rookie Jarrett Culver was a major disappointment, averaging just 9.2 points on 40.4% shooting from the field and 29.9% from 3-point range. Culver was the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft after leading Texas Tech to the NCAA championship game, but he failed to show any consistency at the offensive end, and only started 35 of the 63 games he played.

Beasley played well in 14 games with the Timberwolves, averaging 20.7 points and hitting 42.6% of his 3 point attempts. But he’ll be a restricted free agent at season’s end, as will Hernangomez.

The Timberwolves also like the potential of rookie big man Naz Reid and defensive-minded second-year swingman Josh Okogie.

Offseason Decisions

Start with the coaching staff, where the Timberwolves have strong feelings for Saunders, who is the son of former head coach and front office executive Flip Saunders. Still, it’s been a bumpy start for one of the league’s youngest head coaches, and Rosas might decide to bring in a more experienced leader to help develop the players he’s added to the roster.

The Timberwolves would love to bring Beasley back after his strong showing as a starter, but with so few impact players available on the free agent market, he could get an offer sheet higher than what the organization is comfortable paying. Rosas will have some money to spend on free agents this offseason with only $75.3 million in guaranteed contracts on the books, but he’ll have to be careful not to get drawn into long-term commitments for players who don’t fit well with Towns and Russell.

Minnesota is currently owns the third-best lottery odds in the upcoming draft and could be in position to add a wing scorer like Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball to play alongside Russell in the backcourt. They might consider drafting a power forward like NCAA Player of the Year Obi Toppin to help Towns up front.

The Timberwolves also have an additional first round pick acquired from the Brooklyn Nets that figures to be somewhere in the the 15-17 range.

Outlook

Rosas spent his first year on the job evaluating the coaching staff and the talent on the roster, and already has made a number of moves to try to re-shape the team in the style of play he favors. The problem is both Towns and Russell can be very stubborn when it comes to shot selection and team play, and it will be interesting to see if their personal friendship makes them more willing to sacrifice individual numbers for team success.

The Timberwolves need to land an impact starter with their high lottery pick and hopefully pick up a couple high-character veterans in free agency who can help on the court and in the locker room. Bringing Beasley back as a starter at shooting guard or small forward would be a good first step, and the Timberwolves are counting on Culver to bounce back from a shaky rookie season to be a more consistent contributor going forward.

It’s always a plus to have a pair of young former All-Stars on your roster to build around, but the Timberwolves clearly have a lot of work to do to become a playoff team again.

Check back in on Wednesday, when we examine the Atlanta Hawks.

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Michael Jordan played the numbers game during Bulls' sweep of Magic

Michael Jordan played the numbers game during Bulls' sweep of Magic

Michael Jordan swore he didn’t miss his final two free throws on purpose.

Nevertheless, there’s no denying this fact: No. 23 finished with 45 points.

“Sometimes, things are very ironic,” Jordan said that May 27, 1996 night after the Bulls swept the Magic out of the Eastern Conference finals.

One year and nine days after the Magic celebrated on the United Center floor after bouncing the Bulls from the playoffs, Jordan had his revenge.

Back then, fresh from coming out of his baseball-driven retirement, Jordan wore No. 45. This time, Superman wore the right cape.

Jordan capped a dominating series with his 45-point performance, finishing with averages of 29.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.3 steals. The rematch wasn’t much of one.

Jordan projected an aura unlike any athlete I’ve covered. Granted, covering him at age 28 and on my first big professional break at the Chicago Tribune, plays into any memory of that dynamic. But between his immaculate postgame wardrobes and the contemplative manner in which he’d consider postgame questions, every press conference felt like an event with a capital “E.”

On this night, Jordan mostly steered clear of any revenge talk. But for a man who slashed and burned his way through a Hall of Fame acceptance speech many years later, to pretend he didn’t remember Nick Anderson saying “No. 45 doesn’t explode like No. 23 used to” the previous year is foolish.

Jordan mostly concentrated his postgame remarks on the wide swath of the roster set to make their first NBA Finals appearance. Ron Harper. Steve Kerr. Jud Buechler. Bill Wennington. Toni Kukoc. Luc Longley. Randy Brown.

This depth proved essential to the Bulls winning an NBA-record 72 games and stampeding to an 11-1 mark through three rounds of the postseason. But as usual, Jordan’s sublime skill and cutthroat competitiveness burned brightest.

“Quite honestly, I don’t think Michael is going to be denied,” Magic coach Brian Hill said that night. “I think this is all about a testament to his will and his excellence as a basketball player.”

Indeed, Jordan scored 45 points as the other four starters combined for 35. Unlike uniform numbers, some things never change.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.