Bulls

Goodwill: Bucks' improvement through series should alarm Bulls

tajywoo042515.png

Goodwill: Bucks' improvement through series should alarm Bulls

One game can make all the difference in the world between a lesson you needed to learn and one that was totally unnecessary and damn near alarming.

As much as the Bulls needed to be pushed in Game 3 of their series against the Milwaukee Bucks, they needed to push back and put the Bucks to sleep so they could get some rest.

Instead, Derrick Rose fell asleep for a split second, and of course he’ll be blamed for that mistake as the Bulls got what they deserved in their Game 4 loss to the Bucks.

But there were plenty of fingerprints on this loss, from the players on down.

All those turnovers, the mistakes, the luck it took to get them back in a game they had no business being close in—it was seemingly poetic justice. Why? Because the Bucks seem to be learning on the job better than the Bulls, getting closer and closer every game.

You could almost make the case they've figured out the Bulls, and the ugly 28 turnovers are merely a manifestation of chickens coming home to roost. From being overwhelmed to competing to causing a scare to finally, breaking through by picking at an old Bulls' wound.

“We have to do a much better job of taking care of the ball, individually and collectively,” said one of the Bulls’ invisible men, Pau Gasol. “That was the key tonight. 28 turnovers. 28 (fewer) shots that we gave away. In a two-point game, it’s a big difference, right? It’s unfortunate we didn’t close it out tonight.”

The Bucks are certainly taking calculated chances with personnel and scheme, and it paid dividends Saturday night. Jimmy Butler continues to get loose, but they've centered everything on stopping Gasol this series, believing the most consistent Bull is the one they can’t afford to give any leverage to.

Jason Kidd is mixing and matching with what he has, using smaller lineups to combat the Bulls’ size. And in a game where the Bulls shot 49 percent from the field and 56 from 3-point range and still lose, it tells you the Bucks are playing a game of chicken that paid off for one night.

 “I feel bad more for my teammates than myself,” said Rose, who committed eight turnovers. “Learning experience for me, like I said. Yeah, just gotta learn from it. It’s a hard one. 27 (actually 28) turnovers, I feel like I had 20 of them. Felt like 20. Only thing I can do now is learn from it, watch film and come ready next game.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the playoffs, Bulls fans!]

You wonder if this is just a blip on the screen or a sign the Bulls won’t have everything in their favor when they need it most. They won’t need it now, but they could have sent a message to the Cleveland Cavaliers of their intentions with a resounding, but tested, sweep.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau yelled in a loud arena for a timeout before the Bulls’ final offensive possession but they couldn’t hear him, spreading the floor for Rose before he turned the ball over.

Then the Bucks heard their coach bark for a timeout, setting up the final possession. In a series between a veteran team and young one, that scenario should be reversed.

“We gotta be ready and bounce back Monday and make sure we set the tone, to be the aggressor,” Gasol said. “We gotta take that commanding position because we’re letting them be too proactive and dictate a lot of what’s happening.”

Gasol’s words—likely birthed from the frustration not being involved in the offense as the Bucks have gotten more and more physical with him as the series has progressed—shouldn’t ring hollow.

He’s a championship player who came here for that very reason and the Bulls can adjust to put this thing away Monday night. But the Bucks’ inability to fear should have been the perfect primer.

“They’re active, they scramble,” Gasol said. “They’re aggressive to the ball so they force you to move the ball and find the open guy on the weak side. That’s what we have to be willing to do, get the ball, move it and find the open guy. And crash the glass, we only have five offensive rebounds. We had the bigger lineup the whole game. We should try to be aggressive on the boards. It didn’t quite happen and they spread us out with shooters. Mayo and Dudley did with threes.”

Using perspective, it won’t cost the Bulls this series. The Bucks will be formidable down the road but aren’t going to pull off some improbable comeback, nor will the Bulls collapse at the seams—they’re too battle tested, with their foundation built on too solid of ground for something historic to happen.

And they’ll probably blow out the Bucks at home before the inevitable happens.

“I'm not thinking about Cleveland and Boston,” Thibodeau said. “I'm thinking about us and what we have to do to improve and correct and just think about the next game. We're going to have to do a lot better and get it done quickly.”

Because Cleveland is waiting.

23 Days to Opening Night: The Greatest of All-Time

mj_phil_1998_ap.jpg
AP

23 Days to Opening Night: The Greatest of All-Time

Need we say more?

There isn’t a number more synonymous with greatness in basketball - and maybe in all of sports - than No. 23.

We’d list of all M.J.’s accomplishments but there isn’t enough room, even on the internet.

All we know is no Bulls player (or Heat player) will ever don the No. 23 uniform again.

And honestly, once LeBron James retires, it’d be pretty cool to see the NBA retire the number for good. Now we’re just getting nostalgic. No. 23 is No. 1.

#MuscleWatch: Lauri Markkanen's new frame will add critical component to his game

#MuscleWatch: Lauri Markkanen's new frame will add critical component to his game

#MuscleWatch has become a staple of NBA Media Days each year. Players from all 30 teams hitting the weight room all summer in preparation for their best year yet while feeling as strong and healthy as they’ve ever been. More times than not it’s fluff. Some of the world’s greatest athletes – many of whom are still maturing in their late teens – adding weight and muscle is expected. Even if that growth is real, 29 other teams’ players have accomplished the same.

That being said, it would have been impossible to see Lauri Markkanen on Monday at the Advocate Center and not believe he’s a changed player.

The second-year Finn spent his summer in his native Finland and also made joined a handful of NBA players in traveling to China for the Yao Ming Foundation Charity Game. When Markkanen wasn’t traveling he was spending hours in the weight room, and it’s easy to see that the results paid off.

A noticeably bigger, more defined Markkanen said he’s up to 240 pounds, 17 pounds heavier than his playing weight as a rookie. The transformation is a product of Markkanen having a more open summer after he spent the lead-up to his rookie season playing for Team Finland in EuroBasket 2017. There wasn’t as much time, Fred Hoiberg admitted, to work on Markkanen’s body as they worked him in slowly once he arrived in Chicago.

“I feel fresh,” Markkanen said. “We’ve been playing here (in Chicago) every day almost so I’ve been going up and down the court, but it’s different. I’ve been able to work on my body and actually be healthy. So I feel good.”

The next part of Markkanen’s transformation will be using it to his advantage on the floor. The 7-footer was impressive in Year 1, overshadowed some by the historic seasons posted by fellow rookies Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum. Markkanen’s overall numbers didn’t jump off the page – 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.1 3-pointers, 43.4% from the field – but, taken in context, were solid. He began the year behind both Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis, then found himself in the Opening Night starting lineup after the infamous fight in practice.

And where Markkanen was good and showed off his massive upside, his 20-year-old frame expectedly held him back in other areas.

Per NBA.com, Markkanen used just 11 percent of his offensive possessions in the post. And of those 111 possessions, he scored points on 45 of them. That 40.5% scoring frequency placed him in the 36th percentile league-wide. He shot 41.6 percent in post-up situations – nearly two percentage points lower than his overall number – a less-than-inspiring number considering the high percentage nature of those looks.

That should change with the added weight. Markkanen’s new frame, Hoiberg said, will also give the Bulls more options on offense.

“To be around our guys and to be in the weight room and to put on the size and strength that he did will help him overall all over the floor,” Hoiberg said. “Hopefully the ability to be able to punish a switch more consistently on the block. And his strength, as far as his ball handling and keeping guys on his hip (and) when he’s able to go by a bigger player.”

Where it will make an even more significant impact – as Hoiberg also alluded to – is on the defensive end. Teams went after Markkanen in the post, as a team-high 15 percent of his defensive possessions came in the post. And teams were smart to do it. Markkanen’s post-up defense ranked in the 28th percentile, allowing opponents to shoot 49 percent and score 101 points on 103 possessions, per NBA.com.

“I’m not going to get back down as easily,” Markkanen said.

His strength will add another component to what’s already becoming one of the most unique skill sets in the league. Zach LaVine is the $78 million man, Jabari Parker is essentially in a contract year and Bobby Portis could be in one if he and the Bulls don’t reach an extension agreement by Opening Night. Even Kris Dunn is entering a critical year for his growth (and future earnings).

But if the Bulls are going to take the next step of their rebuild and begin winning games, it’ll be Markkanen leading the charge. Though he admitted there may be nights “I might not be able to get touches as much” because of the new faces and spread out talent, the Bulls are hoping he’ll take on more on an Alpha role and become a leader. Markkanen himself admitted he’s always been a leader by example but needs to accomplish more vocally in his second season.

It’s a lot to ask for from a 21-year-old, but such is life in the NBA. His teammates see it in him, and they’re confident the 240-pound version will be the best one yet.

“He had such a good rookie year with the opportunity that he had,” LaVine said. “And the sky’s the limit for him. He’s one of those players that can do a lot of big things. Lauri’s off the charts.”