Bulls

Hoiberg encouraged by Bulls' ending 100-points-allowed streak

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Hoiberg encouraged by Bulls' ending 100-points-allowed streak

Lost under the glut of injured bodies and duct tape used to hold the Chicago Bulls together was a little bit of light in their 100-90 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Monday night.

Besides the win, just the score probably made some Bulls fans smile for a half-second, considering they held an opponent under 100 points for the first time since Jan. 28, a 114-91 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.

Since then, one could argue the Bulls won in spite of their defense, on the occasion they did. Going 16 straight games can lead to a belief about defense leaving the building when a grumpy but effective coach was fired last May.

If not for Jimmy Butler’s absence, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg could almost breathe a sigh of relief by the return of defense to the United Center, especially considering who was doing the defending.

Pau Gasol blocked five shots, leading to a throwaway comment from Gasol about his reputation, saying, “For a poor defender, that’s not bad.”

Forward Nikola Mirotic was in his second game back after missing nearly a month, was praised by Hoiberg after reviewing the game film.

“We played a really smart game on the defensive end,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Niko really for us was the player of the game on the defensive end. He did a great job all night long of being in the right spot and plugging. “

[HONDA ROAD AHEAD: Big tests upcoming for Bulls]

Mirotic is still under a minutes restriction but played a few more than expected (20), hitting two triples on the way to 14 points and six rebounds. But helping shut off driving lanes for the wiry Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton was crucial in the Bulls being able to overcome another high turnover game to win their second straight.

E’Twaun Moore was a standout defensively, guarding Middleton physically and without fouling—an assignment that would’ve belonged to Butler had he played.

“We played personnel really well,” Hoiberg said. “Mike (Dunleavy) played Giannis about as well as you can play him by getting off him and making him take jump shots. We guarded Parker well. We didn’t allow a lot of slashing, which they get a lot of points off of. They average 50 in the paint and we held them 10 below that.”

Before anybody gets too giddy, the Bulls have two teams capable of putting up 110 in their sleep—including the Miami Heat, who gave the Bulls a healthy dose of medicine with 129 points last week.

The San Antonio Spurs welcome the Bulls into Texas with a 30-0 home record, so the Bulls could go right back to .500 just off the caliber of their competition. Still, though, Hoiberg is encouraged by the last two games.

“If we would’ve taken care of the ball and not given them some runouts and rebounded, it could’ve been a really, really good defensive game,”  he said. “We’ve taken steps in the right direction. I thought we guarded Houston. They went on a run late to score 100 on the nose on us.”

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.