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Minus turnovers, Bulls feel they're in good shape vs. Bucks

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Minus turnovers, Bulls feel they're in good shape vs. Bucks

Mike Dunleavy opened his arms and jokingly looked to the heavens when the suggestion about solving the Milwaukee Bucks’ aggressive defense was presented in simple form at Sunday afternoon’s practice.

Take the double-team, move the ball twice and open shots will be plentiful.

“Ahhh, yes. Brilliant,” Dunleavy said. “That, in theory is what we're trying to do. Make that ball move, get it out of the double team and take advantage of 4-on-3 on the weak side.”

[MORE: Goodwill: Bucks' improvement through series should alarm Bulls]

Dunleavy is clearly a recipient of crisp ball movement, as he’s shooting a torrid 57 percent from three in the four games this series, only making two two-pointers.

But getting those open shots is clearly easier said than done, as evidence by the Bulls’ comedy of errors, turning the ball over 28 times in their 92-90 Game 4 loss to the Bucks, where a win could’ve enabled the Bulls to get some much-needed rest before the second round.

Trying to force their individual offense led to a lot of the turnovers, as the Bucks want the Bulls to shoot perimeter jumpers, and have the long athletic wings to cover a lot of ground after double-teams.

“Well, in general, we looked at all our turnovers and some were their defense and some were not making the right read,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Usually, if you hold onto it too long or dance with the ball or try a risky pass, it will lead to a problem. Hit the first open man. Be sound with the ball. When we did that, we got good shots.”

How rare are 28 turnovers in a playoff game? It’s the third-highest amount in a playoff game in the last 25 years, trumped only by Indiana’s 33 in 1995 and Miami’s 32 in 1997 — the latter coming against the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.

If you didn’t cry about it, well, you sort of had to laugh. There was probably no snickering in the Bulls’ film session, where Thibodeau put every turnover on display for his team to see, but Dunleavy recognized how comical it could appear.

“When you turn it over 28 times, there's some pretty amazing ways to do it,” he said. “At some point you start becoming creative. It was pretty amazing the way we turned it over. Hopefully we fix it.”

When asked what he saw, Dunleavy voiced what everyone watching on TV witnessed as the Bulls struggled with the fundamental attribute of setting up their offense for good shots.

“Just a little of everything,” Dunleavy said. “One, let's say we want to get it in the post. We've had trouble getting it in there, had turnovers there. Then making that first pass out, had issues there. Then lastly when we get it out are we making the next pass or dribble into the paint and get caught in traffic? That sums it up.”

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The Bulls certainly take their turnover issue seriously, as the Bucks’ high-risk, high-reward style of defense leaves plenty of holes for the Bulls to be effective. When you shoot 49 percent from the field and 56 from 3-point range, it usually births a sense of optimism that if they clean that up, they’ll be fine in Game 5.

After all, before Derrick Rose’s final turnover on the Bulls’ last possession, they were in position to win the game despite the errors. Rose had eight turnovers, while the Bucks have taken Pau Gasol (five turnovers, five field goals in Game 4) out of the series essentially from an offensive standpoint, not allowing the Bulls to run offense through him.

“I thought overall we've rebounded the ball well,” Dunleavy said. “When you turn it over 28 times you won't miss the shots to hit the glass. Our possessions it's either a good look, we're shooting close to 50 percent or it's a turnover. Hopefully like I said we can take care of the ball.”

They know the solution, it’s just up to them to implement their game plan to move onto the next round.

NBA power rankings: Antetokounmpo and Bucks keep up 14 game win streak

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USA Today

NBA power rankings: Antetokounmpo and Bucks keep up 14 game win streak

With the NBA season hitting the quarter pole, it’s a good time to check in on how the MVP race is shaping up.

After blowing a two games to none lead against Toronto in last spring’s Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo vowed to come back better than ever this season, and he’s done exactly that, improving his averages in points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage.

The one knock on Antetokounmpo had been his lack of a consistent outside shot, and while he’s still only shooting 31.6% from beyond the arc, he’s made at least three shots from long distance in three of his last seven games.

The Bucks are currently riding a 14 game winning streak after blowing out a very good Clippers’ team at Fiserv Forum last Friday. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers even joked about the result, saying, “It was Giannis’ 25th birthday, and we searched all over the city to find a gift, and we couldn’t find one, so we gave him this one. That’s all I can come up with because we were awful.”

Antetokounmpo still has to prove he can get the Bucks to the Finals, but through the first 23 games, he’s clearly the favorite to win his 2nd straight MVP award.

LeBron James’ Lakers are actually a half game ahead of the Bucks for the NBA’s best record at the start of the new week. James leads the NBA in assists, something that hasn’t been done by a player who doesn’t play the guard position since Wilt Chamberlain. James would rank 2nd on my MVP rankings at the quarter pole.

I wrote about Luka Doncic in last week’s power rankings, and after averaging a triple double in November and leading the Mavericks to an unexpected strong start in the West, Luka would be number three, followed by NBA scoring leader James Harden and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam.

Now on to this week’s rankings. Check them out here. 

Without linear growth, the silver linings of Bulls' loss to Heat ring hollow

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USA Today

Without linear growth, the silver linings of Bulls' loss to Heat ring hollow

Trailing the Heat 108-105 with four seconds remaining in overtime, the ball found Lauri Markkanen. He was pinned in the corner and leaning away from the basket, but still, he got a clean 3-point attempt off. If the shot fell, it would have tied the game.

But it didn't. Instead, the high-arching jumper clanged off the side of the rim. And when it did, Coby White — who enjoyed, in many ways, a career performance in this game — slumped over. The response befitted the performance.

"Nobody likes to lose. We're not happy with the loss," Jim Boylen said. "I got a frustrated group of guys in there that want to win."

It's a defeat that, on its face, should be swallowable. In it, the Bulls played one of the league's best teams in the Heat down to the wire, in an arena they haven't lost in this season. 

The silver linings were abundant: The Bulls won the first quarter, an area Boylen has often emphasized. They got standout performances from Markkanen (team-high 22 points), Kris Dunn (16 points, three steals, 6-for-9 shooting) and White (11 points, eight assists, 3-for-7 from 3-point range, closed the fourth quarter and OT). They outshot one of the NBA's most prolific offenses and held Jimmy Butler to 3-for-14 shooting. Sure, he went to the free throw line 21 times, but he also didn't break the Bulls' back with clutch buckets down the stretch.

"It's real hard. But we gave them some game goals, and they accomplished them," Boylen said. "First quarter start. Be more physical. For the most part, our defensive rebounding was really good. Our transition D was really good. Our physicality was good. We moved the ball, we executed. We ran things to get open shots.

"We did a lot of really good thing and that's what I have to look at. Ultimately, you want to win. I cannot take away from the good things we do and the growth we're making. But it hurts."

Yet, something feels especially hollow about this loss. Even sour. But perhaps that's more about what came before tonight. Talk of growth doesn't resonate without assurance that said growth will continue to occur lineally, and that hasn't happened for the Bulls. Just last week, they sparked their first win streak of the season with victories over the Kings and Grizzlies. Steps forward. Then, a massive step back in falling to the 5-19 Warriors on Friday.

The tropes that pervaded the Golden State game reared their head again tonight. Zach LaVine was 1-for-6 between the fourth quarter and overtime. Loose balls found the wrong hands. Crucial defensive lapses late aided Tyler Herro nailing four 3-pointers (including the eventual game-winner) over the game's last six minutes.

"The one that [Herro] put up before the overtime, Shaq actually did a good job on [Butler] defensively and I thought [Butler] was gonna shoot the ball, so I went in there and crashed," Dunn said of the 3-pointer Herro hit to put the Heat up 97-95 with 7.1 seconds left in regulation. "[Butler] made an unselfish play, a great play out to Tyler Herro and he knocked it down... Jimmy does draw a lot of attention, he's a good player, but we have to be defensively sound. And, for me, that last play before the overtime, that was on me."

At 8-16, the Bulls simply can't afford to be happy with an 'encouraging' loss, even if they wish they could be. The balance of finding and taking the positives from this defeat while at the same reconciling that this season is escaping them is a difficult one.

"[Winning] is important, but I have to measure this — third-youngest team in the league, this young group — in other ways than that. I have to. That's what we're building, that's what we're developing," Boylen said.

"Definitely frustrated to lose, but we played well, a lot of guys played well," Dunn said. "Good thing about the NBA, games come quick... Tomorrow, we play Toronto at home so hopefully bring the same intensity and get the win there."

If that win is of the moral variety, the burning issues facing this team aren't like to dissipate soon.

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