Bulls

More vocal Fred Hoiberg calling for more 'nasty' from Bulls

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More vocal Fred Hoiberg calling for more 'nasty' from Bulls

Two straight wins at home after the All-Star break isn’t quite enough to keep the distress light off at the United Center, as the Bulls aren’t out of the woods yet in terms of playoff positioning, and likely won't be for some time.

Those wins haven’t diluted the facts that the Bulls have given up 100 points in seven straight games, hence Fred Hoiberg’s call for a little more nastiness on the defensive end.

“You gotta come out and play with great urgency and energy. The big thing is we gotta get a little nastier defensively,” Hoiberg said. “We’re not hitting guys. The Lakers would get a stop, get the loose ball or the offensive rebound. We need to do much better with the 50-50 balls. We’re losing that battle pretty much every night right now.”

Many will remember Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calling for his team to get “a little nasty” once in a playoff game a few years ago. Without Joakim Noah, and to be honest, the general makeup of this roster, it’s not surprising Hoiberg has noticed a lack of physical toughness.

Mental toughness has been more a focus given the Bulls’ slide over the last month or so. Allowing the Lakers to come back after a 100-81 lead in the opening minute of the fourth to cut it to three should be a cause for alarm.

“That’s gotta be a big thing is the toughness, both physically and mental,” Hoiberg said. “We got up either 19 or 21 the other night, and just kind of let off the gas. Again, that’s something you’ve gotta do. You gotta pounce on teams when you get them down and put them away. We didn’t do that the other night.’’

[POWER RANKINGS: Blazers continue to roll behind Damian Lillard]

With Washington coming in Wednesday, the Bulls still have a 14-point beating from last month fresh enough in their minds. The Wizards are 3.5 games back of the eighth playoff spot current occupied by these Bulls, and picked up talented but mercurial forward Markieff Morris from the Phoenix Suns in their push for a postseason berth.

Drew Gooden came off the bench to grab 12 rebounds with 10 points and the Bulls allowed Ramon Sessions to run wild for 16 off the bench in an easy 114-100 win where the Wizards were without big man Marcin Gortat.

“It’s got to come to a point where it bothers you,” Hoiberg said. “That’s the first thing is when you get out-hustled and outworked and knocked out of bounds, that’s where it starts. We did a drill today where you have to go hit, have to go make first contact. A lot of times we’re reacting.”

The Bulls out-rebounded the Wizards by one in that meeting but the Wizards shot 49 percent. This month as a whole, they’re being out-rebounded by an average of 47.9-42.7, which could be a direct effect of missing Joakim Noah.

“We get hit in the back first,” Hoiberg said. “Now we’re pushed underneath in the basket and you’re in terrible rebounding position. They don’t call that a lot. It’s physical. It’s a man’s game.”

If there is a player who has the nasty DNA, it’s Taj Gibson. And while he won’t call his team soft, he’s concerned about the state of the team’s physicality and the need to increase it.

“At times 50-50 balls are those plays where long 3-point shots just bounce around,” Gibson said. “We can be a little bit better closing out possessions. I feel like that’s where we need to pick it up a little better on. But we had a great practice today. Like I said every day is a learning curve.”

[ROAD AHEAD: Bulls building a sliver of momentum at home]

That curve has extended to Hoiberg, who has been more vocal in practices recently with the players. While he can’t change who he is at his core, Gibson said he’s been a little more aggressive as far as getting his point across.

“He’s been even tougher. He’s been cursing guys out. It’s been fun. I’m enjoying it,” Gibson said. “It’s kind of weird because he really doesn’t want to get after guys. But lately he’s been in guys’ tails. It's been real fun. I appreciate it. That’s the kind of things we need, especially this morning in practice. And shootaround as far as watching film, that’s what we’re going to need. I told him I appreciate it.”

And it’s clear everybody involved would appreciate a little more nasty and a few more wins.

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 scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that 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.