Bulls

Noah, France battle Russia in EuroBasket finals

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Noah, France battle Russia in EuroBasket finals

Friday, Sept. 16, 2011
Posted: 11:43 a.m. Updated: 3:12 p.m.

By AggreySam
CSNChicago.com BullsInsider Follow@CSNBullsInsider
It's not quite dj vu for Joakim Noah, but nobody would blame him for feeling as if he's in a similar situation to the one he and the Bulls were in this past spring. After dispatching Russia, 79-70, Noah's France squad will take on tournament favorite Spain, equipped with star power not dissimilar to the NBA's Miami Heat -- at least as far as international basketball goes -- in the EuroBasket gold-medal game Sunday in Lithuania.

Noah contributed seven points and eight rebounds to France's win, but as astute Bulls fans know, the center's value is often worth more than what the box score says. As usual, France was paced in scoring by Spurs guard Tony Parker, who had 22 points, while Trail Blazers wing Nicolas Batum added 19, to go along with a well-rounded seven boards, four assists and two blocked shots. Russia was led by Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko's 21 points and Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov chipped in with 12 points for a team coached by American David Blatt, the head coach of the famed Israeli franchise Maccabi Tel Aviv and one of the most lauded professional coaches not in the NBA.

Although Spain struggled with lightly-regarded Macedonia -- led by New Orleans native Bo McCalebb, a star point guard in Europe -- throughout much of Friday's first semifinal, their talent was too much to overcome for the upstart squad. Lakers big man Pau Gasol came up with 22 points and 17 rebounds, while his brother Marc, the Grizzlies' center, added a double-double of his own (11 points, 10 rebounds), but they were carried by former NBA guard Juan Carlos Navarro, who scored 35 points.

The embarrassment of riches on Spain's roster is also quantified by the likes of Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (a native of the Congo, but a naturalized Spaniard, due to playing professionally in the country prior to making the jump to the NBA; he contributed 11 points Friday), Raptors point guard Jose Calderon, Mavericks swingman Rudy Fernandez and 2009 Timberwolves draft pick Ricky Rubio, who is expected to make his NBA debut next season, whenever that is. Rubio, in particular, has struggled in the event, marking a downward spiral for the point guard prodigy -- he's been playing professionally since his early teens -- since his impressive performance in the 2008 Olympics, in which he played beyond his years against future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd and All-Stars Chris Paul and Deron Williams in Spain's championship game loss to gold-medalist USA.

Getting back to France, Noah, who scored five points and snatched eight boards -- as well as coming up with a key steal late -- in France's quarterfinal win over Greece Thursday, must be a force on the glass and on defense, but the bulk of the scoring responsibility for France rests upon the shoulders of Parker, the leading scorer still playing in the tournament (Bulls small forward Luol Deng was the leader in that category, but his Great Britain squad exited after the first round) and to a lesser extent, Batum. France also boasts the likes of Bobcats forward Boris Diaw, Wizards big man Kevin Seraphin and former NBA swingman Mikael Gelebale on its roster, but Diaw has been inconsistent, Seraphin is inexperienced and Gelebale has been nursing a recent injury.

It's not the NBA, but unless you''re in Las Vegas for Impact Basketball's Competitive Training Series (in which Bulls backup point guard C.J. Watson is competing; former NBA coach and player John Lucas recently announced plans for a similar event in Houston) or up for a trip to one of the exhibition games later this month in New York, Philadelphia or Indianapolis, this is as close as one will get. International basketball might not have the same on-court excitement fans are used to, but the national pride, passion and importance of the games--trips to the Olympics are on the line--make it fun to watch.

Are you a diehard fan who takes your basketball any way you can get it, especially with a key Bulls player like Noah involved? Or are you preoccupied with the NFL or college football and putting the NBA on hold until the lockout is over?

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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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