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Rose, Bulls soar over Howard-less Magic

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Rose, Bulls soar over Howard-less Magic

Sunday, April 10, 2011Posted: 2:40 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

ORLANDOIt was a much closer call than expected, but the Bulls held off a short-handed Magic team, 102-99, Sunday afternoon at the Amway Center.

Yet another stellar performance by MVP frontrunner Derrick Rose led the way for Chicago (60-20), who remains in the hunt for the NBAs top record and home-court advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs.

Our defense wasnt very good, our rebounding was below average and we didnt take care of the ball. We were fortunate to win, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team shot 60 percent from the field, but committed 21 turnovers and allowed the Magic to compete on the glass without All-Star center Dwight Howard. Youre starting earlier and theyre down Dwight. You know theyre going to play hardOrlando always plays hardyou know theyre going to play unselfishly and if youre not guarding the three-point line, youre going to be in trouble.

After getting off to a 9-2 start, it appeared as if the Bulls would run the short-handed Magic out of their own building. Orlando (50-30), however, had its own ideas and behind a combination of long-range bombing and varied scoring from center Ryan Anderson (28 points, 10 assists, 4-for-8 three-point shooting)starting in place of the suspended Howardthe Magic kept the game tight in the early going.

A win is a win, observed Rose. In this league, its hard to win, even when the best players on the other teams dont play, some of the other players that come off the bench are playing for their opportunity.
READ: Bulls gunning for that No. 1 spot

Although Magic shooting guard Jason Richardson complemented Andersons offense with efficient scoring of his own, Rose (39 points on 12-for-16 field-goal shooting and 10-for-10 free-throw shooting), got to the rim at will, keeping the Bulls ahead of their hosts.

With Rose keeping his foot on gas throughout the first quarter and Carlos Boozer (12 points, six rebounds, six assists, three steals) also contributing with his polished low-post game, the Bulls extended their lead to 32-24 at the conclusion of the opening period, propelled by 70 percent shooting from the floor.

The two squads exchanged 6-0 runs to start the second quarter, but the Bulls Bench Mob seized the games momentum with their typically hard-nosed defense and up-tempo offensive style, led by Taj Gibsons (nine points, 11 rebounds) relentless inside play.

Taj has been playing terrific, whatever role you put him in. You play him at the four, you play him at the five, praised Thibodeau. He plays defense, he challenges shots, he blocks shots, he sets great screens, hes playing with a lot of energy.

Orlando again rallied, however, and even after Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest, the Magic drew closer.

The inspired interior play of undersized big man Brandon Bass, along with timely scoring from Richardson and fellow wing Hedo Turkoglu, brought the home team all the way back, tying the contest at 46 apiece with 1:31 remaining in the first half.

The Bulls closed the period strong, scoring a pair of baskets to give themselves some breathing room, which was taken away by a Jameer Nelson prayer from just inside halfcourt at the halftime buzzer, giving the visitors a slim 50-49 advantage at the intermission.

Orlando capitalized off Chicago turnovers in the second half, hustled for offensive boards and kept up its torrid three-point shooting, but the Bulls' collective lack of timing, general offensive futilityoutside of Rose and Luol Deng (15 points, five rebounds, five assists)and up-and-down level of energy allowed the Magic to stay in the game even without their superstar big man.

Chicago tried to pull away from its hosts down the stretch of the third quarter, but with tight officiating and Magic marksmanship acting as deterrents, the tight-knit nature of the affair persisted. Through three periods of play, the Bulls clung to an 80-77 lead.

Explained Thibodeau: If you dont go into this game with a multiple-effort mentality because of their ability to execute the pick-and-roll and then spread you out with four shootersyoure not closing out hard and youre not blocking out, and youre not fighting for the balltheyre going to hurt you, either with the three or the second shot. In this case, they hurt us with both.

The final stanza didnt get off to the start the Bulls desired, as the second unit was unable to string together productive possessions on offense, forcing Thibodeau to reinsert Rose earlier than usual to counter the strong showing from Orlando counterpart Nelson. The Chicago native responded immediately, but the Magic kept coming, aided by surprising contributions from the likes of former Bulls guard Chris Duhon.

Critical calls by the game officials factored into the tight game as the contests stretch run approached, but where the Bulls became disjointed, the Magic seized the moment, making clutch plays to give the home team the lead in crunch time, further inciting an already raucous Amway Center crowd.

Rose continued to be the Bulls primary optioneven more than usualand after both teams rapidly exchanged steals, the floor generals transition dunk gave the visitors a 95-94 lead with approximately two minutes to play.

After Anderson and Boozer knocked down a pair of free throws each on the subsequent two trips, both teams made defensive stops in which two official video reviews were needed to determine possession.

On the ensuing possession, Rose blew by Nelson and dished off to Gibson, who was fouled while attempting a dunk with 14.2 seconds remaining. Gibson hit the first attempt and although he missed the second, Deng corralled the offensive rebound and the ball eventually got to Rose, who knocked down two foul shots to give the Bulls a 100-96 lead with 9.9 seconds to go.

Derrick was Derrick. You cant ask anything more of him, said Thibodeau. Hes being trapped, he still was able to make a lot of good plays, make shots. He carried us.

WATCH: Sam Smith weighs in on the NBA MVP Debate

Orlando didnt give up, however, and with 2.7 seconds left, Richardson knocked down a three-pointer to make it a one-point game. On the ensuing inbounds, Boozer was fouled with two seconds on the clock. After he hit both of his attempts from the line, Orlando called a timeout and Nelson threw up another miracle three-point attempt, but the potential game-tying basket was ruled after the buzzer.

We dodged a bullet in the end, said Thibodeau. We got lucky.

Added Rose: We had them. We should have easily put them away, but we continue to let teams come back. Its going to hurt us if we continue to do this, but were definitely happy with the win.

Box Score

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.

What to watch for: Bulls host Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors

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USA Today

What to watch for: Bulls host Pascal Siakam and the Toronto Raptors

The Bulls welcome the Raptors, currently on a three-game losing streak, to the United Center on Monday. It is the second game in as many nights for each team. The matchup tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago; unitl then, here's what to watch for:

Raptors last five (2-3)

  • Dec. 8 — L at 76ers: 110-104

  • Dec. 5 — L vs. Rockets: 119-109

  • Dec. 3 — L vs. Heat: 121-110 (OT)

  • Dec. 1 — W vs. Jazz: 130-110

  • Nov. 29 — W at Magic: 90-83

Storyline(s) for each team

Both of these teams enter tonight on the back-end of back-to-backs — the Raptors got essentially trounced by the 76ers (they didn’t pull to within single digits until the game’s final two minutes) in Philadelphia Sunday night, and are riding a three-game losing streak into Chicago, overall. It’s a slight reality check for a team that began its first post-Kawhi Leonard campaign 15-4, but all three defeats came against good-to-great teams. There’s no real reason to believe that, tonight, Toronto can’t put forth a performance similar to the 108-84 drubbing they handed the Bulls at the United Center on Oct. 26 (a game in which the Bulls’ leading scorer was Wendell Carter Jr. with 12 points). 

The Bulls are coming off a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Heat that left some reasons for optimism, but ultimately stung as much as the defeats that preceded it (perhaps even more so). Neither Otto Porter Jr. nor Chandler Hutchison appear any closer to returning, and the team’s best players remain hot-and-cold on a night-to-night basis. The Bulls have demonstrated an ability to compete with teams of this quality, but a win tonight remains a tough proposition.

Player to watch: Pascal Siakam

Even in limiting Jimmy Butler to 3-for-14 shooting on Sunday, his game-high 21 free throw attempts and the gravity he attracted down the stretch (which freed up Tyler Herro to get going) were a reminder that the Bulls still sorely miss their big wings in Porter and Hutchison.

Want another reminder? Enter: Pascal Siakam. In the absence of Leonard, Siakam is currently making the leap of all leaps, averaging 24.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game on 46/36.5/81.6 shooting splits. He’s bumped his volume substantially (20.1 field goal and 6.2 3-point attempts per game) and taken on an increased number of pull-ups and drives, at the expense of catch-and-shoots (i.e. he’s creating his own offense).

 

Though he’s slightly cooled off over the Raptors’ aforementioned losing streak (38.9% shooting in his last three games), a trip to Chicago could represent a get-right game for the Raptors’ best player. The forward combination of him and OG Anunoby also presents difficult defensive matchups for Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, given that the Bulls will probably continue to roll with a three-guard starting lineup.

Matchup to watch: Transition (and everything that comes with it)

The Raptors are a high-octane group that plays with breakneck pace. They shoot the second-highest percentage on 3-pointers in the NBA (38.7%) on the seventh-most attempts per game (36.5), rank eighth in the NBA in steals per game (Bulls are first) and relish the opportunity to get out on the break.

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Raptors convert live rebounds into transition opportunities at the second-highest clip in the NBA (36%, trailing only the Bucks). The Bulls (32.4%) are sixth in that category, though the Raptors score on said possessions with greater efficiency. The Raptors (sixth) and Bulls (seventh) also rank among the league’s best in percentage of steals converted into transition possessions. We know this will be an up-and-down affair — what remains to be seen is which team can win the rebounding and turnover battles, and thus afford themselves more opportunities to get out, run and dictate the flow of the game.

The Raptors wore the Bulls down in most of these areas the last time these two matched up, out-rebounding the Bulls 65-56 and winning the transition points battle 25-7 (each team had nine steals) on Oct. 26. Even potentially without Fred VanVleet (who left Toronto’s Sunday night game with a knee injury), Toronto has the personnel to win this matchup again, between elite ball-pusher and outlet-passer Kyle Lowry, the fast, rangy and physical Siakam/Anunoby duo and ancillary sparkplugs like Normal Powell and Terence Davis. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka won’t make the Bulls’ lives easy on the glass, either.

Trends to watch

  • It’s only a four-game sample size, but Lauri Markkanen is averaging 19.3 points and 5.3 rebounds on 50.9% shooting (13.3 attempts) and 43.2% from three (9.2 attempts) in the month of December. Even that stretch has had its ups and downs, but it’s worth monitoring if he’s able to continue his generally positive upward trend against a big, physical and talented Raptors frontcourt.

  • Coby White played all but eight seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime in Miami on Sunday, closing over Tomas Satoransky. He shot 2-for-5 (both makes on 3-pointers) in those minutes, dishing out three assists and also committing two turnovers. Still, he looked like he belonged out there. Boylen has gone back-and-forth on rolling with the starters versus the ‘hot-hand’ down the stretch, but White certainly benefits from a developmental perspective from that type of increased responsibility. 

  • Kyle Lowry returned from a thumb injury that cost him about a month on Dec. 3, and in the three games since his return, he’s played 41, 42 and 38 minutes, respectively. So much for easing back in. With VanVleet likely out, his workload probably won’t lighten in this one, except in the event of a blowout (certainly plausible). Lowry’s a great player, but he’s shooting 35% since returning, including a 2-for-18 shooting night in his first game back.

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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.