Bulls

Thibodeau balances end of regular season, playoff preparation

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Thibodeau balances end of regular season, playoff preparation

CHARLOTTE With five regular-season games left until the playoffs begin and his team in position to have the leagues best overall record and thus, home-court advantage throughout the postseason one might expect Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to feel at ease. However, after a shocking home loss to the lowly Washington Wizards and his two All-Stars, ironman Luol Deng and reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, both ailing, there is also reason for him to be concerned.

But in true Thibodeau fashion, the second-year NBA head coach and frontrunner for unprecedented back-to-back league top-coaching honors, put things in perspective.

Its a compilation of things. One, your health is critical and you want to be playing well. This will be unique this year. Its different. We end on the 26th and we begin on the 28th for the playoffs, so basically, its a continuation of the regular season. Youre trying to tie all those things together, explained the coach, who left unspoken another issue, the fact that not only does he not have control of whether Rose or Deng suits up, hes sometimes in the dark about whether or not theyll play up until close to game time, as was the case Monday, according to a source familiar with the situation. But health is a priority. Playing well is a priority. Youd like to have a set rotation, where guys are comfortable knowing when theyre going into a game and things of that nature, so all of the above and youre trying to shore things up and improve as you go along.

Ideally, you try to put as many things in your favor as possible, so is home-court advantage a must? I always think if you can get it, you get it and if not, whatever your circumstances are, you make the best of those circumstances. Were young and I want us to continue to improve, learn how to win. Last year I thought home court helped us a lot, but if you dont have home court, you dont and you have to win more on the road, Thibodeau went on to say prior to the Bulls Wednesday-morning shootaround at Time Warner Cable Arena. Last year was a lot different. Last year we won our last nine going in, so I thought we hit the ground running. This year its a different season entirely. You dont have nearly as much practice time, not nearly as much rest and youre not going to have nearly as much time to prepare when you go into the playoffs. Basically, its one day and youre playing, and were going to have to be ready when it comes.

While Thibodeau has an eye on the playoffs whether or not he admits it he also would like to see his team play with more urgency in the present, despite knowing pulling off occasional miracles, playing short-handed and the squads focused, defensive-oriented and intense style has worn on them during the lockout-shortened season, something that was clear in Mondays contest.

You learn from every situation, hopefully we have. I believe we were up 11 with 10:43 to go in the game. Your fourth quarter, you want that to be your best quarter and it wasnt. We were outscored 30-21. We gave up 11 points in basically a little over a minute. We allowed three three-point plays, two threes and one conventional three-point play. During that time, I also believe we had three turnovers, said Thibodeau, who delivered some of his more pointed comments during his postgame press conference. In a minute, a game can change and we have to understand that.

Still, it would be foolhardy to think the ultra-prepared coach isnt already simultaneously managing current concerns with future plans.

The advance guys are preparing now. You have to, especially with the way the playoffs are structured this year. Youre only going to have one day between the end of the season and the playoffs. They know what their job is. Theyll have everything ready. For us, I just want them focused on the next game, he said recently. Where you are in the season, too, right now youre going head to head with a lot of the teams youre going to be facing or you have the possibility of facing. That helps in some ways, too.

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.