Wizards storm lethargic Bulls for wire to wire win


Wizards storm lethargic Bulls for wire to wire win

All-Star John Wall pumped his fists, pounded his chest and yelled at the United Center crowd all throughout the fourth quarter, as his Washington Wizards completed a total dominating performance against the rival Chicago Bulls.

Despite being shorthanded, the Wizards took full advantage of their circumstances with shooting guard Bradley Beal out and center Marcin Gortat a late scratch with a knee injury.

Or more glaringly, they took advantage of a Bulls defense that had been showing noticeable signs of slippage in the past several games, slippage that had been overshadowed by an improving offensive awareness.

A Wall-to-Wall showing from the Wizards culminated in a 114-100 win Monday night, as the Bulls must’ve been eager for their fans to get home for the college football national title game, because the sellout crowd made its way out of the building nearly halfway through the fourth quarter.

They played from behind from the start, and couldn’t sustain a recovery. They pulled to 89-85 with 9:34 left, but three minutes later a bevy of turnovers and missed opportunities led to a 13-point spread.

“They continued on (defensive issues). Again, we didn’t come out the gate with the energy we needed to. It’s beyond me how that can happen,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s consecutive games, we go on a nice win streak. We hit a little adversity, put our heads down and lose our fight.”

Hoiberg and the rest of the Bulls were in agreement: the communication broke down, leading to an opponent scoring over 100 for the fourth time in five games.

“The guys on the bench talked more than the guys on the floor, for whatever reason,” Hoiberg said. “That’s huge focus going into every game and two games in a row we hadn’t done the job.”

Wall scored 17 with 10 assists and five rebounds, one of seven Wizards who scored in double figures. All 10 Wizards who played scored and all could claim a tangible piece of the dead carcass that was the Bulls, in what should’ve been an energetic start to a four-game in five-night stretch.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Instead, even with Joakim Noah returning from a nine-game shoulder-injury absence, he went scoreless in his seven shots during 19 minutes of run—which seemed to go right along with the rest of his team.

If not for Derrick Rose’s 23 points, the game would’ve gotten ugly quicker than it did, as the Wizards had a 15-point lead midway through the second quarter and after weathering a couple meager runs in the third and start of the fourth, pulled away quite easily to put it away with six minutes remaining.

Garrett Temple scored 14 and did an admirable job guarding Jimmy Butler, who struggled to score 19 points with seven assists. Butler committed a couple early turnovers while the Bulls fell behind in the first and was unable to catch a rhythm.

With the disadvantages presented by the Wizards, not even a 40-point night may not have done the trick, as the Bulls shot 42 percent and committed 16 turnovers, while giving up 60 first-half points for the fourth time in five games.

“You can see it, teams are doing whatever they want to do on the floor,” Butler said. “We’re not doing what we’re supposed to do coverage-wise. We’re not talking like we’re supposed to be talking. You can tell. We’re not the tougher, more physical team.”

It was a bad matchup for anybody in the frontcourt, as the Wizards set the Bulls up by spreading them out and then picking them apart, piece-by-piece. Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson were chasing around the likes of swingman-by-trade Otto Porter Jr. and Jared Dudley, far outside of their respective comfort zones.

It opened up the floor for more than drives to the basket, like open shots on the perimeter and open space on the Wizards’ offensive glass as they got every loose ball, resulting in 19 second-chance points.

Drew Gooden came off the bench to give the Bulls fits with 12 points and 10 rebounds, hitting open shots and retrieving more than his share of boards that should’ve belonged to the Bulls.

Mirotic, Gibson and Pau Gasol struggled with the Wizards’ speed, just like the Bulls did against the Atlanta Hawks over the weekend. Gasol scored 15 with 10 rebounds, but was often caught flat-footed on the glass and on defense for most of the night.

And it sends the Bulls, once a team that seemed like it righted itself a week ago, back to the drawing board as they play a crucial stretch away from home.

“If you wanna be a top team, you wanna be a contender, you can’t afford (this),” Gasol said. “Championship teams don’t do this, bottom line.”


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 famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch the 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?


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.