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Short-handed Bulls can't fight off Sixers

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Short-handed Bulls can't fight off Sixers

PHILADELPHIAWith injured center Joakim Noah on the bench in street clothes, the physically and emotionally weary Bulls put forth a game effort in Sundays Game 4 of their first-round playoff series with the 76ers, but simply didnt have enough left in the tank, leading to an 89-82 loss at the Wells Fargo Center. The effort was there and although the execution lacked at certain junctures, it became clear that despite giving it their all, the Bulls just didnt have the personnel or energy to move forward, meaning that Tuesdays Game 5 could mark the end of their 2011-12 campaign.

An aggressive Sixers squad beat the Bulls to the punch from the outset, relentlessly penetrating to the basket, getting out in transition and swarming their guests on defense. To make matters worse, Carlos Boozer (23 points, 11 rebounds), one of the visitors primary scoring options, picked up two quick fouls and was forced to sitprompting Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to reinsert fill-in starting center Omer Asik, who was torched by Philadelphia counterpart Spencer Hawes (22 points, eight rebounds)which contributed to a double-digit hole.

Then, Bulls All-Star Luol Deng (11 points, five rebounds) took a hard spill while driving to the basket and got up clutching his already-injured left wrist, though he would battle through the pain and bounce back to have a solid opening period. Still, after a period of play, Chicago trailed, 24-15, not surprising considering their disadvantage on the glass and 28-percent shooting from the field.

Reserve Taj Gibson (14 points, 12 rebounds) sparked the Bulls in the second stanza, as his boundless energy, rebounding and overall productivityhe scored 10 consecutive points to bring the Bulls back within striking distancematched Philadelphias quickness and athleticism. Gibson and a modified Bench Mob, including swingman Ronnie Brewer, who didnt play a single minute in Fridays Game 3 loss, closed the gap with improved defensive intensity and an offense consisting mostly of Gibson scoring in a variety of fashions, from face-up dribble moves to tough interior finishes.

While the score remained close, it wasnt due to the Bulls offensive proficiency, and while it would dovetail well with the games statistics to call the contest a defensive battle, in reality, neither team was very capable of producing points, with notable exceptions being Boozer and Hawes. Despite starting wings Deng and Rip Hamilton playing limited minutes in the quarterDeng exited the period early in favor of sharpshooter Kyle Korver, while Hamilton didnt touch the floor at all after starting the gamethe visitors, after briefly taking a lead, were behind, 44-42, at the intermission, after a Hawes corner three-pointer just before the halftime buzzer.

Boozer got off to a strong start after the break and thanks to solid Bulls ball movementa hallmark of the team during the regular season when it was without All-Star Derrick Rose in the lineup to make playsthat included the starting perimeter trio of Deng, Hamilton and even C.J. Watson (17 points, four assists, six rebounds), in the midst of a miserable series shooting the ball, knocking down outside jumpers. However, behind the scoring of Hawes and the all-around contributions of the young backcourt of Jrue Holiday (20 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Evan Turner, as well as All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala (14 points, 11 rebounds), the Sixers hung tough, making it a back-and-forth affair.

Boozer and Watson ended up shouldering Chicagos offensive load as the period waned on, but the frames emphasis was less on scoring than physical, hard-nosed play on both ends of the floor, as scoring was at a premium for either team. Philadelphia was unable to unleash its transition game, but heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were still behind, 64-63.

The ragged contest didnt get any prettier in the fourth quarter, reflected by the gritty approach of both squadsas well as the crowd, as one member of the audience ambled on to the court, screaming at a game official, which led to his ejection from the arenaone fighting for survival, the other to put its opponent on the ropes. Along with continued, if sporadic contributions from Boozer and Gibson, Watson, consistently described by Thibodeau as nicked up, fought through physical defense and mustered up some clutch buckets, as did opposing point guard Holiday, whose back-to-back dagger jumpers gave the Sixers a three-possession cushion, 80-73, with 3:34 to go.

Following a timeout, a Boozer traditional three-point play and a Watson jumper cut the deficit to two points, then after Hawes and Watson exchanged buckets, the Bulls had a chance to tie the game, but whistles remained silent when Boozer drew contact going to the basket, while on the other end, Holiday was fouled with 51.5 seconds left and knocked down a pair of free throws to make it 84-80 in Philadelphias favor. After a timeout, the Bulls turned over the ensuing inbounds pass and after the Sixers bled away the clock and knocked down clutch free throws, what could be the final game of the season looms Tuesday night at the United Center.

Blakchawks Talk Podcast: What should the Blackhawks be asking for this holiday season?

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USA TODAY

Blakchawks Talk Podcast: What should the Blackhawks be asking for this holiday season?

On the latest Hawks Talk podcast, Pat Boyle, Steve Konroyd and Charlie Roumeliotis discuss Corey Crawford's concussion, Henri Jokiharju leaving the team to play in World Juniors, how the Blackhawks defensemen stack up, and what gift do the Blackhawks need this holiday season?

01:30 Corey Crawford's concussion

04:00 You can't use Crawford's injury as an excuse this season

06:10 Hawks able to get a look at Collin Delia

07:00 Henri Jokiharju to play for Finland in World Juniors

10:30 Erik Gustafsson's potential

14:00 Strome and Kane playing on the same line

17:00 What have the guys seen from Dylan Sikura

21:30 Tough back to back games at Dallas and Colorado

24:30 Guys give their holiday gift to the Blackhawks

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

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Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

After years of being handcuffed by the ill-fated Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trade that cost the Nets’ franchise several prime lottery picks, Brooklyn is starting to come out of the abyss under energetic young coach Kenny Atkinson.

The Nets’ front office was able to absorb the contracts of veteran players like DeMarre Carroll, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur for draft considerations, while also picking up former #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell by taking on the massive contract of Timofey Mozgov from the Lakers. In addition, they also traded veterans Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic for 1st rounders that became starters Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

Under Atkinson’s direction, the Nets have bought into a culture of hard work and unselfish play. They improved from 20 to 28 wins a year ago, and are currently within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the East.

LeVert is currently sidelined after dislocating his right ankle in a scary fall in early November, but he should return at some point this season. At the time of his injury, LeVert was leading the Nets in scoring at 18.4 points per game while shooting nearly 48% from the field, looking like a candidate for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. In his absence, the Nets have gone with a share the wealth approach, with Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all scoring in double figures.

Dinwiddie is the name that should be familiar to Bulls’ fans. He was with the team during training camp in 2016, but let go when the Bulls acquired Michael Carter-Williams in a deal with Milwaukee. Since that time, Dinwiddie has fully recovered from an ACL injury he suffered in college and emerged as a top candidate for the NBA’s 6th man award, averaging 17.2 points and 5 assists per game while shooting almost 48% from the field. Hindsight is always 20-20, but Dinwiddie would certainly look good in the Bulls’ backcourt right now.

Still, the most exciting thing for Nets’ fans right now is the team’s salary cap situation. Thanks to all the moves made by General Manager Sean Marks, Brooklyn could have the ability to offer 2 max contracts in 2019 free agency. Whether Marks will be able to get a meeting with any of the big names like Durant, Leonard, Irving, Butler and Thompson is still to be determined, but at least there’s finally some hope for a turnaround in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have sunk to 7-24  and have been the league’s least efficient offensive team since Jim Boylen took over as head coach. Boylen wants his shorthanded team to play at a more deliberate tempo in direct contrast to the current pace-and-space trend that’s taken over the league. With leading scorer Zach LaVine out because of injury and Jabari Parker inactive while the front office tries to work out a trade, the Bulls are painfully short on offensive options and need to rely on an improved defense to stay competitive in games.

Like Brooklyn, the Bulls figure to have cap space this summer to pursue free agents, but they’ll need to show improvement and stability over the final 51 games to make their sales pitch effective.

As for Wednesday’s game, here’s what the Bulls need to do to have a chance for a home court win.

1.   FAST BREAK POINTS.  We know Boylen wants to put the brakes on the Bulls’ transition game, but the Nets come to town after hosting the Lakers Tuesday night which means there could be a few players on the court with tired legs. When the Bulls force a turnover, they need to look for an easy scoring opportunity before the defense sets up. Oklahoma City had a 27-9 advantage in fast break points on Monday.

2.   MARKKANEN IN THE POST.  The 7 foot forward was extremely effective in the 2nd half of the come-from-behind win in San Antonio by isolating against smaller defenders for drives and step-back jumpers. Markkanen will have a height advantage against Brooklyn’s smaller frontcourt, and he should be able to shoot over the top of Hollis-Jefferson, another former Arizona Wildcat.

3.   SHUT DOWN SPENCER.  Dinwiddie has been in celebration mode this week after signing a brand new 3 year, 34 million dollar contract extension. Still, Dinwiddie gets pretty serious in talking about the 2 NBA teams that gave up on him (Pistons and Bulls) knowing that all he needed was time to fully recover from a serious knee injury. The 25 year old guard has been providing instant offense off the bench for Brooklyn, and you can bet he’ll have the green light when he enters the game at the United Center.

We hope you’ll join Kendall Gill, Kelly Crull and me for Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 Wednesday on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. After the game goes final, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for Jim Boylen’s media session and player reaction from the locker room on Bulls Postgame Live, followed by Bulls Outsiders.