Ben Simmons

Zach LaVine and other NBA stars to compete in Call of Duty Modern Warfare tournament

Zach LaVine and other NBA stars to compete in Call of Duty Modern Warfare tournament

Saturday night, SLAM is putting on a Call of Duty Modern Warfare tournament featuring some big NBA names on its Twitch channel. 

For Bulls fans looking for a rooting interest: Zach LaVine is set to participate.

LaVine will compete alongside Meyers Leonard of the Heat, Mario Hezonja of the Trail Blazers, Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz, and Fatality, who ranks among the most accomplished gamers in Esports history. There also appears to be a mystery member on their squad who has yet to be announced (Devin Booker, perhaps?).

Across the sticks are Royce O'Neal, Ben Simmons and even Kentucky basketball commit Terrence Clark. Earlier this week, Simmons sparked discussion by listing his top-five defenders in the NBA on a SLAM stream. Who knows what could be in store tonight?

It may not be live sports, but we'll take what we can get.

RELATED: Here's this week's best of the Bulls while self-quarantined

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Four observations: First half energy fades in Bulls' loss to 76ers

Four observations: First half energy fades in Bulls' loss to 76ers

The Bulls hung with Philadelphia in the first half, but let another one slip in the third quarter and beyond. Observations from the Sixers' 100-89 victory:

Run, Chicago, run

The Bulls are at their best on the run — they entered play tonight ranked sixth in the NBA in percentage of total points on the fastbreak (14.3%), and that dynamic kept them in this one in the earlygoing.

Through quarter one, the Bulls outscored the Sixers 11-2 on the fastbreak (24-11 on the scoreboard), and extending into the beginning of the second, 16 of the Bulls’ first 27 points came in transition. By halftime, leading Philadelphia 47-46, their fastbreak points advantage had swelled to 18-4. All of that while forcing only five Sixers turnovers.

Lauri Markkanen benefitted the most from the pick-up in pace. He ran the floor hard throughout the first two quarters — cutting, dunking and curling around screens with purpose en route to 12 first half points on 5-for-7 shooting.

As a team, the Bulls had six dunks in the first half. Rims were rattling:

 

The Bulls finished the night wih 29 fastbreak points, but the energy noticably shifted in the Sixers' favor as the game wore on.

The third quarter got away from the Bulls

In the Bulls’ three games prior to this one, they outscored opponents by an average of 4.7 points per game in third quarters. Their season-long -1.9 third-quarter point differential ranks 27th in the NBA.

Tonight’s third quarter, which the Sixers won 35-24, was thus a regression to reality. In the 12 minutes that ultimately decided the game, Ben Simmons sliced and diced his way to six points and four assists, and Al Horford had nine points on 4-for-5 shooting. The two of them burned the Bulls’ pick-and-pop coverages with regularity. The Bulls committed five turnovers and shot 2-for-8 from three in the period. 

But Furkan Korkmaz led the way. In the period, he scored 14 points and hit 4 of 4 from 3-point range on the heels of a first half that the Sixers shot the longball at only a 21.4% clip. Korkmaz finished the night 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting and hit a career-high six threes.

In the second half, the Sixers outshot the Bulls 55% to 41.5% from the field, 40% to 10.5% from three and outscored them 54-42.

"I didn't like our discipline in the second half, offensively," Jim Boylen said. "We did have some good looks in some situations I think we can capitalize on and we didn't. And that was the difference in the game."

Lauri Markkanen faded again

Also of note from that third quarter: Markkanen played eight-and-a-half of 12 minutes and took no shots as the 76ers vaulted from down one to up 10. In the second half, overall, Markkanen went scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting after his aforementioned strong first half.

This is a pattern now and has been for some time. Markkanen's 13:22 minutes in the first half (a half in which he at one point sat for a 10:38 minute stretch between the first and second quarter) and 28:48 minutes for the game feels too few (with the obvious caveat being the unknown severity of his lingering ankle ailment). When all was said and done, Luke Kornet finished with more points (13) and shots (10) than Markkanen.

"It's getting better," Markkanen said of his ankle. "I can tell that I rolled it a week or so ago, but it's definitely getting better."

Salvaging Markkanen’s development should be trending towards a major priority for the Bulls in the second half of this season. Performances like this aren’t encouraging in the context of that mission.

Individual notes

  • Ben Simmons loves playing the Bulls. He finished this one with 20 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists and for long stretches looked absolutely unstoppable against the undersized cast of characters the Bulls threw at him. Entering play, Simmons was averaging 19.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists with three triple-doubles against Chicago in his career.

  • Might it be Coby time? A bright spot! (I always try to sneak one in these things). Coby White ended up the Bulls’ second-leading scorer with 14 points and added four assists, to boot. His 5-for-13 shooting from the field and 2-for-6 from three don’t jump off the screen, but in spurts, he sparked the Bulls’ offensive attack and is beginning to pepper in more instances of his improved patience and decision-making in the halfcourt. The Bulls are now 15-28. If development is the focus, might it be time to give White a shot with the big boys?

  • Zach LaVine couldn’t find the netting on his jumpers tonight, finishing 0-for-7 from three. But he still got to the rim at will and finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and 9-for-13 shooting inside the arc. It’s his first game since Jan. 6 with less than 25 points. It all goes to show how not-empty LaVine’s offensive numbers are, even if not all of his stellar performances translate to wins. On a night where he was good not great, the Bulls mustered only 89 points and were out of the game part-way through the third quarter.

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Even without Joel Embiid, 76ers' wings will give shorthanded Bulls fits

Even without Joel Embiid, 76ers' wings will give shorthanded Bulls fits

The Bulls are shooting for their second win in a row, but the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers stand in their way. The game tips off at 6 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

76ers’ last five games (3-2)

  • Jan. 15 — W vs. Nets: 117-106

  • Jan. 13 — L at Pacers: 101-95

  • Jan. 11 — L at Mavericks: 109-91

  • Jan. 9 — W vs. Celtics: 109-98

  • Jan. 6 — W vs. Thunder: 120-113

Storyline(s) to watch

Billed by many as true title contenders and the favorites to come out of the East, the Sixers’ (26-16) season has been of the hot-and-cold variety so far. Fortunately for people like me, it’s pretty easy to delineate when they’ll be which temperature: Philadelphia is 19-2 on its home floor in 2019-20 while just 7-14 on the road, and some of the statistical disparities are positively gaping:

  Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating 3P% TOV per game
Home 112.1 (9th) 102.5 (3rd) 9.6 (5th) 37.5% (7th) 14.4 (15th)
Road 105.9 (22nd) 109 (11th) -3.1 (18th) 33.5% (24th) 15.1 (18th)

Still, the Sixers are a suffocating defensive team with a litany of impressive wins under their belt (chiefly, their Christmas Day romp of the Bucks). And unfortunately for the Bulls, this one will take place in the city of brotherly love. A second straight win, and one against an above-.500 team, would be a major boost, but the Sixers’ impossible length and physicality make them a daunting matchup.

Player(s) to watch: Sixers’ wings

Without Joel Embiid (torn hand ligament), the Sixers will likely trot out a starting unit of Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford. Though the absence of a ‘traditional’ point guard isn’t new to Philly, this type of roster construction — wing-heavy, and big wings, at that — poses an intriguing challenge for a Bulls defense that thrives when it can hone in on the head of their opponent’s snake in the pick-and-roll.

Well, the Sixers run just 13.9 pick-and-roll plays per game — second-least in the NBA to only the iso-crazed Rockets — and with good reason: they score just 0.8 points per possession on such plays. Instead, their playmakers outside of Embiid make their living from the post and elbows (Horford, Harris), off-the-dribble (Simmons), and spotting up (Richardson, Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Trey Burke). The spacing can get clunky (Philly’s 109 offensive rating ranks 18th in the league), but against the undersized and undermanned Bulls, they could feast anyway.

Simmons and Harris will be key. In the four games since Embiid went down, Simmons is averaging 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and seven assists on 58.9% shooting, and is devastating in transition, where the Bulls have been prone to lapses defensively. Harris is a capable shotmaker at all three levels (especially the interior) and is coming off his second-highest scoring outing of the season against the Nets:

 

Matchup to watch: Zach LaVine vs. Sixers’ perimeter defenders

Now let’s flip to the other side of the floor. That presumptive starting unit of Richardson, Thybulle, Simmons, Harris and Horford enters the night with a respectable 105.5 defensive rating and superb 19.3% turnover rate (94th percentile) in 141 possessions together, per Cleaning the Glass. The Bulls will have to work for every bucket, with little to no margin for error.

Luckily, Zach LaVine’s been on a tear of late, averaging 32 points per game on 52.3/45.7/93.1 shooting splits over his last five. Unluckily, Thybulle, Richardson and Simmons (who’s leading the league in steals per game) don’t give an inch, especially around screens. Even when you think you’ve lost them, all three have shown the ability to block shots and poke away balls from behind — on Wednesday, they pestered Kyrie Irving all night long and held him to 14 points and 6-for-21 shooting.

LaVine has been up to most every scoring-related task that he’s been faced with this season, but in Philadelphia lies perhaps his greatest test. Even if the Bulls don’t pull out a win akin to their 108-107 primetime victory (in which LaVine dropped 39 and the game-winner) last March, he can still submit another bid for February’s All-Star game with a big night against stingy competition.

Injury report

  • Chandler Hutchison (right shoulder soreness) is officially listed as questionable, though he said at shootaround Thursday that he thought he “dodged a bullet” after falling hard on his shoulder in the fourth quarter of the Wizards game. The Bulls need his size and range tonight.

  • Joel Embiid is out with a torn ligament in his right hand and is set to be re-evaluated next week.

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