Milwaukee Bucks

Bucks' Kyle Korver recalls lockout with Bulls as NBA goes dark again

Bucks' Kyle Korver recalls lockout with Bulls as NBA goes dark again

Kyle Korver got married.

That’s how the NBA veteran used the 2011 lockout, back when he played for the Bulls.

“The NBA calendar causes enough marriage challenges as it is,” the Bucks guard said in a phone conversation. “To get a nice little chunk of time where you’re not on the road right away, we wanted to take advantage of that.”

Now, Korver, like the rest of not only the sports world but society, is hunkered down with his family that that marriage created.

Nobody is comparing a work stoppage caused by two wealthy sides negotiating how to split a billion-dollar pie to a global pandemic. But Korver owns the select vantage point of being employed by title-contending teams the last two times the NBA went from its typical 60 mph pace to zero.

“There is so much unknown,” Korver said.

The 2011-12 Bulls were coming off their five-game loss in the Eastern Conference finals to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat. Derrick Rose was the reigning most valuable player, the youngest in league history. Matters looked promising for a sustained run in a wide-open championship window.

Instead, on July 1, 2011, owners began a lockout.

“We weren’t allowed to be at the facilities obviously. I’ve trained at P3 in Santa Barbara, Calif., the last 12 or 13 summers. I was there quite a bit,” Korver said. “When I came back to Chicago, I was working out at Loyola. I’d shoot there and then go back to Santa Barbara.

“I was training pretty hard and was pretty stressed. I got a hernia. You don’t know if you’re training hard enough. Are you going to be prepared? When is this season going to start? Try to take advantage of that time. But it’s not like it’s a vacation. You gotta be ready at a moment’s notice just in case.”

Indeed, a tentative agreement was reached on Nov. 26, training camps opened in mid-December and the Bulls played the first game of the entire NBA season at the Lakers on Christmas Day.

“The schedule in that lockout year was stupid. We played 66 games in, like, 90 days,” Korver said. “That was bad for our team.”

Indeed, injuries hit the Bulls, most notably to Rose, who played in just 39 games. Nevertheless, the Bulls led the NBA in regular-season victories for the second straight season, going 50-16. Korver played in 65 games and averaged 8.1 points while shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range.

“We had a great team,” Korver said. “We just ran out of gas.”

More specifically, Rose infamously tore his left ACL in the first game of the playoffs against the 76ers. By the time Joakim Noah grotesquely sprained his left ankle in the first-round series against the 76ers, the upset was basically sealed.

The 8th-seeded 76ers advanced, and the Bulls never fully recovered, buried in a sea of Rose knee injuries.

Korver’s Bucks are 53-12, the current No. 1 overall seed. But instead of games, there are group texts as players are mostly staying home, promoting social distancing in the face of the growing pandemic.

“How does this work? None of us know. There’s even more uncertainty than that lockout year. This has never happened before,” Korver said. “The reality is you’re probably going to come back and maybe you get a couple (regular-season) games, maybe you don’t, and it’s playoff games. So it’s not like you’re going to come in and get a training camp.

“It’s not what any of would want obviously. We had really good momentum as a team. In our head, after All-Star break, we talked about really ramping up and getting more focused. We have championship aspirations. And now you go to a 0. We’re not even allowed into the facility as a group. It adds to the uncertainty for us. Obviously, everyone’s health — not just ours but the world’s — is most important. It’s kind of an interesting headspace to be in.”

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Which team will emerge as Bucks biggest threat in the East?

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USA Today

Which team will emerge as Bucks biggest threat in the East?

With all the attention given to the battle for supremacy in Los Angeles between the Lakers’ superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Clippers’ tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, plus the spectacular debut seasons for Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, Milwaukee’s march to the NBA’s best regular season record for the second straight year has gone largely unnoticed.

The Bucks won their 50th game Tuesday night in Toronto, rallying to beat the defending NBA champs one night after surviving an overtime battle in Washington. Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff spot in the East and currently holds an eight-game lead over the Raptors for home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

We all remember what happened last season when the Bucks won the first two games of the conference finals against Toronto in Milwaukee, then saw their season come crashing to a close by dropping the next four. Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse devised a system to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the lane, and the Bucks were lost when the MVP couldn’t carry the offense as he had done all season.

So, which team will pose the biggest threat to the Bucks in the East this year?

Toronto has been the hottest team in the conference over the last six weeks, winning 17 of their last 19 games. Nurse has done an excellent job of adjusting his rotation to fill in for the extended injury absences of Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and top reserve Norman Powell.

Fourth year guard Fred VanVleet and third year forward O.G. Anunoby are having their best seasons, and Raptors’ President of Basketball operations Masai Ujiri continues to find and develop young prospects that went ignored by the rest of the league. The latest examples are young big man Chris Boucher and versatile wing Terence Davis, who have been key members of the rotation during the current hot streak.

The Raptors have the length up front to give Antetokounmpo problems in a seven-game series, and they certainly don’t fear the Bucks after beating them in the conference finals last spring. Yes, Kawhi Leonard has moved on, but Siakam quickly took over Leonard’s role as an All-Star caliber two-way wing, averaging 23.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. If the Raptors are 100% healthy for the playoffs, they will be a tough out.

Philadelphia was supposed to emerge as a title contender this season after adding Al Horford in free agency to join Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, giving the 76ers the length to challenge Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. But Horford and Embiid have not played well together and now Simmons is expected to be out for multiple weeks because of a nerve impingement in his back. It’s possible the Sixers will get things together by the start of the playoffs, but given their 9-20 road record, it’s hard to imagine them winning a series without home court advantage.

Miami had been the talk of the league for the first half of the season, but the Heat has hit a bit of a road bump lately, dropping six of their last eight games. Pat Riley made a deal at the deadline, giving up former lottery pick Justise Winslow to acquire veteran Andre Iguodala from Memphis, but it’s hard to say how much Iguodala has left in the tank at 36 after all those extended playoff runs with Golden State.

Jimmy Butler will continue to provide scoring and demand maximum effort from the young players on the Heat roster, but it doesn’t look like the Heat have the experience or scoring depth to be labeled a serious contender. Right now, they would have to be considered the underdog in a 4-5 match-up against Philadelphia, with the winner having to face Milwaukee in the conference semi-finals. Not exactly the best path for playoff success.

That leaves the Celtics, who got drummed out of the playoffs by Milwaukee in five games last season. In case you haven’t been watching Boston lately, third year forward Jayson Tatum is making the jump to elite status. Tatum is averaging 30.3 points a game over his last ten, including a 41-point effort against LeBron and the Lakers Sunday, and a 36-point performance in a win at Portland on Tuesday, which included a career high eight 3-pointers in 12 attempts.

Tatum’s emergence gives Boston a clear-cut number one scoring option to match up against Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in a potential conference final. Fourth year swingman Jaylen Brown is also enjoying a breakout season, increasing his scoring average by over seven points from a year ago to 20.4, while All-Star guard Kemba Walker has provided stability and leadership at the point, something that was sorely lacking during Kyrie Irving’s tumultuous two seasons in Boston.

Gordon Hayward is 100% healthy again and playing at high level, while defensive specialist Marcus Smart has suddenly emerged as a reliable 3-point threat. Sure, the Celtics have some questions in the middle, where Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts. But second year center Robert Williams is expected to return from a hip injury soon and could emerge as the shot blocker/rebounder the C’s need to go up against Giannis and the Lopez twins.

We’re still about seven weeks away from the start of the playoffs but based on Boston’s scoring depth and the emergence of Tatum as a go-to option late in games, I would give the Celtics a slight edge over Toronto as the Bucks’ top challenger in the East. 

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Tom Haberstroh: Zach LaVine should make All-Star game over Khris Middleton

Tom Haberstroh: Zach LaVine should make All-Star game over Khris Middleton

Zach LaVine is getting some attention with All-Star reserves set to be announced on Thursday.

Thursday morning, a landmark date in LaVine and the Bulls' season, NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh argued in favor of LaVine making the All-Star game, despite most national writers leaving him off of their rosters.

Even the most cynical of observers would be hard-pressed to rail against LaVine's talent-based deservedness. As Haberstroh notes, LaVine employs the 'dunks and 3-pointers' offensive strategy better than pretty much anyone in the league, and has taken serious strides defensively this season, as well. LaVine's four 40-point games is tied for fourth in the NBA, his 69 steals 11th, and by some metrics, he ranks among the top pick-and-roll defenders in the league.

But the pressing question burns: If LaVine is in, who — in a deeper than deep Eastern Conference reserve pool — is out? In Haberstroh's view: Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks.

That... Is going to be controversial. Middleton is the clear-cut second-best player on a Bucks team on pace for 70-plus wins, averaging 20.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game on 50.3-43.2-90 shooting splits. On Tuesday, in a game Giannis Antetokoumpo sat, Middleton dropped 51 points on the Wizards in a 151-131 victory.

But, according to Haberstroh, the Bucks' greatness works against Middleton in some ways. As Milwaukee continues to shellack any and all opponents in their path by a whopping 12.8 points per game, Middleton averages just 28.8 minutes per contest. Combine that with the fact that he missed seven games in November with a thigh contusion, and Middleton has played nearly 600 minutes less than LaVine, all while sporting a significantly lower usage rate. Further, Middleton's ancillary metrics and general reputation on both ends of the floor benefit from the transcendent group around him, in Haberstroh's opinion.

For his part, LaVine's 1,722 minutes played and 104 points scored in the 'clutch' (per NBA.com, a game within a five-point margin with under five minutes to play) both rank second in the league. Though Middleton's per-36 minute numbers are better, there's no doubt LaVine carries one of the heaviest offensive loads in the league, and he's maintained solid scoring efficiency while doing it.

In short: Let the battle of the slept on Midwest stars begin.

Whether it culminates in an All-Star berth for LaVine remains to be seen. Many have counted him out, but it ain't over until it's over.

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