Ask Sam Mailbag: The Bulls' belief, Giannis vs. Wilt and more

Joseph Austin:

Wednesday night's loss proves that the Milwaukee Bucks are not invincible. If the Bulls had shot moderately better in Game 1, the Bulls would be leading this series 2-0.

DeMar had a great 41 point game and the Big 3 combined for 85. Caruso knows how to play in the playoffs. Williams has improved since coming back after missing 65 games. It's a shame about Ball. However, getting two major rotation contributors back lengthens the rotation. The Bulls finally know that the Bucks can bleed!

Sam Smith:

And this time, after Derrick Rose against the 76ers and Rajon Rondo against the Celtics, it's the other guys who have the bad luck. Khris Middleton is out for the series, George Hill probably as well, and who knows yet with Bobby Portis. It's just one game, and just 1-1, and as Alex Caruso noted a lot of games to go and just the first round, and no matter the excitement about a road victory—hey, the series begins when the home team loses a game, right?—even the champion Bulls teams lost games in series.

Though, as i recall, they didn't lose first round series games. The national media still dismisses the Bulls, and it's understandable since they hadn't defeated the Bucks this decade and a few other years. But one team has three current or very recent former All-Stars, and it's not the Bucks.

One thing I have noticed watching the close games closely is maybe why Bucks fans were so down on coach Mike Budenholzer last year. We know the story of how if that two from Kevin Durant were a three he'd probably have been fired, and then they won a title and he got a nice extension and everyone partied. But the Bucks curiously seems to run virtually no plays for Giannis. He's so great, long, athletic and wiry strong that he can force himself into scoring position. But it's surprising how hard they make him work for his shots. And the Bulls as well the way they have crowded and collapsed on him like Toronto did a few years ago in knocking out the Bucks in the playoffs. On the way to their title. OK, I'm not going there quite yet with 15 wins to go. But this looks like much more of a series than most still believe.

It will be interesting this weekend to see how much the Bucks recognize that. One other thing I've noticed watching these few games around the league in the first round: No one seems that great or so destined to win a title or so unbeatable as we've seen recent Lakers or Warriors teams. Especially with the fragility of so many players that seem to change the equation every few days. This could be as wide open an NBA playoffs as we've witnessed in years.

Brian Moore:

To what do you attribute this resurgence of the Bulls' heart? This team is playing more fiercely than maybe I've seen this season. An inspirational Billy Donovan speech? Did they all watch a couple Rocky movies?

Sam Smith:

I don't picture Billy screaming invective; maybe Vooch. Nah, but it's something of a stretch to suggest this team hasn't played like this before. It did seem like they were worn down by the season, as much as that's not supposed to be. I think Donovan did push them more than other coaches were doing the first half of the season. Which I agreed with because these players coming together for the first time and with a recent franchise history of defeat needed to establish some immediate credibility and confidence.

So DeRozan, Vucevic and LaVine played a lot, and then there were some injuries, Ball and Caruso going out breaking down the defense they were playing. So there was experimenting with rookies and free agents and a schedule that turned more difficult, and like Caruso admitted Wednesday, they just seemed to have had enough of the regular season and were ready to move on to the playoffs. They're not supposed to admit that as ticket prices remain the same, but it happens. They have veteran pros with pride. And though the players don't speak with media much these days in the NBA because of the continuing virus restrictions, I wouldn't be surprised if we find out later that absolutely everyone picking the Bucks, probably including their family members, the mailperson, the hair dresser and the security staff, gave them a little bit of that, I'll show you.

Middleton and Portis missing most of the the second half of Game 2 helped. But when everyone looks back at the series it won't matter. Just who gets to four first.

Bill Kochneff:

Wesley Matthews drove to the basket early in the third. The ref stands there watching the play as the ball rolls around on the rim. Only after it falls off does he blow the whistle.

Why does he wait to see the result of the shot? Shouldn't the whistle be blown at the time of the foul or at least after the ball leaves the shooter's hand?

Sam Smith:

I'm actually fine with that. I know they complain about it on the broadcast that a foul is a foul, and you call it. And they are supposed to, but then this is a sport in which in theory by the rules zero contact is allowed. You know, no touching. So how often would the game stop? You couldn't even have a game. So the officials, who I believe do a great job and are the best in sports, try to determine whether the contact affects the play. So it's also why you end up booing some calls or non calls. It's not an exact science and despite the "rules" there's a lot of veteran observation.

After all, if they called holding in football would any game ever end? The same with the NBA and that ball. It probably was an obvious foul, but in the interest of keeping some flow you let it go and hope the ball goes in the basket. If it's egregious you add a free throw to the basket. If the ball rolls off, OK, you've got to stop play. But we'd all rather see a more continuous game that features the best of these great athletes, and I believe the officials do, as well.

Give ‘em a break. They're trying in a very trying situation.

Alex Caruso making a pass.

Michael Mortenson:

Can you explain what "extra" pass means? So often to me what looks like someone who is open but afraid to shoot...

Sam Smith:

Just what it sounds like, making an extra pass when the defense is coming at you or you think a teammate might have a better shot. It's a hybrid sort of situation with the Bulls, and many teams, and once stated well by Michael Jordan who said it might be better off for him to shoot against a double team or (pick early career teammate name) wide open.

The Bulls play several young players and let's say poor shooters, who are understandably hesitant at times. And then they have a few players who are so confident and skilled that they are accustomed to shooting against pressure defense. Sometimes DeRozan or LaVine or Vucevic will take a tough shot with someone standing wide open in the corner, and I say they should shoot.

Westbrook has had a tough season with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Andrew Janoff:

Are Russell Westbrook and the Knicks destined for each other? Westbrook and Kendrick Nunn for Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, Nerlens Noel, and Cam Reddish fits with the salary cap rules. The Lakers add much needed depth and perimeter shooting while the Knicks add a big name and create future cap space.

Sam Smith:

I did speculate something about always believing with his interest in fashion and the Knicks tendency to go for players they believe will be in fashion that Westbrook was destined for New York. Though I cannot answer more than that since I have declared these playoffs a Lakers/LeBron free zone.

The Utah Jazz are currently down to the Luka Doncic-less Dallas Mavericks.

Mike Sutera:

The Utah Jazz should be embarrassed. Guards can't defend. Being down to let's be honest, a rag tag bunch without Luka Doncic. And someone is going to offer a ridiculous amount for Jalen Brunson. My guess is sign and trade with Knicks.

Sam Smith:

Now that makes more sense than Westbrook. Brunson is a great story, the son of former Bulls (and many other teams) Rick Brunson and star at Stevenson High School. Forget the size and speed; you could see he knew how to play as a teenager, and won everywhere. That means something. Skills camps don't.

But they usually hold them in nice places with lots of expensive restaurants, so the scouts go and compare lists to, as Mel Brooks famously said in (warning: outdated reference) Blazing Saddles, protect their phony baloney jobs. Well, not everyone.

So Brunson went to the second round, got a "modest" $6 million contract over four years and becomes unrestricted this summer. With so much money tied up in Luka and Luka not likely to give up the ball at any point, and now having Dinwiddie, Brunson probably is a luxury the Mavs don't need. The Knicks haven't done great at point since Walt Frazier. Linsanity?

As for the Jazz, you could almost see part owner Dwyane Wade sitting there figuring out potential trades. Watch that space.

Tristan Thompson and Bobby Portis have been engaged in a physical battle in this first round series.

Art Alenik:

I think Tristan Thomas may have gotten away with a Flagrant 1 foul on Bobby Portis. Can't be sure of course, but in the replay it looked pretty deliberate. Portis' head was nowhere near the ball.

Tristan reached for the board with his right and smacked Portis in the face with his left.

Sam Smith:

So we should be done with the Grayson Allen stuff, though it mostly becomes a fan activity now and I doubt it stops this weekend. So Tristan got them back? Wrong guy, but Allen wasn't playing much. It was hard to say if it was intentional, though Thompson swings his elbows a lot.

Fairly amazing three officials missed it with blood flowing down Portis' face. I'm not suggesting this is 2012 over again yet with not only Derrick Rose going out, but the Bulls probably still win that series if Noah doesn't go out with that badly sprained ankle in Game 3 that Thibs called day to day for the media even as team doctors said he'd probably be out two months.

Typical of Philadelphia, onlookers cheered Noah's injury at the time, and Noah got back against the 76ers teams that were throwing games for about five years with some of those huge triple doubles he was having for awhile. And even with all that, the Bulls were about to force a Game 7 when C.J. Watson for pretty much no reason threw the ball with a lead and the clock running out to Omer Asik, a poor free throw shooter who missed both free throws. Andre Iguodala, another poor free throw shooter, then made a pair to end the series.

Giannis Antetokounmpo's dominance is often compared to that of Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain.

Brodie Larsh:

How do you think Giannis compares to Wilt Chamberlain? Do you think Wilt would put up Giannis like numbers if he were playing today?

Sam Smith:

I go back to the famous 1988 vice presidential debate—as if any of those can be—when Republican Dan Quayle made a John Kennedy reference and Democrat Lloyd Bentsen shot back, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." It was said to win the debate for Bentsen, though Quayle to the dismay of the media became winner George Bush's vice president.

Brodie, I knew Wilt Chamberlain, and Giannis is no Wilt Chamberlain.

Though Giannis is shooting free throws in this series like Wilt. Get back to me when Giannis scores 100 points in a game and averages 50 points per game for a season and plays more than 48 minutes per game not missing one game all season.

Plus, Wilt was an Olympic level track athlete. Who got those statistics playing against the best centers in the history of the NBA, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nate Thurmond, Walt Bellamy, Wes Unseld, Willis Reed and Dave Cowens.

As an aside, a word about Dan Quayle, who I knew in a former time when I was a political reporter in Ft. Wayne, Ind. and covered his first campaign for Congress in the early 1970s. Primarily because the insider Washington, D.C media didn't know him as a U.S. Senator when Bush selected him for the 1988 ticket, Quayle became much dismissed and famously reviled when he was picked up misspelling potato at an elementary school when vice president. Based on my mail, it's not that uncommon. Anyway, Danny, as I knew him, became an American hero. Because when vice president Mike Pence was under siege during the Capitol riot a few years back, he reached out to Quayle about what he could do. Quayle said he could only follow the law and the Constitution. And all these years later maybe Dan Quayle saved the United States. But I digress and really only write this because he said we'd play golf sometime, as people say and really never mean it.

I called and am still waiting for a reply. Though it's only bene 11 years. Oh yeah, basketball. Wilt would be leading the NBA in scoring and rebounding, if not free throw shooting.

Alex Caruso has already won over Bulls Nation with his energy and effort on defense.

Edward Fung:

Assuming Alex Caruso is in his prime right now, who would you take between him and prime Kirk Hinrich? I find them to be quite similar in playing style (defensive 3&D combo guards) but Kirk the better shooter and Caruso the better defender. Who do you think is better overall?

Sam Smith:

I know we all love Caruso today, and several readers informed me after last night they immediately ordered Caruso jerseys.

But Kirk? To me it's not that close as Hinrich was, of course, a far better shooter. He was a terrific defender not as much noticed because there were so many good defenders on those teams, Noah, Deng, Nocioni, Tyson Chandler, Sefolosha. Though I know fans view picking one over another as diminishing the lesser, let's say it's an honor for Caruso to be compared to someone like Kirk Hinrich one of the toughest, most fearsome competitors in franchise history. And the franchise's all-time leader in 3-pointers made.