Hey, hey, where is everybody going? Still plenty to see here! It's Bulls and Nets again Monday, and it's a grudge match this time. Really. Maybe it gets ugly, and not just Flatbush Avenue outside the Nets' arena. No way the Nets are getting away with that stuff again, the mocking, the lack of respect for the Bulls in Brooklyn's 124-96 victory Saturday in the United Center.
Extra security? Hey, be warned!
"Tonight wasn't our night," acknowledged Bobby Portis. "But we have two more games to make it our night, on Monday and Wednesday. And I can't wait to play Monday. The Nets, they were a little laughing, joking around and having fun. So hopefully that puts fire in everyone's eyes to go out and play hard Monday. We have to be the tougher team Monday."
Yes, it's on! Bulls and Nets, Game 81. Does it get any better than this? Hey, TNT, ESPN, want to see this one? Hey, hey, no really.
The Nets did have some fun Saturday, shooting a staggering 55 three pointers and making 24, one short of an NBA record. Portis, who had 18 points starting for Lauri Markkanen, probably didn't love the Nets trying a pair of threes in the last minute with a 30-point lead trying to get that record.
"That's what they do," noted Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. "They shoot the second most threes in the league behind Houston. They're a high three-point attempt shooting team. We did not do a good job reacting. Tonight was obviously a debacle; we were stuck in mud from the beginning of that game."
Which of course was the delicious contradiction. It was a game perhaps in the best interests of the franchise, if not the players, for the Bulls to lose. It's one of those subjects not much discussed because, well, it's just wrong to benefit from losing. But the way the NBA--and team sports in general--has turned losing into an economic and competitive building plan, teams almost are encouraged and motivated to produce a poorer record in order to potentially obtain the rights to a higher draft choice.
Though it was a vague allure all season for a team like the Bulls after trading star Jimmy Butler last June, the team's priority was to develop and enhance the careers of the players from that trade, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Markkanen. But with all having shown promise and now all injured (and Markkanen held out of the back to back for recovery), the continuing conundrum to succeed by losing has become something of an uncomfortable paradox.
The Bulls, now 27-53, came into the game with the eighth poorest record in the NBA. The Nets, whose draft pick goes to the Cleveland Cavaliers, came in seventh poorest. If the lottery drawing stayed to form, the Bulls would select eighth and the Nets for the Cavs seventh. But with the Nets win Saturday, the Bulls and Nets are tied at 27-53. If the Bulls were to lose Monday, they'd fall to the seventh poorest record and potentially the seventh overall pick. They used No. 7 in the 2017 draft for Lauri Markkanen. Frank Ntilikina Was eighth. Sacramento with sixth poorest is one game behind.
So the appeal to some becomes the odds in the draft lottery and placement in the June draft.
Three may be more than two in basketball these days; but for the Bulls seven would be better than eight, and six even better.
And so goes this uncomfortable close to the season in which Hoiberg must demand effort and commitment, the players need to increase exertion and improve, and the record probably is better off being worse.
Welcome to your last week of the NBA regular season, Chicago style.
The Bulls got yet another good scoring game from Sean Kilpatrick in his seventh game as a Bull. Six have been with double figure scoring, and Saturday he led the Bulls with 20 points, his third consecutive game with at least 20 points.
"I don't look at things like an audition," said Kilpatrick, a former Net playing with his sixth NBA team at 28 years old. "This is somewhere where I want to be, of course. But the ball is not in my court. All I can do is continue to be who I am. The best thing about this team is no one puts added pressure on me. Anybody would want to have stability, but in this league even the greats move around. You can't control what you want to happen. I can only control what I can control and get better at what I do. I cannot control what goes in in the front office.
"I'm never pleased," added Kilpatrick, who shot seven of 14. "The best thing about me is I always play with a chip on my shoulder; up 20, down 20. Just want to keep getting better."
Cristiano Felicio finally appears to be getting better. He had 14 points and 11 rebounds, effective with a nice Cameron Payne pick and roll and even attempting some jump shots. Felicio is averaging 9.5 points and 8.7 rebounds the last 11 games and eight points and nine rebounds this month.
"I have seen progression the last few weeks," acknowledged Felicio. "I've been playing and getting minutes and it's been good. I have to keep playing the way I am playing now, getting rebounds and opportunities to take the shots. Play hard, set screens, take shots when I have them, seeing the group of guys we have and fitting in."
The Bulls also got 15 points from Justin Holiday, and 13 from Jerian Grant. Payne had eight points and five assists. But the Bulls also were without Dunn, LaVine, Antonio Blakeney, Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine and Noah Vonleh, out injured, and Markkanen out presumably just for the second of the back to back.
But with that allure of losing these last few games, no one can be quite sure of any of the motives of the teams out of the playoffs. Robin Lopez was active, but did not play with the emphasis on testing out new and younger players. Though former Bull Omer Asik from the Nikola Mirotic trade played his second game, getting two points in 13 minutes.
"Hopefully finish out playing with great effort," said Hoiberg. "That's who this team has been all year. Hopefully we finish out strong these last two."
It would be a departure from Saturday.
It was competitive early with Portis' 13 first quarter points helping keep the Bulls within 28-23 after one. Brooklyn is a recovering landfill (the borough, also) after the devastating trades for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett that sapped them of years of draft picks. So they've patched together a group of mostly young veteran players and a free wheeling, wide open shooting style of play. They pass the ball around the perimeter and take threes. They drive and pass for a three. They pull up for threes. They pretty much shoot nothing but threes.
Brooklyn's 24 made threes Saturday equalled a league high for this season while attempting 55 threes among their 92 shots. Consider that in 1979-80 when the three came into the NBA, the Central Division champ Atlanta Hawks attempted 75 threes--for the entire season. Nets forward Quincy Acy attempted 17 threes for his entire first two seasons in the NBA just four years ago playing a combined 92 games. He attempted 13 threes Saturday and led the Nets with 21 points.
"You look at the teams that have the highest three-point rates; those are the ones in there at the end," warned Hoiberg. "You've seen it the last couple of years with the conference finals and the NBA Finals. You are looking at the teams that shoot the most threes. Teams see that, analytic staffs see that and try to put a game plan in to get good high quality shots."
Though the Nets seem to take pretty much any kind, contested or not, on the run or not, standing, falling, early shot clock, late clock.
They made seven threes in the second quarter to go ahead 63-51 at halftime. Though the Bulls were trailing by a point with about four minutes left in the first half after the Nets missed threes on four straight possessions. But then standing around and watching became fatal for the Bulls as the Nets dropped nine more threes in the third quarter and the rout was on. Payne running a slick pick roll with Felicio on five possessions to open the second half seemed hardly to concern the Nets. You know it's bad when the Nets sit their starters against you in the fourth quarter.
You don't want them to enjoy it so much? Then do something about it.
"It was pretty tough," Portis acknowledged. "It's like playing the Rockets without James Harden. They shoot a lot of threes. They shoot a lot of contested shots. That's what their coach preaches: Even if it's contested, still shoot it. It's kind of hard to guard because you know there's going to be a lot of long rebounds and a lot of tip outs. But you have to be ready for it.
"We can't make excuses for it," Portis said. "They were the better team tonight. It's the best thing about the NBA, knowing you have a game two days from now. It's the beauty about this game; we get to play them on Monday. So we get to get a little revenge, go out there and try to get a win. Me personally, I can't wait to play."
Is that a good thing for the Bulls?