Bulls’ playoffs hopes dealt blow with 111-89 loss to Magic


ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Chicago Bulls came into Saturday night’s game against Orlando needing to turn things around for their fading playoff chances.

But it was the short-handed Magic, a team long out of the playoff hunt, who seemed to play with the sense of urgency the Bulls needed to have.

Orlando, playing without leading scorers Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo, got points from a collection of role players – including a career-high 18 points and season-high 13 rebounds from Dewayne Dedmon – on the way to an impressive 111-89 win at the Amway Center that sent the Bulls to their third straight loss and put their playoff hopes in serious doubts.

Bulls stars Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler had expressed their frustration with the late-season slide before Saturday night’s game. The Bulls’ display against another non-playoff team did little to calm things as they saw their chances to make up ground for the eighth and final playoff in the Eastern Conference take another blow.

Chicago is two games behind both Indiana and Detroit, which are tied for the last two spots in the conference.

“I sure hope not,” Bulls first-year coach Fred Hoiberg responded when asked if he thinks his team has quit on trying to make a playoff run.

“Obviously, what I’m saying right now, my message isn’t getting across,” he added. “We’re going to sit in a room and hopefully get it figured out tomorrow.”

There is no denying the frustration among the Bulls’ players, who made mistake after mistake against the Magic.

“Obviously, we’re really struggling right now,” forward Mike Dunleavy said. “We look like a team that’s lost in terms of doing the things you need to do. It’s a lot of stuff. We have to find our way. We’ve had success in the past, but it’s going to be tough right now.”

The Bulls, however, insist they have not given up on the season despite what it looks like on the floor.

“I don’t think anybody’s quit,” shooting guard Jimmy Butler said. “We’ve just hit adversity at the wrong time and we’ve got to fix it. It better carry over from in this locker room out to the court. That’s the only way to get this thing fixed.

“Nobody else can play basketball for us.”

Aside from a brief run early in their third quarter, that reduced their 18-point halftime deficit to nine points, the Bulls (36-36) never seemed to play with much urgency. Taj Gibson was consistently strong in the paint, leading the Bulls with 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting. But the other key Bulls players were mostly non-factors.

Derrick Rose had an off night with just nine points on 4-of-14 shooting, while committing four turnovers. Butler had a quiet 12 points and Mike Dunleavy added 10 points. Center Pau Gasol, who missed Thursday night’s loss to the New York Knicks with continued swelling in his right knee, scored just seven points on 3-of-6 shooting while being completely outplayed by Dedmon.

The Magic journeyman center looked much more the All-Star center as he dominated the paint. Dedmon, who teammates made a point of getting the ball inside to him early, exceeded his career high in the first half with 16 points to help lead the Magic to a 68-50 halftime lead.

“He was really active,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said. “He was on the boards. He got some opportunities sometimes he might not normally get and was able to finish them.”

Dedmon was far from the only Magic player who stepped up Saturday night. Point guard Elfrid Payton outplayed his much more celebrated counterpart, coming up with a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists against Rose and the Bulls other point guards.

The Magic, which led by as many as 29 points, also received big contributions off the bench from forwards Jason Smith and Andrew Nicholson, who scored 14 points apiece.

“We’ve had a lot of halves, quarters where we’re very energetic, see each other,” said Skiles, whose team improved to 30-43. “We played unselfishly tonight. We did it very well.”

Meanwhile, Hoiberg seemed at a loss for what to do to get things turned around as the season heads into the final stretch.

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “They’re locked in at shootaround. They’re getting after it. They’re paying attention to what we’re doing, then we go out there and get slapped in the face. It just spirals downhill.”


Magic: C Nikola Vucevic missed his 12th straight game with lingering groin issues. … Ersan Llyasova (shoulder) sat for the second consecutive game.

Bulls: Gasol returned to the lineup, but remained on a minutes restriction.


Bulls: host Atlanta on Monday night.

Magic: host Brooklyn on Tuesday night.

Khris Middleton drops career-best 51 on Wizards, Bucks win without Antetokounmpo

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored a career-high 51 points in the absence of injured teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 151-131 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

Middleton, hoping to be chosen an All-Star reserve for the second straight year on Thursday, helped the Bucks hold off a second-half Wizards rally. Middleton also had 10 rebounds and six assists while hitting 16 of 26 shots and 7 of 10 3-pointers.

Milwaukee (41-6) scored a franchise-record 88 points in the first half, finished with its highest total of the season and won its ninth straight game despite the absence of Antetokounmpo, who sat out with a right shoulder injury.

Bradley Beal led the Wizards (15-31) with 47 points, his second straight 40-point game and sixth of the season.

Milwaukee led by as many as 32 points but the Wizards rallied in the third quarter, putting up 41 points to cut their deficit to 117-104 entering the fourth. Washington got within seven points in the final period but could not get closer.

Eric Bledsoe had 34 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for the Bucks. Donte DiVincenzo added 16 points.

Middleton responded with 13 points in the fourth quarter as he scored the most points by a Bucks player this season. He pounded home a dunk to go over 50 points and give the Bucks a 13-point lead late in the final quarter.

Antetokounmpo had 50 points on Nov. 25 against Utah.

The Bucks came out firing from deep, hitting eight of their first nine attempts from 3-point range. Milwaukee converted 14 of 22 shots in the first quarter on the way to a 42-28 lead.

And they kept going in the second quarter. Middleton hit his fourth 3-pointer of the half to give the Bucks a 69-43 lead with 5:46 left. Middleton nailed two more 3s to finish the half 6 for 6 from 3-point range and with 28 points.

The Bucks sank 14 of 24 3-pointers in the half and established a franchise best for points in a half as they grabbed an 88-63 lead at intermission.

The previous mark for points in a half was 87 set against New Orleans on March 14, 1979.

Joel Embiid’s Kobe tribute: 24 points while wearing uniform No. 24; 76ers’ win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Wearing No. 24 in honor of Kobe Bryant, Joel Embiid scored 24 points in his first game in three weeks, leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a 115-104 win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.

Embiid and the rest of the Sixers wore No. 24 and No. 8 Bryant jerseys in warmups in honor of the Los Angeles Lakers star, who was killed Sunday in a helicopter crash. Embiid was granted permission from Hall of Famer Bobby Jones to wear the retired No. 24 instead of his usual 21 for his first game since he tore a ligament in a finger in his left hand.

The Sixers went 6-3 without Embiid, the first Sixer to be voted to three straight All-Star Games since Allen Iverson.

Embiid had averaged 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds in 31 games this season. Against the Warriors, Embiid played with a splint on his hand that didn’t affect him when he buried a 3 that sent the Sixers into halftime with a 59-54 lead.

Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons had “Mamba Forever” and “RIP Gigi” (for Bryant’s daughter, among the nine killed in the crash) on each sneaker and scored 17 points.

The Sixers were the latest team to honor Bryant in a pregame ceremony. Bryant led suburban Lower Merion High School to the Class AAAA state title at Hersheypark Arena in 1996, the school’s first since 1943. His framed No. 33 Aces jersey was displayed at midcourt and the Sixers held a 33-second moment of silence of Bryant and the other eight victims in Sunday’s crash. The Sixers rang a bell nine times and shone nine lights on the court during the solemn remembrance. The Sixers skipped pregame introductions for both teams and instead played a video of Bryant’s last introduction in Philadelphia in a December 2015 game and images of him with Allen Iverson and Julius Erving.

Yes, all teams have been affected by Bryant’s death, but it struck particularly hard in Philly, where the former NBA star had a turbulent relationship with Philadelphia. His high school coach Gregg Downer spoke to the media for the first time earlier in the day, and wore Bryant’s No. 33 Lower Merion warmup jacket.

The mood in the building also was tempered, in part, because the 10-win Warriors gave the Sixers a serious challenge. The Sixers were 12-point favorites but D'Angelo Russell, who scored a team-high 28 points, kept the Warriors within single digits for most of the fourth quarter.

Al Horford buried a 3 and Shake Milton followed with another to push it to a 16-point lead and send the Sixers on their way to a whopping 22-2 record at home.


A tearful Shaquille O’Neal talks about his time, relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Shaquille O’Neal told Justin Tasch of New York Post: “I’m not doing well. I’m sick” about the death of his former teammate Kobe Bryant (along with eight others, including his daughter Gianna).

A lot of people can relate to that, but Shaq pulled it together enough to talk about his former championship teammate.

When it came to what he could no longer tell Kobe, Shaq teared up.

Shaq and Kobe had legendary feuds back in the day, but in later years made up and were friends.

Like many people, Shaq is still trying to process all of it. That’s going to take a long time.

Chris Paul posts emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant

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Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant were tight.

The shocking death of Kobe Bryant — along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash — hit CP3 hard and the point guard missed his first game of the year Monday, sitting out as he tried to come to grips with it all. Kobe and Paul won Gold Medals together, their kids were friends, and they competed fiercely against each other on the court. 

Tuesday night, Paul posted this personal tribute to Kobe.

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I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully process it. My parents have always said everything happens for a reason and its in God’s plan. But this one is different. Broken fingers, torn Achilles, it didn’t matter. You overcame it all!! You were DIFFERENT! Sometimes we competed so hard against each other that you could never tell how I was always watching YOU!! I needed to see how much better I needed to get and how much harder I needed to work! The love you had for the game was nowhere near the love you had for YOUR girls!! All 5 of them!! And Gigi, who we had already prearranged her marriage with lil Chris, is as beautiful and feisty as she could ever be!!! As I’ve watched you in retirement, as happy as you’ve ever been, I’ve sat back and prayed and hoped that my baby girl will look at me the way Gigi looks at you!!! I Love You and will miss you with all my heart my brother!!! All my love to Vanessa and all the families during this time 🙏🏾 #Mamba4Life #Mambacita

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Like Paul, a lot of us are struggling to process it all.