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Chicago Bulls off to 4-0 start for first time since 1996-97 season

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The Chicago Bulls are off to the franchise’s best start since the 1996-97 season.

They improved to 4-0 on Monday night with a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena, making Chicago the last remaining unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference. After overhauling their roster in free agency, the Bulls are already reaping the benefits from some of their biggest offseason additions.

Lonzo Ball knocked down five 3-pointers for 15 points and five assists. Alex Caruso added eight points and collected four steals off the bench, adding to the Bulls league-leading 41 steals so far this season. And DeMar DeRozan, who spent the first nine years of his career in Toronto, scored 11 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, including some key buckets down the stretch to stabilize the Bulls and quell a Raptors comeback.

Combine those performances with 22 points from Zach LaVine and the Bulls are off to their hottest start in 25 years.

“Part of the reason why I even chose to come to Chicago was everyone was eager to be successful, to want to win,” DeRozan said after Monday’s game. “Everybody had that chip on their shoulder, from the city to the organization to the players that I spoke to.

“That was everybody’s mindset, it’s all about winning now. We’re not in a development stage, we want to win now.”

The Bulls are winning now, but their upcoming schedule could provide a better gauge of how competitive this team can be for the long haul. After victories over the Pistons (twice), Pelicans and Raptors, their next six games — the Knicks, Jazz, Celtics, Sixers (twice) and Nets — should provide a stiffer test.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” DeRozan said. “We’ve got a lot more to clean up, to learn. It’s a long season, man. [The 4-0 start] is great, but we’ve got a lot more basketball to go. We can’t carry this record like it’s some kind of badge of honor; we’ve got to understand that the next game is going to be even harder.”

Still, the Bulls have started 4-0 four times in franchise history and each time prior to this season, Michael Jordan was on the team.

The Bulls had not even been over .500 at any point during a season since March 2017. LaVine had never been a part of a four-game winning streak at any point during his NBA career (he did win five in a row with Team USA during the Olympics).

And the Bulls can be encouraged that they have gotten off to such a fast start despite incorporating so many new players. Only three players — LaVine, Coby White and Patrick Williams — who started the season on last year’s roster are still on this team, but the new players, headlined by DeRozan and Ball, have meshed well with LaVine.

“I think we have a lot of high-character guys, we all want to win and we want to win together,” Ball said. “I think when you have a bunch of guys on the same team with the same common goal and the same mindset it makes it easier for the chemistry to click. That’s what’s going on.”

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Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry hits winner at buzzer, admits shot needs to improve

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SAN FRANCISCO — As the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets sat with a tied score with just over five seconds left Friday night, Steve Kerr had a clear play in mind for their final offensive possession: “Get the ball to Steph and get out of the way.”

They executed it to a tee, as Stephen Curry drained the winning shot from 2 feet inside the 3-point arc as the buzzer went off. It was the first walk-off bucket of Curry’s professional career.

The celebration ensued as Golden State beat Houston 105-103. Multiple people within the Warriors organization called the moment a release of emotions that had built up over the past 24 hours following a disappointing loss to the shorthanded Indiana Pacers.

But despite the glorious moment, the team wasn’t ignorant to the fact that it still has a lot of work to do — Curry included. Despite his heroics, he said he knows he has a long way to go individually.

“I know I got to shoot the ball better,” Curry said. “I want to shoot it better, and I’m gonna shoot it better. … I obsess over the shooting numbers because that’s what I do and that’s what I work on. When you don’t reach those levels, it’s frustrating.”

Curry started the night 0-for-11 from the field before hitting a 3-point shot with just under two minutes left in the first half. He finished the night with 22 points on 6-of-21 shooting, including 4-of-13 from 3-point range.

His performance Friday night was an extension of the worst shooting slump in his career.

Curry is shooting 42 percent from the field, on pace to be the lowest in a season in his career. Since Christmas Day, he is shooting 37 percent from the field and has scored 30-plus points in just one of his past 11 games. Before Christmas, he was shooting 44 percent from the field, including 40 percent on 3s.

Curry said he pays attention to these numbers. He follows his shooting trends and knows exactly where his numbers are dipping.

“It’s the standard I hold myself to,” Curry said. “I know I can do it and sustain it. That’s the challenge, I guess, is to be aware of it, continue to be aggressive. Understand there is a lot of season left and it’s about peaking at the right time. But I do obsess over that stuff because it’s your craft.”

Curry said he doesn’t have a clear explanation as to why he is shooting poorly. There is a belief that the catalyst for his slump dates back to early December, when Curry was chasing Ray Allen’s all-time 3-point record. But that’s not all there is to it, according to Curry. What exactly it is, though, is more elusive than anything else.

“I’m just missing shots,” Curry said. “There’s no reason, other than you just miss shots.”

But that won’t keep him from chucking them up.

“That’s the deepest level of confidence that a player can have,” Kerr said. “Turning 0-for-10 or whatever into a night where he hits the game-winning shot … he lives by the motto ‘the next one is going in.’ He genuinely believes it.”

Said Curry: “There’s a reason I joked about it before, but the reason I can go 0-for-11 for one game and come back the next game and have a breakout kind of performance is because the work will show eventually.

“I obsess over it, but I don’t panic. If I did, I wouldn’t be shooting as much as I am.”

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Chicago Bulls’ Billy Donovan blasts Milwaukee Bucks’ Grayson Allen for ‘dangerous’ foul on Alex Caruso

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MILWAUKEE — Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan wants the NBA to consider further discipline for Milwaukee Bucks guard Grayson Allen after he was ejected in the third quarter of Milwaukee’s 94-90 victory for a Flagrant 2 foul on Bulls guard Alex Caruso.

Caruso went up for a layup on a fast break with 5:45 remaining in the third quarter, but Allen hooked Caruso’s right arm, turning Caruso in the air and sending him hard to the floor on his right wrist. Caruso said his wrist was “a little banged up” after the game, but X-rays came back negative.

“Dude just grabbed me out of the air,” Caruso said after Friday’s game. “It’s kind of bulls—. I don’t know what else you can do about it. I’m just glad that I didn’t have any major scary injuries right away.”

Caruso said his wrist continued to bother him in the second half, especially while shooting. He finished 1 of 6 from the field for 3 points in the second half, but said he did not think the injury would linger long-term.

Caruso added that Allen did not come to check on him following the play.

The foul particularly irked Donovan, who is normally mild-mannered and rarely singles out players. But following Friday’s game, Donovan called Allen’s actions dangerous and cited his history playing college basketball at Duke.

“For Alex to be in the air and for [Allen] to take him down like that, he could’ve ended his career,” Donovan said. “He has a history of this. That to me was really — it was really dangerous. I hope the league takes a hard look at something like that because that could have really, really seriously hurt him.”

This was the first time Allen has been called for a flagrant foul this season and the second such foul in his career — although he was tossed from a Summer League game in 2019 after committing two flagrant fouls within seconds of each other.

“I don’t think Grayson’s a dirty player,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “He’s been great with us all season long. Competing. Defending. Never really crossing the line. So I think we’re all disappointed to see him ejected for that foul.”

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer did not think there was any malicious intent, but he did not argue with the referees decision to assess a Flagrant 2.

“I think it’s a close call,” Budenholzer said. “They went with flagrant 2 and I’m not gonna disagree. It’s right on the border and that’s the direction they went. Just hope for Caruso to be healthy and fine coming out of it. Unfortunate for Grayson, unfortunate for us to have to finish without him. It’s a tough call, but that’s the way they went.”

It’s the first time in Allen’s NBA career that he has been ejected from a game.

“I know this is a physical game and there’s plays at the basket and there’s a lot of contact,” Donovan said, “but there’s a right way you can go up and have physicality when you do that. Not that way in my opinion.”

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Los Angeles Lakers’ Russell Westbrook ‘turned page’ after benching with strong game in win

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ORLANDO — Russell Westbrook made up for his unceremonious exit from Wednesday’s loss to Indiana by showing up ready to play in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 116-105 win over the Magic on Friday, starting their six-game road trip off right.

“My job as a player, as a professional, is to do my job, continue to find ways to be able to help impact winning,” Westbrook said after finishing with 18 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals. “That’s all I was thinking about and turned the page to do and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel, who made the decision to sit Westbrook for the last four minutes of the loss to the Pacers as the point guard was struggling through a 5-for-17 shooting night and failing to execute defensively, was effusive in his praise Friday.

“Russ played a really good basketball game,” Vogel said. “He came in very focused and played efficient offensively and brought a pure energy to the game. He just wanted to impose his will, play his part and played a hell of a game.”

The Lakers fell down by 10 to the cellar-dwelling Magic (8-39), but took control in the third with a 21-4 run to begin the quarter.

Westbrook, who shot 8-for-17, extended his streak to 10 straight games without scoring 20 or more points — the first time that’s happened to him since 2009, according to data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information — but he made a difference with the nature of those points.

“His attacks are great,” said LeBron James, who scored 29 points, extending his streak to 16 straight games with 25 points or more. “Thought he did a great job of getting to the paint, either for his shot or spraying out [to shooters]. And guys just played off of his energy and effort tonight.”

Carmelo Anthony, who scored 23 points off the bench, credited Westbrook for playing with “more of a controlled pace.” Westbrook said his paint touches — either by drives or cutting off-ball to receive feeds near the hoop — are a clear way to help the Lakers, who are back at .500 (23-23) with the win.

“Just getting in the paint and finding ways to be able to make an impact by doing that,” he said. “Constantly putting pressure on the defense, which is something that I’m good at, that I think I can make an impact with this team and find ways to give guys easy shots.”

For the team and its fans, it was refreshing to hear Westbrook’s postgame comments focus on the ins and outs of the actual game and not center on his overall fit or where the Lakers’ season is going, as has happened so often since he came to L.A.

“Russ is a high-character guy,” Vogel said. “We knew we were going to respond. We communicated afterwards to make sure that we understood what was going on — we’re just coaching to win the game. And to turn the page on to Orlando. And he did a great job maintaining that focus and we’re all committed to this group getting the job done. We still believe in what we can be. It’s been bumpy throughout the course of the year. But we’re committed.”

L.A. continues its longest road trip of the season Sunday in Miami and then goes to Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Charlotte and Atlanta.

“We started it off right with a win tonight,” Westbrook said. “Get to Miami and figure out a way we can come out of there with a win as well.

“But it’s a big trip for us. A good bonding and togetherness trip for our group and finding ways to be able to come together and come out with some wins and create some rhythm, some confidence in our group that we can be the team that we all know that we should be.”

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