NBA

Vucevic confused by career-worst slump for COVID-hit Bulls

By Sports Desk December 12, 2021

Nikola Vucevic would like to be able to do more to help the Chicago Bulls amid their coronavirus outbreak but has no explanation for his shooting woes.

The Bulls lost two more players to health and safety protocols ahead of Saturday's defeat to the Miami Heat, meaning they now have seven players out due to COVID-19.

Among them is DeMar DeRozan, whose team-high 26.4 points per game this season have helped transform Chicago into contenders in the East.

Two-time All-Star Vucevic missed seven games earlier in the year after returning a positive test, although his below-par displays so far in 2021-22 mean the former Orlando Magic center was not quite such a big miss.

Through the first three weeks of the season before his lay-off, Vucevic shot 39.5 per cent from the field and averaged 13.6 points.

There has been slight improvement since the 31-year-old's return, shooting 41.3 per cent and scoring 17.0 points, boosted by a 30-point game against the Charlotte Hornets, but his marks for the season (40.4 per cent shooting, 15.2 points per game) remain well down on 2020-21 (47.7 per cent, 23.4).

Among players to play in 70 per cent of team games, only Jonas Valanciunas (59.2 to 51.7) has suffered a larger decline in field-goal shooting percentage from this season to last, while Bradley Beal (31.3 to 22.5) is the sole NBA star to see a greater drop-off in points output.

The 118-92 loss to the Heat saw Vucevic's worst shooting game of the season, making just three of 15 attempts from the field (20.0 per cent) for 10 points.

"I don't really have an explanation for what's going on with my shot," the 49.3-per-cent career shooter said afterwards.

"It's something I was always very consistent with, really good throughout my whole career, around a 50-per-cent shooter, so I don't know."

The Bulls' overall improvement – now 17-10 after last year's 31-41 record, representing the league's third-largest increase in winning percentage – had largely hidden Vucevic's poor form until now.

"It's tough when you want to go out there, play well and help the team win," he said. "You want to do your job. It's obviously frustrating.

"I have a lot of pride in myself and put in the work and everything, but it's just not working for me right now.

"I've never been through a slump like this, and I just have to work myself out of it. There's no other way.

"Obviously I'm not playing well right now, I'm not doing what I'm supposed to do, not doing my job, and I've just got to figure it out – it's plain and simple."

He added: "There are games where maybe I didn't play as well, but we were winning and it's not that big of a deal.

"When you lose and you don't play well, you feel like it's even more of your responsibility, your fault."

Coach Billy Donovan has sympathy for his players amid the uncertainty around the team, although he wants more from Vucevic.

"Everybody's probably a little bit out of sorts right now, just because we keep losing players and we're throwing different guys in and need more from different guys," he said.

The coach at least knows Vucevic's performances are not for a lack of effort.

"With some of the scoring that's missing from our team, we're going to need him and Lonzo to pick up the slack in different ways," Donovan added.

"I thought he had some pretty decent looks. But I trust him and believe in him – maybe I wouldn't feel that way if I didn't see him working."

Related items

  • NBA All-Rookie team headlined by Wembanyama, Holmgren NBA All-Rookie team headlined by Wembanyama, Holmgren

    San Antonio Spurs star Victor Wembanyama was unanimously selected to the NBA's All-Rookie first team.

    The NBA revealed its All-Rookie teams on Monday, and Wembanyama's inclusion was hardly a surprise, considering he was unanimously named the league's Rooke of the Year two weeks ago.

    Oklahoma City Thunder big man Chet Holgmren, who finished second to Wembanyama in rookie of the year voting, was also a unanimous selection to the NBA's All-rookie first team, appearing on all 99 ballots.

    Joining Wembanyama and Holmgren on the first team are Charlotte Hornets guard-forward Brandon Miller, Miami Heat forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Golden State Warriors guard Brandin Podziemski.

    Jaquez, who also appeared on all 99 ballots, finished fourth in All-rookie team voting with Miller finishing third and Podziemski in fifth. 

    The NBA All-Rookie second team includes Derek Lively II of the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Rockets' Amen Thompson, the Memphis Grizzlies' GG Jackson II, the Thunder's Cason Wallace and Keyonte George of the Utah Jazz.

    Wembanyama, who became the first player to unanimously win NBA Rookie of the Year honours since Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015-16, averaged 21.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and a league-leading 3.6 blocks in 71 games in 2023-24.

    After finishing second to Minnesota's Rudy Gobert in voting for the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award two weeks ago, Wembanyama seems like a lock to be named to this season's All-Defensive team, which will be revealed Tuesday.

    If he is named to either the All-Defensive team or All-NBA team, which is announced Wednesday, he'll be the first rookie to do so since fellow Spurs star Tim Duncan in 1998.

  • 'It's a failure, not fatal' - Malone rallies Nuggets after Wolves defeat 'It's a failure, not fatal' - Malone rallies Nuggets after Wolves defeat

    Michael Malone reflects on a hard end to the season after the Minnesota Timberwolves pulled off a historic comeback to beat the Denver Nuggets.

    The Nuggets let a 20-point lead slip in the third quarter at home to lose 98-90 in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals as the Timberwolves denied them a chance at a second straight league title.

    Minnesota trailed 53-38 at half-time – the largest deficit a Game 7 winner has overcome in NBA post-season history.

    Asked what went wrong in the second half, Malone did not have too many answers.

    "That's what's hard," Malone said. "F*** being up 20. Season's over. It's hard."

    "This is just a momentary delay. It's a failure, it's not fatal. We'll be back.

    "The better team won, so I'm taking nothing away from Minnesota ... but mentally, emotionally, physically, I think guys are gassed. They're dead tired.

    "They gave me everything I could ever ask for, and that's why as much as this hurts, I'll walk out of this building tonight with my head held very high."

    Denver dropped the first two games of the series at home but won the next three to get themselves back on track to challenge for a repeat NBA title.

    Jamal Murray scored 35 points for the Nuggets, while Nikola Jokic added 34, but the former thinks the team were just lacking an edge at the end of the game.

    "Just mentally and physically, conjuring up the energy to fight like you're being hunted," Murray said. "I think that's the emotion.

    "When you're the hunter, you have so much more motivation and you grasp on to anything to prove everybody wrong and you have a constant chip on your shoulder.

    "I don't know. I feel like we should have won tonight. That's the tough part. They beat us, but we had so many great opportunities, including myself, so it's just tough, man."

  • NBA: Wolves oust Nuggets, Pacers take out Knicks NBA: Wolves oust Nuggets, Pacers take out Knicks

    The Denver Nuggets will not be a repeat NBA champion, thanks to a historic comeback by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    Minnesota rallied from a 20-point second-half deficit to come through with a shocking 98-90 road victory in Sunday's Game 7 of a Western Conference semifinal to deny Denver a chance at a second straight league title.

    Karl-Anthony Towns and Jaden McDaniels each scored 23 points, while Anthony Edwards recovered from a dismal first half to put up 16 points as the third-seeded Timberwolves advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2004. Minnesota will host the fifth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, who ousted the No. 1 seed Oklahoma City Thunder in six games, in Game 1 on Wednesday.

    The Timberwolves' 15-point half-time deficit was the largest a Game 7 winner has overcome in NBA post-season history.

    Minnesota trailed 53-38 at half-time and fell further behind when the second-seeded Nuggets scored the first five points of the third quarter, then began finding its stride to reverse momentum.

    The Timberwolves got back into it via a 15-1 run, capped by 3-pointers from McDaniels and Mike Conley, to close the gap to 59-53 midway through the third. Edwards, who had just four points on 1-of-7 shooting through two quarters, later closed out the period with a 3-pointer to cut Denver's lead to 67-66 entering the fourth.

    Conley's 3-pointer with 9:26 left to play put Minnesota ahead for good at 75-72, and the Timberwolves pulled away from there behind a defence that held the Nuggets to 37 points and under 36 per cent shooting in the second half.

    Minnesota put the game away with a late 7-0 run Edwards capped with a 3-pointer off a Denver turnover that extended its advantage to 92-82 with three minutes left.

    Jamal Murray led Denver with 35 points, though 24 of those came in the first half and the star guard was 4 of 12 from 3-point range on the night.

    League MVP Nikola Jokić amassed 34 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists while accounting for 14 of the Nuggets' 23 points in the fourth quarter. 

     Pacers set NBA play-off shooting record to eliminate Knicks in Game 7

    The Indiana Pacers rose to the occasion in Game 7, and rode a shooting performance for the ages in advancing to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in a decade.

    The New York Knicks couldn’t keep up with the Pacers’ scorching shooting and couldn’t recover after losing their best player.

    The Pacers shot an NBA playoff-record 67.1 per cent from the floor in Sunday’s 130-109 win at Madison Square Garden to eliminate the Knicks.

    Tyrese Haliburton led the way with 26 points, while Pascal Siakam and Andrew Nembhard each scored 20 for Indiana, which advanced to face the top-seeded Boston Celtics on Tuesday.

    The sixth-seeded Pacers, who had lost Games 1, 2 and 5 at Madison Square Garden, are in the East finals for the first time since 2014, when they lost to the Miami Heat.

    Trying to reach the conference finals for the first time since 2000, the Knicks played the final quarter without Jalen Brunson after he suffered a fractured left hand.

    Brunson had 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting and nine assists before exiting after averaging 31.8 points and 5.7 assists in the first six games of the series.

    Donte DiVincenzo tried to carry New York’s offence, finishing with a play-off career-high 39 points while making 9-of-15 3-pointers, but the Pacers’ hot shooting made it virtually impossible for the Knicks to stay close.

    Indiana shot a blistering 76.2 per cent in the first quarter, connecting on 16 of 21 shots – including 7 of 9 from 3-point range – to take a 39-27 lead after 12 minutes.

    Haliburton led the early onslaught, draining four 3-pointers and scoring 14 points in the opening period, while Siakam made his first five shots and had 11 first-quarter points.

    The torrid shooting continued into the second quarter, as the Pacers made 26 of their first 32 shots (81.3 per cent), and ended up shooting 76.3 per cent in the first half – the best by any team in the playoffs since 1997, when the NBA began tracking play-by-play for all four quarters.

    After taking a 70-55 lead into half-time, the Pacers missed four of their first five shots of the third quarter and the Knicks were able to cut the deficit to six.

    Indiana, however, responded with a 20-7 run to regain control and increase its lead to 93-74 late in the period. The Pacers took a 101-84 advantage into the fourth. 

    Brunson’s broken hand was the latest injury setback for the Knicks, who were without Julius Randle (right shoulder), Mitchell Robinson (left ankle) and Bojan Bogdanovic (left foot).

    OG Anunoby returned to the starting lineup after missing the last four games, but played just five minutes before aggravating his strained left hamstring and sat out the rest of the game.

    By failing to close out the Pacers, it’s now been 24 seasons without an appearance in the conference finals for the Knicks – the third-longest active drought in the NBA behind the Washington Wizards (45) and Charlotte Hornets (34).

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.