Bulls

Bulls searching for answers on both ends

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Bulls searching for answers on both ends

PORTLANDIf nothing else, the early portion of the annual Circus Trip has clearly illustrated that these arent last seasons Bulls. On paper, that was obvious, with Derrick Rose sidelined and the majority of the Bench Mob dispersed around the league, but the assumption that the team would have the exact same traits, simply because of the holdover players and coaching staff, at least thus far, has been proven otherwise.

Saturday night in Los Angeles, the Bulls lost because they simply laid an egg and while in general, they greatly improved their effort Sunday evening at the Rose Garden, the defensive identity thats been forged during Tom Thibodeaus tenure was largely absent. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that teams are beating them at their own game.

The defense right now, the intensity, weve got to get that part right. Weve got to get that right. The reboundings not good, the turnovers, so there are three thingsthe defense, the rebounding and the turnoversall three are a problem right now. So, weve got to correct that. Those three things put you in position to win and then, the inside-out and sharing the ball. Weve got to correct that, Thibodeau explained afterwards.

Your concentration, preparation and effort is what gives you intensity, so if youre not playing hard enough, you go back to those three things.

Added Luol Deng: Our defense is not where it used to be. Its not where we think it should be. Weve just got a lot of work to do and weve got different lineups out there. Weve got to learn how to play together, just the simple stuff. Making each other better, knowing what our strengths are and just sticking to that.

Its not like were losing where were playing great defense and not shooting the ball well. If the chemistry is just on offense, then thats where you say guys are getting adjusted to each other, but our biggest problem is defense. Its not our chemistry on defense and defense is what we do every day in practice. Weve just got to get that down, he continued.

We play hard and its been a while since we lost two in a row. Even when we have things going on, we always battled our way out and play hard. The last two gamesI thought today we played harder in spurts. In L.A., we didnt play hard and thats really the concern. Even when youre struggling, good things happen when you just play hard and weve got to understand that.

Weve got to learn to put stops together. I dont like comparing teams, but thats what we did well last year. The second unit came in and just got stops in a row. Everyone talked about offense, but its the defense and the stops we got, and thats how we win games. Thats what weve got to get back to, the All-Star went on to say. 

The starting group have played together a lot and were not doing it. Then, the second group is coming in, not doing it. We cant really keep making excuses that were not used to doing it or theres different lineups. Its just playing hard, simple, and I think weve got to get back to that. Weve got to understand thats how we win games.

Were doing it in spurts. Were not doing it the whole time. Theres times when were taking bad shots. Theres times when the floor is not balanced. Theres times when teams make a run and were panicking out there.

Defense, where the Bulls used to be able to hang their hat, hasnt been the teams calling card as of late. Instead, opponents are scoring in a variety of waysin transition, uncontested drives, open jumpers, in the postthat simply didnt used to occur.

The Bulls periodic offensive droughts are one thing; those happened even with Rose on the floor and while they were winning league-high amounts of regular-season games. But theres clearly a letdown defensively when Thibodeau goes to his bench and as Deng alluded to, the strength of the previous reserve group was stringing together multiple stops, something they havent been able to consistently accomplish this season.

Just got to play harder, more solid on defense. Even if we cant score, weve got to recognize our defense. Thats one thing about the last bench we had. Even if we couldnt score, we made sure the other unit couldnt score on us, so thats one of the things we have to adjust to and thats about it, Taj Gibson, the lone Bench Mob holdover, explained.

Sometimes miscommunication and then sometimes, guys are fighting hard enough, but they just make a tough shot. Its tough at times because youve just really got to slow some of the second-unit players down. Like Ronnie Price came in, played big for them tonight and weve just got to recognize where to pick our poison.

Chimed in Rip Hamilton: Guys are still learning each other, especially on the floor. Not just offensively, but defensively. I think at times were good and at times, were bad and weve got to get better at just playing at a high level for 48 minutes and understanding how were going to be great.

It takes a minute, man, he added, speaking from experience, as his injury-plagued debut Bulls campaign gives him some perspective. Its not easy at all because I thought I was great at it, having so many coaches and so many years of playing, when youve got new teammates, too, it makes it kind of tough.

That doesnt excuse their lack of cohesion on offense, leading to turnovers, or seemingly a decreased effort on defense, but since its not a mystery, it does mean the Bulls are capable of being better. The last two seasons, for better or worse, established a set of expectations surrounding the squad and now, no matter what challenges are facing them, theyre being looked at to live up to them.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.