Bulls

The Bulls go through a process of their own in loss to Embiid, Simmons, Sixers

The Bulls go through a process of their own in loss to Embiid, Simmons, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA—The Bulls were the lone team Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Joel Embiid hadn't played against in his four-year career, but Fred Hoiberg was acquainted with Embiid’s unique skill set from their collegiate days.

The two have taken disparate paths from Hoiberg’s days at Iowa State and Embiid’s lone season at Kansas, where Embiid’s raw game produced 16 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in 28 minutes in a close Kansas win in Ames in January 2014.

Hoiberg gushed in recalling that game from Embiid, saying “he whooped our (butts). The performance he put on in our building was one of the best college performances I’ve ever seen. He did everything.”

Hoiberg’s words could have applied to another physical unicorn of sorts in Embiid’s rookie teammate Ben Simmons, as he dominated the Bulls from soup to nuts in a 115-101 final at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.

Simmons was two assists short of a triple-double in the first half before finishing with 19 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists, pacing the 76ers to a 25-point lead in the third quarter.

Without Kris Dunn as a physical deterrent, Simmons took advantage of an indifferent Bulls defense that was perhaps still lagging from a double-overtime loss to New Orleans 48 hours ago.

The Bulls removed Jerian Grant from the starting lineup to start the second half, going with David Nwaba to try to use a bigger defender on Simmons—Hoiberg believed Grant was a bit fatigued from playing 48 minutes Monday and perhaps it showed in Grant’s 1 of 6 shooting night.

Either way, there was no stopping Simmons, a player the Bulls will have to contend with for the next several years as he figures out his game to match Embiid’s.

“I mean he’s just really big, can get to the middle,” Zach LaVine said. “Dishes, and you just don’t know what he’s going to do, attempt to score. Very indecisive with that, but they have a tough combo with him and Embiid man. You gotta really help off Embiid and [Simmons] cuts to the hoop, facilitates, they’re good.”

Simmons’ eyes and darting passes led to 16 3-point makes from the 76ers, who shot at least 50 percent from the field and 3-point line in an all-around consistent performance.

Embiid didn’t leave Hoiberg gushing, but he inflicted damage with his maturing game, taking advantage of his quickness against Robin Lopez and anyone else who dared step in his way.

He scored an easy 22 points in 32 minutes, giving a small glimpse offensively why he’s so dangerous but covering enough ground defensively to have the Bulls looking over their shoulders on the rare occasion they ventured into the paint.

It led to a sputtering Bulls offense that hit just 38 percent from the field and under 30 percent from the 3-point line, as Hoiberg was frustrated with the shot selection after the slow start.

“I just didn’t think our toughness was there,” Hoiberg said. “And then it just kind of became a 'my turn' shot. A guy took a bad one and we said, ‘If he’s going to take a bad one, then I’m going to take a bad one.’”

Nikola Mirotic has always had the green light since his return, putting up 15 shots in 26 minutes. But Hoiberg didn’t seem pleased with the type of shots LaVine wound up with in his 24 minutes.

“The mid-range, contested pullups when he doesn’t retreat with his dribble and make a decisive move, that’s what we gotta get rid of,” Hoiberg said. “I saw some of that tonight.”

LaVine is walking the fine line between incorporating himself into the team’s free-flowing offense while also doing what he does best, creating his own shot with his quick first step.

It seems there’s a balance to be found with letting the game come to him and LaVine going out and getting it—especially as he operates under the current minute limits.

It’s a “process,” one would say.

“No doubt he can hit shots,” Hoiberg said. “Philadelphia’s a switch team, so he had a couple really good attacks on the switch. Last week he settled. It was good to see him get to the rim.”

LaVine scored a season-high 21 points, finding a rhythm in the second half, right behind Bobby Portis’ 22 points and 10 rebounds for team-high honors. He didn’t agree with Hoiberg’s ‘your turn, my turn’ assessment.

“I think just everybody was trying to help get back in it,” LaVine said. “I don’t think it was a selfish-type thing. It was more of things aren’t going the right way, I’m going to help dig us out of it, and it didn’t work.”

He admitted, though, the slow start isn’t something the Bulls can afford at this stage. Usually, they’ve been the aggressors early on in the last several weeks.

“We just didn’t come out the right way,” LaVine said. “Didn’t knock down shots at first, that didn’t help, but I just felt like we had that type of juice that we usually come out of the game with. We’re not good enough to come out and mess around like that, so we gotta bring that energy every time.”

One thing LaVine, Hoiberg and anybody watching the Bulls will agree on, the mismatched lineups and lack of overall continuity won’t be aided on nights when effort is a concern.

“We really aren’t to that point where we can turn it on at any time,” LaVine said. “We haven’t even gelled that much together as a team yet, so regardless, we’ve gotta go out there and play for one another, and compete.”

Robin Lopez taking demotion in stride, wants to return to Chicago

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Robin Lopez taking demotion in stride, wants to return to Chicago

Only an errant punch that missed the face of Serge Ibaka prevented Robin Lopez from suiting up for the Bulls since arriving in the summer of 2016, but his availability streak will come to an abrupt end as the Bulls are sitting and Justin Holiday for the foreseeable future.

Lopez didn’t dress for the Bulls’ game against the 76ers, as he and Holiday were replaced by Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba. Although he was jovial, cracking a few jokes when meeting with the media in pregame, it was clear he was disappointed.

“It was rough for me. I get it. I understand it,” Lopez said. “I always want to be out there playing on the court. That’s what I enjoy, especially playing with these guys. But I’m excited to watch these guys give it a go from the bench.”

With the Bulls being eighth in the lottery standings, Lopez understands the long-term objectives of the organization and said the conversation with the front office went as expected.

“I think pretty much what everybody else has heard,” Lopez said. “I was pulled aside. They told me they wanted to evaluate a few other guys, a few of the young guys. So I get it.”

Starting 138 of 139 games makes his streak ending a bit tougher to stomach, especially considering he didn’t find out about his certain inactivity until right before leaving for the United Center.

“I suppose that’s a little selfish of me, but a little bit,” said Lopez of sadness concerning the streak. “I looked in my closet today and thought I would have a glut of jackets. And I only found two. I didn’t realize this was an issue until about 5 minutes before I had to leave. So I got kind of a ragtag outfit for tonight but hopefully I’ll be better prepared in the games to come.”

Not only will he be armed with better wardrobe but he’ll be bringing a positive disposition to the sidelines that made him loved amongst his teammates.

“All my teammates, whether they’ve been playing with me or sitting on the bench and not dressing, they’ve all supported me,” Lopez said. “I don’t think I’d be too good a person if I didn’t do at least the bare minimum of the same.”

Lopez represented stability and veteran leadership in a tumultuous season, a solid performer when losing was the early norm and upheaval has been constant. It was a reason the Bulls hoped he would garner some interest in the trade market but after hitting for a draft pick in the Nikola Mirotic deal, they had no such luck with Lopez.

Naturally, he was asked about the prospect of being traded over sitting as a healthy scratch.

“That’s hard for me to talk about because I don’t know what situation I could have potentially been in once I had been traded,” Lopez said. “Yeah, it’s … I want to be playing obviously, but we’ve got a great group of guys right here.”

Considering how uncertain things will be for the future, it isn’t a guarantee Lopez won’t be around for the 2018-19 season.

“Yeah. It seems like they still like me. How could they not?,” he joked.

He’s due $14.3 million next season, the last of a four-year deal he signed with the Knicks in 2015. Averaging 12.3 points and shooting 53 percent from the field, he’s productive and valuable on the floor. He’s easy to dismiss with the hoopla surrounding the youth on the roster and the way things clicked when Mirotic stepped on the floor, but seven footers like Lopez aren’t easy to find—even as the game changes.

“I’m a team player. I like to think my play is tied to how the team plays,” Lopez said. “I think we had some really great stretches. The young guys really developed and found a rhythm once we all got healthy. I think we played pretty well.”

With 25 games remaining, he’s unsure of how long his inactivity will last but it’s hard to see him missing the remainder of the season. It would be a bad look for the Bulls and the league to have a healthy player miss two whole months, and Lopez claims no knowledge about that ugly “T” word.

“I’m not familiar with military artillery,” he said.

At least he’s keeping his sense of humor.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls complete 'the process'?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls complete 'the process'?

On today’s edition of STL Podcast, Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by Mark Schanowski, Nick Friedell and Vincent Goodwill to talk all things Bulls. Will the Bulls complete “The Process” as well as the visiting 76ers have so far? Our panel discusses the tank watch, recaps the epic Women’s Hockey Gold Medal game and much, much more.