Bulls

No comeback this time but Bobby Portis strikes again in Bulls' loss to Pacers

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USA TODAY

No comeback this time but Bobby Portis strikes again in Bulls' loss to Pacers

The Return, Game 2: Bobby Portis said his suspension made him grateful to keep playing the game he loves.

He’s continuing to show it, playing with fervor in his first game in front of the Bulls fans since his incident with Nikola Mirotic. Scoring 20 points in 25 minutes with 11 rebounds, he continued to battle inside even as he wasn’t very effective early, working himself into a good night.

“I’m getting better each and every day,” Portis said. “I’ve always been confident but I’m at the top of my game right now with my confidence level. I’ve gotten better at taking the good shot and not every shot.”

The Bulls started to use he and Lauri Markkanen together again in the fourth quarter, similar to when they provided spacing in their comeback in Toronto. Markkanen shot just 2-for-9 from 3-point range, perhaps showing some effects from the tendinitis that kept him out of practice Wednesday.

With 43 points in his first two games, it’s the best two-game stretch of his career—all things considered. He had back-to-back 16-point games his rookie year against the Pacers and Knicks, but consistent playing time and production has been fleeting.

“Knowing I’m gonna play, I can get comfortable,” Portis said. “Knowing the coaches trust in my abilities, knowing they trust in me shooting the ball, that’s a plus also.”

He’s had to play behind proven veterans in Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in his first two seasons.

“It’s always frustration, man,” he said with a laugh. “It’s always tough not being able to play and having to sit and wait your turn. It was a blessing in disguise, it’s helped me tremendously.”

Especially with Zach LaVine still weeks away from stepping on the floor and the Bulls being the only team in the Eastern Conference averaging fewer than 100 points (93.6), somebody has to score.

Why not Portis?

“I don’t know why anybody is surprised. I’ve always went hard my whole life,” Portis said. “I’ve always tried to bring my best effort. If anything, I’m gonna play hard. Me scoring 20 points is probably not gonna be a regular thing but at the same time I know my role on this team. Bring energy and effort every day. If the shots are there I’ll take them.”

No rah-rah comeback here: In Toronto, Hoiberg ripped into his team at halftime and it resulted in a resounding comeback, with the Bulls nearly pulling off an upset from down 23 points.

That kind of effort was nowhere to be found on Friday night, the first of a back-to-back set that concludes in San Antonio Saturday night.

“You could see in our guys’ faces, it was gonna be a long night,” Hoiberg said. “We didn’t have that fight to us, that suck it up, find a way to make a play for your teammates, we didn’t have it.”

Denzel Valentine started 1-for-10 after two encouraging performances. Kris Dunn’s maddening turnovers continued, especially the ones of the unforced variety where he’s either overthinking or not thinking at all.

He scored 16 and looked confident and competent while driving to the basket, evidenced by his baseline drive and dunk on an unsuspecting defense in the first half.

“He makes plays that gets you really excited, some high flying dunks, then he has a couple really careless turnovers,” Hoiberg said. “He’s shown flashes of being an excellent basketball player but we gotta get rid of those careless turnovers.”

But when it comes to running an offense, he’s still very much a work in progress—where patience is probably the best attribute when evaluating him.

It was also a game to forget for Bulls centers Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio. Felicio continued to struggle, as his usual activity has turned to regression. Lopez, on the other hand, had been a model of consistency until this point.

He’ll probably ask for a mulligan after start 0-for-6 and scoring just two points.

Oladip-OH!: Victor Oladipo was doing more than enjoying his newfound freedom after being traded from Oklahoma City to the Pacers in the Paul George deal; he was bathing in it. His steal and uncontested 360 dunk midway through the third quarter put the Pacers up 20 and gave him 21 points, on his way to 25, six assists and six rebounds.

It wasn’t that easy all night but it felt like that for the Pacers as they shot 51 percent and 41 from 3-point range. They didn’t make a free throw until well into the third quarter because the Bulls defense was that slow in getting back in transition.

“The very first drill we did in our training camp…defensive transition drill,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We talked about our rules in transition. It completely went out the window tonight.

“They scored 20 in transition. It seemed like 50.”

He lived in the Bulls paint, being a step quicker and playing with more fervor than anyone wearing Bulls red. It almost made you wonder why the Thunder couldn’t make it work between him and Russell Westbrook, given he was so active with the ball and refused to settle for jumpers.

It also put an end to the assertion that the Pacers got fleeced in the George deal, as they at least have building blocks in Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, who came off the bench to score eight with nine rebounds.

Bojan Bogdanovic torched the Bulls for six triples in 33 minutes, scoring 22 with seven rebounds. Oladipo’s penetration repeatedly compromised the Bulls defense and the threat of it left shooters open to the tune of 12 triples while the Bulls made just 7 of 26.

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

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ESPN

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

The NBA may have lost another top superstar due to injury.

On Friday, Jimmy Butler appeared to have suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee. He left the game against the Houston Rockets unable to put any pressure on his right leg and needed assistance getting back to the locker room. 

Here's a video of the incident:

Coach Tom Thibodeau said that Butler will have an MRI when the team returns to Minnesota on Saturday.

Butler drew a lot of headlines last weekend after not playing in the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Entering Friday, Butler led the league with 37.3 minutes played per game.

The Bulls also take on the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday night.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.