Bulls

Observations from Bulls-Thunder: Angry Fred, Markkanen disappearance, point guard spot is open

Observations from Bulls-Thunder: Angry Fred, Markkanen disappearance, point guard spot is open

Grand opening, grand closing: This one was over quick in the Bulls' 101-69 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night at the United Center. It was what you’d expect when a team’s four best starters are the four best players on the floor. The Thunder have the pick of the litter as to who can be their lead dog on a given night. Paul George was the guy who initiated things Saturday, hitting four of five triples and toying with Paul Zipser for 20 points in 28 minutes.

Carmelo Anthony hit five triples of his own to score 21, but it was clear before halftime the Bulls were not going to make this a competitive loss.

An eight-point second quarter did them in, trailing by double digits from the nine-minute mark on, catching the ire of Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg after the Bulls shot 28 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Calling the game a “huge step back” after their win against Atlanta two nights ago, it was the first time the Bulls’ effort came into question this season.

“We didn’t compete. We didn’t stay together, we didn’t fight through adversity as a team. We were careless, we were stagnant,” Hoiberg said. “They got the loose balls. That can’t happen. That cannot happen with this group. It’s very disappointing coming off this encouraging win against Atlanta by doing all the little things. Our body language sucked. Things weren’t going well, we dropped our heads and gave in.”

The Bulls made a slight run in the third, cutting the lead to 50-36 in the opening minute. But it was a 27-point spread six minutes later as the Bulls were both bothered by the long, rangy Thunder defense as well as being their own worst enemy, committing many of their 20 turnovers.

Whether it was overdribbling or not trusting the offense, it got pretty slow pretty frequently.

“It was all on us. Anyone here will tell you, we didn’t compete right from the very beginning,” Bulls center Robin Lopez said. “That’s something we can’t afford in short lapses, let alone an entire 48 minute game.”

Point guard play, M.I.A.: If there’s a true point guard of the future on the roster, it would behoove the Bulls to show himself. Jerian Grant struggled all night, missing all six of his 3-point attempts—many of them wide open.

Kris Dunn’s opportunity is there for the taking, but he didn’t make a contribution until the game was well out of hand. He didn’t look too tentative with his hand injury, attempting to be active defensively, but he wasn’t effective—although one can attribute that to rust.

He finished with eight points and three assists in 22 minutes, and on a late turnover he slipped and hit his finger. Afterward it was wrapped in ice.

“Jammed it a little bit but it’s okay,” Dunn said. “I re-aggravated it. It’s okay. I knew I was gonna be a little rusty but I think what’ll help me is playing hard.”

It led Hoiberg to say the position is open in the next few days of practice before Wednesday’s game against Miami.

“I love to compete. I’m not trying to go for the starting spot but it’s definitely a dream of mine to start for an organization,” Dunn said. “At the same time, I’m trying to get better and help the team.”

But perhaps the most telling or damning of the point guard play was the lack of shots for Lauri Markkanen. With the Bulls offense looking as bad as its looked in the first five games, Markkanen made his first two shots, triples, in the first quarter.

He went almost a full quarter before getting a good look at the basket again and had three shots at the half.

“We didn’t compete at the same level we’ve been competing at the other games,” Markkanen said. “It’s not just about the blowout win for them, it’s how we lost. We didn’t compete.”

On one hand, that’s a lack of recognition from Grant and Dunn, who should want to make Markkanen their best friend on the floor considering how critical he is to the future.

"We missed him on several occasions, he was standing out there by himself. We tried to take extra dribbles," Hoiberg said.

Markkanen finished with 15 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes.

“I’m doing what’s best for our team. If I’m open, I’ll shoot it. I’ll try to make the right play every time,” Markkanen said.

Russell Westbrook watch: If someone didn’t tell Westbrook the Bulls were the one team he hadn’t recorded a triple-double against, no one would believe it.

It might’ve been his easiest feat in the last two years, with the reigning Most Valuable Player achieving it in 25 minutes before finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists.

He only had to play 28 minutes overall, in the second night of a back to back.

You couldn’t tell by way of fatigue because he was the most active player on the floor, blowing by everyone and creating mismatches downhill for Steven Adams, Anthony and George.

“He has that old school mentality when he plays. He just brings it,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He plays hard when he’s tired or sore and it’s not just to get a triple-double. He just plays with that mentality.”

Unbrotherly love: Come on, Jerami Grant, did you have to do that to your brother on a night where he didn’t see the ball go in the rim one time?

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

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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.