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 in the playoffs: Nikola Mirotic can't miss and the Pelicans are up 3-0


Bulls in the playoffs: Nikola Mirotic can't miss and the Pelicans are up 3-0

When the Bulls traded Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans on Feb. 1, the consensus belief was that the deal was a win-win for both sides.

That still may be true, but the way Mirotic has played the last two weeks has made invaluable to the Pelicans, who hold a commanding 3-0 lead on the Blazers following Thursday night's blowout win.

Mirotic was back at it again, scoring a playoff career-high 30 points on 12 of 15 shooting, making 4 of 6 3-poiners, and added eight rebounds, three steals and a block. Oh, and he did all this in 30 minutes.

Mirotic has been great in three games against the third-seeded Blazers, averaging 21.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 2.3 blocks while shooting a ridiculous .585/.478/1.000.

But it's really been a two-week tear for Mirotic during the Pelicans' eight-game winning streak going back to the final 10 days of the regular season.

In those eight games Mirotic has averaged 24.0 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.4 steals and has shot 57 percent from the field.

The Bulls are happy to have the 22nd overall pick in June's draft, but at this rate would they rather have Mirotic still in the fold? He seems to have turned the corner. Remarkable stuff. At the very least, it's easy to root for him.

Rajon Rondo, Pelicans: #PlayoffRondo, who we featured two days ago, was also back at it in Game 3, going for 16 points on 7 of 12 shooting, five rebounds and 11 more assists. He now has a league-high 37 assists in three games against the Blazers and has played excellent defense on that dangerous Blazers backcourt. He's also shooting 50 percent from the field. This is incredible stuff.

Marco Belinelli, Sixers: More remarkable stuff from a player who was an afterthought until about a month ago. Belinelli, who played 52 games with the Hawks before his release, has exploded in the postseason with Philadelphia. He scored 21 points on 7 of 13 shooting and hit four more 3-pointers, giving him 10 in the series. The Sixers are up 2-1 thanks in large part to Belinelli's 20.7 points and 1.7 steals. He remains a key cog off the bench.

NBA Draft Tracker: A third Holiday brother in the NBA


NBA Draft Tracker: A third Holiday brother in the NBA

Next season there will be three Holiday brothers playing in the NBA. Justin is currently a starter for the Bulls, while Jrue is doing big things for the Pelicans in their opening round playoff series against Portland.

Aaron Holiday is a 6-foot-1 point guard coming off a big junior season at UCLA. He was on the court for an incredible 37.7 minutes out of 40 for head coach Steve Alford, averaging 20.3 ppg, 5.8 assists and 3.7 rebounds. Holiday shot .461 from the field and an impressive .429 from three point range.

What Holiday lacks in height, he makes up for with athleticism and competitiveness. The Bruins were overmatched many nights in a strong Pac-12 Conference, but Holiday was able to lead them to an NCAA tournament appearance with his scoring ability and defensive intensity. His ability to drive by an initial defender and get into the lane set up scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. Holiday’s quickness and long range shooting ability should serve him well as he heads to the professional level.

Where does Holiday fit for the Bulls? It seems pretty unlikely the Bulls will draft a point guard this summer, given the fact John Paxson told reporters in his end of the season news conference that Kris Dunn would be the starter at that position with Cameron Payne as the backup. The Bulls also have Jerian Grant under contract for next season and Ryan Arcidiacono could be back on a two-way deal.

Given the fact the NBA has become a point guard driven league, Holiday has a good chance to hear his name called among the top 20 picks. Washington could be a landing spot at 15 since the Wizards have been trying unsuccessfully over the last few seasons to find a consistent backup for John Wall.

It’s very unusual for three brothers to make it to the NBA. The Jones (Caldwell, Charles, Major and Wil), Russells (Campy, Frank and Walker), Barrys (Brent, Jon and Drew) and Plumlees (Mason, Miles and Marshall) are included on the short list of siblings to accomplish that feat.

Next season we’ll be able to add the Holidays to that list, and don’t be surprised if Aaron winds up having a long and productive career like his older brothers.