Struggling Bulls know 'we've got to find ourselves again'

Struggling Bulls know 'we've got to find ourselves again'

There were travels at midcourt. Passes flew into the stands, airballs and shot-clock violations arose and at one point an inbounds to no one found Giannis Antetokounmpo in mid-stride. The Bucks All-Star took two dribbles, slammed home his easiest two points of the night and jogged back, waiting for the next Bulls’ possession.

Another game without Kris Dunn, another ugly offensive performance. It’s becoming a trend for the Bulls, who have now lost four of five after Sunday afternoon’s 110-96 loss. Ball movement was once again an issue despite 25 assists. Sixteen turnovers turned in to 16 points for a Bucks offense that didn’t need the help.

And for the second straight game the Bulls had a chance to push pace and failed to do so, resulting in just eight fast break points. An ugly performance against a Lakers team on Friday could have been predicted. Los Angeles had won seven of nine and the Bulls were returning home from a three-game road trip that included a double-overtime loss and a trashing in Philadelphia.

But the Bulls had two days to bounce back, fix what went wrong against the Lakers and prepare for a Bucks defense ranked 23rd in efficiency. Instead, the Bulls looked lost again without Dunn and will go back to the drawing board Monday afternoon.

“We’re going to have a hell of a practice tomorrow,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We’re going to have a training camp-type practice tomorrow. We’ve got to get our competitive edge back.”

After trailing by 15 in the first quarter on Friday, Hoiberg stressed his team needing to jump out to better starts. Whether it was the 2:30 start time or something else, they came out flat. Again. The Bulls trailed by seven, and a usually stout second unit allowed the deficit to blossom to 13 midway through the second half. By halftime the Bulls trailed by 19, and that was with Antetokounmpo only contributing eight points. The Bucks shot 62 percent from deep, while the Bulls committed nearly as many turnovers (10) as they handed out assists (11).

The offense settled in some in the second half, but so did Antetokounmpo. It made for an unfair fight, with the Greek Freak scoring eight of the Bucks’ first 10 points to open the period. He finished with 27 and added eight assists.

The Bulls tried to push back, but Zach LaVine struggled for a second straight night, missing his first nine shots and finishing with six points. Reserves Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis combined for 5 of 16 shooting, and Jerian Grant posted a rather empty 15 points and five assists.

It was a stark contrast from the Bulls team that reeled off eight straight wins, and even after coming down from that unprecedented run had won four of five before this losing streak began. Dunn is important, but not the end-all, be-all to the Bulls’ offense functioning.

“I just think we’ve got to find ourselves again,” said Justin Holiday, who scored 12 points on 13 shots. “We just got to try to find a way to get a flow back. Get our aggressiveness back offensively.”

That aggressiveness would serve them well. They finished with just 11 transition points against the Lakers, the fastest team in the league, and eight against the Bucks.

Denzel Valentine continued to be a bright spot on the second unit, going for 18 points – including four straight made floaters that were as unorthodox as they come – five rebounds and four assists. Since being moved to the second unit for LaVine, Valentine has flourished and brought energy alongside David Nwaba, while also acting as a de-facto point guard in some closing lineups.

“It’s going to take some time,” Valentine said of the offense acclimating with LaVine back, “but I think when it comes together it’s going to be dangerous.”

For those hoping the Bulls will enter a free fall and get back into the race for a top-3 pick in June’s draft, it’s headed in that direction. The Bulls are now tied for the sixth worst record in the league, and are just 3.5 games ahead of the NBA-worst Atlanta Hawks. But as Hoiberg and the Bulls have reiterated, there’s no talk of tanking in the home locker room at 1901 W. Madison St.

They’re attempting to build a winning culture, and before any talk of improving the roster and adding talent, it starts with effort. The Bulls showed very little of it on Sunday, and the current trend looks much more like the 3-20 Bulls that began the season than the one that reeled off eight straight wins. The answer is somewhere in between, and Hoiberg intends on finding it sooner than later.

“We’ve got to get our competitive edge back,” he said. “It’ll start at practice tomorrow.”

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


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.