Bulls

Banged-up Bulls hold off Bobcats

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Banged-up Bulls hold off Bobcats

Despite missing four players due to injurythree were hurt during the previous evenings blowout victory in Clevelandthe Bulls (15-3) held off the Bobcats (3-13), 95-89, Saturday night at the United Center. Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton each scored over 20 points on the evening as selfless offense and accurate marksmanship were the hallmarks of the win, which ran the teams home record to an undefeated 7-0 on the season.

We just play. We dont know whats going to happen when the game starts. We just know were playing our style of basketball, said Boozer. Moving the ball, sharing the ball, rebounding, playing defense, trying to have low turnovers and obviously, just trying to win. Thats our whole mindset.

Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Ive said all along: We have the right guys. No matter whos out, we have more than enough to win with. The next guy steps up, he knows what he has to do, knows what his role is. These guys all play for each other and they play to win, and when you have a group like that, good things are going to happen.

The short-handed Bulls jumped out early against a young, smallish Bobcats squad, again using unselfish play and balanced scoring to create a slim cushion. C.J. Watson (11 points, nine assists), building off his recent strong performances, had a productive opening period as a scorer, while Duke products and starting forwards Boozer (23 points, nine rebounds) and Deng (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists) each asserted themselves, as well.

I just try to take my time and be patient, and let the game come to me. Theyre so many scorers around meLu, Booz, Ripthat I dont have to score. I can rest on offense and just try to play hard on defense, and then sometimes, basically still stay aggressive and look for my shot, too, Watson told CSNChicago.com. Weve got to just keep playing hard. Thats what Thibs expects of us and thats what weve got to do. Whoevers out, weve got to keep the level up and basically, just try to win games.

However, center Omer Asik (15 rebounds, three blocked shots, two steals), starting in place of the injured Joakim Noahthe usual starting center was a late scratch after suffering a left ankle sprain Friday night, joining fellow victims of the Cleveland game Taj Gibson (high left ankle sprain) and John Lucas III strained left groin), not to mention Derrick Rose, who missed his fourth consecutive contest with turf toe)picked up two quick fouls, forcing Thibodeau to turn to usual deep reserve Brian Scalabrine, a fan favorite, for frontcourt help. Charlotte starting center Byron Mullens (17 points, five rebounds) was effective for the visitors in the early going, but the Bulls still held a 27-23 lead after a quarter of play.

Our defense was very poor tonight, so thats something that were going to have to clean up, said Thibodeau. Our rebounding was poor, but the offense was good.

Watson picked up his own second foul early in the second stanza, giving recent acquisition Mike James (nine points, 10 assists), a veteran pro floor general who most recently played for Erie of the D-League, a chance to show Bulls fans what hes capable of doing on the court. The game evolved into a back-and-forth affair, as an energetic Bobcats team countered its inexperience with hustle and athleticism, perhaps best exemplified by Mullens and slashing young swingman Gerald Henderson, Jr.

The scoring of Watson and Deng, who logged some minutes at power forward, led the way for the Bulls, whose defense was often bailed out by the basket protection of Asik, in his debut NBA starting appearance, in the paint. With the added bonus of Hamilton (20 points) also providing firepower from the perimeter, the home team went into the intermission with a 50-43 advantage, following a Deng put-back dunk to thrill the United Center crowd, just before halftime.

Thats the value of Lu. He really is the glue to our team. Theres nothing that he doesnt do well, Thibodeau said of Deng, who injured his left wrist later in the game. You can post him, he cuts, he moves without the ball, he can shoot, he slashes, plays great defense, guards multiple positions, play-makes and he plays to win. Hes smart, he knows how to read things. You cant say enough about what he does here, what he brings to winning.

Concurred Deng himself: I understand what hes saying, but it just fits me well. I just try to play the game the right way and just knowing that every night, playing the way that we play, not trying to step out of who I am. Having guys out, just playing the same game and it worked.
Chicago maintained its slight edge after the break, as Hamilton continued to score efficiently and Watsons underrated playmaking ability created easy opportunities for others, while Asiks rebounding and interior defense helped keep things steady on the other end of the floor.

I thought he was great. Thirty-eight minutes, which is a lot for him. His rebounding effort was very, very good. he had a tough cover with Mullens playing away from the basket, Thibodeau said of Asik. Hes geared towards help, so he made a lot of multiple-effort plays, tagging cutters, showing, closing out, rebounding. He had the ability to go from one thing to the next. Again, I think his attitude and approach are tremendous. That guy comes to work every day and he just keeps getting better and better.

The injured Noah was also pleased with his understudys performance.

I think he played very well. Im very proud of him. Hes a rebounding machine and hes playing great defense out there. You know whats crazy is I think he has a lot of areas he can improve in as well, and hes a big part of what were doing, he said afterwards. He knows what he brings. I think that hes a very capable player and he played great for us tonight.

Meanwhile, the Bobcats duo of Henderson (22 points, nine rebounds) and Mullens kept the guests within striking distance against their banged-up hosts.

Boozer and Deng also picked up their production, helping the Bulls lead balloon to double digits as the period waned on. James ability to distribute the basketball while giving Watson some rest, was a major factor in Boozers success, in particular, and at the end of three quarters, the home team was up, 80-69.

Mike was great. I thought Mike played extremely well, as did C.J. I thought both guys were terrific and Mike got us into rhythm, Carlos was knocking down shots, said Thibodeau. We felt confident because obviously, this guy has done it before. Veteran, experienced, you know he James can run the pick-and-roll. Hes going to get a good shot for you in most cases. I thought he played really hard. Carlos got into rhythm, Omers rebounding was terrific and Rip was, to me, sensational.

Chimed in James: The way they were playing me, the passes were there, so our guys were just knocking them down. They made me look good and it was easy when guys were knocking down shots, and youre playing with such good ballplayers. They make the game easy.

Thats just me. Being able to make plays, being able to knock down shots, but also being able to create for others. This game is aboutespecially at the point guard, in this era nowyou have to be able to make plays, not just for yourself, but make plays for others.

Scoring was the name of James game at the outset of the final period, as the 36-year-old showcased his ability to both penetrate and knock down open jumpers from deep range while Thibodeau continued to rest Watson. Surprisingly, Thibodeau reinserted Watson, Hamilton and other regularssans Deng and Asik, who had earned well-deserved breathersand even more shocking, the Bobcats, paced by rookie guard Cory Higgins (10 points), son of Bobcats general manager and former Bull Rod Higgins, began to trim the Bulls comfortable cushion to a single-digit deficit as the contest entered its stretch run.

But with all of the starters back in the game, the home team managed to stave off Charlottes late comeback attempt, despite a spirited effort from the scrappy visitors. The win bodes well for a weeklong home stretch of four contests at the United Center before beginning an arduous nine-game road trip next weekend.

Said Hamilton:It just showed that guys on this team want to play. When guys went down, we just came together and just said, Well just have their back, with Jo being a game-time decisionhe didnt play tonightwe knew we wouldnt have Taj and Derrick and Luke. It was tough, but guys really came together and we did what we had to do to get a win.

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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.