Bulls

Bucks have the right attitude, but execution needs work

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Bucks have the right attitude, but execution needs work

Jason Kidd made it clear Saturday that the Milwaukee Bucks weren't simply happy to be here.

A 67-loss team from a year ago, touting four leading scorers all under the age of 23 with zero playoff experience could have relished the fact that they finished .500, qualified for the playoffs and could build for what looks to be a promising future by gaining valuable experience with a first-round matchup against a Chicago Bulls team with championship aspirations.

But just showing up wasn't going to be enough for Kidd, who won a title as a player with the Mavericks in 2010 and appeared in 158 career playoff games.

"We’re looking at getting better each time we take the floor, no matter what’s at stake game-wise," he said. "So there’s a lot to lose if we don’t come out and play hard."

Added 23-year-old Michael Carter-Williams, who three months earlier was running the point for the tanking Philadelphia Sixers: "We’re definitely going out there to compete. We want to win."

And though the first taste of playoff experience for four of the nine players who took the United Center floor resulted in a 103-91 loss in Game 1, the Bucks indeed showed flashes that they'll be more than just a tune-up for the Bulls and their potential second-round matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

[MORE: Rose, Butler lead Bulls to first blood over game Bucks]

Yet while the young Bucks brought the right attitude into Saturday night's affair, executing against one of the league's premier head coaches and veteran-laced groups was a different story.

After not allowing neither a single 30-point quarter or 95 total points in four matchups against the Bulls in the regular season, the usually resilient Bucks defense was porous, a step behind their opponent and and unwilling to get physical without fouling with a Bulls team that won the rebounding battle by 11 and and scored 42 points in the paint.

It was far different from what the Bucks had been under Kidd. Specifically since trading for the 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams at the trade deadline, the Bucks' 99.4 defensive rating ranked second in the NBA, helping mask an offense that in the first half of the season had been led by Brandon Knight, who was sent to Pheonix as part of the three-team deal. The offense under Carter-Williams had ranked 26th in the league in efficiency to end the season, with Jabari Parker's absence due to a torn ACL in January doing them no favors on that end of the floor.

It's why on paper the Bucks' first quarter numbers - 59 percent shooting and 29 points - didn't tell the whole story. Having led the majority of the opening stanza may have felt like a win, but Kidd understood getting into a shootout with the league's 10th most efficient offense was a recipe for disaster.

"That first quarter was fool's gold," Kidd said. "We're not an offensive team. We rely on our defense, and we fell in a trap of scoring the ball in that first quarter and thought we were going to outscore Chicago with our offense and not play defense."

Matters only worsened in the second quarter when the Bulls matched their 30-point total from the opening period. The charge was led by Derrick Rose, who had his way against Carter-Williams, finishing with 23 points and seven assists in his first playoff appearance in three years. Jimmy Butler added 25 more on the wing as the Bulls sliced up Milwaukee's plan to double-team Pau Gasol, who had torched them for 46 points earlier in the regular season.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Gasol finished with just 10 points on 5-for-17 shooting, but he added four assists and a handful of other passes that initiated offense, rotated Milwaukee's defense and led to open shots; the Bulls assisted on 30 of their 38 shots, with all five starters recording at least four helpers. The Bucks were 10-29 in the regular season when allowing 100 or more points, a number the Bulls reached with more than three minutes to play. They forced turnovers - the Bulls committed 19 giveaways which turned into 25 Bucks points - but weren't able to get stops when they needed.

"I think the (Bulls') score was high. If you want to win games, you have to keep the score low," said Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 12 points and four assists in his first postseason action.

That became a problem as the Bucks' offense regressed, as Kidd expected it would. In the first quarter the Bucks shot 59 percent, scored 12 points in the paint and added nine on the fast break; in the final three quarters they shot 33 percent, scored 24 points in the paint and only six on the fast break. Khris Middleton, who scored a team-high 18 points in his postseason debut, said his team needed better focus on the offensive end finishing possessions and not settling for outside jumpers.

"I thought we could have played better, a little harder. We could have had better possessions and shot selection," he said. "But I thought for the most part we did a decent job."

It was a decent start for a Bucks team that hung around - trailing by one with three minutes left in the first half - longer than many expected them to. But that's the mentality they're hoping to break this postseason, that being within a possession midway through the game should be looked at as a success. They'll need to re-focus offensively and find better looks with the ball in their hands on Monday in Game 2, but they took a step in the right direction Saturday by arriving with a mentality of more than just being happy to be playing past the regular season.

"Obviously (the Bulls) are a good team, but it’s not like we think we’re going to lose," said Zaza Pachulia. "I think we go into every game (thinking) that we have a chance to win. These are mistakes we can definitely can correct."

 

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.