Bulls

Bulls blow 20-point lead in preseason loss to Pelicans

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Bulls blow 20-point lead in preseason loss to Pelicans

For those wondering if the Bulls would look like the disjointed outfit in their preseason loss to the Denver Nuggets or the free-flowing unit that blitzed the Minnesota Timberwolves, Monday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans provided a clear answer.

Both.

They launched triples with comfort and regularity but also went through dry stretches, leading to a 123-115 loss at the United Center, in front of a spirited crowd by preseason standards, buoyed by periodic updates from the Cubs Game 3 playoff win.

Chicago native Anthony Davis kept the Pelicans somewhat close early, with a smooth 26 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes, but it was the reserves, the players who often finish exhibitions, that turned things around in their favor.

“We forced up some bad shots late in the clock because we couldn’t run our plays,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to give them credit because they kept fighting and it never stopped for them. We have to somehow take a stand and stay in front of your man.”

Putting the Pelicans on the line 37 times helped a 20-point lead get whittled to a tie game at the end of three quarters, which offset the Bulls shooting 51 percent in the second half.

[MORE: Derrick Rose attends Bulls shootaround; status to be determined]

Then the Pelicans jumped out to an 8-2 run to start the fourth and the Bulls reserves never recovered, despite playing efficiently early on.

“We stopped doing what got us the lead,” Hoiberg said. “We were getting out, we were running, we were getting open shots. And then our pace went bad and we didn’t stop anyone.”

For many parts of the evening, it looked as if Jimmy Butler having a dead-legged night didn’t matter, as his shots came up short and he had trouble containing the Pelicans guards as they waltzed to the basket.

He shot 2-for-13 in 27 minutes, as the Bulls starters didn’t display the cohesiveness the bench did overall, although they had their moments.

Their ball movement and crisp passing led to a bevy of open shots, as they seemed to master the “swing-swing” pass, easily spotting shooters on the perimeter for 18 of their 32 3-point attempts in the first half, shooting 34 percent on the night.

But falling in love with the 3-ball could prove troublesome once the games get going, no matter their proficiency, although it should be said playing without numerous rotation players can skew the observations, just a bit.

Derrick Rose was in the building, but out. Joakim Noah sat out as a precautionary measure, while Taj Gibson is aiming to return Wednesday against Detroit.

It was the bench that found its rhythm while the starters struggled offensively, as Bobby Portis is continuing his impressive play, scoring 20 with 11 rebounds, including a pair of 3-pointers and two blocked shots.

[RELATED: Until Butler and Rose succeed together, speculation will always loom]

“He was awesome, he came off the bench and gave us a big lift,” Hoiberg said. “He was hitting shots, banging around. I thought he battled defensively against Anthony Davis.”

Doug McDermott scored 17 while launching a team-high nine triples off the bench and E’Twaun Moore scored 10 in the fourth to keep the Bulls somewhat close.

But everybody wearing a Bulls jersey had trouble on the defensive end, as they allowed a whopping 69 second-half points, allowing Pelicans reserve Sean Kilpatrick to score 23, including a 4-point play that energized his team in the fourth.

Ryan Anderson would be a great fit in the Bulls’ system for his ability to shoot, but was a thorn in their side on this night, running the bigs ragged for open triples on his way to 18 points and 10 boards.

Kilpatrick is making a name for himself in what will be termed a meaningless preseason game overall, the aim of such exercises, while the Bulls will be looking over game film for adjustments before things get truly serious, looking for answers—the goal of such exercises for them as a unit.

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.