Bulls fall asleep at the wheel in loss to Knicks


Bulls fall asleep at the wheel in loss to Knicks

If there was any doubt about the Bulls’ sincerity to keep things interesting this season, the stage was set to fulfill such beliefs.

And true to their character, or the guys in red uniforms playing like characters in a bad movie, they played down to expectations.

They continued their Mendoza-line like performances, against a team that is drenched in so much turmoil the Kardashians are jealous of the New York Knicks.

And over the course of 24 hours, the woebegone Knicks can put the Bulls out of their misery with two wins on back-to-back nights, as the Bulls will head to Manhattan on Thursday night.

The Knicks took care of Part 1 with a 115-107 win Wednesday at the United Center, as the Bulls put together a showing they swore was behind them, a performance that was allegedly beneath their competitive character.

The Knicks treated the Bulls as if they were a D-League team, dominating them on the glass, running the so-called archaic triangle offense to perfection and embarrassing them on national TV — on a night where playoff tickets were announced to be on sale.

“I told our guys they have two choices: They can tuck their tails between their legs and walk out of here with their head down. Or they can tough it out, suck it up and find a way to win tomorrow,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

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The Bulls had a choice to close out a four-game homestand with a 4-0 mark but came out flat against a Knicks team with seemingly nothing to gain with a win, as the Knicks outworked them statistically and intangibly.

“They won every loose ball, battled the rebounds, they got all of those tonight,” Hoiberg said.

The Knicks blitzed the Bulls with 14 3-pointers, hitting them at a 56-percent rate. One couldn’t tell if the Knicks were having a night for the ages or if it was non-existent defense from the Bulls, but given the Bulls’ recent track record of allowing anything and everything to opposing teams, one wouldn’t be wrong to assume the latter.

Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis scored 29 with 10 boards, torching the Bulls in every way possible: from the pinch post, from long range and with devastating dunks in transition.

A 35-point third quarter for the Knicks, where they stretched a seven-point lead to 19 in the last six minutes of the quarter, scoring virtually on every play, silenced the hopefuls and sent out the detractors who believe the Bulls don’t possess the consistency necessary to make a legit run at the playoffs.

“At halftime we talked about how we need to come out and take control of the game. We did the opposite,” Hoiberg said. “They got control and built their lead up, and we dug ourselves too deep a hole to get out of.”

Nikola Mirotic hit triple after triple in the fourth on the way to a career-high 35 points on nine 3-pointers to try to bring the Bulls back, as the Bulls hit 15 3s in total.

“I had a good game, but I’m not happy because we lost this really important game at home,” Mirotic said. “We need to come with a different mindset. We cannot give up 115 points.”

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Mirotic’s 20 in the fourth led to a modest run that brought the score to 109-101 but was ultimately silenced when Carmelo Anthony’s 9-1-1 shot with the clock running down sent fans scrambling for the exits.

Anthony scored 24 on 10-for-22 shooting with four triples and five assists in 39 minutes.

“They got confidence, and Porzingis and Anthony really rose up and made shots in the fourth because of the confidence they had (earlier),” Hoiberg said.

Derrick Rose scored seven of his 21 early in the fourth, but offense wasn’t the problem, though the Bulls clearly believe they can win playing one end of the floor.

Allowing that point total on 52-percent shooting, nearly being doubled up on the boards (53-34) while playing with a willful aversion to defense — an action not uncommon this season.

Again, offense wasn’t the problem, though Pau Gasol scored just four points and Jimmy Butler (seven points, 3-for-11 shooting) continued to struggle on his way back from a knee injury that’s assuredly bothering him more than he’s willing to let on.

The Bulls didn’t turn the ball over at all before the half, yet trailed by two, with the belief a little defense could go a long way.

It was offset with the Knicks going 9-for-11 from 3 early, as the Bulls’ defense again became spotty as the Knicks shot 52 percent from the field. Porzingis was having his way with 17 and six boards.

But that desperation didn’t show up until it was much too late, as they panicked when things started to get away and were forced to play recklessly to get back in it before it proved futile.

“We hit some shots,” Hoiberg said. “That’s the thing that gets us going. We didn’t give (ourselves) a chance at the fourth because we let them control the game.”

Sounds like a microcosm for the season.

Too little, too late.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”