Bulls

Bulls go punchless against Knicks

Bulls go punchless against Knicks

NEW YORK — Explaining a rhyme or reason to the Bulls season is like figuring out what the Knicks’ plan is for the long-term, or playing trivia on where players like Maurice Ndour and Mindaugas Kuzminskas went to school.

But those were the players taking the Bulls to school, when the Bulls were the ones who apparently had something to play for, when they came in on a season-high four game winning streak.

Like most other times when the Bulls had quick highs, the lows came hard and fast as the New York Knicks completed a season sweep of the Bulls with a 100-91 win at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night.

In position to actually come within a game of the Milwaukee Bucks for fifth seed in the East, they played like they’d rather be in Bora Bora come April 13 with a woeful performance that seemingly stretched all night.

They broke trends they established during the win streak such as 3-point shooting and dominating the glass, getting beat by a 53-36 margin on the boards and shooting six of 23 from the 3-point line.

The rebound disparity caused the usually-mild Fred Hoiberg to unleash an expletive in his postgame media session.

“Tonight we just got our asses kicked on the boards and you’re not going to win when you have an effort like that,” Hoiberg said. “Look at the numbers on the glass, that tells you everything you need to know. They had their way with us. It’s not how you win games.”

After trading baskets to start the game, the offense slowed to a crawl and the Bulls didn’t fall back on their defense to keep them in it.

“We gotta let our defense lead to our offense instead of our offense go to our defense,” said Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 26 points and four assists. “It looks good when we’re making shots, but you can’t rely on that every single night like you want to. You gotta guard, rebound, get loose balls.”

The Bulls shot 38 percent, a number that was inflated by a late comeback that made the game look respectable—although they didn’t perform like a team that respected its opponent.

“We didn’t come out with the fire we needed to,” Butler said. “They came out like they were playing for something and we didn’t. They whipped our tail in every aspect of the game.”

Yes, Carmelo Anthony returned after an injury and contributed 18 points, including a highlight-reel crossover on Nikola Mirotic and triple from 30 feet, but it was more of the lesser-known Knicks who delivered the blows to the Bulls.

Like Kuzminskas, who probably gave Hoiberg a conniption on the sideline with his easy drive past Bobby Portis and dunk over Joffrey Lauvergne in the third quarter.

Like Ndour, who trapped and agitated and ran the floor to the tune of 12 points and 10 rebounds—only playing because the Knicks want to get an extended look of their young players, as playoff possibilities are far out of reach.

Or Justin Holiday, who took the place of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah as former Bulls who came back to torture their former teams. Holiday was only a Bull for a short time before being shipped with Rose to New York right before the draft but fit the bull of young and athletic, scoring 12 off the bench.

With the last four games against teams like the Knicks—out of the playoffs and giving players an opportunity to prove themselves, the Bulls can’t let their guard down if they hope to play beyond 82 games.

“The next three teams we play are gonna play as hard as any team in the league,” Hoiberg said. “They’re gonna play free, they’re gonna play loose. We gotta come prepared and we gotta come ready.”

And an old bugaboo reared its head again, as Robin Lopez pointed to a lack of accountability on the defensive end.

“It’s an accountability issue. We gotta stay on each other’s backs,” Lopez said. “Keep reminding each other how important each one of these individual games are.”

But given they’ve been at this exercise since October, expecting the light to magically appear doesn’t seem realistic.

“That’s a very good point. We’ve been up and down all season long and that’s when you want to build good habits,” Lopez said. “We’ve done a good job holding each other accountable this past stretch and we didn’t see that tonight. It’s something we have to keep up as we go into the playoffs—if we go into the playoffs.”

The second quarter was as bad a display of basketball as you’ll see, given the plight of the Knicks and the alleged newfound life that had been on display from the Bulls. Perhaps the fatigue played a part but if fatigue could talk, it would tell the Bulls not to use him as a scapegoat as they played their third game in four nights.

Butler even had his moments, although he tried to bring the Bulls back from the dead in the second half.  But Paul Zipser went scoreless and Rajon Rondo was a minus-21 when he was on the floor. Denzel Valentine went scoreless, missing his six shots.

Whenever you think you have a handle on these Bulls and they’ve found something, an old layer revealed itself and you feel silly for believing anything, one way or the other.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Bulls' Tuesday night tilt against the Cavaliers on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. LeBron James will be on your television

Love him or hate him, LeBron James is must-see TV. Now in his 15th NBA season, James has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite playing just one preseason game (against the Bulls), James has shown anything but rust in three games, averaging 25.0 points on 60 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in nearly 37 minutes. He's a threat every night to do something you've never seen on a basketball court, His Airness included. Justin Holiday and Paul Zipser will have their hands full against the game's best player.

2. Lauri Markkanen, Week 2

Small sample size alert! But through the season's first week Markkanen and Ben Simmons are the only rookies averaging a double-double (Dallas' Dennis Smith has played just one game, averaging 16 points and 10 assists). While the Bulls have struggled through two games, Markkanen's net rating is third best on the team and he leads the Bulls bigs in rebounds per game and rebound percentage. Markkanen has shown some versatility offensively, and his 7 free-throw attempts have been a nice surprise as well.

3. Don't forget: The Bulls swept the Cavaliers last year

OK, so expecting a victory Tuesday night in Cleveland isn't smart. The Bulls will be underdogs just like they were in each of the four games last season, all of which were Bulls winners. It was the first time in 52 division series that LeBron James had been swept, which is pretty remarkable considering the Bulls were the No. 8 seed and the Cavs coasted to a third straight NBA Finals. We're not over here predicting a win. But just remember: the Bulls have fared well against James in the regular season.

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

The Zach LaVine timeline for a Bulls debut remains the same, although he’s ahead of schedule in every metric of his return from ACL surgery this past February.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t angling for more work and pushing his limits to learn the offense he’ll be featured in, along with taking contact “here and there,” in his words. He’s supposed to wait nine months from the day of his February 14 surgery before taking contact, which would put him at a November 14 practice before the Bulls go to Oklahoma City.

“I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on them,” LaVine said in his first public words since media day several weeks ago. “I’m pushing them as hard as I can, but at the end of the day we still gotta be careful. I feel great. I’m doing everything I was doing before. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. But every day I’m just getting back, trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.”

LaVine was at Air Canada Centre getting a workout in before the Bulls opener against the Raptors and has gotten in heavy workouts on the off days with the assistant coaches in the meantime.

Sticking to the schedule will be on both LaVine and the Bulls, although both sides could be tempted to cut corners a bit. It would be human nature for the Bulls to show the NBA world their centerpiece from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, as well as LaVine to want to be the frontline player he feels he deserves to be.

“Yeah, it’s definitely hard. I don’t like missing games,” LaVine said. “Before the injury I didn’t really miss any games. I think I missed one or two in my career, so it really sucks just sitting there, not being able to help. I try to help as much as I can from the sideline. You know, give a little advice here and there, but yeah it hurts.”

He’s also in line for a big-time extension, having passed the deadline for extensions for players in his 2014 draft class. He’ll have to wait until the summer, especially since it didn’t make sense for him to extend unless it was a max deal.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine said. “And I feel the deal is going to get done, either then or next summer. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer. I’m very happy and looking forward to that day as well. The main concern is just getting back on the court, get my legs ready and try to help the team as much as possible until then.”

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points as a third option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but will be featured in Fred Hoiberg’s offense as a first and maybe even second option, too—especially seeing how anemic the Bulls offense has looked in the first two games.

“With the team that we have and the system that (Fred Hoiberg) put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” LaVine said. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score sometimes, but I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

Never lacking for confidence, LaVine hasn’t been deterred by the losing or even the unfortunate Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident from last week.

“We’re building something here. People understand we’re going through a little bit of that process,” LaVine said. “But we’re going to play and win. When I’m on the court, I’m trying to win. Wins and losses do happen. We can always take positives from both of those. That’s how you grow.”

As for Mirotic, LaVine hasn’t spoken to him but has sent texts—as it seems many of the Bulls have reached out to their teammate over the last several days.

“It was unfortunate. That’s what happens when two players are battling I guess,” LaVine said. “I don’t think either of them were in the wrong. It was just something that happened, an altercation. Men are men sometimes. We never should have that happen. But I think we’ve moved past it. Bobby’s in a good spot. We’ve all tried to contact Niko. I think we’ll all be able to move forward.”