Bulls

Bulls look to fend off surprise Warriors on CSN

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Bulls look to fend off surprise Warriors on CSN

When the Bulls glanced at their 2012-'13 schedule, a Jan. 26 meeting against the Warriors at home likely was nothing more than an afterthought. Golden State had gone just 23-43 in the strike-shortened season under first year head coach Marc Jackson the year before, and a roster without much overturn was not expected to do much damage in the deep Western Conference.

But here the Warriors stand at 26-15, fifth in the conference and 4.5 games back of the No. 2 seed Clippers in the Pacific Division, ready to keep their hot streak alive when they square off against the Bulls tonight on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill.

Arguably the biggest surprise in the NBA began the year 7-6 but won 10 of 12 during a stretch through the end of November and beginning of December to move to 17-8. The Warriors are 9-7 since Dec. 18, when the streak ended, but are playing their best basketball after home wins against the top two teams in the West -- a Monday win over the Clippers and a Wednesday win over the Thunder -- entering tonight's game.

The Warriors have been led by Stephen Curry, who will be playing with a chip on his shoulder after being perhaps the biggest snub from this year's All-Star game roster. The fourth-year combo guard is enjoying his best statistical season, averaging 20.9 points, 6.6 assists and a league-best 3.2 3-pointers per game, but was passed over on the All-Star roster for guards Tony Parker and James Harden and "wildcards" Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge. Seeing as Curry is on pace to become the first player in NBA history to average 3.0 3-pointers per game and 6.0 assists, combined with the Warriors resurgence this year, made him a likely candidate for the roster.

But the Warriors won't be unrepresented on All-Star weekend, as power forward David Lee was named to his second All-Star appearance when the reserves were announced Thursday evening on TNT. His numbers are close to career-highs -- his 19.6 points and 10.8 rebounds this year are close to his 20.2 point- and 11.7 rebound-averages in 2009-'10 when he was first named an All-Star -- but the Warriors' improved record and rebounding numbers are both indicative of Lee's impressive season.

While Lee has been impressive inside and Curry -- shooting better than 45 percent from beyond the arc -- has been as good as anyone from beyond the arc, the third part of the triple-headed monster is sophomore shooting guard Klay Thompson. The 6-foot-7 Thompson was considered the best shooter in the 2011 NBA Draft and didn't disappoint when he shot 41 percent from 3 after Golden State made him the No. 11 pick. While his percentages are slightly down in his second season, his 2.7 made 3-pointers per game are third in the league. Thompson's game hasn't fully rounded out -- he averages just 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game -- but he is a perfect complement to Curry and has made the Warriors' backcourt one of the most lethal in the West. Interesting to note, Thompson has made 49 of his last 51 free throws (96.1 percent).

Two different styles will clash tonight at the United Center -- Golden State is 8th in the NBA in 3-pointers per game (7.8) and second in percentage (39 percent) and are averaging 100.7 points per game; the Bulls are last in the NBA at 4.7 mad 3-pointers and 11th in percentage, averaging 93.6 points per game -- and the Bulls are looking to win their season-best third game in a row at home. Tune into Comcast SportsNet tonight for all your Bulls' coverage.

Looking for culture reset, Bulls find themselves in the middle of more drama

Looking for culture reset, Bulls find themselves in the middle of more drama

It was supposed to be an uneventful and culture-resetting season for the Chicago Bulls, but that ended the moment Bobby Portis’ hand connected with the sweet spot on Nikola Mirotic’s face.

Now a light is shining on an unwilling franchise and rightful questions are again being asked about what led to the event, rather than the result.

Mirotic will be out four-to-six weeks with facial fractures and a concussion to boot and Portis was suspended for the first eight games of the season, leaving rookie Lauri Markkanen to man the power forward spot against the likes of Serge Ibaka and LaMarcus Aldridge his first two games.

Welcome to the NBA, kid.

It’s likely he received his wake-up call when he saw his teammates exchange friendly fire, though, considering the witnesses said Mirotic and Portis had been at it for awhile before Portis took one swing to conclude matters.

“Both players owned responsibility in the incident itself but only one player threw a punch. And that punch connected. For us, that is inexcusable,” Bulls Vice-President John Paxson said. “It’s not who we are.”

But when there is no discernable identity, and there’s a coaching staff who’ve witnessed these two go at it for well over two years you have to ask if this is who the Bulls are.

Not in the way of fighting but a team that collectively stands by idly while a situation builds and builds before it explodes, then is forced to clean up the carnage while having to explain and react to an unnecessary event.

Jimmy Butler, gone. Ditto for Derrick Rose. Tom Thibodeau? Dumped too before he picked up what the Bulls didn’t want in Butler on draft night, jump starting this process of the Bulls headed to Parts Unknown.

All have been blamed at some point for the state of affairs. Rose’s knees, Butler’s mouth, Thibodeau’s unwillingness to bend.

Butler took a tongue-in-cheek shot directly across the bow of his former franchise when asked about the incident involving his former teammates, saying “All I know is I’m not to blame for this one”, a nod to the narrative surrounding his trade to Minnesota.

Now who’s left to blame and what happens from here is anybody’s guess.

“When’s the right time to step in? I saw it on the best teams I played on, where you had that competitive spirit,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to have it to have any chance at all. So sure, looking back on it, would we have handled the situation differently? Maybe. I don’t know.”

Both Paxson and Hoiberg expressed the rightful disappointment in Portis while also saying Mirotic had a hand in what occurred. Portis will ultimately bear the responsibility, with his eight-game suspension coming at the worst possible time as his option for next season hasn’t been picked up yet, as it’s hard to see he and Mirotic sharing the same space in a locker room whenever Mirotic returns.

And if he is still around, it’ll be on the players to keep a team from splintering — as if the expected losing won’t be depressing enough.

“As teammates, we're certainly supporting Bobby and supporting Niko,” said Robin Lopez, a de-facto leader on a young roster. “We're going to let them know that what they did, the way they messed up, wasn't right, but we're definitely supporting them.”

Lopez, along with many others, said the confrontation has been brewing for some time, that the pushing and shoving wasn’t anything new. From a human standpoint it’s understandable to sense tension as Portis has been itching for playing time for two years after playing behind veterans, anxious to cement himself on a team that drafted a player at his position four months ago.

Mirotic came in as a golden boy of sorts, handed a starting spot by Hoiberg two years ago and given every chance to snag a starting spot last year before Taj Gibson aggressively stepped in.

His up-and-down performances were rewarded with a $12-plus million deal this offseason and although players usually don’t count each other’s money, they take note of who’s favored and who isn’t.

Mix in competition and ego days before the season began and it’s not surprising something was on the horizon.

But it’s up to a coaching staff to step in, as assistant coach Randy Brown did before the parties were separated in the hope things would settle down.

They didn’t, and now Hoiberg will start yet another season having his aptitude to coach a professional team questioned before he can call an official play or lay out a rotation — because Portis laid Mirotic out on the Advocate Center floor.

Hoiberg desperately wants to change the narrative surrounding his first two years, eager to prove his system can work and that he’s capable of commanding a team that plays hard and organized on a nightly basis.

Whether this is an omen or a random event, it certainly doesn’t bode well for Hoiberg to his detractors.

He stood to the side while Paxson addressed the media, appearing both bewildered and shocked he was having to address such a rare situation a little more than 24 hours before his season-opening cleanse was to occur.

“I’m very disappointed in what happened,” Hoiberg said. “Now, my job is to not let this moment derail us. My job is to get these guys prepared to go out and fight and play as a group, and I’m confident our guys will do that. They’ve shown that going all the way back into late August.

“I’m confident our guys will rally around each other. I’ve seen how much these guys care for each other, and we’re going to go into Toronto tomorrow as a group. We’re going to learn from this. We’re going to grow from this. We’re going to compete, I promise you that.”

It’s clear the Bulls want to extricate themselves from the past couple years and now recent events, but when things are swept under the rug they have a funny way of reappearing at the weirdest times.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Could the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic fight have been prevented?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Could the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic fight have been prevented?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski and Vincent Goodwill react to Bobby Portis’ eight-game suspension and how the Bulls handled the incident with Nikola Mirotic. Mark and Vinnie also discuss how the injury and suspension thrusts Lauri Markkanen into the starting power forward spot and the impact on the rest of Fred Hoiberg’s rotation. Plus the duo previews the season opener against the Raptors.