Bulls

Bulls notes: Getting back on track at home

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Bulls notes: Getting back on track at home

Dont count Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau among those who were surprised by the Bobcats 81-71 win over his Bulls on New Years Eve. Though the road win broke the Bobcats 18-game losing streak and dropped the Bulls to 9-8 at home, Thibodeau said no perceived upset in the NBA surprises him any longer.

If youre a team in the NBA, youve got great players and often times when you dig deeper you see that really the result of their record is mostly injury. And when you look at the guys that theyve had out, you know that thats been a big part of it, he said at this mornings shoot-around. So everyone in this league is capable of beating you. Thats why readiness to play is so important. And its not just readiness to play but you have to play well. You have to be able to execute on both offense and defense, but when you study their roster you see they have a lot of accomplished players.

Those accomplished players Thibodeau noted included leading scorer Kemba Walker, former Bulls sharpshooter Ben Gordon, this year No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, defensive specialist Bismack Biyombo and shooting guard Gerald Henderson. And while the Bobcats record (11-32) pits them in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, the Bulls wont be looking past them this time around.

I feel like theyre good enough to beat anybody in this league. Theyve got a lot of really good players who do a lot of key things for their team so were gonna have to stick to what we know, swingman Jimmy Butler said, and keep the ball out of the paint and do what we have to do on defense. I think thats the biggest key for tonight.

Home, road splits starting to even out

Since a 10-10 start at the United Center, the Bulls have won four of their last five at home.

Butler wouldnt attribute the improved record to anything in particular, noting that its more of a given that teams need to play their best basketball in the confines of their home arena.

This is our city, thats our court, so we dont want teams to come in and feel like its easy, he said. People have been getting wins there, but were trying to turn it around. Of course we dont want to lose any games, but definitely none at home.

And despite a loss Saturday night in Washington, the Bulls still maintain the NBAs best road record at 12-6. Butler agreed with Joakim Noahs comments earlier in the year, that the team thrives on walking into harsh environments and competing.

Backs up against the wall on somebody elses court, I feel like other teams feel the same way whenever they go to the other teams court, he said. Its a challenge, and who doesnt like a challenge in this league?

In the same light, Butler did note that the Bulls need to play with that same intensity at home when there may not be as much motivation to come out with a hot start.

On the road its everything against us, so we play a lot harder and we come out of the gates firing, he said. And sometimes at home we take it for granted and then we come out slow and dig ourselves a hole and we try to fight back as the game goes along but its always tough to do that.

The home record has improved and the Bulls find themselves atop the Central Division, but Thibodeau said the last mentality his team can afford to have is complacency with recent success.

We still have a long way to go. I think if you look at it and you feel like youve done well or youve got it figured out, youre setting yourself up for a fall, he said. And what I want our guys to do is continue focusing on improvement. Our road is gonna get tougher, theres a lot of things we can do better but I want them to focus in on the task at hand: have a good practice every day, be ready for our opponents, go out and execute on offense and defense and do it as a team.

Thibodeau feels for Rondo, still believes in Celtics

The Boston Celtics revealed yesterday that Rajon Rondo had suffered a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.

Thibodeau, who coached Rondo during his time as an assistant in Boston, said he felt for Rondo but would not count out the Celtics just yet.

As a team theyre still going to be very dangerous, he said. I think if you overlook them youre making a big mistake. In terms of how I feel about Rajon, Rajon is a true superstar and hes a great guy. And I feel terrible for him but Im sure hell overcome it.

Hes a mentally tough guy but you hate to see any guy go down with any type of injury but I have great respect for what hes done, he added.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.