Bulls

Bulls rebound, outlast pesky Kings

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Bulls rebound, outlast pesky Kings

Updated: Friday, Dec. 30, 1:19 a.m.

SACRAMENTO The opponent wasnt top-notch, the defense wasnt at a championship-contending level and overall, they probably made things more difficult than necessary, but a run-and-gun, aggressive approach sparked the Bulls (2-1) to a 108-98 victory Thursday night over the Kings (1-2) at Power Balance Pavilion.

What was impressive, however, was that even on an off night and an evening in which Derrick Rose was in foul trouble Chicagos effort didnt wane.

From the games opening moments, the Bulls long-held pledge for transition offense under head coach Tom Thibodeau came to fruition. The visitors ran early and often in the former Arco Arena, with everybody from center Joakim Noah (on a coast-to-coast layup, no less) to new acquisition Rip Hamilton (16 points) joining in on the fast-break fun.

Much better. I thought the first five minutes of the game, we got out and got some easy baskets, but it was triggered off of our defense. Thats the first priority, to get the defense established and the rebounding, and that gets us in the open floor and then makes the game a lot easier, observed Thibodeau. I thought our starters played with a lot more energy and I thought they competed on the defensive end, and thats what really got them going. I think when we do that, we have the chance to be a good team.

The difference between tonights game and the Golden State game was the start of the game, I thought we tried to do the right things at Golden State, but we turned the ball over and put them in the open floor, so we got in a hole right away. In this game, we came out and we were attacking, and we got the lead and we played from ahead, he continued.

Said Rose: The Bulls defense was better, way better. I think defensively, we got into them some parts of the game, he added. They still got easy baskets, but we can still clean up things much better.

Usual suspect Rose (19 points, eight assists) was, as promised, aggressive, getting to the basket in a determined fashion when he wasnt knocking down pull-up jumpers or distributing the ball to his teammates. Oft-maligned power forward Carlos Boozer (16 points, 15 rebounds) also shined in the early going, helping the Bulls to an early double-digit lead with his rebounding prowess, though a late-quarter Kings rally would trim the score to 30-24 by the end of the opening period.

Luol Deng (12 points, six rebounds, four assists), paired with the Bulls reserves early in the second stanza, maintained his first-quarter scoring to help regain momentum for the visitors, but the youthful home team, led by first-round draft pick Jimmer Fredette (14 points) last seasons leading scorer in college basketball has already built a cult following in Californias capital city quickly narrowed the gap.

Chicago, however, got back to what gave them an early advantage to begin with forcing turnovers with pressure defense, then pushing the ball in transition and behind the fast-break finishing of backup swingman Ronnie Brewer (12 points) and long-range shooting of designated marksman Kyle Korver, again obtained a comfortable cushion.

Thibodeau, who picked up a technical foul near the end of the half, began to filter in his regulars midway through the period and it was evident that Hamilton was starting to find his comfort zone with his new team, getting to spots on the floor where he could establish his potent mid-range game.

Meanwhile, despite the efforts of former Bull John Salmons (12 points), the visitors propelled by Roses relentless attacking and playmaking, as well as active team defense kept the heat on their hosts, but another Sacramento spurt, behind the scoring of guards Tyreke Evans (19 points) and Marcus Thornton (20 points), toward the end of the quarter made it a 60-53 game, in favor of the guests, heading into the break.

We always talked about the first five minutes of the game, the last five of the half, the first five of the second half, the last five of the game. So, thats another area that we have to address and clean up, said Thibodeau, who expressed his displeasure with the games officiating afterwards in milder tones than he did during the contest. Rose was in an attack mode right from the start of the game and thats usually who he is. I thought he set the tone on both ends.

Added Rose: I think being more aggressive, attacking the hole would get me open shots.

We were running. Running, playing in the groove. Guys are really shooting the ball. My assists are going to be very high this year, I think.

The home teams strong play carried over through the intermission, as the exuberant Kings, spurred on by a supportive crowd, rapidly encroached on the Bulls, who simply werent as crisp as they were for most of the first half, on either end of the floor.

Chicago attempted to right the ship behind Hamilton, but talented second-year big man DeMarcus Cousins (15 points, 12 rebounds) started to dominate the interior offensively with an array of post moves, agile footwork, surprising shooting range and brute strength.

Compounding the situation was Rose picking up his fourth foul midway through the period, but his understudy, C.J. Watson (eight points, nine assists, five rebounds), picked from where he left off in Mondays loss to Golden State one of the few bright spots, the former Warrior provided scoring punch in the aborted comeback and helped the Bulls acquire some breathing room. Boozer also picked up his game as the quarter waned on and at the end of three quarters, the Bulls had rebuilt their advantage, to the tune of an 85-75 lead.

C.J. came in and hes running our team, he got us some really good shots, said Thibodeau. Carlos stepped up big. I love the way Carlos rebounded the ball; I thought that triggered our break and then he got into rhythm offensively, right there at the end of the third. Thats a good sign for us.

Chimed in Rose: C.J. played great. He played aggressive, pushed the ball. Thats the biggest thing. When were aggressive, were great. When were aggressive on the break and were pushing the ball, we have great shooters on the team that really know their job. When they spot up, if they dont have the shot, pass the ball back out and were running the set.

Booz played good, he continued. Being aggressive, I think. Being more efficient, knowing what hes going to do when he catches the ball. Instead of jabbing, just taking his time. Get it and go. If he doesnt have it, pass it back out, pick-and-roll. He played good tonight.

Rose and Brewer combined to carry the offensive load early in the final stanza, maintaining Chicagos comfortable winning margin, but the reigning league MVP acquired his fifth foul with less than eight minutes remaining, erasing the proposition of an easy Bulls win.

The enigmatic Cousins who would eventually foul out after sending Noah to the sidelines with five fouls impacted the game both negatively and positively for the Kings, but in a contest that had devolved into a sloppy affair, Sacramento couldnt make up much ground.

Down the stretch of the game, the Bulls turnover woes returned to plague them, enabling the Kings to hang around, though the inexperienced squad couldnt capitalize on the visitors often unforced errors. Defense, Chicagos trademark during its banner 62-win regular season a year ago, was the order of the day late for the Bulls, and with clutch free-throw shooting to seal the deal, the team finished off the win.

Weve got to clean it up. Weve got to get them down. Wed like to be below 13 turnovers every game. Weve got a lot of work in that area. A lot of it is bobbles. Some of it is timing and spacing, so we have to continue to work on that and then just make simple plays, instead of trying to thread the needle, said Thibodeau. But I like the way we ran the floor and weve got to continue to do that. I thought our bench was terrific.

Rose concurred: The turnovers were from being aggressive, getting back in the rhythm. Me attacking tonight, I dont know if it felt new, but it made me feel good, just knowing that Im still capable of doing it. But Im just happy that we got the win.

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen has career-high 26 points in loss to Suns

Lauri Markkanen continues to impress.

The 20-year-old rookie had a career-high 26 points in the Bulls' 113-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. He also picked up 13 rebounds.

After the game, in which the Bulls fell to 3-11 on the season, coach Fred Hoiberg had high praise for the Finnish.

"I thought Lauri was phenomenal," Hoiberg said. "But when he is open, we gotta get him the ball. When he's got it rolling like he did tonight, guys were switching and we had him a couple of times with the point guard buried in his back and we didn't get him the ball."

Watch what Hoiberg had to say about the Bulls' tight loss in the video above.