Bulls

Bulls suffer disappointing letdown in Atlanta

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Bulls suffer disappointing letdown in Atlanta

ATLANTA The no-excuses Bulls had no explanation for their flat play in Saturday nights 92-75 loss to the Hawks at Philips Arena.

After their thrilling, wild victory over the Knicks the previous evening, this outing was the polar opposite strong first quarter in a blowout defeat, as opposed to a poor fourth quarter in New York, where they dominated the first three periods and the one perceived negative, too much emotion Friday, wasnt at all present in Atlanta.

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I thought it was a letdown because we lost. We got our expletive kicked. Tough loss. The highs and lows in this thing are unbelievable, man. One night you feel great because you won a big game and then, the next night, you come out with the wrong mindset and you lose the game. Tough, weve just got to move on and get ready for Christmas, Joakim Noah explained. Our energy was bad. I feel like we settled for too many shots early in the clock. When youre tired, sometimes youve just got to move the ball. We let them play to their strengths, as well.

Cant get too down, you cant get too high. Youve got to stay level-headed. Its not the end of the world. Youve just got to learn from it and move on.

Luol Deng concurred: Were not happy with the way we played, with low energy and a lot of mistakes. Games like this happen, but at the same time, we could have made a lot of smart plays out there. But were not down. Were upset we lost, but weve got to get ready for the next one.

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It wasnt as if one Hawks player in particular completely dominated the affair; rather, the hosts balanced, team-oriented approach was the issue, as the Bulls, who exemplify that ethos on a near-nightly basis, had the tables turned on them. As one can imagine, Tom Thibodeau was displeased afterwards.

The first quarter, were up 21-17, so I thought we did a good job. Theyre shooting 36 percent. Start the second quarter, they got loose. We couldnt stop them after that. The second quarter was 36-16, the Bulls head coach fumed. Guys got going and once they get going, theyre hard to shut off. We didnt execute. We got beat in every facet. Our defense wasnt any good, our rebounding was poor and when youre on the road theyre a good team youve got to play for 48 minutes, so theres a lot of things weve got to do better.

Look at Atlanta. They played, too. Its a will game and its 21-17, youre ready, you have a lead and weve got to do better, he continued. When you allow frustration to set in because of a missed shot and you dont sprint back to protect your basket, you dont stop the ball and find the most dangerous guy, then youre asking for trouble. So, we gave them easy shots, we didnt challenge shots and theyre the type of team, if you give them a good look, theyre going to make. Lou Williams got going in the second quarter. That hurt us.

Fortunately for Thibodeau and his team, games like this are a rare occurrence and with two day offs to bounce back from a game where players admitted privately to being sluggish after such an emotionally-charged win in the Big Apple, the lack of energy they displayed is unlikely to repeat itself in their next contest, a Christmas Day home matchup against Houston at the United Center.

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.