Bulls

Bulls try to rebound at home in clash with Hawks

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Bulls try to rebound at home in clash with Hawks

The Bulls are searching desperately to get back on track inside the United Center, where they've lost two of their last three, as they take on Josh Smith and the Atlanta Hawks on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill.

Of all the potential downfalls the Bulls could have suffered without Derrick Rose, wins at home likely were near the bottom of that list. But after going 62-12 at the United Center the past two seasons, the Bulls have almost matched that loss total through 35 games in 2012-'13, managing a 10-10 record in Chicago. That also includes losses in two of the last three home contests, which, before this season, had never occurred in Tom Thibodeau's tenure. But that stretch has happened four times already, and the Bulls will need to reclaim their homecourt advantage as the season nears the halfway point.

It doesn't get easier, however, as one of the surprises of the Eastern Conference makes their way to the Madhouse on Madison tonight. The Hawks made one of the major moves of this past offseason, sending All-Star Joe Johnson and the remainder of his max contract to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams, DeShawn Stevenson and a future first-round pick. In essence, it was a salary dump -- Johnson was due nearly 90 million over the next four seasons -- that didn't send back much talent for Atlanta to work with for the upcoming season. But in the weak East (and their awful Southeast Division) the Hawks have managed to jump out to a 21-15 record and sit in the No. 5 seed in the conference. Eight of those wins have come against the Wizards, Bobcats and Magic, teams with a combined 22-78 record, though they do have wins over Oklahoma City and Memphis.

Another one of those wins, however, came against the Bulls on Dec. 22, when Al Horford's 20 points and 10 rebounds paced the Hawks in a 92-75 victory in Chicago. The Bulls were without Rip Hamilton, but the offense suffered its second worst outing of the year as Luol Deng's 11 points led Chicago, which shot 42 percent and went to the free throw line just eight times. Carlos Boozer managed eight points and four rebounds in the loss, but the Hawks should see a different power forward tonight.

Boozer has been stellar through the Bulls recent woes, averaging 22.7 points and 10.2 rebounds in six games since the calendar flipped to 2013. He's connecting on better than 54 percent of his field goal attempts in that span after making 46 percent through 25 games. He'll need to be at his best once again against Horford and Smith.

Tonight also marks the second return to Chicago for sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who is in the midst of his best season in eight years. He's averaging 2.6 3-pointers a game, helping to fill the void left by Johnson, off the bench, and scored a reserve-best 13 points in December's matchup with the Bulls. Newcomers Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson have taken the majority of the outside shooting with Korver out of the lineup. The Bulls still rank last in the league at 4.6 3-pointers per game, but have improved to 10th in 3-point percentage (35.8).

The Bulls have lost two of three at home (and overall), while Atlanta stumbles into the United Center having lost five of its last six. One team will get back on track with a big win that may hold playoff seeding implications by season's end, so tune into Comcast SportsNet to catch all of tonight's action.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.