Bulls

Bulls won't take lowly Hornets for a joke

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Bulls won't take lowly Hornets for a joke

NEW ORLEANSTom Thibodeaus comparison of the 4-21 Hornets to the Bill Russell-era Celtics dynasty aside -- unless its just lip service -- the Bulls are preparing for Wednesdays opponent as if theyre as good as any team theyve faced on their current nine-game road trip, which has already featured foes as varied as the title-contending Heat and upstart 76ers to lowly New Jersey and Washington. Although league-owned New Orleans is banged up and mostly devoid of top-quality talent -- their one potential star, shooting guard Eric Gordon, is sidelined -- Chicago understands that in order for it to reach its championship potential, at least under Thibodeaus hard-charging style, they have to treat the Hornets as if theyre an elite team.

Hell no, said Derrick Rose, when asked if he would consider taking off Wednesdays contest to rest his ailing back because of the quality of the Bulls opponent. We still know that weve still got to go out here and play this game. Theyre an NBA team. That means they have good players on their team ... got some people thats nicked up on their team, but they might come back -- so weve still got to go out here and play this game.

When Im on the court, I dont pace myself like that, he continued. If anything, when Im out there, Im trying to create or do something to lead us in the right direction to get that win and pacing yourself, I think Thibs wouldnt allow you to do that anyway.

Added Luol Deng: The Bulls' mindset really doesnt change because of the opponent. I think our mindsets got to be 'everyones back tonight.' Its been that kind of season. Whether its us or other teams, it gives somebody an opportunity to step up. Its the NBA, so youve got to come ready to play.

Even if the Bulls are up big on a team, such as in Mondays win over the Nets, their quest is to continue to keep pressure on the opposition or, in Thibodeaus terms, play 48 minutes of basketball.

Its something that we have to learn to do better. I think weve been coming out with great energy to start the games. Weve just got to keep that up, but it is a 48-minute game and weve just got to play better, I guess, Joakim Noah said after Mondays blowout victory. Every games going to be different. Basketballs a game of momentum, but were trying to control what we can control as best as possible. I think overall, our energys been pretty good. Youre not going to just have unbelievable starts all the time. Sometimes, shots arent falling, things like that, but at the same time, you have to come out with great focus and good energy. I think we did a pretty good job with that tonight.

Reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver added: Well, its human nature, I suppose, to let up a little bit, but obviously were trying to play 48-minute games and Thibs preaches it every day, so its something weve got to get better at. But its a good problem to have, I suppose. But its something that weve got to keep working on.

Deng explained that, as of late -- whether he intended it or not, referring to his return to the lineup from torn ligaments in his left wrist last Saturday in Milwaukee -- the Bulls have been putting pressure on the opposition from early in the game and as Thibodeau likes to say, playing from a lead and able to sustain a cushion, even when the other team makes an inevitable run.

I think were just coming out with a lot of energy, not waiting to pick it up. Coming out, our defense has been great in the first quarter. Weve just got to keep doing that and weve been playing very unselfish on the offensive end, Deng said Monday. Its been there all year. We want to play like that every day. Theres times when you have a lot of energy, times when you dont have energy, but I think right now, were not just playing hard. Were also playing smart and thats the difference.

Chimed in C.J. Watson: Its kind of hard. We try not to play the score, just keep attacking, play the way that weve been playing and thats what we did for a little bit.

As impressive as Chicagos performance in wins over elite-level competition has been, its level of focus against the dregs of the league has been equally eye-opening, especially in this lockout-shortened campaign, which has yielded some surprising results around the NBA. Thus, even though funnyman Will Ferrell will be present at Wednesdays game -- the actor-comedian, whos filming a movie in New Orleans, will announce the starting lineups -- playing the Hornets, or any opponent of their ilk, are no laughing matter to the Bulls.

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.