Bulls

Circus trip will test Bulls defense that came up big against Pacers

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Circus trip will test Bulls defense that came up big against Pacers

The Bulls head out on their two-week long circus trip while the United Center is being preoccupied, giving them a chance to knock out a long road trip early in the season.

But this trip won’t be as strenuous and arduous as it usually has been in previous years, giving this team a lot of off-time and chance to close quarters as a unit.

Like last season, the Bulls head west with a 7-3 record and also like last season, Derrick Rose’s status is on a bit of shaky ground, as his left ankle sprain has him listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Phoenix, the first of the three-game western leg that’ll be completed in the next seven days.

Rose missed the first four games of the seven-game trip with injury, a left hamstring ailment that seemed to bother him upon returning midway through the trip. This time around, an ankle sprain is fairly common and shouldn’t be such a huge cause of concern although it’s hard to tell Bulls nation not to feel a certain way.

“That’s too far ahead,” said Rose after the Bulls’ 96-95 win over the Pacers Monday night. “Right now I just need to get treatment, put some ice on it for a little bit. After this, just get off my feet and put more ice on it.”

[MORE: Bulls Road Ahead - A spread out Circus Trip]

He’ll have plenty of time to recover until Friday’s game in Oakland, where the Bulls are the last team to beat the NBA champion Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in the regular season, a thriller last January.

“It’s exciting, it gives us a chance to bond as a team,” Rose said. “We have a young group. I’m one of the veterans on the team. It gives us a chance to really come together as a team, go out and learn more about each other and help us grow.”

If this trip is to be successful, Monday’s win is as good a primer as possible considering their pretty offense slowed to a crawl in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter and they had to rely on their old standby, tough defense.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has coyly put more defensive-minded units on the floor in second halves, choosing to sit the likes of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic for Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson—a clear message that he’s not just an offensive coach and has some idea of what this team’s foundation has been over the last several years—a foundation that has served them well.

“Defensive effort, you really can’t strategize for that,” Jimmy Butler said. “You can have schemes but you gotta play hard. We got guys that play crazy hard. They take it personal when they get scored on, so when it’s time to get stops we get stops.”

Butler, the man who blocked Paul George’s fadeaway jumper with seconds remaining, has clearly been preaching defense early in the season, along with Rose.

“The talk is always gonna be there, we can’t get involved in that,” Rose said. “Our job is to believe in each other, play well and get better individually.”

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The Bulls will be tested defensively, particularly on the perimeter during the trip by explosive backcourts. Phoenix’s tandem of Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe can go a mile a minute, as Knight just finished a 30-point, 15-rebound, 10-assist triple-double performance against the Lakers.

Golden State’s backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the best in basketball, period. Curry leads the NBA in scoring at 33.4 points per game and is unguardable.

And while the Portland Trailblazers are struggling at 4-8, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are both putting up over 20 points a night, with Lillard scoring 25.3 points a night, good for eighth in the league.

“It’s tough on the road, the crowd’s against us,” Butler said.

And not only that, the guards standing across the way will put up shots all night, every night.

Kendall Gill named to Illini Athletics Hall of Fame

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NBC SPORTS

Kendall Gill named to Illini Athletics Hall of Fame

Kendall Gill can add another bullet point to his resume.

NBC Sports Chicago's Bulls analyst was announced as a member of the University of Illinois' Athletics Hall of Fame for the Class of 2018. Gill enters in the same class as his coach at Illinois, Lou Henson, and former Bulls broadcaster Johnny "Red" Kerr.

Gill was a part of Illinois' 1989 Final Four team and earned consensus Second-Team All-America honors the following year as a senior when he led the Big Ten in scoring (20 points per game). He is third in program history in steals with 218.

He went on to have a 15-year NBA career, which included a stint with the Bulls.

Last year was the inaugural class for Illinois' hall of fame.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

The Bulls square off against the Sixers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, with coverage beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live. Here are three things to watch as the Bulls begin the stretch run of their regular season.

1. The new rotation: Most of the Bulls’ rotation looks the same, but the addition of David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne will have a different feel. The Bulls clearly want to get a look at these guys before the end of the regular season, meaning they’re not just going to get sporadic minutes. They’ll have to play through their mistakes, play out-matched at times and be put in uncomfortable situations. But the Bulls need to see what they have, especially in Payne, who has missed the entire season to this point with a broken foot.

2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: They’re quite the 1-2 punch and have the Sixers looking at their first playoff appearance since Derrick Rose hadn’t yet torn an ACL. Yeah, that’s a long time. Embiid just finished his first All-Star appearance (starting in his second year) and Simmons is the front runner for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls will have their hands full with these two. Luckily…

3. Kris Dunn is back: The Bulls wanted to get Dunn some run before heading to All-Star Weekend to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, and he looked healthy in that thumping against the Raptors last week. The good news is John Paxson says Dunn won’t be on a minutes limit, which means he’s healthy. That, of course, is more important than how he’s playing. It’ll be fun to see him, LaVine and Markkanen play together down the stretch. Their numbers together aren’t great, but the Bulls are 2-2 with all three in the lineup, and tanking or not…it’s more fun to watch when those three are rolling.