Bulls

Fred Hoiberg plays 'Dumb and Dumber' clip for Bulls, laments early-season losses

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Fred Hoiberg plays 'Dumb and Dumber' clip for Bulls, laments early-season losses

The regrets haven’t started yet but the Bulls can certainly look at the not-too-distant past as to why they’ll be on the outside of the postseason, looking in for the first time since 2008.

LeBron James can certainly put his personal stamp on yet another Bulls elimination with a Cleveland Cavaliers win over the Bulls at the United Center, but sitting one game under .500 and three full games behind the Indiana Pacers meant the Bulls lost plenty of games they shouldn’t have.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg remembers the games well, although he tried to lift the team’s spirits by pulling a clip from the movie “Dumb and Dumber”, with Jim Carrey’s famous line, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”, in reference to the Bulls’ ridiculously slim playoff hopes.

The Bulls must win out and the Pacers must lose all three remaining games or the inevitable will happen, to which Hoiberg’s pointing out several early-season losses occurred before things went haywire with the injuries and unfortunate circumstances that have taken place the past several weeks will prove to be fortuitous.

Pau Gasol remarked about games in December when the Bulls had an easier home schedule the first two months of the season, to which the losses could fall under “Dumb” and “Dumber”.

“Those were the games early in the season that comes back to haunt you at this time of year,” Hoiberg said. “We had a great home schedule in December and didn't take advantage like we needed to. We had leads where we didn't have that killer mentality to where we could close those games out. We’d be in a different position right now had we won some of those games.”

[MORE BULLS: Tom Thibodeau explains why the Bulls won't make NBA Playoffs]

In the first two months, they lost to Minnesota, Phoenix, and Brooklyn at home, along with dropping a game to the New York Knicks at Madison Square, which many will remember prompted Jimmy Butler to call out Hoiberg after.

There’s others that will come up as black marks in a lost season, but losing to definite lottery teams at home left a sour taste in the Bulls’ mouths then—but not enough to change fortunes.

“Those are the things you look back on, that killer instinct mindset that you have to have, that all the really good teams playing in the next month,” Hoiberg said. “If they don't have it, they develop it. It's unfortunate we lost some of those early games that are coming back to haunt us now.”

Gasol, who wouldn’t commit to saying this was a lost season but sounded like a man who wished everyone would’ve taken things more seriously before it turned into an impossible situation.

“Those are the times that guys don’t realize how big of a price you can pay at the end of the year,” Gasol said. “And how much of a different position you’re going to be in because of those games in November, December, January that, ‘Ah, there’s still 40 games to play, there’s still 50 games to play.’ No, those games are just as meaningful as the ones we’ve been playing for the last week or two where our life has been on the line. That’s just a lack of sense of urgency, a lack of awareness, a lack of maturity that we have dealt with.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

While Derrick Rose was recovering from orbital bone surgery, Butler was relatively healthy, the season hadn’t taken a huge toll on Gasol and Joakim Noah was still active, before his season-ending shoulder injury in January against Dallas.

“If we won those games, even as many issues as we've had, you look at Jo going out, what happened with our defensive efficiency and then the other guys being in and out of the lineup, you can make up for some of that if you take care of some of those early games we absolutely should've won,” Hoiberg said. “We had no business losing, early on, with the schedule the way it was. A lot of those things, you look at the process, are the reason we are where we are now. A lot of that is inconsistencies, and lack of killer mentality we needed to have early this season.”

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.