Bulls

Gasol, Bulls respond in Detroit for important road win

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Gasol, Bulls respond in Detroit for important road win

The last time the Pistons and Bulls met up, 68 minutes of scintillating, exhausting basketball took place at the United Center, as the Pistons took the second meeting between the two rivals.

And as exhausting as that game was for Pau Gasol, it promised to be just as taxing defending Andre Drummond without the help and assistance of Joakim Noah.

But mammoth challenges presents opportunity, and Gasol showed his value to the Bulls and the league at large with a 31-point, 12-rebound performance, leading the Bulls to a 111-101 win at the Palace Monday afternoon, their first win in three tries.

Derrick Rose’s two drives to the basket on consecutive plays, the last a fading, hooking floater, put seemed to end the Pistons’ threat and send the fans to the exits, giving him 20 with four assists on nine of 17 shooting in just 27 minutes.

“Pau was unbelievable all night long and I thought our guys did a great job of finding him and setting screens on Drummond,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Derrick made a couple nice takes to the basket late.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Gasol’s triple with the shot clock expiring gave the Bulls a 98-88 lead with a little under six minutes to go, and combined with the ejection of perimeter stopper Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, things became more and more likely to roll in the Bulls’ favor.

And without Noah, the Bulls will need more and more performances like this from Gasol, probably just to stay afloat.

“It’s gonna be different on different nights,” Hoiberg said. “He had it going. And plus he does a good job from a size standpoint against Drummond. We’ll look at the schedule and see if there’s opportunity to rest him.”

Without Noah, the dependence will be greater but Rose believes it presents more of an opportunity for others to step forward—and he’s not buying the Bulls being better without Noah, despite the Bulls’ 9-2 record without him.

“I’m not going to say we’re over him or don’t need him. We need him for sure,” Rose said. “We’re professionals, we know that once someone goes down somebody has to step in and do their job. We’re going to see how far this can go.”

Aaron Brooks came off the bench to tally 10 assists, with Butler having nine of his own as the Bulls dished out 28 helpers to just 10 turnovers, reversing what had been an alarming trend, particularly on the road.

“I thought our bench turned around the game for us and they got us back into it,” said Hoiberg, remarking about the second quarter where the Bulls gained control thanks to Brooks’ driving and dishing to the likes of Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic for 3-pointers, as the Pistons defense was slow to recover and allowed guard penetration all game.

 "I thought our guys made the right plays, we made simple plays," Hoiberg said.

[MORE: Jimmy Butler named finalist for 2016 USA Basketball team] 

Drummond had another double-double, but the Bulls, and Gasol, limited his above-the-rim plays and even drew a semi-controversial 3-point shooting foul with 0.3 seconds on the shot clock when the Pistons were making a slight run.

Drummond finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds, and Reggie Jackson scored 19 with six assists—but without the blistering effect he had in their last meeting when he torched the Bulls for 40-plus.

With a tough week ahead, Monday was the start, and the Bulls finally played with the requisite focus, as the Pistons beat the Golden State Warriors Saturday night on their home floor.

It didn’t start out that way, as the Bulls seemed to be in a lethargy that’s usually reserved for games against the Pistons, a team that has turned things around matchup-wise over the last two years or so.

Gasol shooting six for seven from the field kept the Bulls afloat when they didn’t seem interested in competing with the Pistons on the interior. The Pistons took a 13-point lead and it seemed to be on the way to running the Bulls out of the building.

But the Bulls actually played with a little poise, and wouldn’t you know it, held it together long enough for an impressive road win against an above. 500 team.

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.