Bulls

Gibson: Bulls need to impose their will in Game 3

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Gibson: Bulls need to impose their will in Game 3

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Many have tried to break down the Bulls' surprising and disheartening Game 2 loss to the 76ers at home Tuesday. A lot of analysis went into what the Bulls did wrong and what they didn't do right.

But for forward Taj Gibson, any analysis came down to just one word -- will.

"The lack of defensive play the last game was bad. But it's always going to come down to will," Gibson said We've seen each other many times this year. So it's all going to come down to will, who wants it more."

The Bulls streaked out to a 55-47 lead at halftime Tuesday night but got annihilated in the third quarter, surrendering 36 points and 68.2 percent shooting (15-for-22) to the Sixers while draining just 5-of-20 shots (25 percent) for 14 points.

Philadelphia picked up 11 fastbreak points in the third quarter alone.

"We have to adjust to the speed and quickness of the game," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the team's practice on Thursday.

"We just kinda slumped," Gibson said. "It happens. They got out on break and we didn't get out on transition. They capitiliazed on a lot of fastbreak points...They got a lot of offensive rebounds, a lot of kick-outs. They just beat us up on the boards really."

The Bulls dominated on the boards in the first game 47-38 and started out with a 20-16 advantage in the first half of Game 2. However, in that dreaded third quarter, the Sixers pushed the Bulls around inside and outrebounded Chicago 14-5.

Thibodeau preaches rebounding as one of the main keys to every game and his counterpart in Philadelphia, Doug Collins, took a page out of that book for Game 2. Collins fiddled with his lineup and made rebounding a point of emphasis for his team after the Sixers' loss in the series opener.

The 76ers were especially focused on trying to take away the Bulls' offensive rebounding. Chicago pulled down eight offensive boards in the first half of Game 2, but managed just two in the entire second half, a big reason for the offensive inefficiency. But Gibson wasn't ready to make excuses.

"Offensive rebounds are important, but we have to do other things. There's so many different aspects to helping a team win and helping us succeed," the third-year power forward said. "Offensive rebounds have been our key all year long. We're a strong rebounding team, from the bench to the starters. Not having those were big, but it's all about effort."

After dropping a demoralizing game at home, the Bulls will now have to win on the road to take the edge in the series. They have lost back-to-back games just one time since the beginning of the 2010-11 season.

"Nothing really changes," Gibson said. "Everything is still the same. We've been in this situation before last year with Atlanta in the second round. We just tend to look at it as another game that we have to play harder in and adjust in and we're just looking forward to the challenge.

"It's been tough, but we have to come with effort, play a little harder and things will be fine. It's playoffs. Nothing's easy. They just wanted it more than us last game, so we have to take it up a notch."

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.