Bulls

Goodwill: Bucks' improvement through series should alarm Bulls

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Goodwill: Bucks' improvement through series should alarm Bulls

One game can make all the difference in the world between a lesson you needed to learn and one that was totally unnecessary and damn near alarming.

As much as the Bulls needed to be pushed in Game 3 of their series against the Milwaukee Bucks, they needed to push back and put the Bucks to sleep so they could get some rest.

Instead, Derrick Rose fell asleep for a split second, and of course he’ll be blamed for that mistake as the Bulls got what they deserved in their Game 4 loss to the Bucks.

But there were plenty of fingerprints on this loss, from the players on down.

All those turnovers, the mistakes, the luck it took to get them back in a game they had no business being close in—it was seemingly poetic justice. Why? Because the Bucks seem to be learning on the job better than the Bulls, getting closer and closer every game.

You could almost make the case they've figured out the Bulls, and the ugly 28 turnovers are merely a manifestation of chickens coming home to roost. From being overwhelmed to competing to causing a scare to finally, breaking through by picking at an old Bulls' wound.

“We have to do a much better job of taking care of the ball, individually and collectively,” said one of the Bulls’ invisible men, Pau Gasol. “That was the key tonight. 28 turnovers. 28 (fewer) shots that we gave away. In a two-point game, it’s a big difference, right? It’s unfortunate we didn’t close it out tonight.”

The Bucks are certainly taking calculated chances with personnel and scheme, and it paid dividends Saturday night. Jimmy Butler continues to get loose, but they've centered everything on stopping Gasol this series, believing the most consistent Bull is the one they can’t afford to give any leverage to.

Jason Kidd is mixing and matching with what he has, using smaller lineups to combat the Bulls’ size. And in a game where the Bulls shot 49 percent from the field and 56 from 3-point range and still lose, it tells you the Bucks are playing a game of chicken that paid off for one night.

 “I feel bad more for my teammates than myself,” said Rose, who committed eight turnovers. “Learning experience for me, like I said. Yeah, just gotta learn from it. It’s a hard one. 27 (actually 28) turnovers, I feel like I had 20 of them. Felt like 20. Only thing I can do now is learn from it, watch film and come ready next game.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the playoffs, Bulls fans!]

You wonder if this is just a blip on the screen or a sign the Bulls won’t have everything in their favor when they need it most. They won’t need it now, but they could have sent a message to the Cleveland Cavaliers of their intentions with a resounding, but tested, sweep.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau yelled in a loud arena for a timeout before the Bulls’ final offensive possession but they couldn’t hear him, spreading the floor for Rose before he turned the ball over.

Then the Bucks heard their coach bark for a timeout, setting up the final possession. In a series between a veteran team and young one, that scenario should be reversed.

“We gotta be ready and bounce back Monday and make sure we set the tone, to be the aggressor,” Gasol said. “We gotta take that commanding position because we’re letting them be too proactive and dictate a lot of what’s happening.”

Gasol’s words—likely birthed from the frustration not being involved in the offense as the Bucks have gotten more and more physical with him as the series has progressed—shouldn’t ring hollow.

He’s a championship player who came here for that very reason and the Bulls can adjust to put this thing away Monday night. But the Bucks’ inability to fear should have been the perfect primer.

“They’re active, they scramble,” Gasol said. “They’re aggressive to the ball so they force you to move the ball and find the open guy on the weak side. That’s what we have to be willing to do, get the ball, move it and find the open guy. And crash the glass, we only have five offensive rebounds. We had the bigger lineup the whole game. We should try to be aggressive on the boards. It didn’t quite happen and they spread us out with shooters. Mayo and Dudley did with threes.”

Using perspective, it won’t cost the Bulls this series. The Bucks will be formidable down the road but aren’t going to pull off some improbable comeback, nor will the Bulls collapse at the seams—they’re too battle tested, with their foundation built on too solid of ground for something historic to happen.

And they’ll probably blow out the Bucks at home before the inevitable happens.

“I'm not thinking about Cleveland and Boston,” Thibodeau said. “I'm thinking about us and what we have to do to improve and correct and just think about the next game. We're going to have to do a lot better and get it done quickly.”

Because Cleveland is waiting.

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

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ESPN

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

The NBA may have lost another top superstar due to injury.

On Friday, Jimmy Butler appeared to have suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee. He left the game against the Houston Rockets unable to put any pressure on his right leg and needed assistance getting back to the locker room. 

Here's a video of the incident:

Coach Tom Thibodeau said that Butler will have an MRI when the team returns to Minnesota on Saturday.

Butler drew a lot of headlines last weekend after not playing in the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Entering Friday, Butler led the league with 37.3 minutes played per game.

The Bulls also take on the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday night.

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.