Bulls

Hamilton a game-time decision vs. Thunder

716348.png

Hamilton a game-time decision vs. Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is developing into a master of suspense, at least as it pertains to Rip Hamilton. Prior to Sunday afternoons showdown with the Western Conference-leading Thunder, Thibodeau said the veteran shooting guard would again be a game-time decision, although he appears to be healthy enough to play.

Im going to talk to him again, just to see where he is, said Thibodeau. Hes good. He did more yesterday, but Ive just got to be convinced. Its more me. He thinks hes ready, but I just want to make sure were smart.

There arent any problems. Hes taken on more contact, which is good, but I just want to make sure, he continued. I feel good about Rip because Rips been practicing, so hes made very good progress. He has no problems with his lower body, hes been doing a lot of shooting. The thing is the contact part of it, so I just want to make sure from that aspect, but all the lower-body injuries that he had, hes completely healthy. So, that parts very encouraging.

The assembled media didnt even ask Thibodeau if All-Star point guard Derrick Rose would suit up, knowing that Thibodeaus typical game-time decision update on Roses status simply means the reigning league MVP wont play for the 10th consecutive game, due a strained right groin.

Derrick, each day hes doing more and more, so hes moving along the way that he anticipated, said Thibodeau. Derrick is out, just in case anyone wanted to know.

The normally dour Thibodeau was in surprisingly good spirits leading up to the contest, even responding to Thunder coach Scott Brooks claim that he has no life, by affirming the verbal jab Thibodeau said, Hes right about that, when informed of the verbal jab by Brooks, who played under Thibodeau in both Minnesota and New York during his playing days but remained focused at the task at hand, particularly MVP front-runner Kevin Durant.

Hes so unique because of his skill set and his size, and the release is so high, its very difficult to get to. The great players Durant, Westbrook, Harden I dont think you guard them individually. I think it has to be done collectively and you can still defend them perfectly, and they still have the ability to make, but the idea is to try to make them work for their points, said Thibodeau, who also lauded the length of Oklahoma Citys frontcourt, which features defensive-oriented low-post mainstays Serge Ibaka, one of the NBAs elite shot-blockers, and Kendrick Perkins, who Thibodeau coached in Boston, along with Durant. The team is a lot more than just those three. Its a very well put-together team. Scott does a great job with them. Theyre very strong defensively. I think thats been their biggest improvement and theyre young, so each year, they continue to get better and better.

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.