Bulls

Hoiberg defends resting Rose, says Bulls will rely on him down the stretch

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Hoiberg defends resting Rose, says Bulls will rely on him down the stretch

Given the Bulls' myriad injuries and lengthy, time-zone-jumping road trip, Fred Hoiberg defended the team's decision to rest point guard Derrick Rose in Monday night's loss to the Charlotte Hornets.

Rose was scratched from the lineup about 15 minutes prior to tip-off in Charlotte and was ruled out with "general body soreness" before the Bulls' 108-91 loss, the 12th in their last 17 contests.

That drew the ire of some, believing the Bulls - already being without Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic - needed all hands on deck to help the losing skid.

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But Hoiberg defended what he called a "collective" decision to keep Rose on the sidelines. The Bulls were playing their fifth game in seven nights and Hoiberg didn't like the way Rose was moving in the lead-up to the game. After two days off, Rose is expected to play Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks, a team also mired in a slump having lost seven of 11 games.

"Last game, it was the right decision," Hoiberg said at Wednesday morning's shootaround at the Advocate Center. "We made the decision collectively to sit Derrick the other night and a lot of it was based on how he was moving around out there. So hopefully a couple days of rest will get him back playing well tonight (against the Atlanta Hawks) and after the All-Star break, 30 games, we’re going to need him for all those."

Rose is on pace to play in 71 games this regular season, which would be more than the 61 games he's appeared in the last three seasons combined.

He's also playing arguably the best basketball of his post-ACL tear career. Since Christmas Day, a stretch of 20 games, Rose has averaged 18.8 points on 45 percent shooting and 4.2 assists in 31.6 minutes per game. His points per game have gone up each month, from 13.3 in November to 20.8 points in four February contests. Rose also has averaged 35.1 minutes per game in February, the most of any month since his ACL tear. After a turbulent start to the season in which he dealt with blurred vision and ankle problems, he's been at his best at a time when the Bulls need him to be.

"You look at Derrick’s season, he had an unbelievable summer, got himself in as good a shape as he’s been in a long time, and such a freak injury that first day of training camp, and (so) he doesn’t have a training camp," Hoiberg said.

"Now he’s catching up, he’s working from behind and maybe he came back a little bit too early from that injury, we can all look back on that. But he’s playing the best he has all year and again the way we need him to play. Now it’s a matter of getting our other guys healthy. And if Derrick can play this style, this type of basketball with a healthy roster then good things can happen with this team."

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The Bulls' roster won't be completely healthy for weeks, perhaps months. Fred Hoiberg said Wednesday that Mirotic, who underwent an appendectomy and a hematoma removal, is still "in a lot of pain" and has lost about 15 pounds. The second-year forward had his stitches removed Wednesday which Hoiberg said will "get him a bit more upright," though there's still no timetable for his return.

Hoiberg breathed a sigh of relief that Butler, who told Rose he heard a pop in his knee, did not tear any ligaments. But the two-time All-Star missing three to four weeks with a knee strain will put more of a burden on Rose, who has totaled 39 points and 19 assists in the two games Butler has missed thus far.

The Bulls won't be able to afford many more off-days from Rose, as they sit just 1.5 games ahead of the ninth-seeded Hornets. Still, Hoiberg is confident Rose's soreness was more a product of the team playing five games in seven nights (in four different time zones) than any lingering or potential injuries.

"It’s just something where we need to continue to work," Hoiberg said. "(Rose) has had his best stretch of basketball of the season and we just need to continue that trend in getting him playing the right way."

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.