Hoiberg unhappy with defense, slippage shows in loss to Pistons


Hoiberg unhappy with defense, slippage shows in loss to Pistons

The Bulls’ abundance of bigs prompted Fred Hoiberg testing his team’s versatility against Detroit, where they went to a jumbo set.

Well, being a step slow defensively with a frontline of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic caused Hoiberg to abandon that lineup after halftime, as he went with a more conventional group.

But as much as it appeared to help early in the second half, the Pistons made a decisive push early in the fourth to pull away, winning 114-91 at the United Center.

The Pistons went on a 15-0 run, literally. They got out on the break against the Bulls reserves, taking advantage of their disjointed offense as Pistons reserve Reggie Bullock made transition triple after transition triple to close things out.

“Disappointed in not getting back, is the big thing,” said Hoiberg of the 38-point Pistons fourth quarter. “We had a couple turnovers that were home runs on the other end. Just went right down for layups. Then consistently beat us down the floor in the fourth quarter. You can’t do that, especially in your home building.”

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By then, though, Hoiberg likely saw everything he needed to see from his regular rotation players, starting with the jumbo lineup, a unit he didn’t start in the second half, bringing Noah off the bench. They had trouble keeping the mammoth Andre Drummond away from the offensive glass, and couldn’t contain versatile forward Marcus Morris, who made his first five shots from the field.

“They were more energetic from the gate and jumped to a 10-point lead on us,” Hoiberg said.

There aren’t many rebounders or athletes in the mold of Drummond (14 points, 10 rebounds), but the Bulls can’t afford to be this complacent on the glass. And their defense clearly leaves plenty to be desired from their head coach, who gave a short, yet succinct, answer when asked if he was satisfied with the defense at this stage of training camp.

“No,” the usually elaborative Hoiberg said, then looked away in disgust at the thought of where the defense is.

Later, though, he opened up, telling everyone what they’d already seen from the first five games of the preseason.

“Pick and roll defense, especially in the middle of the floor,” Hoiberg said. “We’re giving too many blow by’s, where there’s nothing you can do for it. We gotta guard the ball better.”

Not guarding up top opens things up for Drummond, who’s a load even when the perimeter is contained. He tallied 10 and six against the big frontline, manhandling Gasol and Noah, as Noah made his return from missing the last preseason game as a precautionary measure after bumping knees with Denver’s Kenneth Faried.

“We had good stretches and terrible stretches,” Gasol said.

The good stretches came courtesy of Bobby Portis and Aaron Brooks offensively in the second quarter, as they slowly chipped at an early Pistons lead, with Portis matching the athleticism of the Pistons’ frontline and Brooks scoring in bunches, as he usually does.

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Noah actually didn’t look bad, scoring eight points with nine rebounds, with Taj Gibson making his preseason debut after offseason ankle surgery, scoring four points in 10 minutes.

“Taj was good his first time out,” Hoiberg said.

E’Twaun Moore led the Bulls with 16 points and four assists on 8-of-15 shooting, starting at point guard as Hoiberg continues to juggle lineups and evaluate personnel.

Reggie Jackson led the Pistons with 20 points and Bullock, battling for a spot on Stan Van Gundy’s team, made seven of eight shots to score 17. He led late blitz that made the competitive game look like a laugher in the end.

“The thing we were doing, the guards who were supposed to get back were crashing (the boards),” Hoiberg said. “You can’t do that. It just can’t happen.”

Doug McDermott scored in double figures again, with 12 points in 34 minutes, along with Portis’ 11 and Brooks’ 13.

But scoring wasn’t the problem, as the Bulls allowed the Pistons to shoot 54 percent and sent them to the foul line 21 times, giving Hoiberg something to harp on with a handful of days before their next preseason game, Monday in Charlotte.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”