Bulls

Minus Rose, Bulls can't keep up with Grizzlies

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Minus Rose, Bulls can't keep up with Grizzlies

MEMPHISPayback is a well, you know the rest (this is a family-friendly site) and the Grizzlies (6-6) exacted it upon the Bulls (12-3), sans Derrick Rose, in a 102-86 whipping Monday afternoon at FedEx Forum, ending Chicago's five-game winning streak.

At one point, Memphis threatened to put a similar beatdown on the visitors that they received in Chicago (a 40-point drubbing), but despite experiencing severe shooting woes in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday-matinee game, the Bulls second-half pride prevented it from being quite the same level of embarrassment, despite the lopsided final score.

They got great shots, they killed us on the boards, they turned us over, so if you dont defend, you dont rebound and you turn it over, you dont give yourself a chance to win, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. You cant say overall lack of energy because second half, the energy was good, so I think readiness to play, early start. Weve got to be ready. Ive got to do a better job of getting them ready.

When you allow easy shots early on, it allows them to get confidence. Once a player has a confidence in this league, now its much harder to slow them down. They made some tough shots later in the game, but that was after they got a ton of easy shots. And they played well. I give them credit. Conley was great, Speights played extremely well, Gasol played well, Gay played well. We didnt really take anything away from them, he continued. I thought it was a compilation of things. No defensive intensity, ball pressure, poor help, lack of a multiple effort. Offensively, the same held true. We werent running, we werent running through, we werent sustaining our spacing when the ball went into the post, so we made the game hard on ourselves.

Interior defense, something Rose who was ruled out shortly before the game because of complications from his sprained left big toe couldnt be held responsible for, even if he was healthy, was the Bulls biggest issue at the outset of the contest, as Marreese Speights (16 points, 12 rebounds) attacked fellow former Florida Gator Joakim Noah in the early going.

Without the services of Rose, the visitors relied upon Carlos Boozer (13 points, seven rebounds), who responded with a high activity level and versatile scoring, including a fast-break steal and layup, albeit on the lumbering side.

After allowing the Grizzlies to jump out to an early lead, the Bulls quickly closed the gap, though a spate of turnovers enabled Memphis to get easy transition opportunities, to the delight of the FedEx Forum crowd. With high-flying small forward Rudy Gay (24 points, five rebounds, five assists) also displaying his scoring prowess, Chicago trailed, 28-21, after the opening period.

While Rose was sidelined for the lone contest of the season in the city and arena where he played his college basketball, the Bulls were buoyed by the return to the lineup of another point guard, backup C.J. Watson (17 points), who promptly launched and connected on a jumper on the teams first possession of the second quarter.

However, continued ball-security issues, poor shot selection, the inability to defend Memphis back-door cuts, prevent scoring in the paint or control the defensive glass troubled the guests, leading to the Grizzlies maintaining a comfortable cushion, despite an immediate influx of energy off the bench from Taj Gibson (16 points).

The deficit swelled to double digits as point guard Mike Conley (20 points on 9-for-13 shooting, eight assists, seven rebounds) set up his Grizzlies teammates for multiple easy buckets. The Bulls, while they attempted to push the tempo, simply didnt have consistent scoring options and appeared to react slower to loose balls than the hosts.

Although Luol Deng (20 points, six rebounds) finally got on track, the home teams onslaught persisted and at the intermission, Chicago was on the wrong end of a 58-38 score.

We started off slow. We were a step slow that first half. They came out aggressive and made their run, said Deng. Today, for a mental game, I dont think we did a good job. I dont think we did a good job mentally, just preparing for that. I think we should have been ready for them. We should have known that anytime you beat a team like that in the NBA, next time they cant wait to see you and we should have been more prepared. I thought in the second half, we did a better job of fighting harder, but we should have fought like that the whole game.

Things didnt improve for the Bulls after the break, as the leagues top-rebounding team was subpar on the boards and the sellout crowd many of them undoubtedly in attendance to see Rose appreciated the home teams consistent effort.

Memphis lead continued to balloon, as turnovers plagued the visitors and a lack of production from starters Noah and Ronnie Brewer were troublesome, particularly with the absence of Roses potent scoring ability.

Deng, battling through increased defensive attention, and Watson, who was adept in getting to the charity stripe in his first game back from a sprained left elbow, shouldered Chicagos offensive load and with pressure defense leading the way, the Bulls gradually chipped away at the deficit.

Anytime youre missing D-Rose, its tough. But I thought C.J. played great coming in for his first game back and gave us a huge lift, made a great run, gave us a slight chance to have a chance to win the game at the end, but our second unit got a little tired. They made some plays and to their credit, though we had a chance but give them credit. Give Memphis credit. We knew they were going to be ready to play and we just didnt match their intensity to start the game, said Boozer. We both had it a noon start, though. We cant use any excuses. Theyre going through the same stuff were going through. Every team is going through it and they were more ready to play.

Energy, in the form of Gibson and fellow backup big man Omer Asik, propelled the visitors, and at the end of three periods, the Grizzlies lead was down to 77-66.

Just needed a little bit of a spark. Weve been in this situation many times. We have a good-caliber type team. At times, its just tough to get going. Just trying to get guys motivated. Just try to play strong defensively, get any type of energy stop, play strong-minded and our second unit just plays well together. We had a shot late in the final quarter, but we just came up short, explained Gibson. We didnt really play any defense as a team. We let them get their confidence up real early. Like Coach said, we understand we beat this team pretty bad the first time, but we came out lackadaisical and they took advantage of it, hitting a lot of tough shots and their confidence grew as the game went on.

Added Thibodeau: He provided some really good energy. C.J. provided energy. That whole group, I thought, played well. We were scrambling around and usually you make a run, but it was too big of a hole to get out of, though.

Youre taking more risk, so youre also vulnerable to giving them easier shots, but its also an opportunity to get some turnovers and try to convert to some quick scores. But I thought they were really aggressive, more aggressive than we were to start the game, continued the coach, who correctly anticipated whether again using Gibson and Asik instead of starters Boozer and Noah would be interpreted as a more ominous sign. Actually, I thought Carlos, offensively, was very good, at least to start the game. It was just that we were in a scramble situation and the press, we were getting something out of it, so that all factored into what was going on. Omer gave us the shot-blocking at the rim and Taj was the guy who was doing the trapping.

In lieu of Roses presence, Conley and Watson staged a mini-duel at point guard, though Gibson stole the show for the Bulls, scoring in the post and via the offensive glass.

But Conleys blend of penetrating, passing, point production and poise were overwhelming and coupled with the timely scoring of Gay and burly center Marc Gasol (19 points, 10 rebounds), the Grizzlies once again created a sizeable gap between themselves and their comeback-weary guests.

With the lead again approaching the 20-point mark, Thibodeau finally cut his losses after the final stanzas midway point, sending in the likes of rookie Jimmy Butler, fan favorite Brian Scalabrine and John Lucas III who started the game at point guard in place of Rose, although Watson received the bulk of the minutes at the position prompting Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins to follow suit and rest his regulars.

The extended garbage time was basically played to a draw, leaving the Bulls to head back to Chicago in advance of their home matchup Tuesday night against visiting Phoenix, preferably with a healthy Rose back in the lineup.

They got a lot of easy shots in the first half. Second half, we played a lot tougher, but we couldnt really stop them. They had their confidence running high, said Watson. Theres no excuses, really. We just didnt come out to play very well. We knew they were going to come out tough because we beat them by 40 and they were trying to make a statement.

Chimed in Gibson: Youre a pro. Youre supposed to be ready from the jump ball and we just didnt have that mindset early, and it hurt us. We have to learn from it. Were lucky we have a back-to-back tomorrow.

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

MINNEAPOLIS — The misses have come wide, long and short for Lauri Markkanen in the last couple games, perhaps a sign he’s hit the popular but unseen “Rookie Wall.”

Since coming back from the All-Star break, Markkanen has hit the same amount of jump shots as a dead man, only scoring with two dunks and missing all seven 3-point attempts.

He’s hit the point of the season where the legs turn to spaghetti as the grind of the season catches up. Last year at Arizona, he played 37 games and then went through Summer League following the draft before playing for the Finland national team. The Bulls have been careful with his minutes, particularly early on in the season when they didn’t have the depth at power forward, but Markkanen is still adjusting to the rigors of the NBA.

After seemingly peaking in January, averaging 17 points and 8.4 rebounds on 48 percent shooting and 43 from three-point range, he’s averaged just 10.8 points on 37 percent shooting and hitting just four of 27 from deep.

“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.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg tried to pump Markkanen up recently, comparing his shooting to a golfer who’s lost his stroke. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to Markkanen, who looked at his coach as if he grew a third eye.

By the time Hoiberg compared it to curling, he wound up confusing the press corps last week.

And yet, Markkanen hasn’t broken out of his slump. It’s been quite a while since Markkanen’s devastating performance on Broadway where he nailed eight 3-pointers against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10 for a career-high 33 points.

“It’s been a long season, I’m not denying that,” Markkanen said Saturday night following the Bulls’ loss to the Timberwolves. “I just gotta work through it. At times I feel it. I felt good today. As the game went on, a little tired.”

Consistency has been a hallmark of Markkanen’s season to date. He scored in double figures 21 straight games before the last two, where he scored three points in the last two Bulls losses.

As a whole, he’s only scored fewer than 10 points six times. To compare, rookie of the year frontrunners Donovan Mitchell (nine) and Ben Simmons (six) are right around the same number.

Hoiberg boldly predicts Markkanen will burst out in a big way soon, but the rookie wall takes no prisoners, especially in the dog days of the season.

“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.”

His looks have been relatively clean, although one can’t discount the difference between playing alongside Cristiano Felicio compared to Robin Lopez. Lopez assisted on 39 field goals, tied with Jerian Grant for second-highest feeds behind Kris Dunn.

Both Lopez and Grant are out of the rotation, while Dunn is still getting his legs back after missing nearly a month in concussion protocol. Lopez was used in a lot of dribble handoff offense with Markkanen, while also setting solid screens to free him.

Felicio doesn’t have that level of experience in this offense, and the Bulls are also running more through Zach LaVine as a primary ballhandler.

“He’s had a lot of really good games. It’s never gonna be an 100 percent season,” LaVine said. “It’s so many games you’ll eventually run into some slumps so I just think he needs to get into a rhythm. We’ve gotta help him with that too. Help him find easier shots on the floor. He’s cool, he’s good. We tell him to shoot the ball every time.”

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.”