Bulls

Mirotic starts, Noah sits in Bulls' preseason win over Pacers

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Mirotic starts, Noah sits in Bulls' preseason win over Pacers

With the regular season seven days away, it appears Fred Hoiberg is beginning to give a glimpse into the decisions he’ll make before the Bulls host Cleveland for the NBA’s season opener.

He started playing his starters heavier minutes against the Indiana Pacers and strategically made substitutions that displayed who he likes on the floor together—like Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic on the frontline—which put veteran center Joakim Noah on the bench.

Whether its more tinkering or his true feelings—or even out of respect for what Noah has meant to this franchise since being drafted in 2007—there certainly appears to be the possibility of a paradigm shift at the position.

Noah played 15 minutes, some due to foul trouble and also because Hoiberg didn’t play the duo together, subbing each other in every quarter in the Bulls’ 103-94 win at the United Center Tuesday night.

“I may keep them together. I thought Noah played great tonight,” Hoiberg said. “I was thinking either Jo or Niko to finish things off. Since Niko didn’t get the minutes last night, we wanted him in there for the last five.”

Hoiberg bemoaned the lack of pace offensively in their loss to the Charlotte Hornets 24 hours prior, so while the players provided the quick pace, Hoiberg’s frontcourt of Gasol and Nikola Mirotic gave the Bulls enough space to operate.

[NBA GM SURVEY: Bulls squarely behind Cavs in the East]

Mirotic hit four triples, including three in the first quarter when he played off Gasol and Jimmy Butler for easy looks, illustrating the new dimension of this offense.

The first was off a double-team from Gasol where he fed the post, leaving defenses to wonder to leave Gasol alone for single coverage or double down as a perfect pick-your-poison option.

The next was off a baseline drive from Butler where he drew multiple defenders and Mirotic just floated to an open spot where Butler could spot him.

Mirotic didn’t play the crunch-time defensive minutes as Hoiberg, as Taj Gibson played those minutes after seeing plenty of time off the bench playing with Noah, playing past his target minute mark of 15 for the second straight night.

“I thought they played very well together,” said Hoiberg of Gibson and Noah together. “I thought Jo gave him some high-low passes. That’s the good thing about this roster, we have the versatility to play a lot of different ways. Hopefully we find the rotation or at least the five to help us finish games.”

The Bulls’ defense improved in the second quarter, holding the Pacers to 11 points and looking quite reminiscent of a different era, while both sets of bigs were on the floor due to deft substitutions which gave them plenty of time in each quarter.

Holding the Pacers, a team that wants to get out to early offense just the same as the Bulls, to under 40 percent shooting is no minor feat.

They had to survive the Paul George early onslaught, where the All-Star who’s a little over a year away from a gruesome injury in Las Vegas decided to show up in regular season form.

He scored 15 of his game-high 26 in the first quarter while grabbing 13 rebounds in 35 minutes, outplaying his counterpart Butler.

[RELATED: Hoiberg likes McDermott coming off bench for Bulls]

Butler scored 12 with six assists and five rebounds while the bench guards, Aaron Brooks and E’Twaun Moore, two players who want to stay in the rotation when Derrick Rose makes his return, made his own case.

“I thought they were better after that first stretch where we dug ourselves a hole,” said Hoiberg of the bench. “Our bench really got it turned around for us and got us going.”

Brooks hit four 3-pointers on his way to 22 points, six assists and five rebounds while Moore hit 5 of 7 from the field for 13 points and seven rebounds. He guarded George for a stretch in the fourth and did more than held his own.

But whether its experimenting or a sign of things to come, another layer of this Bulls season was revealed, with more questions yet to be answered.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

The Bulls square off against the Sixers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, with coverage beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live. Here are three things to watch as the Bulls begin the stretch run of their regular season.

1. The new rotation: Most of the Bulls’ rotation looks the same, but the addition of David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne will have a different feel. The Bulls clearly want to get a look at these guys before the end of the regular season, meaning they’re not just going to get sporadic minutes. They’ll have to play through their mistakes, play out-matched at times and be put in uncomfortable situations. But the Bulls need to see what they have, especially in Payne, who has missed the entire season to this point with a broken foot.

2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: They’re quite the 1-2 punch and have the Sixers looking at their first playoff appearance since Derrick Rose hadn’t yet torn an ACL. Yeah, that’s a long time. Embiid just finished his first All-Star appearance (starting in his second year) and Simmons is the front runner for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls will have their hands full with these two. Luckily…

3. Kris Dunn is back: The Bulls wanted to get Dunn some run before heading to All-Star Weekend to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, and he looked healthy in that thumping against the Raptors last week. The good news is John Paxson says Dunn won’t be on a minutes limit, which means he’s healthy. That, of course, is more important than how he’s playing. It’ll be fun to see him, LaVine and Markkanen play together down the stretch. Their numbers together aren’t great, but the Bulls are 2-2 with all three in the lineup, and tanking or not…it’s more fun to watch when those three are rolling. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Of Bulls and Blackhawks, which team will finish with higher draft pick?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Of Bulls and Blackhawks, which team will finish with higher draft pick?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times), Hub Arkush (ProFootball Weekly) and Jason Goch (SB Nation) join Kap on the panel.

The guys debate which team will finish with a higher draft pick when the season ends: Bulls or Blackhawks?

Plus, hear their reaction to the MLB’s new pace-of-play rule change.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: