Bulls

Never in doubt, Bulls demolish Nets

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Never in doubt, Bulls demolish Nets

NEWARK, N.J. Even with Derrick Rose playing a mere 11 minutes Monday evening, the overmatched Nets (8-18) were decimated by the Bulls (21-6), 108-87, at the Prudential Center.

The Bulls blitzed their short-handed hosts from the outset, with stifling, turnover-inducing defense and balanced, unselfish offense setting the tone. Carlos Boozer (24 points, six rebounds, five assists) played the role of facilitator in the early going, finding cutters for layups in the halfcourt, while the visitors also got their transition game in gear for more easy offense.

The ball is moving. Theres a lot of quick decisions being made, the extra pass, playing inside-out. I love the way the balls hopping and I thought we ran the floor well early in the game. I thought Carlos got some deep post-ups and that was good, and then we were able to drive and kick some, and everyones sharing the ball, so it was great, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Carlos is a terrific passer and he was deep in the paint, and forced them to help, then kicked out and hit the open man. Also, very good passer off the pick-and-roll," Thibodeau added. "When people are closing hard to him, hes got playmaking ability from that position and Jo does a very good job on the weak side, slashing to the open areas. I thought offensively, he was very, very good.

Added Boozer: Thats what we work on. We work on getting Option A and B, and if the defense is that good, we have Option C and D, too. Weve just been doing a really good job of making the extra pass. I think defenses do a good job of defending the first option because they have scouting reports, they scout you and we do a good job hitting the weak side. Tonight, you saw the ball move from one side of the court to the other. No pressure, we just shoot.

So many guys were open. Every time we did our initial action, the weak side was so open, we would just swing it to the weak side and you had Kyle, Ronnie, whoever, just getting great shots, so were just doing a good job of hitting the open man and swinging it, he continued.

Reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver chimed in: I think were playing really unselfish basketball and thats the main thing. No ones taking tough shots, the balls moving. Were hitting the first option. The first options taken away the next time, were hitting the second option. Were not turning the ball over a lot and when were doing that, and having the guys that we do, that are able to take on defense when they need to, it makes it really hard to guard.

Even Derrick Roses two quick fouls didnt slow down Chicagos torrid pacebackup point guard C.J. Watson (14 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds) came in and the guests didnt miss a beatas the Bulls made 11 of their first 12 shots.

Just a great team effort. Just tried to go out there and pick the tempo up, play great defense, and we got out and ran, teammates made shots and just tried to fill in for D-Rose and win the game, Watson explained. I just try to go in with the same mindset, be aggressive if I get eight minutes or however many minutes I played tonight, but my mindset doesnt change. If I play longer, I play longer.

While they cooled off, relatively speakingmaybe with the exception of Luol Deng (19 points), who hit all five of his attempts, including a trio from three-point range in his second game back from a left-wrist injuryat the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls held a commanding 35-14 lead, following a Johan Petro jumper to beat the first-quarter buzzer.

Readiness to play, said Thibodeau. The first quarter, I thought, defensively, offensively, it was very good. then, after the first quarter, I thought we traded baskets with them, but we had built up a big lead and a cushion, so we were playing from the lead.

Echoed Rose: Were learning. Thats a good thing. I think were finally getting the message that Thibs is telling us. In the beginning of games, were putting teams away and were not giving them any confidence is what we always say, and our energys just been great.

Nothing changed at the beginning of the second quarter, as the Bulls remained scorching hot, extending their lead even further behind Watsons typically aggressive scoring and Korvers precise outside marksmanship.

C.J., I thought, was terrific. Running the team, playing very good defense, he did a lot of great things for us, praised Thibodeau. Its a great luxury to have because its not only his ability to play extended minutes. Hes got confidence to start, hes got confidence to play extended minutes, but also his versatility, his ability to play with Derrick. C.J. does a little bit of everything. Hes a scoring point guard, very good pick-and-roll player and he also makes you play with pace, so the game usually picks up.

Observed Watson: I think thats what Thibs wants me to do, especially with the group off the bench. We run a lot more, try to at least. When we score more points, I think were a better team. It just shows the cohesiveness of our team in the second year that were all jelling together and see a lot more things that we didnt see last year.

Rose, initially paired in the backcourt with Watson to match up with smallish New Jersey, returned to the contest, but would leave for good with 2:54 remaining in the period with lower back spasms, though he was unconcerned with leaving the fate of the team in his understudys capable hands.

Played great, man. C.J. comes in and runs the team. We all know he can score the ball and thats what we have him out there for, lauded Rose. It makes me feel good. Were a good team. If I play or if I dont play, I know that were going to go out there and compete, and play hard every single second.

Korver said of his fellow Bench Mob member: C.J. is an excellent point guard. Its tough to always show that throughout the year because when youve got the MVP, the minutes arent always there, but I dont think theres any doubt that if Derrick doesnt play any games, C.J.s not going to get 20 points or not have a great game. We have a lot of confidence in C.J. Obviously wed prefer to have Derrick healthy, but we feel confident that C.J. can handle the point, too.

Added Boozer: Every night. Phenomenal. We had Pooh go down tonight and C.J., like every other game hes had to play, steps in and keeps our offense rolling, makes big plays on defense, does a good job of getting everybody involved.

Boozer switched into scoring mode upon his re-entry to the lopsided affair and took advantage of New Jerseys lack of depth, size, experience and understanding of defensive principles to add more fuel to the fire, mostly via open mid-range jumpers.

Despite floor general Deron Williams (25 points, five assists) acquitting himself well on an individual basis, much-maligned power forward Kris Humphries (10 points, nine rebounds) quietly having a solid first half and Keith Bogans displaying his usual toughness, the Bulls went into the intermission with a 62-37 edge.

After the break, the Bulls created more separation between them and the Nets, pushing it to a 32-point gap between the teams, as Boozer continued to drain jumpers, swingman Ronnie Brewer (12 points) did the same, picking up from where they both left off in the games first 24 minutes, and Joakim Noah (nine points, 12 rebounds, five assists) wreaked havoc inside with his energetic play and rebounding.

Chicago finally dipped below 60-percent shooting for the game, but with the festivities long established as a laugher, it didnt make much of a difference, as the visitors, while a bit sloppy in the third period, entered the final stanza leading, 83-64.

I thought we started the third quarter with good energy, said Thibodeau. Then, we sort of let up at the end of the third.

Agreed Watson: We kind of slacked off in the third and fourth quarters."

Thibodeau, never one to take anything for granted, left starters Deng and Noah in the game for the basically meaningless fourth quarterin actuality, it was good for Dengs conditioning after his layoff, while reasoning for leaving in other regulars could be chalked up to wanting to keep them sharp and show an improved effort from the lackluster previous periodwhich the Bulls predictably dominated against their hapless foes.

It feels great, Deng said about his wrist. You know, the weird thing is Im not tired. It was my wrist, so I did a lot of running while I was off, but conditioning-wise, Im still there. I might be a little bit, but Im not feeling it at all. The first game, my legs did get heavy, but no so much winded. But its been fine.

Thibodeau added: He said hes fine during the game. The concern was what he was going to be like the next day and he said he was fine when he practiced the day after the first game that he played, the Milwaukee game, and he said he felt really good, so that was very encouraging. So, were hopeful that itll continue to be that way.

Outside of Roses back, another Bull was an in-game casualty, as Boozerwho checked back into the game in the final periodsuffered a cut above his eye.

I had to get three or four stitches. The doctor had to get the stitches to bring them back. I would have came back sooner. That might have been a strategicthat might have been a thought plan; Im going to take my timeI would have came back sooner, though, he said. I didnt really see it. They told me I got hit with an elbow. I didnt know it was bleeding so much. I wanted to keep playing. I was hoping I was going to get some free throws, then they told me it wouldnt stop leaking, so we had to come back and get a couple stitches.

The highlight of the game for the apathetic Newark audience was a late-game appearance from deep reserve Brian Scalabrine, a former Net, which drew the biggest cheers of the evening.

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.