Rock bottom: Bulls submit in blowout loss to Magic


Rock bottom: Bulls submit in blowout loss to Magic

ORLANDO—Jimmy Butler sat with a towel draped around his face, as Pau Gasol muttered something unintelligible as the Bulls came out of a timeout.

Derrick Rose sat with a cold stare, alongside Taj Gibson, whose facial expressions drifted from anger to fury to resignation by the time 40 minutes had passed.

It didn’t take that long for the principle characters to see it wasn’t their night, hasn’t been their week, month or quarter.

The Orlando Magic was merely the latest team to feast on a Bulls team that looks like a dead carcass, a squad that can’t wait to get to April 14, when it’s time to clean out their lockers.

Beaten down, beaten up, fragile and frail, the Bulls look to have nothing left to give this season, as they fell behind by as much as 29 to a Magic team that came in losers of six in a row but left victors in a 111-89 drubbing Saturday night at Amway Center.

It left the question for Fred Hoiberg to answer afterwards, as he had to respond to the notion if his team has quit.

“I sure hope not,” the exasperated Bulls coach said. “Obviously, what I’m saying right now, the message isn’t getting across. We’re going to sit in a room and hopefully get it figured out tomorrow.”

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The Bulls easily submitted, as has been their pattern, and there just appeared to be a lack of passion from the jump. Honest questions need to be asked and answered, and Butler didn’t disagree with the thought some confrontation is necessary.

“Maybe it’s more a generalization instead of me to you. I don’t know. Do we have sensitive guys? I guess we’re gonna find out come tomorrow,” Butler said. “We’ll find out if somebody has a problem with somebody or they don’t like the way somebody is doing something. Now is the time to speak up on it. We’ve been talking about it all year long. We don’t have much confrontation, maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s a bad thing. I hope things get changed because we all want to be in the playoffs.”

Without Victor Oladipo, without Nikola Vucevic, the Magic left Dewayne Dedmon—a prime candidate for everybody’s favorite game “Who he play for?” and made everyone wearing red know his name.

He feasted on the Bulls’ frontline, scoring a career-high 18 points with a career-high 13 rebounds—with the former statistic being achieved with four minutes remaining in the first half.

“Just a lack of competitiveness; All we talked about is getting off to a good start tonight, giving ourselves a chance,” Hoiberg said. “We win games, more often than not, when we win the first quarter. They came out and scored 36 on us in the first 12 minutes.”

The only Bull who appeared to be bringing it was Gibson, who made his first eight field goals, schooling young and gifted forward Aaron Gordon while trying his best to keep the Bulls engaged and motivated.

But apparently the Magic onslaught was too much for the Bulls to resist—as was the case on a back-to-back set against another lottery-bound franchise, the New York Knicks.

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“Is the answer in the room? Hell, we all we got, it better be in this room,” Butler said. “And it better carry from this locker room to on the court. That’s the only way to get this fixed, nobody’s gonna play basketball for us.”

The Magic shot 70 percent early in the first and didn’t look back, as Rose and Butler each uncharacteristically missed pairs of free throws in the first half while the game was out of hand.

“It’s a lot. It’s not one thing here or there,” said forward Mike Dunleavy. “It’s not the offense or defense, it’s both. It’s a lot of stuff. To say one thing we’re not doing right and it’ll solve everything, that’s just not the case. It’s a bunch of stuff we’re struggling with. Effort, execution, discipline, continuity, you can go through the whole thing.”

Rose struggled with Elfrid Payton, who played maestro with 15 points and 10 assists in 30 minutes, as the Magic didn’t play terribly well, leaving an opening in the third quarter to cut the lead to nine.

But the Bulls weren’t up to task, shooting just 41 percent from the field and allowing 58 points in the paint to a team that didn’t have an active paint presence.

And even though the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons looked to be in a charitable mood Saturday, being on the way to losses that could’ve given the Bulls a little bit of life, the Bulls had other plans.

No resurrection on this Saturday or Sunday, or maybe any day this season.

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


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.