Bulls

Shorthanded Bulls fall to Wizards on John Wall's late jumper

Shorthanded Bulls fall to Wizards on John Wall's late jumper

WASHINGTON, D.C.—It wasn’t exactly a wasted effort by the Chicago Bulls, as they learned a couple valuable lessons in their 101-99 loss to the Washington Wizards once Doug McDermott's fifth triple try wound up like all the rest: Not getting to the bottom of the net.

"I just gotta make that shot," McDermott said, going through the shooting motion in the Verizon Center hallway, wishing he could have come off his opposite shoulder, believing had he been just as open, the Bulls would have pulled off the improbable upset as opposed to licking their wounds after blowing a surprising 61-43 first half lead.

McDermott's confidence in himself and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg's confidence in him was evident, as the play was drawn up for McDermott to win the game late—a position many didn't predict the Bulls to be in with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Nikola Mirotic out.

Another position many didn't expect the Bulls to be in was the re-emergence of Rajon Rondo, who apparently earned himself an opportunity to play with the attrition of the existing personnel, and did enough in 27 minutes to make Hoiberg say he'll play Thursday in New York against the Knicks.

Rondo was a whirling dervish at times, playing with as much energy as some of the wide-eyed youngsters who finally got off the pine, playing without looking over their shoulders.

Defending well, getting three steals and pushing the pace, Rondo scored 12 points with six assists and four rebounds, making six of his 13 shots after being the first substitution off the bench, helping the Bulls storm a Wizards team that was obviously disappointed to be playing against something other than top-flight competition.

"I thought Rondo was really good," Hoiberg said. "I thought our pace, especially in the first half, was excellent. When he was in the game, it was good to see him aggressive, looking to score. He gave us a real lift."

Rondo didn't seem too impressed with his play one way or the other, preferring to heap praise on the younger players, like Denzel Valentine.

"He put the ball in the hole. Given an opportunity, a little bit more freedom today," Rondo said. "I was just trying to bring energy off the bench and push the pace. It's what I do."

Another lesson is that Valentine and Bobby Portis proved they belonged on an NBA court, displaying the verve and moxie that usually doesn't come with just playing a handful of games three months into an NBA season.

Portis hit shot 5-for-8 in 17 minutes, including three triples to score 13 points with seven rebounds. He played the way that hasn't been seen since his rookie year when filling in for Joakim Noah in the early going.

Valentine did his best to make up for what McDermott lacked at the 3-point line, hitting five triples on his way to 19 points in 30 minutes, hitting 7 of 11 overall. Spot-up shots and step-in triples, he didn't seem fazed by the task of going against more seasoned players in John Wall and Bradley Beal.

"I had a big first half, I shot it well, did some good things," Valentine said. "I probably could've made a couple more plays down the stretch but credit to them. They turned it up."

The Bulls offense came back to earth after a sterling first half, as they hit just 2 of 17 in the second half from the 3-point line when trying to keep the Wizards at bay.

"We had some good looks that didn't go down," Hoiberg said. "It wasn't because of lack of effort that we lost the game. We went out there and fought them to the end."

Six Bulls scored in double figures despite shooting just 40 percent from the field, and turning it over 18 times didn’t help matters, but the Wizards gave it away 21 times for 28 Bulls points.

After Valentine hit a triple to put the Bulls up 92-85 with seven minutes left in the fourth, he did a bit of a shimmy on the Wizards' end of the floor, filled with adrenaline and positive reinforcement.

Unfortunately, he learned a rookie lesson because Wizards All-Star guard John Wall was watching and used that little dance as motivation. Wall took over down the stretch, hitting a free-throw line jumper to tie the game and then another mid-range shot with 5 seconds left to give the Wizards a 101-99 lead.

It put a finishing touch on Wall's 26-point, 14-assist night and he passed on a message to Valentine before the final part of the onslaught.

"I play with a lot of emotion just like him," Wall told CSNMA.com's J.Michael. "I understand where he's coming from. I just said, 'Don't celebrate this early. You're a rookie. You haven't earned those stripes yet.' I told him, 'That's how you feel? You woke up a monster.' I just went on a scoring spree."

Usually, it's the Bulls who have their closer handling business down the stretch. For a night, they got to see what life was like on the other side—with a little drama and intrigue on their end, because that's seemingly what they do best.

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

The statue doesn’t sit out front of the United Center anymore, but the statute remains the same for any player good enough to be on the marquee for the Chicago Bulls.

Zach LaVine, while awed by the specter of Michael Jordan, isn’t spooked by chasing a ghost. Weeks away from a debut as a Bull—returning from ACL surgery—LaVine is aware of the standard set by the man who called himself “Black Jesus”.

“Black Jesus played here for so long. I’m not putting myself in that category,” LaVine said, unaware Jordan gave himself that nickname as a young player in Chicago. “He lived up to it. They (fans) want to get back to that pinnacle.”

He hears the hopes and wishes of fans when he walks off the United Center floor two hours before every home game after getting shots up as part of his rehab. LaVine knows what’s expected from him—what’s more, he expects that from himself.

He’s a two-time slam dunk champion, certainly, but the Seattle area native wants to be known as a complete player, someone a franchise can build around.

And if it’s Black Jesus’ franchise, so be it.

“You try not to let it mess with you,” LaVine said. “I feel like I’m strong minded, I’m confident in myself. Everybody is gonna have their own opinions. All that matters is how you feel about yourself.”

Not that he’s not holding himself to the standard set by the standard bearer himself, but he’s aware the responsibility that comes with playing at Jordan’s position for a franchise still largely synonymous with Jordan—even though this spring will mark 20 years since Jordan actually wore Bulls red.

“No one’s trying to compare you to him, that’s out there,” LaVine said. “You’re just trying to be the best you, coming into this situation. You have the opportunity to be the face of the franchise. To be that guy. You want to embrace that. You want everybody to know you’re prepared and capable of doing that.”

Simply being identified as a player a franchise will commit to building around as opposed to the third wheel, as he was believed to be in Minnesota behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, is warming for him.

Derrick Rose believed he was up for the challenge until his body betrayed him. Jimmy Butler wanted it, but the Bulls thought otherwise leading to the chain of events that brought LaVine to Chicago.

In the first season of a full-fledged rebuild, LaVine knows the prevailing belief is that the next franchise carrier is more likely in the coming draft than on the Bulls roster.

“People gonna put a name on everything. I’m gonna hoop, do what I do,” LaVine said. “I know I’m talented, I think the Bulls organization knows I’m talented. Whatever we do with the pick or free agency, that’s their side of basketball operations. I’m gonna do what I do. I put in the work.”

He’ll return to full contact practice next week and if one had to guess, finally be introduced as an active player in the middle of December once he works the kinks out and gains confidence in taking real contact.

But then again, confidence has never been a problem for LaVine. Whether it was instilled in him by a vocal father who had him chart every shot he took as a high schooler or simply innate, LaVine isn’t shying away from the challenge.

“He had a plan, for sure,” LaVine said of his father, Paul, who once played linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. “I have binders of shots. I was doing workouts the day before games. I was doing professional workouts before (college). I embraced being a hard worker.”

Whether it’s the rehab or a road that’s had plenty of twists and turns for him to be 22, he’s experienced enough not to be naïve but young enough to have admirable wide-eyed optimism.

“You put in that much hard work, it can’t fail. It can’t.”

The Bulls first quarter was historically terrible

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USA TODAY

The Bulls first quarter was historically terrible

Rebuilds can be ugly, but the first quarter of Wednesday's Bulls-Thunder game was downright disgusting. 

The Bulls scored single digits(!) in the historically awful opening 12 minutes. Here's a closer look at the numbers: 

7 - Amount of points scored. That's the worst opening quarter in franchise history and just one point better than the worst overall quarter. 

8 - Number of turnovers, which included three shot clock violations. 

13 - The Bulls shot 13 percent from the field. Woof. 

2 - Consecutive games Fred Hoiberg's squad has trailed by 20 after the first. 

3 - Carmelo Anthony outscored the Bulls by three points in the opening quarter (10-7). 

It's safe to assume that the lineup of Jerian Grant, Kris Dunn, Quincy Pondexter, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez was not ready to play.