Ten games to mark down on Bulls 2016-17 schedule

Ten games to mark down on Bulls 2016-17 schedule

The Bulls had as busy an offseason as any team in the NBA, which means there will be plenty of headliner games on their 2016-17 schedule, which the league announced Thursday.

Here are ten that all fans should have circled on their calendars:

1. Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah return to the United Center (Nov. 4)

For the first time in a decade the Bulls are without one of Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose. Arguably the two most crucial pieces to the Bulls' run in that span, Rose was dealt to New York less than a month before Noah signed with the hometown Knicks in free agency. Seeing both players competing inside the United Center in different uniforms for the first time - they've combined for 491 games in Chicago - will be a sight to see. And despite Rose's injury-prone career irking some fans, expect both players to receive standing ovations upon their introductions from PA announcer Tommy Edwards.

2. Hosting LeBron James and the champion Cavaliers (Dec. 2)

With the Cavs, LeBron James has played 35 regular-season games against the Bulls. But he's never faced them as a reigning NBA champion. Even with Kevin Durant joining the 73-win Warriors, the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the NBA until further notice. And they're certainly the team to beat in the East, as James has won the conference each of the last six seasons. The Bulls took two of four from the Cavaliers last season, and could gain a real confidence boost by doing so again. It will also mark the first meeting between Dwyane Wade and James, two close friends, since Wade joined the Bulls. It's always must-see TV when those two go up against each other.

3. Dwyane Wade returns to Miami playing for the opposition (Nov. 10)

Wade spent 13 years in Miami, playing a combined 524 regular-season and postseason games in South Beach. That will change this season, as he makes his return to Miami wearing a different uniform for the first time. As emotional a return as it will be for Wade, who is sure to receive a standing ovation, it could wind up being an important game for both teams battling for positioning in the Eastern Conference. 

4. Tom Thibodeau takes his Timberpups to Chicago (Dec. 13)

The former Bulls coach already returned to the United Center this summer as an assistant for USA Basketball. But when he brings with him the most talented group of young players in the NBA, expect some serious competition. With the previous two Rookies of the Year, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, as well as Zach LaVine, rookie Kris Dunn and Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves will prove to be a stiff test under the defensive-minded Thibodeau. Remember, too, that the Bulls were heavily interested in acquiring Dunn before this year's draft. Thibodeau and the T-Wolves took the Providence guard with the fifth pick.

5. KD, Steph, Draymond and Klay bring their superteam to the Windy City (March 2)

Like they did to most teams last season, the Warriors entered the United Center and stepped on the Bulls' throat from the opening tip in January. They led by 16 after the first quarter and cruised to a 31-point victory, extending their record to 39-4 on their way to 73 wins. All the Warriors did this offseason was add the game's best scorer in Kevin Durant, making Golden State's only trip to the Windy City must-see. 

6. Bulls open the season with new-look Celtics (Oct. 27)

The Bulls and Celtics were reportedly discussing a deal for Jimmy Butler on draft night, but nothing appeared close to getting done. Instead, the Celtics hung on to their core, drafted Cal's Jaylen Brown and wound up signing All-Star big man Al Horford in free agency. That's put them right in the thick of the Eastern Conference hunt, and it should create an electric atmosphere on Opening Night. It'll also pit two former Marquette teammates together in Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder. Free agent acquisition Rajon Rondo also spent the first nine years of his NBA career with the Celtics.

7. Bulls will play on Christmas Day for the 21st time in franchise history (Dec. 25)

The additions of Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo this offseason made the Bulls a team to watch this season. And the NBA rewarded them by slotting them in for the late afternoon game on Christmas Day against the Spurs. It's the 21st time they've played on Christmas, sporting a 13-7 record that included an impressive road victory over the Thunder last season. It's the seventh straight season they've played on the holiday, and it will mark the Bulls' first matchup against Pau Gasol, who left for San Antonio in free agency this summer.

8. Pau Gasol and the Tim Duncan-less Spurs arrive (Dec. 8)

The Spurs will be ushering in a new era of basketball this season after Tim Duncan's retirement. It'll be the first time since 1996 the Bulls square off against a Duncan-less Spurs. But Gregg Popovich's team isn't necessarily getting that much younger. They grabbed Pau Gasol in free agency - two years after the Spaniard almost chose the Spurs over the Bulls. It'll be an emotional return for Gasol, who always spoke highly of Chicago and his time with the Bulls. It was simply time to move on after two seasons in Chicago. Still, he'll receive a nice ovation from the fans after he averaged 17.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 150 games for the Bulls. He also made two All-Star appearances during his time with the Bulls.

9. Looking to keep the streak going against the Raptors (Jan. 7)

It has to be one of the oddest winning streaks in basketball, but the Bulls have reeled off nine straight victories - spanning three seasons - against the Raptors. That's the same Raptors team that advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals last season and re-signed DeMar DeRozan to a max deal. They'll face each other four more times this year, and if they can win the season series again - another sweep seems unlikely - it could pay off significant dividends if they met in the postseason. This matchup will also pit Team USA members against each other, with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry representing the Raptors in Rio, and Jimmy Butler doing the same for the Bulls.

10. Anthony Davis comes to Chicago, plus a battle of rookie All-Americans (Jan. 14)

It's always a fun homecoming when Chicago native Anthony Davis returns. And this time he's bringing company. Not only will E'Twaun Moore be making his first appearance in Chicago since leaving the team in free agency. Oklahoma sensation Buddy Hield, who the Pelicans selected with the No. 6 pick in June's NBA Draft, will go toe-to-toe with former Michigan State sharpshooter Denzel Valentine. It will pit college basketball's two best players from last year against each other in what should be a high-scoring affair.

Here's a look at the Bulls' entire 2016-17 schedule. Click to enhance the image.

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.