Bulls

Wild playoff weekend just the tip of the iceberg

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Wild playoff weekend just the tip of the iceberg

Monday, April 25, 2011Posted: 6:01 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

The top-seeded Bulls narrow loss Saturday was an omen. Just like the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs, the tight finish in Game 4 of the Chicago-Indiana series was a harbinger for postseason slate full of upsets and close calls over Easter weekend.

Following the Pacers surprising win was an exhilarating ending in Portland, in which Trail Blazers guard Brandon Royafter sinking to the verge of tears previously in the seriesscored 18 fourth-quarter points to bring his team back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit to tie the series at two games apiece. For Rou, the performance was doubly sweet, as the former All-Star struggled in his new reserve role this season in the aftermath of having surgery on both knees.

The next game was equally dramatic, as the Grizzlies managed to hold off the Spurs for the franchises first home win in its history. An improbable Zach Randolph three-pointer sealed the triumph for Memphis, which now leads No. 1 seed San Antonio in the series, 2-1.

Saturdays final matchup featured Oklahoma City and Denver, a game that featured several runs by each potent offensive team. After the Nuggets stormed back at the end of the third quarter to make the game close, the Thunderled by All-Star duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but also receiving a breakout outing from fellow youngster Serge Ibakaseemed to have the game in hand, but had to stave off a near-miraculous late individual spurt from J.R. Smith (who missed a contested potentially game-tying shot from long range) to take a 3-0 lead in the series.

Not to be outdone, Sunday was just as loaded with thrilling matchups, starting with an afternoon matinee close-out game between Philadelphia and Miami. Instead of eliminating the young 76ers, the Heat got off to a slow start and though they made one of their patented dominant runs to get back into the contest, the always-exuberant coaching of Doug Collins and clutch play of youthful trio Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Lou Williams (who hit the eventual game-winner)combined with LeBron James failing on yet another opportunity to be the heroprevented the sweep.

Perhaps the least-unpredictable game was in the matchup observers were most intrigued by heading into the postseason, Boston and New York. Behind Rajon Rondos 21-point, 12-assist afternoon (coming off the heels of his Game 3 triple-double, which included 20 assists), the Celtics cruised to the win at Madison Square Gardenensuring a 7:00 p.m. local start time for Tuesdays Bulls-Pacers Game 5 at the United Centersweeping the new-look, injury-riddled Knicks, despite 32 points from Carmelo Anthony.

Atlanta continued to surprise its doubters in the following contest, holding off Orlando behind yet another big game from sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford, as well as a solid outing from fellow former Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich. With its strategy of bodying up Dwight Howard one-on-oneliterally, as the one-game suspension of Hawks center Zaza Pachulia for head-butting Magic swingman Jason Richardson, who also sat out Sundays game for slapping the backup big manthe Hawks lived with Howards inside dominance and again concentrated on shutting down Orlandos perimeter shooters.

The weekends final game, however, might have been the biggest shocker, as New Orleans repeated its Game 1 upset of the defending champions, taking down the Lakers on its home court to even the series at 2-2. Chris Paul appears to be back to his pre-injury form, posting a triple-double27 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists; superstar counterpart Kobe Bryant was held scoreless in the first half, but a bigger issue might be his ankle and foot injuriesand despite not having power forward David West, the Hornets are surviving against the Lakers behemoth frontline, with All-Star Pau Gasol close to invisible for much of the series.

When the dust settled, the top two seeds in each conference fell (with the West's No. 1 team, San Antonio, actually trailing against an eighth seed) and outside of two teams--Boston, which advanced to the second round, and Oklahoma City, which still hasn't lost--no team has proved invulnerable. Who knows whats in store this week with the playoffs, but its clear that thus far its shaping up to be one of the most exciting postseasons in years.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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.