Despite holding the Miami Heat to seven points in the first quarter the Bulls suffered their fifth straight defeat, 100-93 at the United Center Sunday afternoon.
Dunn struggles again: He sat for the final 18 minutes as Fred Hoiberg again chose to ride Jerian Grant down the stretch. Kris Dunn didn’t get his coach much reason to keep faith in him as he missed his six shots and his assist-to-turnover ratio was equal (four each)—not a great sign moving forward.
In his four starts leading up to Sunday’s game, Dunn totaled 17 assists to 16 turnovers, with four turnovers in every game—so at least he’s consistent.
But he looked unsure running the offense and appears to be thinking too much about the reads and plays as opposed to being instinctive, aggressive.
“Kris needs to come out and be an attack player, that’s who he is,” Hoiberg said. “That’s when he’s at his best. He missed a couple early and that can affect his confidence the way it did.”
Dunn graded his play as a “C” since becoming a starter, and had he come back with a roaring performance after getting baptized by Stephen Curry two nights ago it would’ve been a boon for overall confidence in him in the position.
Now, Hoiberg will have to coach him up and it should be a concern moving forward. As if his plate isn’t full enough, Hoiberg will have to be psychologist and point guard whisperer for Dunn.
“The big thing for Kris, you know we love him—he’s had some really good moments for us, we’re going to continue to start him, he’s got to go out there and make the right play,” Hoiberg said.
Grant, for a rare instance, played decisively and with a level of force in scoring a career-high 24 points, hitting three triples in 30 minutes.
“Just being more aggressive. I feel like when I’m out there with the second guys, I have that opportunity more,” Grant said. “Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, I have to be aggressive.”
Make no mistake, Grant wants to start, even if the team wants to fully invest in his replacement.
“Absolutely. As a competitor in this league, you want to be out there with the first five,” Grant said. “You always want to fight for your spot back but at the end of the day you want a win.”
Valentine shines: Denzel Valentine is quietly putting together a solid sophomore campaign, all things considered. He was the one Bull who was hitting shots when nobody was in that horrific first quarter and has become a trusted playmaker of sorts.
As of this moment, Valentine might be the best decision-maker on the roster. Last year, he saw a lot of openings but couldn’t make decisions quick enough.
This year, he seems to be more judicious in threading the needle and waiting for secondary shots to develop—with the evidence coming in fits and spurts.
It resulted in his best statistical performance with 14 points and career-highs in rebounds (13) and assists (seven), including hitting four of six from the 3-point line.
“I thought he was our best playmaker in the first half,” Hoiberg said. “I thought when he had the ball, he was doing a good job getting Robin (Lopez) the ball, he rebounded at a high rate and shooting with confidence.”
Valentine has earned Hoiberg’s trust at the small forward spot and hopes to keep it when Zach LaVine returns in the coming weeks. He’s been more vocal in practices with his young teammates, and his patience showed when the Heat focused its defense to Valentine.
“Today I think I could’ve scored more at the end but they loaded so much on me,” Valentine said “I told Jerian to take over and he was getting guys open looks. It (stinks) we didn’t finish it off.”
Another (former) Bull strikes again: Friday it was Jordan Bell trolling the Bulls with money signs and swatting shots before asking how “cash considerations” was performing.
This time, it was a player who actually suited up for the Bulls in James Johnson that came back as a ghost of Thanksgiving past. Johnson was a Bull from 2009-11 before being traded to Toronto and bouncing around through other stops, now settled in Miami as a key contributor with his unique skill set.
All four members of the Heat bench who played scored in double figures, including Wayne Ellington hitting five triples for 19 points.
Johnson was a glue, adding seven rebounds and six assists to his 15 points in 28 minutes.
He scored 11 in the fourth as the Heat pulled away—coupled with Goran Dragic scoring 14 of his game-high 24 points in the period. Johnson was seven of nine from the field and enabled the Heat to keep Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters on the bench late.
“We have a lot of weapons, a lot of guys who can do it. We’ve all played our roles,” Johnson said. “We’re trending, we’ve been trending in the right direction. You take some bumps and bruises along the way but as long as we’re playing consistent and sticking to our habits everything is gonna fall in our favor.”
On this afternoon, they delivered the bumps and the bruises to the Bulls.
U-G-L-Y, the NBA was the alibi: The 13-7 first quarter score looked more like a Bears-Dolphins tilt, although the Bears would probably lobby for taking 13 points in a game these days.
The Heat shot 11 percent, missing 17 of 19 shots while the Bulls were scorching, shooting four of 24 from the field.
Considering the Bulls have taken huge beatings on the western trip, it would be easy to attribute the ineptitude to recent performances but the NBA should’ve known better on this one.
Scheduling a 2:30 game less than 24 hours after flying cross-country, along with the Bulls having a weird back-to-back in Los Angeles then Salt Lake City, it hasn’t been kind.
“We did not. You want to look into that,” Hoiberg quipped to ESPN’s Nick Friedell.
Perhaps the NBA is trying to help the Bulls along with their “process”.