Denzel Valentine

Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against Kings

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against Kings

Oh yeah, it's the Bulls and Kings tonight on NBC Sports Chicago! Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Lottery implications?

Let's be honest: the Bulls and Kings aren't going anywhere this season. The Bulls have lost seven straight and own the league's worst point differential and the Kings are giving significant minutes to 36-year-old Zach Randolph and 40-year-old Zach Randolph. Fun players and we're glad to still see them in action, but the Warriors aren't really looking over their shoulders. Sacramento owns the second worst record in the West (Dallas) and the Bulls are worst in the East. A loss is good for both these squads, but they've played tough: the Kings just knocked off the Steph-and-KD-less Warriors.

2. But there's young talent everywhere!

Hey, just becuase both teams would rather take L's than W's these days doesn't mean there's no reason to watch. Both sides tout really special young talent, starting with Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox. The latest graduate of John Calipari's School of Point Guards, Fox is averaging 8.3 points, 3.2 assists and 1.3 steals in his last six games (five starts). Then there's Lauri Markkanen, who was selected two spots after Fox in June's NBA Draft. Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn all make this a game to watch of what the future could hold for both squads.

3. Another back-to-back for the Bulls

Back-to-backs haven't been great for the Bulls this season, as they're 0-3 in the second halves of those sets. Most recently they lost by 30 in Utah, although it helps that this time they'll be at home: they took the Pelicans to overtime at home in their first back-to-back of the year, and two of their three wins this season have come at the United Center. Sacramento hasn't played since Tuesday, so you can bet they'll be rested and ready to roll after getting thumped at home by Giannis and the Bucks.

Denzel's career day, Dunn's day to forget, bad timing: Observations from Bulls-Heat

Denzel's career day, Dunn's day to forget, bad timing: Observations from Bulls-Heat

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”.

Some days the rebuild is going to look like it did in the Bulls' 39-point loss to the Spurs

Some days the rebuild is going to look like it did in the Bulls' 39-point loss to the Spurs

The Bulls have been competitve at times in this the first season of their post-Jimmy Butler rebuild.

They've taken the 7-6 New Orelans Pelicans to overtime. They were up one on the Cavaliers heading into the fourth quarter last month. Furious comebacks against the Spurs and Raptors came up just short.

Yes, the Bulls are 2-9 but have looked better than that at times.

Saturday night in San Antonio was not one of those times.

The Bulls allowed the Spurs to shoot 60 percent, make 18 3-pointers and assist on 33 baskets in their 133-94 loss. This was a Spurs team playing without the following players: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

Yes, Gregg Popovich is a wizard and could throw any five players in Spurs uniforms and win 50 games. But it was more so about the total lack of effort the Bulls showed.

They trailed 22-6 midway through the first quarter and then 37-15 after the full quarter. The Spurs had the Bulls doubled up in points 17 minutes into the game (50-25).

A solid Bulls comeback saw that lead trickle down to 10, at 55-45. But that was the end of the fun. The Spurs ended the quarter on a 7-2 run and finished the third quarter with a 27-point lead. Their reserves outscored the Bulls by 12 in the final quarter, and a meaningless Kris Dunn jumper from the right baseline was all that kept the Bulls from a 40-point L.

Some days the rebuild is going to look like this. The Bulls simply had no answer, and the Spurs offense was humming. It's too bad, too, considering the offense actually looked solid at times. The Bulls finished shooting 46 percent from the floor, Bobby Portis scored 17 points and Cris Felicio looked decent for the first time all year.

Then again, the Bulls also had some of the worst turnovers of the year, including Portis traveling right before he handed the ball off to the Spurs. So, at least it wasn't of the live-ball variety.

Some days it's simply not going to be enough. And it wasn't nearly enough against an angry Spurs team that had lost to the Bucks at home the night before. Toss this one away and get ready for the next opportunity to grow.

Lauri Markkanen sprains ankle, misses second half

Adding injury to insult, rookie Lauri Markkanen missed the entire second half after spraining his ankle in the closing seconds of the second quarter.

Markkanen slipped on the floor while defending a Rudy Gay layup attempt and was seen limping around after the play. He limped his way to the locker room and was ruled out shortly after halftime.

There's obviously no real reason to rush Markkanen back, as getting him healthy with no potential for re-injury should be the Bulls' top priority. His status for Wednesday is unknown, but it's nice that he'll have three rest days to get better. Slipping on the floor has resulted in nasty injuries over the years, so it looks like Markkanen dodged a bullet in some respect.

He finished with 6 points and 2 rebounds. It was the first time in his young NBA career he hadn't recorded double-digit points or a 3-pointer in a game.

Bobby Portis looks the part again

OK, so he was a -23 in 30 minutes. But then again, no Bulls player who finished the game was better than a -11, so we won't fault him there.

But if you want a positive from Saturday night's beatdown, Bobby Portis put together another nice performance.

He shot just 5-for-11 from the field, but that included a pair of 3-point makes and he also got to the free throw line five times (he made all five). Portis also grabbed six rebounds, and while he did have three turnovers it was another solid showing for him.

In three game Portis is now averaging 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 19.8 minutes. The 30 minutes were a season-high, and a number he reached only five times last season. It's clear Fred Hoiberg is going to give Portis serious run this season, and if Markkanen needs to miss any time recovering from his sprained ankle Portis could be in line for some serious minutes and shot attempts.

No one played well for the read team tonight, but at least Portis showed some production in the raw numbers department.