Bulls

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.

Robin Lopez taking demotion in stride, wants to return to Chicago

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Robin Lopez taking demotion in stride, wants to return to Chicago

Only an errant punch that missed the face of Serge Ibaka prevented Robin Lopez from suiting up for the Bulls since arriving in the summer of 2016, but his availability streak will come to an abrupt end as the Bulls are sitting and Justin Holiday for the foreseeable future.

Lopez didn’t dress for the Bulls’ game against the 76ers, as he and Holiday were replaced by Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba. Although he was jovial, cracking a few jokes when meeting with the media in pregame, it was clear he was disappointed.

“It was rough for me. I get it. I understand it,” Lopez said. “I always want to be out there playing on the court. That’s what I enjoy, especially playing with these guys. But I’m excited to watch these guys give it a go from the bench.”

With the Bulls being eighth in the lottery standings, Lopez understands the long-term objectives of the organization and said the conversation with the front office went as expected.

“I think pretty much what everybody else has heard,” Lopez said. “I was pulled aside. They told me they wanted to evaluate a few other guys, a few of the young guys. So I get it.”

Starting 138 of 139 games makes his streak ending a bit tougher to stomach, especially considering he didn’t find out about his certain inactivity until right before leaving for the United Center.

“I suppose that’s a little selfish of me, but a little bit,” said Lopez of sadness concerning the streak. “I looked in my closet today and thought I would have a glut of jackets. And I only found two. I didn’t realize this was an issue until about 5 minutes before I had to leave. So I got kind of a ragtag outfit for tonight but hopefully I’ll be better prepared in the games to come.”

Not only will he be armed with better wardrobe but he’ll be bringing a positive disposition to the sidelines that made him loved amongst his teammates.

“All my teammates, whether they’ve been playing with me or sitting on the bench and not dressing, they’ve all supported me,” Lopez said. “I don’t think I’d be too good a person if I didn’t do at least the bare minimum of the same.”

Lopez represented stability and veteran leadership in a tumultuous season, a solid performer when losing was the early norm and upheaval has been constant. It was a reason the Bulls hoped he would garner some interest in the trade market but after hitting for a draft pick in the Nikola Mirotic deal, they had no such luck with Lopez.

Naturally, he was asked about the prospect of being traded over sitting as a healthy scratch.

“That’s hard for me to talk about because I don’t know what situation I could have potentially been in once I had been traded,” Lopez said. “Yeah, it’s … I want to be playing obviously, but we’ve got a great group of guys right here.”

Considering how uncertain things will be for the future, it isn’t a guarantee Lopez won’t be around for the 2018-19 season.

“Yeah. It seems like they still like me. How could they not?,” he joked.

He’s due $14.3 million next season, the last of a four-year deal he signed with the Knicks in 2015. Averaging 12.3 points and shooting 53 percent from the field, he’s productive and valuable on the floor. He’s easy to dismiss with the hoopla surrounding the youth on the roster and the way things clicked when Mirotic stepped on the floor, but seven footers like Lopez aren’t easy to find—even as the game changes.

“I’m a team player. I like to think my play is tied to how the team plays,” Lopez said. “I think we had some really great stretches. The young guys really developed and found a rhythm once we all got healthy. I think we played pretty well.”

With 25 games remaining, he’s unsure of how long his inactivity will last but it’s hard to see him missing the remainder of the season. It would be a bad look for the Bulls and the league to have a healthy player miss two whole months, and Lopez claims no knowledge about that ugly “T” word.

“I’m not familiar with military artillery,” he said.

At least he’s keeping his sense of humor.