Bulls

Bulls Talk Podcast: Heartbreak in Indy; Sam Smith discusses new book

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Heartbreak in Indy; Sam Smith discusses new book

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Will Perdue react to the Bulls heartbreaking loss to the Pacers. They’ll discuss the inconsistent play from Kris Dunn and what it means for the team moving forward. They’ll also look at some of the big players (Like Arizona’s Deandre Ayton) that the Bulls will give a close look at in next year’s NBA draft. Plus Hall of Fame writer Sam Smith joins us to talk about his new book, ‘Hard Labor’.

Kris Dunn's Jekyll and Hyde performances continue in Bulls' ugly loss to Pacers

Kris Dunn's Jekyll and Hyde performances continue in Bulls' ugly loss to Pacers

For most of Wednesday night Kris Dunn looked like everything the Bulls wanted in a point guard of the future. He was attacking the basket, finding open shooters (who were knocking those shots down) and playing his usual aggressive style of defense.

He was the catalyst for a Bulls team that looked ready to end their nine-game winning streak in impressive fashion, going wire-to-wire with a Pacers team that entered the night 7-4 at home.

But for as well as Dunn performed - finishing with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists - what Bulls fans will remember is his inability to close the game in an eventual 98-96 loss.

With the Bulls leading by four with 1:48 to go, Dunn missed badly on a floater, grabbed his own rebound and promptly turned the ball over. That led to a Pacers jumper from Corey Joseph, and Victor Oladipo drained a 3-pointer after Denzel Valentine dribbled the ball over to the Pacers' swingman the previous trip down. Out of a timeout Dunn got stiffed by Oladipo and had to settle for a contest 20-footer from the left wing. That shot missed, and Oladipo hit 1 of 2 free throws.

With a chance to win the game Dunn couldn't initiate the Bulls into any semblance of a set and had to settle for a wild Lauri Markkanen 3, which clanged off the backboard and sent the Bulls to a 10th straight loss.

The two misses and turnover both hurt from Dunn directly, but Valentine's turnover and Markkanen's missed shot can also be attributed to him. Dunn has proven capable of running the offense - he did it superbly for most of the game - but wasn't there down the stretch to make a play or set up a play to help the Bulls close it out.

It washed away a really solid performance from Dunn, who actually stopped a 7-0 run just before that ugly sequence with a drive and layup to push the Bulls back out in front, 96-92.

Dunn scored or assisted on 20 of the Bulls' first 25 points, and he scored eight points in the third quarter to keep the Pacers at bay. He played 34 minutes and half his shots came in the paint (plus three free throws). He was aggressive (one of his turnovers was a charge in the paint) and kept pace with the 9th-fastest offense in the league.

But he couldn't close things for the Bulls when they needed a ball handler and a decision maker. Perhaps it'll be a good lesson for Dunn, who continues to show growth in Year 2. He's averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 assists over his last five games, shooting 55 percent from the field and 64 percent from deep (9-for-14). There's more good than bad for Dunn this year. Unfortunately we'll remember the bad on Wednesday.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

- Denzel Valentine was outstanding in the first half. He finished cold from the field (5 of 13) but really gave the Bulls a spark before halftime. He passed well (three assists) and made an effort to crash the boards, which then initiated the offense. He's not great at any one thing, but he really does contribute in multiple areas.

- For all Valentine did in the first half, it was David Nwaba's show in the second half. The rust from sitting out multiple weeks is clearly gone, as he finished with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting, three rebounds, a steal and a block in 22 minutes. He actually played the most of any Bulls reserve, and even saw first quarter minutes. But he went to work in the second half, and he scored a pair of buckets and added a block and steal in a 3-minute span in the fourth quarter. He'll continue to get minutes.

- The Bulls had five assists in the first 7 minutes of the game, and just 11 more in the final 41 minutes. For whatever reason, ball movement stopped and it really hurt in the second half when shots weren't falling. Again, this can fall on Dunn, although he was attacking and taking what the Indiana defense gave him.

- As Insider Vincent Goodwill noted, Lauri Markkanen seemed to have tired legs tonight. Perhaps it was having to guard the ever-active Thaddeus Young, but his shot looked short almost as soon as it left his hand (1-for-6 from deep) and he wasn't all that physical. He also had three turnovers after just four combined in his last five games. He'll surely bounce back against the Hornets on Friday.

Zach LaVine's return more realistic in late-December or early January

Zach LaVine's return more realistic in late-December or early January

Zach LaVine’s optimism is necessary in a season that has him watching his new team lose nine straight games, where seeing a win on the horizon feels more like a mirage than reality.

That optimism had him aiming for a mid-December return but the reality places his debut in a Bulls uniform a little while away from his ideal target date, as Fred Hoiberg said LaVine is more likely to play in late December and early January.

“Yeah, I think that’s accurate,” Hoiberg said. “The big thing is he needs to string together a good 10 days of practice to where he’s not going every other day.”

“To where he’s going every day, going out there and going hard to really test his body to see where he is. I would say the next 10 days is not going to happen. He’s still going to be on the every other day program at least for another 10 days to two weeks, and then we’ll take it from there as far as getting him consecutive-day workouts, and then get him back shortly after that.”

He’s practiced with the G-League team, along with Nikola Mirotic, and will do so while the Bulls are away in Indianapolis and Charlotte for the rest of the week. At Tuesday’s practice, he was sporting a new accessory—a brace on his surgically-repaired left knee. He hasn’t hidden his displeasure with the contraption as Hoiberg said “he hates it.”

“Just for the first couple weeks, they wanted me to wear it when I’m practicing,” LaVine said. “I don’t like it but doctor’s orders.”

He said he would put in a request to see if he could play in a game without the brace but it’s clear the Bulls are taking all the extra precautions with LaVine, who tore his ACL last February.

LaVine said it’s restrictive, but risking another knee injury would be restrictive to LaVine and the Bulls’ long-term plans. And with the losing streak growing by the day, LaVine is more focused on keeping his teammates upbeat and not get so accustomed to losing.

“This isn’t a losing situation. We might not have the best record right now,” LaVine said. “But we don’t have that outlook on our team. We’re coming in and we’re positive. We go at each other. We’re looking to improve. We don’t have that loser mentality. I know I’m not a loser. They’re not losers.”

With that, it’s not surprising the Bulls are being conservative with the return plan and the brace on LaVine—resisting the natural urge to let him throw himself on the floor to pull attention away from a product that’s worst in the league.

But gradually working on his conditioning is the main concern right now as LaVine said he’s in training camp mode—as camp is usually three-to-four weeks away from the start of the season.

“I’ve been working my butt off, coming back late working and running. But nothing simulates game conditioning,” LaVine said. “I’ve been working out for the last eight, nine months and you come in and play 5-on-5 and you’re tired in 3 minutes. Just got to get that down, get my rhythm down. But I’m progressing really fast. And I feel good.”

In the interim, he’s starting to get a feel for Hoiberg’s read-and-react offense, one that desperately needs a perimeter shot-creator and shot-maker. Going through extra work with the assistant coaches is helping him get acclimated, along with the practices at Hoffman Estates since they run the same sets and systems Hoiberg employs.

In LaVine’s mind, it’s a matter of time before he gets a full feel of all the options offensively. Especially with Lauri Markkanen beginning to feel the weight of defensive attention recently, LaVine knows his presence will make life easier for the rookie.

“Everybody has ups and downs. But he goes out with the same mindset,” LaVine said. “He can miss four or five in a row or be 0-for-8 the night before and he comes in with the same attitude, smile on his face. And that’s something you have to respect from somebody. I remember me from my rookie year and I’d have my ups and downs, I’d be the dude who would be more angry.”

Whenever LaVine makes his debut, Hoiberg will not suddenly act like his predecessor, Tom Thibodeau, and play LaVine 35-40 minutes a night immediately.

“Yeah, we’ll gradually bring him along, and the same thing with Niko when we get him back ready to play on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “We’re not going to throw him out there for 35 minutes the first night he’s ready to go. It will probably be a 12-to-18 minute stint, and I would anticipate the same thing would hold true for Zach honestly.”