Bulls

Fire, Rolfe prepare to face Revolution

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Fire, Rolfe prepare to face Revolution

Finally the Fire can see how Chris Rolfe might perform in game situations.

Rolfe was no stranger to the Fire when the club signed him. He is the second-leading goal-scorer in franchise history, and he opted to return to Chicago after a three-year stint playing in Germany.

Two days into training with the Fire, Rolfe went down with a sprained left ankle. It took six weeks for the injury to heal, but Rolfe went through a full workout on Thursday and coach Frank Klopas said hell be available for selection in Saturdays road match against the New England Revolution.

The Fire needs the explosive striker after disappointing losses in the last two matches. The five-game road trip that the team took last week was a disaster a 2-1 loss at Columbus on Saturday in Major League Soccer play followed by a stoppage time defeat to the Michigan Bucks of the Premier Development League in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday.

In retrospect, the Fire should have refused to play the Open Cup match in an indoor facility. Indoor soccer isnt the sport the Fire plays, and injuries can be factor in such matches. The Fire has had enough of those, with Rolfe and Arne Friedrich the primary examples.

Friedrich, the veteran German defender, remains out with a right hamstring strain and is targeting his return for the June 17 home match against the New York Red Bulls. He has plenty of time to rest until then, since the Fire and the rest of MLS goes on break while international matches take over the world soccer calendar. Only midfielder Marco Pappa will be playing games during that period, which begins after the New England match.

Pappa joined the Guatemala national team last week and missed the Open Cup match. He wont play against New England, either, as Guatemala a perfect 6-0-0 with 19 goals scored and only three allowed was terrific in the last round of World Cup qualifying.

In the present international period, he has a friendly with Costa Rica in Guatemala City on Friday night, then the first two matches of CONCACAF Group A play Wednesday, June 6, at Jamaica and a home match June 12 against the United States.

The only other Fire player away during the international period is Victor Pineda, who will train with the U.S. under-20 squad.

As for the New England match, the Fire (5-4-3) will be bolstered by more than just Rolfes return. Sebastian Grazzini, who didnt play at Columbus or in the Open Cup match, is expected back. Klopas opted to rest him, but he went through a full workout on Thursday before the Fire departed for New England.

Not everyone else is at full strength, but Patrick Nyarko, Dan Gargan and Dominic Oduro will be available. Nyarko had to take shots of the pain reliever Toradol in order to play in the last 10 games. Hes had hip, hamstring and rib problems. Gargan (left foot) and Oduro (hamstring) say their ailments are improving.

New England (4-7-1) also had a tough week, losing 3-2 at D.C. United on Saturday before being eliminated from the Open Cup with a Tuesday loss. With 18 points the Fire is tied in points with fourth-place Columbus in the Eastern Conference of MLS. New England is in seventh place.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.