DeMarcus Cousins

Boogie and Brow missed chances, help on the way: Observations from Bulls' OT loss to Pelicans

Boogie and Brow missed chances, help on the way: Observations from Bulls' OT loss to Pelicans

The Bulls could've and should've pulled out a win at home against the New Orleans Pelicans but instead fell to 2-6 with a 96-90 overtime loss Saturday night. Here's the biggest observations from that game.

We have stars, you don’t: Sometimes it’s as simple as having DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis doing things that cannot be matched by the opponent. It was more than just the stats—although Davis’ 27-point and 16-rebound performance was as impressive as it was understated—but Davis made the right plays at the most opportune times to seal the win.

He blocked a Justin Holiday jumper and then threw it off him while falling out of bounds to retain possession in overtime, the play of the game considering the stakes.

He also defended Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen and prevented Markkanen from having clean looks, although Markkanen had two big fourth-quarter 3-pointers to keep the Bulls close when the Pelicans were threatening to pull away.

Markkanen was two of 11 from three and five of 16 overall, in large part due to Davis’ length and attention to detail.

“Our motto is, if we don’t score, they don’t score,” Davis said. “We came up with some big possessions, guys made some big shots and big plays. We wanted to make sure we defended.”

Cousins’ night wasn’t as smooth but he was dominant in terms of his presence, scoring 25 with 11 rebounds, although he hit just six of his 20 shots. He routinely bullied the Bulls and got to the foul line 13 times, as both he and Davis played over 40 minutes.

“I struggled early on,” Cousins said. “That being said, you gotta go out there and find the ways to have an impact on the game. That’s what I tried to do, and we pulled out an ugly, gritty win.”

The effort was there, the execution was not: Nothing epitomized the Bulls’ night better than the close misses Robin Lopez had at the rim, two contested bunnies he should’ve finished but didn’t after a pass from Jerian Grant.

He was battling with Davis and Cousins all night, and usually takes advantage of easy chances near the basket.  With nine seconds left and the game tied, it could’ve won the game for the Bulls.

But he had tough luck and the extra five minutes proved enough for the Pelicans to take control.

“It’s frustrating. It feels bad tonight. They know we had a great effort. I’ll be better. I’ll be better next game,” Lopez said. “He made a good play. I missed two shots. (Grant) made such a fantastic play.”

Here’s the play.

Although the Bulls took 42 3-point shots and shot just 26 percent from long range, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was happy with the effort, commending the team in his opening statement to the media following the loss.

“I’m proud of our guys for going out there and competing again when the ball wasn’t going in the hoop, giving ourselves a chance,” he said. “A great chance to win it there again missing a couple at the rim, but they continued to go out there and battle.”

“We’re going to have nights like this on the offensive end, but if we can battle like that defensively, we’re going to have a chance most nights.”

It’s a far cry from their last performance at home against Oklahoma City, where Hoiberg bemoaned the lack of effort in a blowout loss. Cousins complimented the Bulls and their play, having seen them twice in the preseason and once in the regular season.

“I feel like they’re a better team than their record shows,” he said. “They’re probably top-three hardest playing teams in the league at this point. To have a record like that and still come out and play with the tenaciousness and edge that they do, it’s a credit to them.”

Turning a corner/stepping back: Denzel Valentine had a second straight strong performance after Friday night’s showing against Orlando, scoring a season-high 16 points and hitting four of seven from 3-point range.

He was the only efficient scorer the Bulls had and Hoiberg said they ran their offense through Valentine in the fourth quarter, although the Pelicans outscored the Bulls 26-19.

“I like making big time plays, especially when my team is depending on me,” Valentine said. “So whenever my number is called, I just step up to the plate and deliver. I thought we should’ve won.”

Had the Bulls taken better care of the ball, they would’ve given themselves a better chance at a second straight win. But that old bugaboo reappeared, as Kris Dunn committed four turnovers in nearly 17 minutes.

His aggressiveness is in sharp contrast to Grant, as he presses the envelope at every opportunity. But finding the balance will be a season long challenge, as he’s had at least four turnovers in each of his four games this season.

Taking hold of that starting spot doesn’t seem as assured as it did when he was making big plays and showing emotion in Miami, spurring a quality effort on the road.

Hoiberg made note of Dunn’s giveaways, referencing players trying to make passes in tight spaces where a safer play could better apply.

“We need to do better with that, of taking care of that,” Hoiberg said.

Grant put together one of his better statistical performances as a Bull, with 14 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in 36 minutes. He made a critical steal on Cousins in the final minute, leading to Lopez’ missed layup.

He could’ve been the hero Saturday night.

Bobby’s back: It’s been eight games, which means Bobby Portis will return to the Bulls active lineup Tuesday in Toronto after his suspension from punching Nikola Mirotic.

Portis has to leave the arena two hours before every game so he hasn’t been around to watch the games in person, but he’s been practicing through his suspension. And no, he won't start, meaning Markkanen's place at power forward is secure.

“He’s been practicing and that’ll all be discussed here in the next couple days, what we’ll do in the Toronto game,” Hoiberg said. “The biggest thing is try to go out with the guys we have available. We’ll get that figured out in the next few days. He’s working extremely hard. When everything happened we had to put together makeshift lineups, so those guys were getting most of the reps in practices.”

Mirotic is doing more physical activity, going from riding a stationary bike to doing pool work over the past week but he’s still several weeks away from even beginning to think of stepping on the floor.

And then again, there’s that trade request from Mirotic that hasn’t been rescinded.

So even when it’s over, it’s not really over.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-Pelicans

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls-Pelicans

Back to back

Fred Hoiberg's young group has dealt with plenty early in the season. Not having Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis crippled the frontcourt depth. Cameron Payne is still out and Kris Dunn is just returning from a dislocated finger. The Bulls have already faced the Cavaliers, Spurs and Thunder....and the Raptors and Heat are nothing to scoff at, either.

One thing Hoiberg's group hasn't faced yet? A back to back. Saturday night will mark the first time this young, inexperienced group has played two straight nights. Yes, fresh legs compared to older teams make this easier, but it's also mentally taxing to compete for 48 minutes two nights in a row. The good news is the Pelicans will also be on the second half of a back-to-back. They, like just about every team the Bulls will face this year, are more experienced.

Boogie and The Brow

It hasn't resulted in many wins for the Pelicans, but there isn't a better 1-2 punch talent-wise in the NBA than Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Entering Friday night's action, Davis and Cousins were ranked 2nd and 6th, respectively, in PER. The raw numbers are just absurd, so we'll let them do the talking:

Davis: 27.1 points, 12.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 53.2% FG

Cousins: 30.1 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.3 blocks, 2.1 steals, 48.8% FG

Yeah. Not bad, fellas.

Lauri's biggest test yet...and it ain't close

So the Bulls are on a back-to-back. And they'll face the best 1-2 frontcourt in the entire NBA. Guess what that means? Lauri Markkanen gets the steepest test to date, and maybe the toughest one he'll face all year long. Markkanen has shown he's up to the task thus far, but with Davis hounding him all night he'll likely need to defer to his teammates to get the job done.

20 crazy (or are they...?) predictions for the NBA season

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USA TODAY

20 crazy (or are they...?) predictions for the NBA season

1. The Golden State Warriors will be better than ever this season and will repeat as NBA champions...but will have big time bumps on the road in the Western Conference.

2. Kevin Durant will be better and win his second Most Valuable Player award, even though Steph Curry is still the arbiter for Golden State’s culture.

3. LeBron James will add to his resume as being one of the top five players ever, if not higher, but won’t catch Michael Jordan for total MVPs (five)...

4. ...and Cleveland had better enjoy him this year, because come July, he’s headed out of Ohio.

5. Speaking of headed out of town, a coach will be fired after a year of leaguewide stability, for an underachieving team in the underachieving Eastern Conference...

6. ...In other words, Fred Hoiberg is safe!

7. The Eastern Conference tank-a-thon will be both ugly and necessary for a couple teams in desperate need of lottery luck, including the Bulls.

8. One of the tank-a-thon teams won’t have the stomach for the losing and will make a panic move, especially when incoming college stars Michael Porter Jr or Marvin Bagley show the slightest signs of struggling.

9. Lonzo Ball will look like a point guard in the mold of Jason Kidd, a guy everyone will flock to play with...and not even LaVar Ball can screw that up.

10. But he’ll try because he won’t shut up...and we’ll never stop listening.

10. Dennis Smith Jr. will be the best incoming rookie, but Ben Simmons will win Rookie of the Year in Philadelphia.

11. Kyrie Irving will formally enter the conversation as one of the league’s best point guards, in part because Brad Stevens will help him become a better facilitator...

12. Irving is (bear with me Chicago’s own Isiah Thomas) the greatest scorer in terms of skill set from the point guard spot in the history of the league

13. For different reasons, Russell Westbrook and James Harden will struggle with their new “helpful” teammates…But will be hell on earth in a seven-game series.

14. Remember this name: Caris Levert from the Brooklyn Nets.

15. Giannis Antetokounmpo was on my top-five MVP ballot last season…he’ll be higher this time around.

16. Jabari Parker will be traded from the Bucks this year, perhaps before he returns from injury…

17. Big names will be on the trading block from the center spot: DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Andre Drummond.

18. Drummond, though, will have a bounceback year in Detroit and improve from the free-throw line.

19. This year will prove the Bulls didn’t get enough in trading Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves (or TimberBulls/TimberTibs)...

20. But Zach LaVine will show he’s more than deserving of a max contract when he returns from injury.