What to watch for: Bulls look to extend two-game win streak with Warriors in town

What to watch for: Bulls look to extend two-game win streak with Warriors in town

The Bulls get a shot at revenge against the lowly Warriors Friday night in Chicago. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Warriors’ last five (1-4)

  • Dec. 4 — L at Hornets: 106-91

  • Dec. 2 — L at Atlanta: 104-79

  • Dec. 1 — L at Magic: 100-96

  • Nov. 29 — L at Heat: 122-105

  • Nov. 27 — W vs. Bulls: 104-90

One storyline for each team

After defeating the Bulls 104-90 in San Francisco on Nov. 27, the Warriors embarked on a five-game road trip that has featured visits to Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, and now Chicago. Their first four stops ended in losses of varying severity to competition of varying quality (though mostly subpar). Tonight, they cap that swing with their fifth game in eight nights against the Bulls. D’Angelo Russell is back — he returned in their last game against the Hornets and dropped 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting — but that’s about all Golden State has going for them right now.

This goes without saying, but the Bulls need to pounce on this game — an eminently winnable one — especially with a road-and-home back-to-back against the Heat and Raptors looming early next week. In each of the two games of their current win streak (against the Kings and Grizzlies) they’ve gotten out to commanding first-half leads, then allowed their opponent to claw their way back late in the game. Their offensive execution down the stretch of the last two has been sublime (thanks, Zach LaVine), but substantive progress would mean a comfortable win, at home, tonight — especially having already lost to this Warriors team this season.

In the event that this game isn't comfortable (which feels more likely), look out for another Zach LaVine takeover. He's averaging an NBA-leading 10.3 points per game in fourth quarters since Nov. 23 (Charlotte game), shooting 54.3% from the field (5.8 attempts) and 68.8% from three (2.7 attempts). Him catching fire isn't something you want to miss.

Player to watch: D’Angelo Russell

Russell presents a challenge unlike any the Bulls faced when they played this team a little over a week ago. He's a crafty ball-handler, and can pull and drain from long-range from any spot, at any time and under any amount of durress. When he plays, the ball is in his hands a staggering amount — per Cleaning the Glass, his 34.8% usage rate is in the 98th percentile of ball-handlers in the league.

The Bulls have the personnel to hone in and give him fits, between Tomas Satoransky and Kris Dunn — if their length and activity can get Russell out of rhythm, the rest of the Warriors mistfit-laden roster will have to beat them. Granted, Golden State has done it before, and in convincing fashion for that matter. But the Bulls hope two straight encouraging performances in a row are an indication of things to come. This is also a great game to monitor how the Bulls defend Russell's pick-and-roll; he's currently averaging 3.3 turnovers per game.

Final point: Russell's misadventures on the defensive side of the ball are well-documented, so look for LaVine and Satoransky to attempt to feast on that end, as well. The Bulls mustered only 90 points against the Warriors 27th-rated defense on Nov. 27, but LaVine and Satoransky were lone bright spots, accounting for 45 combined points and seven threes.

Matchup to watch: The paint

One of the smudges on the Bulls' 106-99 win over the Grizzlies on Wendesday was the performance of Jonas Valanciunas, who totaled 32 points and 13 rebounds in his first game back from illness. He was absolutely bruising, and the Grizzlies racked up 52 points in the paint (compared to the Bulls' 32). That number is well above the Bulls' season average of 49.9 points allowed in the paint per game, which ranks 23rd in the NBA.

That figure might surprise some, given that the team anchors its defense with a versatile and heady center in Wendell Carter Jr. and a jumpy shot-blocking backup in Daniel Gafford. Jim Boylen has pointed to isolated blocks from Gafford and Carter, as well as 'our guys competed'-isms when asked about their struggles in that department. The Warriors have a roster stilted towards bigs and interior forwards, and notched 52 points in the paint in their last matchup with the Bulls, behind solid performances from Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman and Marquese Chriss. Thad Young missing tonight's game with a personal issue won't help here.

Further, these aren't your mother's Warriors. They're not a prolific shooting team and don't have the same plethora of perimeter shot-creators they once did. They're going to try to out-muscle the Bulls tonight, as they did on Nov. 27, and it's worth monitoring how much resistance the hosts put up.

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Bad news on the Otto Porter Jr. front today: The Bulls starting small forward and most solid wing defender suffered another setback, as a repeat MRI revealed a continued bone edema (i.e. swelling) in his left foot. He’ll be re-evaluated in another two weeks. Chandler Hutchison is still working out and running — and getting better each day, according to Boylen — but there remains no precise timetable on his return.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Steve Kerr has unique perspective on Warriors current plight

steve_kerr.jpg
USA TODAY

Steve Kerr has unique perspective on Warriors current plight

Steve Kerr knows a thing or two about NBA dynasties.

Kerr was an important part of the Bulls’ second three-peat team, hitting the shot in Game 6 against the Jazz in the 1997 Finals that clinched championship No. 5. He also set the NBA record for best three-point percentage in a single season, hitting an amazing 52.4 percent of his attempts in 1994-95. 

After the breakup of the Bulls’ dynasty following the 1997-98 season, Kerr moved on to San Antonio in a sign-and-trade deal. He contributed to the rise of a new dynasty in the West, winning two rings with the Spurs as a reserve for Gregg Popovich in 1999 and 2003. 

Kerr spent time as an award-winning broadcaster for NBA games on TNT and then a front office executive for the Suns before getting into coaching. Wisely, he turned down an offer from his former coach, Phil Jackson, to coach the Knicks, choosing instead to replace Mark Jackson with another rising power out west.

Under Kerr’s direction, the Warriors made it to five straight Finals between 2015 and 2019, winning three championships along the way. But the 2019 Finals brought a sudden and painful end to the Warriors’ dynasty with Kevin Durant suffering a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in Game 5 against the Raptors and Klay Thompson tearing an ACL in Game 6. 

Durant left the Warriors in free agency last summer, while Thompson faces a lengthy rehab from his surgery. Key reserve Andre Iguodala was traded to the Grizzlies to free up cap space and Shaun Livingston retired.

The Warriors knew they would have a target on their backs this season, with teams looking to get some payback for all the lopsided defeats they took at the hands of Golden State over the last five seasons. And we all know the Warriors weren’t shy about rubbing it in with their over-the-top on-court celebrations. 

Still, the Warriors figured to be competitive. The front office acquired All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell from the Nets in a sign-and-trade deal to facilitate Durant’s free agent move. With two-time MVP Steph Curry and versatile two-way forward Draymond Green still on board, Golden State looked like a playoff team.

But then the roof caved in. Underrated center Kevon Looney went out with an injury, and Curry suffered a broken hand in the fourth game of the season. Green and Russell have also been hurt, forcing Kerr to play a lineup loaded with untested young players.

As a result, the Warriors have taken their lumps, currently owning the worst record in the NBA at 4-19. Kerr talked with NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson on Thursday about the challenges he faces coaching such an inexperienced, young squad.

But unlike the Bulls’ post-dynasty roster, all is not lost for the Warriors. Curry will be back sometime in the spring and Thompson might also return to play some games when his rehab is done, although it’s looking more likely he’ll be held out until next season. 

The “Splash Brothers” are still young enough to be a part of another contending team in the Bay Area. The Warriors will decide whether Russell is a good fit to play alongside Curry and Thompson, and if not, he’ll be a valuable trade piece. 

Plus, the franchise could wind up with the best odds to earn the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft. Remember what happened in San Antonio when David Robinson suffered a season-ending injury in 1996 and the Spurs finished with a 20-62 record? That one year dip into the lottery resulted in the No. 1 pick that turned out to be Tim Duncan, and the Spurs’ dynasty was born. 

There doesn’t appear to a Duncan-type talent in next year’s draft, but a shot-blocking, athletic big man like Memphis center James Wiseman would fit perfectly next to Curry, Thompson and Green. The Warriors also have a brand new arena in downtown San Francisco and an aggressive ownership group that will help attract veteran free agents to sign minimum contracts for a possible shot at a championship. 

So, Steve Kerr will bide his time, and try to develop young players Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman and others. Sure, this season will be brutal, but don’t be surprised if the Warriors are back as a top 4 team in the West in 2020-21. 

You can bet Kerr will get a warm ovation from Bulls fans Friday night at the United Center and he’ll continue to say all the right things about the satisfaction that comes from teaching a young team about life in the NBA. But deep down, Kerr’s competitive fire still burns and he’s looking forward to making a run at championship ring No. 9, maybe as soon as next season. 

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Steve Kerr stays positive, keeps perspective with new Warriors' challenge

kerr-1113.jpg
USA TODAY

Steve Kerr stays positive, keeps perspective with new Warriors' challenge

Kevin Durant chose to leave for the Nets in free agency. Klay Thompson faced rehabilitation after tearing his left ACL during Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Yes, Steve Kerr knew this Warriors season would be different.

But nobody knew that Steph Curry would break his left hand and be sidelined until likely after the All-Star break at the earliest. Nobody knew D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors’ prized offseason acquisition, would miss nine games with a sprained right thumb.

But just as he kept perspective and an even keel throughout the Warriors’ dynasty, which produced three championships and five straight trips to the NBA Finals, the ever-grounded Kerr is doing the same with a team that lugs a league-worst 4-19 mark into Friday’s meeting with the Bulls.

“I’m enjoying coaching the young guys and going through the details of what they need to learn and helping them develop,” Kerr said in an interview following Thursday’s practice at University of Illinois Chicago. “I basically survived my whole career. I was never really in a position where I felt like, ‘OK, I’ve made it.’ From year to year, it was just survival. So I can relate to a lot of these young guys and I can relate a lot of experiences to them. That’s a satisfying process when you see them do well.”

That said, Kerr is a competitor. There’s a broken clipboard and some bloody towels from last Wednesday’s home victory over the Bulls to prove it.

So the teaching element may be rewarding. The losing?

“It sucks. It sucks,” Kerr said, repeating himself for emphasis. “We’re 1-8 in close games. That’s part of having a young team, learning how to close games. That part of it is a struggle.

“You want your players to feel rewarded when they play well. We had a stretch of two weeks where we played well every night and we had one win to show for it. And that was Chicago. It’s frustrating to walk in the locker room and see guys with their heads down because you know how hard they’re working and how much they want it.”

Kerr experienced a dynasty as a player with the Bulls and as a coach with the Warriors. Invariably throughout last season, he’d remind anyone willing to listen to savor how special those times are.

Does he think people listened?

“No,” he said, laughing. “It’s human nature to think we’re going to win it again and we’re going to keep going forever. Life changes quickly.

“I talked not only to the media and our fans but to our team. Last year there were several times when I said, ‘This is going to be our best chance to win a championship.’ We’ve got an incredible opportunity that may never come up again. That’s something that’s important for everybody to realize---fans, management, players. It is lightning in a bottle. You can do everything perfectly and you still may not get to where you think you might be.”

The Warriors’ dynasty may be over. But with Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green still under contract, an attractive young piece in Russell and a huge trade exception from the Andre Iguodala deal, the Warriors are solidly positioned for the future.

And if this season produces a lottery pick, well, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Until then, Kerr keeps coaching and teaching. Thursday’s film session and practice stretched to the 2 1/2-hour mark.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys. Draymond has been fantastic, basically helping coach the team and talking guys through different situations. They’ve been thrown in the fire every day. It’s not easy. But they’re doing a good job,” Kerr said. “We have to figure it out as a staff: How much do you throw at them? Too much information sometimes can be a bad thing. And so we have to find the balance. We also can’t not give them the information that they need. It’s just maybe doing it sequentially and maybe finding the right order and plugging holes as you go.

“The NBA game is so different. These days, players come in at such a young age. There’s just an awful lot of fundamental stuff you have to break down on a daily basis as a young team. That’s the biggest difference for us as a staff between having a young team and having vets. It’s a different daily routine for sure.”

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.