Paul Hudrick

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Picture yourself at 19 years old.

Maybe you were in college. Maybe you hit the job market early.

What you likely weren’t doing was guarding one the NBA’s best centers in your first professional game.

That was the task charged to Wendell Carter Jr. in the Bulls’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.

Carter Jr. was the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft after just one season at Duke. He earned the start in his NBA debut after an impressive preseason, but nothing could’ve prepared him for going up against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Carter Jr. said when asked if Embiid was as impressive as he thought he’d be. “He’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of, or the best, big man in the league. Very skilled, very poised. He knows his spots on the court.

“I didn’t go out there with my best effort. It’s just a learning experience for me.”

Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 20 minutes. He also picked up four fouls, which the rookie attributed to the physicality and craftiness of Embiid.

But he did flash the impressive and varied skill set that made him a high pick and such a coveted prospect. He was also able to garner the praise of the Bulls’ veterans.

“Even though Wendell got in foul trouble he was still playing (Embiid) solid,” Zach LaVine, who scored a team-high 30 points, said. “That’s a tough first game right there. But he didn’t lack for confidence. Made him take some tough shots, but he’s going to make them. He’s that type of player.”

To his credit, Carter Jr. was candid about his performance. He admitted that his emotions ran the gamut from nervous to excited to happy.

In a season that will have its ups and downs as the young Bulls develop and learn, there will likely be more games like this against other elite NBA competition. It’ll be how Carter Jr. responds that will define his career.

“It’s the first game so I don’t want to put too much on myself,” Carter Jr. said. “It would be different if it was like the 50th game or 60th game. It’s the first game. We’re just going to move on from it. We’ve got our home opener on Saturday (vs. the Pistons). That’s where my mind is right now.”

See, he’s learning already.

Zach LaVine, Bobby Portis show offensive promise in opener: 'That's what we expect'

Zach LaVine, Bobby Portis show offensive promise in opener: 'That's what we expect'

PHILADELPHIA -- It’s not a surprise to see Zach LaVine leading the Bulls’ offense.

The $78-million man was terrific despite a 127-108 loss to the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday. LaVine poured in 30 points on 11 of 19 from the field.

What may come as a surprise is the brilliance of Bobby Portis. Portis was excellent in his own right, recording 20 points and 11 boards while playing his usual aggressive brand of basketball.

Unfortunately, both players found themselves in foul trouble early in the second half as Philadelphia started to impose its will with a 19-3 run to start the third quarter.

The Bulls got off to a blazing hot start, scoring 41 points in the opening quarter. They trailed by just seven at the half thanks in large part to LaVine and Portis. The duo worked well together in the pick-and-roll, at times confusing the 76ers on how exactly to play it.

“I expect that,” LaVine said when asked about the team’s early offensive output. “That’s what I expect from myself and I know Bobby is right there with me. Bobby had it going and that’s what he’s been doing for the last year or so, too, so that’s what we expect.”

Perhaps the play of Portis shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering his success against Philadelphia in his career. He tallied a career-high 38 points in a one-point loss to the Sixers last season. He’s also shot 55 percent against them for his career in 11 games coming into tonight, his second-highest mark against any team.

With rookie Wendell Carter Jr. struggling in his first NBA start, Portis saw some time at the five, something Hoiberg alluded to as a possibility prior to the game. Portis earned the start in place of the injured Lauri Markkanen with an impressive preseason. His play carried over into opening night.

Portis may not be long for the starting lineup once Markkanen returns, but he certainly showed his worth Thursday.

As for LaVine, he showed flashes of a guy that can be the focal point of an offense. While he had the jumper working, his finishes around the rim were more impressive. Especially when you consider a few of them came against Joel Embiid, the runner up for Defensive Player of the Year last season.

“I love Zach’s attack,” Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought, especially early in the game, he didn’t settle for shots. He was getting around his guy and seeking contact and doing a good job getting to the free throw line.”

The Bulls weren’t expected to win this game and will experience plenty of growing pains this season – especially while the injuries continue to pile up.

What Bulls fans can glean from opening night is that the team’s investment in a healthy LaVine may prove to be money well spent.

 “Yeah, man,” LaVine said after he was asked if he’s feeling healthier than he did last year. “A year after tearing my ACL I feel like I’m back to myself – athletically, speed-wise, quickness. I’ve got my legs under me. I just needed y’all to give me a little bit of time.

“I was about 70 percent last year and I think I did alright. I feel good now. It feels good to be back in my own skin again.”

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

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USA TODAY

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.

Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.”

The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.

“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”

Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne.

He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.

“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”

After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.

The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.

“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”