Bulls

Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

Through the opening week of the NBA season, Hornets' All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and former Bull Niko Mirotic share the league scoring lead, averaging 33 points per game.

Bulls' fans have seen these hot stretches from Niko before, and chances are he'll start moving down to the mid to high-teens before long. But Walker is a big-time scorer who's quietly emerged as one of the most consistently productive point guards in a league loaded with stars at that position. He's averaged over 20 points and 5 assists in each of the last three seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team twice.

Last season, Walker lit up the Bulls for 47 points in an overtime loss at the United Center in November, making some of the most difficult shots you can imagine to keep his team in the game. He seems to be as this best when facing the Bulls and you can bet Fred Hoiberg and his staff will pull out all the stops to try to slow him down, especially with defensive ace Kris Dunn out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained left MCL in his season debut on Monday.

The Hornets made some personnel changes since last season. The one-year experiment with Dwight Howard at center is over. Howard put up solid numbers for Charlotte a year ago, but didn't make much difference in the win-loss column, so he's moved on to Washington in his NBA odyssey. Cody Zeller is now the starting center, backed up by Bismack Biyombo and former Benet Academy and University of Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky.

Charlotte tried to improve the athleticism on their roster by selecting Malik Monk and Miles Bridges in the first rounds of the last two drafts. Monk is getting more playing time this season, averaging 13.5 points in the Hornets' first four games. Bridges is averaging just under 16 minutes a game as a backup to starting forwards Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. Just like he did at Michigan State, Bridges is providing those highlight reel putback dunks, but it remains to be seen whether he'll develop a consistent enough outside shot to be a quality starter in the NBA.

The well-traveled Jeremy Lamb is now starting in the backcourt with Walker, and the Hornets brought in long-time Spurs' point guard Tony Parker to add some much needed experience and veteran savvy off the bench. Given the current state of the Eastern Conference (post-LeBron), it's not out of the question for this group to contend for one of the final playoff spots.

Here's what the Bulls need to do for a shot at their first win of the season. This also applies to the rematch in Charlotte on Friday.

1. CORRAL KEMBA. For whatever reason, seeing that Bulls' logo turns Walker into an almost unstoppable scoring machine. Walker is adept at working off his big men, either in straight pick and rolls or cutting through the post on give-and-go plays. He's one of the league's most creative scorers, and doesn't require much room to get his shot off. The Bulls' bigs will have to provide help on Walker whenever he comes off screens to keep him from taking over the game.

2. PUT THE BALL IN ZACH'S HANDS. Whether he's playing shooting guard or point guard, Zach LaVine needs to be the primary facilitator with Dunn sidelined. LaVine scored 34 points against Dallas Monday night on just 15 shots, which led to him questioning some of the offensive sets that were run in the 2nd half. LaVine told reporters on Tuesday that he smoothed things over with his head coach, explaining his comments were the result of the frustration he was feeling after a third-straight loss to open the season. Still, LaVine is on a major hot streak, joining Bulls' all-time greats Michael Jordan and Bob Love as the only players to start the year with three straight games scoring at least 30 points. The Bulls will need to ride that hot hand for as far as LaVine can carry them.

3. DEFEND THE 3-POINT LINE. You knew I would eventually get to this, right? Dallas made 15 of 47 3-point attempts on Monday after the Pistons knocked down 18 of 40 in a two-point win last Saturday. The Hornets have all kinds of capable 3-point shooters in Walker, Lamb, Monk, Batum and Williams (they're shooting .397 as a team on 3's), so guarding the arc will be crucial for the Bulls to have a chance at their first win.

Don’t forget you can catch Wednesday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and the new MyTeams by NBC sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 pm when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Kelly Crull join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Neil Funk and Stacey King have the play-by-play call at 7 pm, then stay tuned after the final buzzer for Bulls Postgame Live and the always entertaining Bulls Outsiders.

Bulls observations: Coby White, Zach LaVine, Thad Young lead way to much-needed win

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USA TODAY

Bulls observations: Coby White, Zach LaVine, Thad Young lead way to much-needed win

The Bulls snapped a drawn-out eight-game losing streak in beating the Wizards 126-117 on Sunday. The offense fired on all cylinders, Coby White continued his torrid stretch and Bradley Beal dropped a 50-burger, but overall, it was a next man up type of night. Some observations:

Coby White is developing before our very eyes

Have to tip the cap to Jim Boylen on insisting to continue to bring Coby White off the bench, even amid widespread injuries. White has flourished in that role out of the All-Star break.

Against Phoenix on Saturday, White posted a career-high 33 points with seven 3-pointers. Tonight, he wasted no time continuing that momentum with 16 points in seven first-quarter minutes (26 points in the first half). White matched that this evening, finishing with 33 points on 11-for-18 (5-for-9 from 3), and a game-high +16.

 

The flashes embedded in that impressive statline were all the more tantalizing. There was a sequence in the first quarter where White flew by but recovered to contest a missed Bradley Beal 3-pointer, then nabbed the rebound and flashed coast-to-coast, finishing through contact on the other end (his burst off live rebounds and steals is eye-popping).

A turnaround, fading and-one jumper. That buzzer beater to end the first. A one-handed, crosscourt dime that resulted in a Ryan Arcidiacono 3. On multiple occasions, White attacked mismatches and got to the rim with gumption. His defensive rotations have (mostly) been their crispest of late, and he’s shooting and moving decisively on-ball on the offensive end. 

This should excite Bulls fans tremendously. White’s rookie season has meandered to this point, but if this is the start of a tear down the stretch, we could exit this season with at least one marked positive.

Thad Young continues to be a bright spot

Thad Young isn’t a 20-year-old potential cornerstone of the franchise, but his improvements over the season are certainly worth appreciating, specifically shooting the ball.

After beginning the season ice-cold from long range, Young has brought his 3-point shooting percentage up to around the league average — entering play, his season-long mark was 35.1% and since Jan. 1, he was shooting 39% from deep on 3.3 attempts per game. Those figures will continue to rise after Sunday; Young notched a season-high 25 points with six rebounds and three steals on 9-for-15 shooting (5-for-7 from deep) in 30 minutes against the Wiz.

Overall, Young is now averaging 14 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals (the defense has always been steady) since moving to the starting lineup in place of the injured Lauri Markkanen — shooting 53.5% from the floor — and has scored in double figures in 13 straight games. Asked what’s behind his improved play the other night, Young’s response was simple: “More minutes.” He’s averaging 31.3 of those since sliding into the starting lineup.

Zach LaVine doesn’t back down from a challenge

When Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal — two of the preeminent scoring guards in the Eastern Conference — square off, there’s bound to be sparks. They delivered tonight, trading buckets early and often, and jawing at each other (good-naturedly) throughout.

LaVine finished the night 32 points on 11-for-20 shooting, scoring 10 with a timely steal in the fourth; Beal topped that with 53 points of his own, but LaVine owned the stretch run. They’re fun and good.

Oh, and LaVine went record shopping. With his third (of six) 3-pointers Sunday, he broke Ben Gordon’s franchise record for 3s made in a season of 173. LaVine’s at 177 and counting.

 

A prideful performance

Hey, the Bulls got back in the win column! And they did it on the second night of a back-to-back following a really tough loss — even by their standards — to Phoenix the night before. 

The Bulls shot well (55.6% from the field), re-found their defensive identity (forcing 24 turnovers and scoring 23 points off them) and stymied multiple second half swoons to eventually emerge victorious. White, LaVine and Young combined for 90 points, with Satoransky chipping in 15 points and 13 assists — another strong performance against his old team. Even the rotational weirdness was fun; on multiple occasions, Boylen turned to five-guard lineups with Gafford and Cristiano Felicio perpetual foul trouble threats. 

Above all: The eight-game losing streak mercifully ceases.

Of course, these are the Wizards (the lowest-rated defense in the NBA) — though refreshing, this victory doesn’t change much about the long-term fate of this season. But a blowout victory is a nice change of pace nevertheless.

Back at the UC to cap the homestand versus the Thunder on Tuesday.

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.

A defiant Jim Boylen doubles down on his usage of late-game timeouts

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USA Today

A defiant Jim Boylen doubles down on his usage of late-game timeouts

Jim Boylen’s late-game timeouts while facing seemingly insurmountable deficits are here to stay.

“We were down eight (points) with 40 seconds to go in Charlotte and won. So it does happen,” Boylen said. “But I can see where people would think it's unnecessary. That’s OK.”

That Boylen allowed for some questioning of his late-game tactics is the only change in this lingering story. They’ve become a larger story because, for the second time this season, cameras showed Zach LaVine expressing frustration or bewilderment over the move.

Following Boylen’s latest example of the practice — with the Bulls down 10 and 40 seconds to go in Saturday’s loss to the Suns — the coach disputed the assertion that his players are frustrated by his unconventional tactics. Nevertheless, he met with LaVine before LaVine addressed reporters late Saturday.

“[LaVine]'s frustrated. I think our team is frustrated. Nobody likes to lose games. We’re competitive people. I coach to the end of games. You guys know that. Could some people judge look at that timeout as unnecessary? Of course they can. You can judge it any way you want,” Boylen said before Sunday’s game versus the Wizards. “He’s a fighter. We’re going to fight to the end. I’m going to coach our guys to the end. I think there’s a misconception that Zach and I only talk when there’s something good to talk about or something bad to talk about. We talk all the time. I think it’s a healthy, productive relationship.”

Boylen said LaVine told him that he’s the coach and can call timeout whenever he wants, which squares with what LaVine told reporters. But LaVine also admitted to it being hard to stay locked in for developmental timeouts in the face of such large deficits, not to mention the constant losing.

Nevertheless, Boylen downplayed LaVine’s public reactions.

“You can video me on a 2-on-1 when we turn it over and I make an expression. You can video me on a wide-open 3-pointer we miss and then on the other end they make a contested three and I make an expression. You can do that on every clip and every situation,” Boylen said. “[Setting the tone is] all I’ve been trying to do. I did it last year. I did it this year. We’re trying to establish that we’re going to play until the end and we’re going to compete. We’ve had some tremendous comeback wins this year where we’ve kept playing so I think the guys get that. But I think what we can’t do is not expect people to be frustrated with a losing streak or a home loss. That’s a healthy thing that there’s frustration. It’s a healthy thing that you’ve got competitive people that are upset that we’re hurt and we’re fighting to win games.”

Boylen said the front office supports his practice of coaching to the end.

“I talked to (executive vice president) John (Paxson) this morning. We talk every day,” Boylen said. “I told him, 'I'm gonna coach these guys hard. John (said), ‘Keep doing what you're doing.' It's what we have to do.

“Is there a chance where maybe I'm more competitive in those situations? I think I have to own that.”

Asked if it’s almost defiance, Boylen agreed.

“That I don't want to lose? Yeah. I don't like losing,” he said. “We had a 17-point lead. I thought we played our hearts out — shorthanded — and we battled, got the game back under control. We're up 1 with 7 minutes to go and we didn't play very well the last seven minutes, but yeah I'm hanging onto that.”

Boylen also called a timeout in Toronto in the waning moments on Super Bowl Sunday with the Bulls down over 20 points. A Raptors broadcaster rebuked Boylen for the move.

But Boylen on Sunday reiterated what he said that day, that the timeout was for developmental purposes.

“The thing in Toronto is a different situation. How many ATOs you think Adam Mokoka has had drawn up for him? So that’s a totally different situation — coaching a guy that’s part of our development program, is in a situation he’s never been in and to have something run for him, I think that’s important,” Boylen said. “I don’t worry about if (criticism) is fair or not. I’ve got a job to do. I don’t listen to the cheers and I don’t listen to the boos and I don’t listen to the negativity. I don’t do it. I’ve got a job to do, and I’m going to keep doing it.”

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