Bulls

Bulls take tunnel vision approach to Charlotte for opener vs. Hornets

Bulls take tunnel vision approach to Charlotte for opener vs. Hornets

The significance of his first opening night as head coach? Jim Boylen wasn’t biting.

Opening with four of five games against teams that didn’t make last season’s playoffs, including Wednesday night in Charlotte, N.C.? Boylen steered clear of that.

Addressing the goal stated on media day to make the playoffs? Lauri Markkanen added a qualifier.

“No promises,” he said. “But that’s the goal, for sure.”

The Bulls officially closed training camp Tuesday with a one-game-at-a-time and bunker mentality that would make any fan of clichés proud. They’re focused on the Hornets---and nothing of greater significance for now.

“We don’t talk about playoff team, non-playoff team. We’re talking about Charlotte,” Boylen said. “We’re going to play as hard as we can against Charlotte. That’s what we can control. And then we’ll move on.”

Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are scheduled to start. Chandler Hutchison, who increased his on-court work but has yet to practice because of a hamstring issue, is the only injured player. Boylen said he’d announce his other inactive player besides Hutchison Wednesday.

“I just want to help the team,” Boylen said, elaborating on the significance of his first opening night as head coach. “As a head coach, sometimes you help them and sometimes you let them help themselves. I want to be there for them, support them. Hopefully we honor our principles. We do our basics better, the best we can, and see what happens.”

Boylen wouldn’t touch the subject. But even with all four games against last season’s non-playoff teams coming on the road, getting off to a fast start is essential.

Beyond the fact it will continue the good vibes that began with a widely praised offseason and through voluntary September workouts, the Bulls are relatively healthy. And the close to their schedule offers some brutal tests, so building a cushion early would bolster playoff talk.

“That’s what we’re trying to do---start off strong,” Markkanen said. “That sets the pace for the rest of the year. We’re going one game at a time, but it’s really important for us to get these.”

The Bulls visit Memphis to face a rebuilding Grizzlies team and No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant on Friday. They will navigate the two-game trip following a preseason in which they played at a faster pace than last season and averaged 39.4 3-pointers per game. That ranked ninth in the league after finishing 27th with just 25.9 attempts last season.

“I think we get a ton of open looks,” Markkanen said. “I’ve had good looks and my teammates have as well. We’re playing unselfish basketball, sharing the ball, making the extra pass. I think it’s going to help us.”

Despite all the optimism and addition of 12-year veteran Thad Young, the Bulls remain young, the league’s second-youngest team behind the Suns. Questions about depth and defensive efficiency are legitimate.

The tests start for real Wednesday.

“I’ve seen a group of guys that want to do the right things,” Boylen said. “It’s a high character group. It’s a willing group. Our care factor is high and I expect for us to care for each other, play for each other, sacrifice for each other. I think we’ll do that well.” 

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Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

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USA Today

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Just over two hours before tipoff, in his first public comments since Media Day, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked about how Jim Boylen’s teaching and coaching hasn’t always translated from the practice floor and film room to games.

Could the Bulls’ first victory this season over a winning team be a step?

And don’t mention that the Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the Bulls’ 109-106 victory, secured on Zach LaVine’s three-point play with 2 seconds to play.

“Well, we didn’t have (Otto Porter Jr.) or Hutch (Chandler Hutchison) or (Daniel) Gafford,” Boylen said. “So we can ‘Yeah, but’ it a little bit too.”

Bravado aside, there’s stuff on which the Bulls can build here.

LaVine posted his sixth 30-point game and ended a week filled with closing misses with a game-winner in which he powered through a Montrezl Harrell foul on a nice misdirection play involving Kris Dunn. Lauri Markkanen tied his season-high with 17 rebounds while posting his third double-double of the season. Denzel Valentine, playing all but two seconds of the fourth, hit a huge tying 3-pointer in the final minute and scored a season-high 16 points. Thad Young tied his season-high with 17 points.

And Dunn was everywhere, relishing the challenge of guarding Paul George down the stretch and winning a crucial battle for a 50-50 ball that led to Valentine’s tying shot.

“That was a huge moment,” Boylen said.

So was Valentine closing a game.

“I just thought we needed some more shooting on the floor,” Boylen said. “We’ve wrestled with defensive lineups, offensive lineups. We try to mingle them a little bit. I just thought we needed someone to make a big shot. And he did.”

Valentine has now scored in double figures off the bench in five of six games.

“I’m very confident in my abilities,” Valentine said. “I was just waiting for the ball to come my way. Zach is our best player. So the ball’s going to be in his hands. But shoot, I’m ready for it. I love those moments. I love to make those shots.”

Dunn, who finished a plus-22, defended George as he missed a good look for a tying 3-pointer. George scored 10 points in just over 7 minutes in the fourth but missed all three attempts following Valentine’s tying shot.

“I love it,” Dunn said of guarding great players. “I know my niche on this team is to guard. And I take pride in that. It feels good to go against a big-time player and be able to get stops towards the end.”

Markkanen actually received credit for the rebound that Dunn kept alive to lead to Valentine’s tying shot, which Dunn said Markkanen teased him about. Dunn finished with nine points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

But his two biggest plays didn’t even crash the box score. He won the 50-50 ball to lead to Valentine’s tying shot and then confused the Clippers’ defense by slipping a screen on LaVine’s game-winner.

“I knew Zach was going to get downhill,” Dunn said. “Because once I did it, I saw Paul George look at me.”

LaVine couldn’t believe how much space he had to operate.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “Once I saw the lane open up, I think there were like 5 seconds left. We were trying to get the last shot. But once the lane opened up, I tried to get a one-on-one. He’s a tough dude. I knew I could attack his body.”

LaVine missed game-winning attempts on an isolation 3-pointer against the Warriors and over a double-team against the Raptors. His three-point play offered a dose of redemption for a player who is never afraid to fail.

“You’re not going to be perfect. As much as people are going to show more of the bad than the good, I’ve had a lot of good times in the clutch as well,” LaVine said. “I try to make the right play for us to win. And I did that tonight.”

For one night, matters were more positive. The Bulls closed out a game against a good team and received multiple contributions while doing so.

Heck, Boylen even downplayed Paxson’s vote of confidence.

“We understand what we’re trying to do. We’re in step on what we’re asking our guys to do and play like and work like and care like,” the coach said. “I’m thankful for it. But I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

Four observations: Zach LaVine comes up clutch as the Bulls beat the Clippers

Four observations: Zach LaVine comes up clutch as the Bulls beat the Clippers

This Zach LaVine guy might be pretty good, huhThe Bulls beat a depleted Clippers team 109-106 Saturday night at the United Center. Here are some observations:

Bigs bounce back

After enduring a mostly rough night at the office on Friday against Charlotte, the Bulls’ bigs bounced back tonight — at least on the offensive end.

The 'Thad Young Minutes Watch' marches on; he checked in unusually early (at the 7:28 mark of the first) for Wendell Carter, and played extremely well in the first half. His 10 first quarter points (5-for-7 shooting), cutting and general activity undoubtedly sparked the Bulls after a sluggish start. He finished the game with 17 points and 12 shots in 20 minutes.

Wendell Carter Jr. was doing Wendell Carter Jr. things, as well. He had two crucial offensive rebounds in the first half — one he prettily dished straight to Young for a cutting dunk, the other he powered home for a putback. He got into foul trouble late, picking up his fifth foul just two minutes into the fourth quarter, and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. He had a key alley-oop and putback late in the game and finished with 36 minutes.

Lauri Markkanen finished the night with only 13 points and eight field goal attempts but snatched 17 rebounds in 40 minutes of game action. His up-and-down season — both in terms of opportunity and production — continues.

Overall, the Bulls outrebounded the Clippers 50-40 for the game, a surprising result.

The Clippers dominated most of the first half — even without Paul George

For a time, it looked as if Paul George was going to have an easygoing night. He tallied eight first quarter points — and looked smooth in doing so — then didn’t check back in until the 4:08 mark of the second. The Clippers built a 14-point lead without him.

Credit Montrezl Harrell, in large part for that. He ate the Bulls for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in his first half minutes, notching 17 points on 14 field goal attempts (five from the charity stripe) before the break. Jim Boylen talked about needing more ‘physicality’ from his bigs. Harrell hunted one-on-one matchups against them all night (off-the-dribble, in the post, you name it), with Carter being the only Bull to offer much resistance. He finished with a whopping 30 points on 24 shots.

The Bulls starters closed the half on a 17-5 run to pull to within 57-55 at the break — incidentally, that run took place over the course of the 4 minutes, 8 seconds that George logged in the second quarter.

The starters sparked a massive run

That aforementioned spurt carried over, for a time; the Bulls started the second half with a 20-4 run and led 75-61 halfway through the third. The defense tightened up, the offense was free, loose and fluid, and the starters catalyzed it all. LaVine had 10 in the quarter.

Between George checking in in the second quarter and that point in the third, the Bulls outscored the Clippers 37-11, shooting 10-for-16 from the field, compared to 4-for-16 for LA.

But, as with all things — good and bad — that stretch passed, and it passed quickly. After a questionably-timed Boylen timeout with 5:48 left in the period (and the Bulls leading 75-63), the Clippers closed the gap to 84-79 entering the fourth. The Clippers switching to zone defense midway through the period seemed to trip the Bulls up, as well.

A hard-fought fourth quarter finally swings the Bulls’ way

It was Paul George vs. Zach LaVine down the stretch. The winners? The Bulls and everyone watching, both at the United Center and at home.

George entered the fourth quarter only having played 21 minutes and was fresh for the stretch run, scoring 10 in the final period. But he did, crucially, miss a free throw with just over a minute remaining that would have put the Clippers up 107-103. On the next possession, Markkanen tracked down a loose ball of a rebound and kicked to Denzel Valentine for a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to knot the game 106-106. George’s last two field goal attempts of the game were a wild fling at the rim and a bricked iso jumper, both in the final minute.

LaVine had nine points in the fourth (31 for the game), every one monumental. He canned an and-one 3-pointer (missed the free throw) with just over five minutes left in the game that put the Bulls up 96-95. Then, a deep off-the-dribble 3-pointer to pull the Bulls within 105-103. And, of course, the game-winner:

 

It was an exhilarating finish, and a win the Bulls had to have. The blemishes on it are obvious — yes, the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverly, and the defensive lapses and stretches of inconsistency that have plagued the Bulls all season were there, at times. But ultimately, entering their upcoming four-game road trip 10-18 feels a whole lot better than 9-19. (And the Bulls beat a team over .500!) 

On to Oklahoma City on Monday.

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