Bulls

Bulls visit Pelicans in need of a win, but without Wendell Carter Jr.

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USA Today

Bulls visit Pelicans in need of a win, but without Wendell Carter Jr.

Zion Williamson won't return, but the Bulls' matchup with the Pelicans tonight still holds significance. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Pelicans’ last five games (3-2)

  • Jan. 6 — L vs. Jazz: 128-126

  • Jan. 4 — W at Kings: 117-115

  • Jan. 3 — L at Lakers: 123-113

  • Dec. 29 — W vs. Rockets: 127-112

  • Dec. 28 — W vs. Pacers: 120-98

Storyline(s) to watch

The Pelicans enter play 12-25 and ahead of only the Warriors in the Western Conference standings. But don’t be fooled. This is a team on the rise, winners of six of their last nine games and owners of a top-10 offense and defense in the NBA over the span. Even without Jrue Holiday, they’re no pushovers, especially at home, where they’ve notched recent victories over the Pacers and Rockets.

If the Bulls want any hope of keeping pace in the race for the East's eighth seed, this is a must-win. It's not as simple as saying the Pelicans are an inferior, shorthanded opponent — as mentioned, they're playing well and the Bulls will be without Wendell Carter Jr. But there are too many quality opponents on the horizon to drop the winnable ones, especially when a loss tonight would push the Bulls' current losing streak to five.

Player to watch: Brandon Ingram

Are we talking about Brandon Ingram enough? Seriously, he’s blossomed into a pretty unbelievable offensive player this season, one who’s elastic frame and consistent shot creation is sure to give an undersized Bulls wing rotation fits all night. Everything he does, he does efficiently. On the season, he’s averaging 25.2 points (10th in the NBA) and 6.8 rebounds per game on 48/40.4/86.7 shooting splits (18.6 shot attempts per game).

And he’s doing it night in, night out. Ingram has eight games with 30 or more points this season, and only four below 20. Those early-career Kevin Durant comps aren’t all the way there yet, but we’re getting closer and closer by the year:

 

Kris Dunn likely gets this assignment, as he does with opposing teams’ deadliest threats every night. The Bulls can count themselves fortunate Ingram isn’t an elite foul-drawer yet (5.7 free throw attempts per game). Dunn got in early foul trouble against Luka Doncic last game and the defense paid dearly — Doncic lit up (mostly) Shaq Harrison for 21 points in a third quarter that swung the game.

Matchup to watch: 3-point line

When things are going well, the Pelicans make their living from behind the arc. As a team, they attempt the fifth-most long-balls per game (38.7) and convert the seventh-best percentage of them (36.7%) in the NBA. In wins, they shoot 42% from 3, in losses, 34.2%. And over that aforementioned nine-game stretch in which they’ve gone 6-3, they’re shooting 38.2% from deep.

Around the rim and from midrange, they’re middle-of-the-pack both in terms of volume and efficiency. Their principal offensive threats are perimeter players. Beware of J.J. Redick off screens — he’s hitting an ungodly 46.2% of his 3s on 6.7 attempts per game — and stay alert to E’Twaun Moore, Josh Hart and ‘improved-shooting-form’ Lonzo Ball (36.6 3P%, 6.3 attempts). 

The Bulls’ 3-point percentages, on individual and team-wide bases, have been steadily improving all season, but over their current four-game losing streak, they’re hitting just 34.5% from deep. A hot-shooting night (looking at Zach LaVine with no Jrue Holiday in the Pels’ lineup) could be just what the visitors need to get back on track. This matchup could decide the game.

News and nuggets:

  • Wendell Carter Jr. is officially out with the sprained ankle he suffered in Dallas. He’s arguably been the steadiest presence on the team this year, and it’ll be interesting to see how Boylen tinkers with his big rotation. (Big Daniel Gafford minutes? Hutchison at the 4? Luke Kornet back?)

  • Losing Carter before a matchup with Derrick Favors is a big blow. Per Cleaning the Glass, Favors is in the 96th percentile of the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage 95th percentile in offensive rebounding percentage. He could eat.

  • Thad Young appears on pace to start in Carter's place. It's a logical move that puts defense and rebounding next to Lauri Markkanen in the frontcourt. Also per Cleaning the Glass, lineups featuring Markkanen and Young boast a 19% defensive rebounding rate, 99th percentile in the NBA (though those lineups' collective offensive rating of 100.5 ranks only in the sixth percentile).

  • It’s been lost in the Bulls’ recent malaise, but Lauri Markkanen is on a roll. Dating back to the start of December, he’s averaging 18 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on 49.8/40/86.1 shooting splits. Keep feeding him (shots and minutes).

  • Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson are both officially out. The Pelicans thus represent another shorthanded opponent for the Bulls. But the Bulls are without key pieces too. All in all, this should be a competitive game that goes down to the wire.

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Coby White is making history left and right in absurd three-game stretch

Coby White is making history left and right in absurd three-game stretch

Coby White is enjoying a special stretch of basketball right now. In each of the Bulls’ past two games entering Tuesday night’s matchup with the Thunder, White set and matched career-high scoring totals with consecutive 33 point-games — something no rookie reserve had ever done

But Chris Paul was determined to stop it.

“I told Coby he wasn’t going to score 33 tonight,” said Paul, who coached White at the AAU level and has forged a deep bond with him since

Mission accomplished… Sort of.

White poured in a new career-high of 35 points in a nail-biter of a 124-122 loss to Oklahoma City, shooting 13-for-21 from the field and 6-for-9 from 3-point range. At 20 years old and in his first NBA season, White has now logged three 30-point games in a row, all off the bench. Here are a few reasons that is statistically ridiculous:

  • White is the first reserve in Bulls franchise history to post three consecutive 30-point games (via Bulls Game Notes)

  • White is the first rookie to score 30 points in three consecutive games since starters were first recorded in 1970-71 (via ESPN Stats & Info)

  • He’s also the first rookie to achieve that feat while hitting five or more 3-pointers in each game since the 3-point shot was introduced in 1979-80 (via Elias Sports Bureau)

  • Zach LaVine and White became the second pair of Chicago teammates in franchise history to each score 30-plus points in consecutive games, joining Bob Love and Chet Walker, who did it in 1969 (via Elias Sports Bureau)

  • White is the first Bulls rookie to score 35 points in a game since Ben Gordon in 2005. Other Bulls rookies to score 35 points in a game: Michael Jordan (21 times) and Elton Brand (twice). Solid company (via Bulls Game Notes)

  • In his last three games, White is averaging 33.7 points per on 57.4/58.1/92.9 shooting splits (20.3 FGA/g, 10.3 3PA/g). 

  • In that stretch, the Bulls are scoring at a rate of 120.1 points per 100 possessions (with a +15.6 net rating) with White on the floor, and just 92.2 points per 100 (with a -41.8 net rating) with him off.

  • I don’t have any further historical context for those last two. They’re just absurd.

“That’s what he [does]. He shoots lights out,” Paul said. “I’m glad to see that he’s playing with that confidence, and this summer we’ll get in the gym and we’ll go to work.”

 

“He’s coming into his own, and I’ve said this from day one, he’s special. He can score the ball like no other,” Zach LaVine said. “He’s continuing to get better. He’s 20 years old, I think he’s starting to find his groove right now.”

LaVine and White combined for 76 of the Bulls’ 122 points against Oklahoma City, collectively keeping the team’s offensive afloat in a floundering first half, then vaulting them back into the game with an infernic third quarter. LaVine (with 19 points) and White (with nine) combined for 28 points on collective 12-for-17 shooting (4-for-6 from deep) in the third, a period the Bulls won 38-19.

“It’s been great, especially with both of us on the court,” LaVine said. “There was a couple times in the fourth — that third quarter, when we were down, I spent so much energy trying to get us back into it — and he held onto that lead for us. 

“But it’s been great, man. He’s been putting a lot of hard work in. I go into the gym late or I shoot after practice and he’s right there. He’s gonna be special.”

White played 33 minutes in the game and was a team-high +15. When he’s ‘on’ he makes the Bulls fun, interesting and electric. LaVine went on to sing gratitude for White’s ability to draw defensive attention away from him over the course of games, and shoulder on-ball responsibilities in spot moments.

Just don’t ask Jim Boylen if he’s ready to promote White to the starting lineup.

“I keep getting this question and I'm just going to answer it one more time,” Boylen said. “Coby’s in a good place. We’re going to keep him in a good place. Let’s let Coby keep playing and lets let him keep developing.”

Point taken. And the way things are going, perhaps that’s perfectly OK.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White and Zach LaVine shine in loss to Thunder

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White and Zach LaVine shine in loss to Thunder

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson react to the Bulls 124-122 loss and another great game from Coby White.

0:45 - Welcome back, John Sabine!

1:45 - On Coby White's career-high 35 points

4:25 - What Coby and Zach do for each other when on the floor together

6:00 -  On the Bulls overcoming a huge deficit

8:10 - On the Thunder and their surprising success this season

13:05 - Viewer comment on Outsiders seating arrangement

13:45 - Viewer comment on Coby going for the All-Rookie second team

15:50 - On playing Zach and Coby together and White not starting

19:45 - Viewer comment on getting Coby another nickname

20:25 - Viewer comment on expectations for when Otto Porter comes back

21:45 - On potential of Shaq Harrison starting over Ryan Arcidiacono

22:55 - Viewer comment on Outsiders shirts

23:40 - Viewer comment on Bulls needs at small forward

26:10 - On Coby blowing past the rookie wall

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

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