Bulls

Coby White's biggest rookie duty? Closing games alongside Zach LaVine

Coby White's biggest rookie duty? Closing games alongside Zach LaVine

PORTLAND, Ore. --- As a Timberwolves rookie in 2014-15, Zach LaVine had it rough.

His rookie duties were assigned by a plethora of hard-core veterans like Mo Williams, Kevin Martin and none other than Kevin Garnett.

Practice would end. And Garnett would start booting basketballs into the stands of whatever arena the Timberwolves would be in for LaVine and fellow rookie Andrew Wiggins to fetch.

Coby White and Daniel Gafford have it easy.

“I haven’t been getting it as bad as some other rookies I know,” Gafford said following Sunday’s practice at Portland State University. “I thought there was a slight chance I was going to have to pay for dinner the other night. But we all chipped in. I was grateful for that.”

Added White: “They’ve been kind of light on me, so I appreciate that. We really don’t have that many vets, to be honest. Thad (Young) is a true vet and then there’s OP (Otto Porter Jr.), Zach and Sato (Tomas Satoransky). So I got lucky.”

Fetching towels and drinks, picking up shoes to give to the equipment manager and making food runs for the group before the Bulls’ charter plane leaves O’Hare have been the rookies’ biggest and most consistent tasks.

Maybe White’s theory holds some water. After all, the Bulls are the league’s third-youngest team. Or perhaps LaVine just recognizes the need to keep White, in particular, fresh.

When White is on the court, particularly alongside LaVine, it presents an offensive challenge for opposing defenses to consider. LaVine can see less double-teaming and blitzing.

“Zach is always in my ear because he has seen what I’m capable of and how good I can be. He tells me it’s my time, tells me to do what I do and to be Coby White and take over,” White said. “For our go-to guy to believe that much in me and encourage me means a lot. It gives me a lot of confidence.”

Coach Jim Boylen has been consistent with his approach regarding White’s closing role. If he has it rolling, which he did in road victories at the Grizzlies and Hornets or the home victory over the Knicks, White plays the majority or all of the fourth quarter alongside LaVine.

“I think he’s a big moment guy, I think he has that in him,” Boylen said. “I have confidence that he’s not scared about that moment. The big shot doesn’t bother him. He’s a competitive guy, so it’s easy to leave him out there.’’

LaVine leads the Bulls by averaging 6.3 points in the fourth quarter. White ranks second at 3.8 points. They average the same amount of playing time in the fourth, a team-high 7.3 minutes per game. Only Wendell Carter Jr. at 7.8 fourth-quarter minutes plays more.

“I think the league has seen him enough that you have to have a decent defender on him, so when you have him and Zach out there together I think that can put some pressure on the defense,” Boylen said. “Usually the primary guy takes Zach, and then maybe the secondary guy takes Coby.”

Trying to score against fourth-quarter defenses beats fetching basketballs from stands.

“In the fourth quarter, everything goes up a different level. So it’s a big deal being out there,” White said. “I’m just glad (Boylen) has faith in me when I have it rolling. Rookies don’t always get that opportunity. I’m blessed and thankful for it.”

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Four observations: Bulls play Miami tough, but lose in a heartbreaker

Four observations: Bulls play Miami tough, but lose in a heartbreaker

The Bulls scrapped, but fell to the Heat 110-105 in a hard-fought overtime showdown in Miami. Observations from a defeat, snapped from the jaws of a potentially season-turning victory:

Bulls got off to fast start

The last time these two teams met, the Bulls played themselves out of the game early, allowing the Heat to jump out to a 15-0 lead in the first four-and-a-half minutes of the first quarter. Not so tonight. The Bulls came out of the gates locked in defensively and (for the most part) hunted good looks on the offensive end:

They held Miami to 4-for-15 (26.7%) shooting and forced five turnovers en route to a 25-16 lead after one. Of course, the Heat punched back, making nine of their first 10 shots in the second, but the Bulls clung to a 49-47 lead at the halftime break.

Boylen emptied the bench (again)

By the 3:13 mark in the second quarter, all 12 available Bulls had seen game action. Last week, Jim Boylen said that he had intentionally begun to lean on the starters over the course of the team’s recent west coast swing, but him emptying the bench early in games has continued.

Part of that occurring tonight had to do with early foul trouble for Daniel Gafford, who picked up three fouls in a two-minute span in the first quarter. Luke Kornet logged three largely unproductive minutes early in the second quarter, presumably in Gafford’s stead.

Overall, though, the bench brought just about everything you could ask of it for most of the night. Denzel Valentine and Thad Young combined for 23 points and stroked a couple timely 3-pointers to keep the Bulls in the game in the second and third quarters. Coby White shot only 3-for-9, but finished the night with a career-high (!) eight assists. Even Shaq Harrison had a couple feisty moments.

Late-game adjustments were made, but similar mistakes persisted

After Friday’s loss to Golden State, Jim Boylen faced questions about his decision to roll with his starters for the game’s final eight minutes. Tonight, he adjusted, closing the fourth quarter and overtime with Coby White on the floor over Tomas Satoransky.

The Bulls’ general execution, though, remained spotty. There were positives: Before fouling out late in OT, Kris Dunn had seven points and two steals between the final two periods. Lauri Markkanen — after coming alive with a 13-point spurt in the third quarter — had a gorgeous take and finish to put the Bulls up 95-94 with under a minute left in the fourth. White had a couple dazzling moments, and Zach LaVine’s two free throws with 2.8 seconds left in regulation were a necessary response to what could have been a game-ending Tyler Herro 3-pointer seconds before.

 

But there were too many mental lapses, once again. Zach LaVine made one field goal between the fourth quarter and OT, and shot 5-for-19 for the game. Defensive breakdowns popped up at inopportune times. On one, Bam Adebayo positioned himself as if to set a screen for Herro — when the Bulls blitzed, Adebayo slipped, and ended up finishing an and-one layup over a scrambling Carter (the Bulls gave up two Draymond Green-initiated alley-oops late in the Golden State game on similar plays).

Then, on the Heat’s final possession of regulation, the Bulls switched the pick-and-roll, but a soft help by Kris Dunn (attempting to aid Shaq Harrison guarding Jimmy Butler) left Herro wide open for a 3-pointer that gave the Heat a 97-95 lead. Herro broke the Bulls’ back on a number of occasions in this one — he had 18 points and shot 4-for-8 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter and overtime.

This was just an outrageously fun game — but the taste left from it is undeniably sour

We may look back at this game as one of the foundational performances of White’s rookie campaign. As mentioned, he didn’t shoot particularly well, but him closing out the game’s final 17 (!!) minutes — and scoring six points with three assists in doing so — will assuredly prove valuable to his development. He wasn’t perfect, but he validated Boylen’s trust in him.

And until Herro caught fire late, the Bulls did an overall good job maintaining their defensive intensity and not allowing any of the Heat’s ancillary flamethrowers to get going. Butler wore them down — accumulating 21 free throw attempts in the game — but the Bulls can hang their hat on holding him to 3-for-14 shooting and not allowing him to beat them down the stretch.

Ultimately, the pain behind this loss — which you could see in the players’ on-court reactions at the final buzzer — is more about what has come before. On the heels of the Warriors game, pulling this one out could have been a season-changer. But they came up short. There were abundant silver linings, but also the familiar tropes of stagnant late-game offense, costly turnovers and defensive lapses.

The Bulls get back to work in Chicago tomorrow night against the Toronto Raptors. 

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What to watch for: Bulls hit the road to take on Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat

What to watch for: Bulls hit the road to take on Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat

The Bulls visit Miami to take on the 16-6 Heat in the wake of a disappointing loss to the Warriors in Chicago on Friday. The game tips off at 5 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago – until then, here's what to watch for:

Heat’s last five (4-1)

  • Dec. 6 — W vs. Wizards: 112-103

  • Dec. 4 — L at Celtics: 112-93

  • Dec. 3 — W at Raptors: 121-110

  • Dec. 1 — W at Nets: 109-106

  • Nov. 29 — W vs. Warriors: 122-105

Storyline(s) for each team

At 16-6, the Heat enter tonight the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and one of the league’s best teams — explosive offensively (second in the NBA in eFG%, per Cleaning the Glass), yet defensively-oriented (top 10 in defensive rating, eFG% against, turnover rate and defensive rebounding rate). Two things that should especially worry the Bulls: This game is in Miami and the Heat are coming off a day of rest after beating the Wizards 112-103 on Friday. The Heat are 9-0 at home this season and four of their six losses have come on the second night of back-to-backs. With fresh legs and their home crowd behind them, they’ll be tough to beat.

The Bulls, for their part, are coming off a momentum-crushing loss to the 5-19 Golden State Warriors on their home floor Friday, and on the first night of a road-and-home back-to-back — they’ll face the Raptors at the United Center on Monday. Both teams have already blown the Bulls out early in the season — the Heat 116-108 (it wasn’t that close) on Nov. 22, the Raptors 108-84 on Oct. 26. Since the start of last season, the Bulls are 7-48 against teams with winning records. To put it diplomatically, the next two nights will be an uphill battle.

Player to watch: Jimmy Butler

It’s the easy answer, but it’s also the right one. The Heat employ a dynamic cast of characters around Butler, but he’s the lifeblood of this team. The offense runs through him, the defense feeds off him (along with, of course, legitimate DPOY candidate Bam Adebayo as the anchor) and you can bet he’ll get up to face his former team. As Miami’s role players have endured up-and-down stretches, here are Butler’s numbers in his last eight games (i.e. since Nov. 22):

Per game: 22.8 points, 7 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 47.3% shooting (14 attempts), 9.5 FTA

And against the Bulls in his career:

Per game: 29 points, 5.3 assists, 5 rebounds, 3.7 steals, 48.1% shooting (18 attempts), 11.7 FTA

Even in a game the Bulls could find themselves overmatched in, perhaps we’ll get a fun Butler-Zach LaVine matchup this time around. Since being traded for each other after the 2016-17 season, the two have had some battles — before the Nov. 22 no-contest (LaVine, remember, was pulled by Jim Boylen early in the first quarter and only tallied 16 points in a blowout), they were each averaging over 30 points per game when facing each other.

LaVine bounced back from that aforementioned pseudo-benching with a 49-point, 13 3-pointer outing in Charlotte; maybe another historic performance is in store after an underwhelming fourth-quarter showing on Friday against Golden State.

Matchup to watch: 3-point shooting

Miami is a heat-check factory. Their movement-based offense is effective at creating a plethora of open long-range looks per game and even though some of their ancillary weapons can be streaky, there’s so many of them that you can bet at least one will burn you on a given night.

For evidence, look no further than that Nov. 22 matchup. Before most Bulls fans had scanned their tickets and found their seats, the Heat ran out to a 15-0 lead in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the game, buoyed by four early 3-pointers (three from Kendrick Nunn, one from Duncan Robinson). Per Cleaning the Glass, the Heat take 36% of their field goals from 3-point range (13th in the NBA) and make 39.2% of those looks (3rd in the NBA). They have five rotation players shooting over 38% on threes, and only one of those is on fewer than 3.9 attempts per (Meyers Leonard, shooting 53.8% on 1.8 attempts). Robinson, notably, is hitting 42.8% of his 3-pointers on 6.6 attempts per game.

The Bulls were 10-for-30 (33.3%) from 3-point range in their last game against the Heat, but four of those came in the final 2:15 of the game in a too-little-too-late comeback bid. They’re feast-or-famine in this department, but will need to keep this matchup close to have a chance tonight. 

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Nothing new here as far as the Bulls are concerned, barring a surprise injury or Chandler Hutchison status upgrade. Boylen has indicated he’s progressing, but hasn’t offered a concrete timetable for return, as of yet. Thad Young rejoins the team tonight.

The Heat will be without Goran Dragic (16 points, seven assists, 3-for-5 from three on Nov. 22), who is currently dealing with a groin issue. Justise Winslow and Adebayo are both currently listed as questionable.

Winslow missed time earlier in the season with a concussion, then returned for five games, but missed Friday’s game with a lower back strain. Adebayo hasn't missed a game since 2018; losing him would severely impact Miami's defensive versatility and rebounding. He had 16 points and 14 rebounds in these teams' first matchup.