Bulls

Even in loss to Heat the Bulls had small wins

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USA Today

Even in loss to Heat the Bulls had small wins

Trailing the Heat 108-105 with four seconds remaining in overtime, the ball found Lauri Markkanen. He was pinned in the corner and leaning away from the basket, but still, he got a clean 3-point attempt off. If the shot fell, it would have tied the game.

But it didn't. Instead, the high-arching jumper clanged off the side of the rim. And when it did, Coby White — who enjoyed, in many ways, a career performance in this game — slumped over. The response befitted the performance.

"Nobody likes to lose. We're not happy with the loss," Jim Boylen said. "I got a frustrated group of guys in there that want to win."

It's a defeat that, on its face, should be swallowable. In it, the Bulls played one of the league's best teams in the Heat down to the wire, in an arena they haven't lost in this season. 

The silver linings were abundant: The Bulls won the first quarter, an area Boylen has often emphasized. They got standout performances from Markkanen (team-high 22 points), Kris Dunn (16 points, three steals, 6-for-9 shooting) and White (11 points, eight assists, 3-for-7 from 3-point range, closed the fourth quarter and OT). They outshot one of the NBA's most prolific offenses and held Jimmy Butler to 3-for-14 shooting. Sure, he went to the free throw line 21 times, but he also didn't break the Bulls' back with clutch buckets down the stretch.

"It's real hard. But we gave them some game goals, and they accomplished them," Boylen said. "First quarter start. Be more physical. For the most part, our defensive rebounding was really good. Our transition D was really good. Our physicality was good. We moved the ball, we executed. We ran things to get open shots.

"We did a lot of really good thing and that's what I have to look at. Ultimately, you want to win. I cannot take away from the good things we do and the growth we're making. But it hurts."

Yet, something feels especially hollow about this loss. Even sour. But perhaps that's more about what came before tonight. Talk of growth doesn't resonate without assurance that said growth will continue to occur lineally, and that hasn't happened for the Bulls. Just last week, they sparked their first win streak of the season with victories over the Kings and Grizzlies. Steps forward. Then, a massive step back in falling to the 5-19 Warriors on Friday.

The tropes that pervaded the Golden State game reared their head again tonight. Zach LaVine was 1-for-6 between the fourth quarter and overtime. Loose balls found the wrong hands. Crucial defensive lapses late aided Tyler Herro nailing four 3-pointers (including the eventual game-winner) over the game's last six minutes.

"The one that [Herro] put up before the overtime, Shaq actually did a good job on [Butler] defensively and I thought [Butler] was gonna shoot the ball, so I went in there and crashed," Dunn said of the 3-pointer Herro hit to put the Heat up 97-95 with 7.1 seconds left in regulation. "[Butler] made an unselfish play, a great play out to Tyler Herro and he knocked it down... Jimmy does draw a lot of attention, he's a good player, but we have to be defensively sound. And, for me, that last play before the overtime, that was on me."

At 8-16, the Bulls simply can't afford to be happy with an 'encouraging' loss, even if they wish they could be. The balance of finding and taking the positives from this defeat while at the same reconciling that this season is escaping them is a difficult one.

"[Winning] is important, but I have to measure this — third-youngest team in the league, this young group — in other ways than that. I have to. That's what we're building, that's what we're developing," Boylen said.

"Definitely frustrated to lose, but we played well, a lot of guys played well," Dunn said. "Good thing about the NBA, games come quick... Tomorrow, we play Toronto at home so hopefully bring the same intensity and get the win there."

If that win is of the moral variety, the burning issues facing this team aren't like to dissipate soon.

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Bulls VP John Paxson says Zach LaVine 'deserves' to be an All-Star

Bulls VP John Paxson says Zach LaVine 'deserves' to be an All-Star

On Thursday, Zach LaVine will find out whether he makes his first All-Star game as a coaches’ reserve selection.

“Zach deserves to be an All-Star,” executive vice president John Paxson said. “I know we don’t have as many wins as we all would like. But nobody can ignore what he has done and it would be [an oversight] if he doesn’t get recognized.”

If he doesn’t, LaVine, and the Bulls, will be disappointed. But missing out shouldn’t obscure what is becoming a special season for LaVine.

Saturday’s masterpiece of 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a road victory over the Cavaliers is just the latest example. With averages of 30 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists in January, he’ll also draw strong consideration for Eastern Conference player of the month.

Each summer, LaVine tries to add something to his game. This season, his focus centered on consistency and improving defensively. The 14 straight 20-point games is a sign of the former. And while he admittedly still occasionally drifts off the ball, his 1.4 steals per game mark is a career-best.

LaVine is on a streak of 14 straight 20-point games. His fourth 40-point effort of the season came with all defensive attention on him because Lauri Markkanen missed his second game of an extended absence with a hip injury. And that’s on top of the Bulls playing without Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr.

LaVine’s eight assists highlighted the improved decision-making that is defining this breakout season. And it also allowed him to join Michael Jordan as the only Bulls in franchise history to record at least 44-10-8 in a game.

That’s not the only time LaVine is getting mentioned in the same sentence as Jordan this season. He became the second-fastest player in franchise history behind Jordan to score 3,000 points in a Bulls uniform, needing 24 more games.

And he became the first player in franchise history to sink 300 3-pointers in 132 or fewer games.  He’s on pace to set the single-season franchise record for 3-pointers this season.

LaVine is averaging career-highs in scoring at 25.3 points per game, 3-point percentage at 38.9 and rebounding at 4.9. After a slow start, LaVine has increased his free-throw attempts to 5.6 per game, just .4 off last season’s career-high. He has increased his free-throw attempts per game every season he has been in the league.

Some critics still paint LaVine’s accomplishments as empty calories. There’s another line of thought that LaVine needs to be ball-dominant — his usage rate of 31.7 ranks 10th — to be successful.

LaVine still takes the occasional heat check. But his forced shots are way down and he’s carrying such an offensive burden mostly because he has to for this Bulls team. An example of his do-whatever-it-takes mentality: He has led the Bulls in rebounding since Carter went down to his sprained ankle.

LaVine has said he'd be more likely to participate in Saturday's slam dunk contest — and the 3-point shootout if he's invited — if he lands in Sunday's real All-Star game. What a weekend it could be. But even if it doesn't happen, LaVine is focused on this goal for the right reasons. He wants the Bulls to win.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

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.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Zach LaVine drops 44 in Cleveland

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USA Today

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Zach LaVine drops 44 in Cleveland

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson discuss the Bulls win in Cleveland, create their own Bulls Royal Rumble and squash the beef with Mark Giangreco.

1:00 - Jim Boylen's best moment of the season

2:30 - Another All-Star performance from Zach LaVine

4:30 - Luke Kornet had a good game for Luke Kornet

5:45 - Reaction to some criticism of LaVine's game

8:15 - Can one game change a players All-Star chances?

9:00 - The newest edition of "Guess what D-Rose did?"

11:30 - Guys react to viewer comments

14:00 - The Chicago Bulls Royal Rumble 2020

22:30 - Guys react to more viewer comments

25:10 - The guys squash the beef with Mark Giangreco

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

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Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.