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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Kobe Bryant idolized Michael Jordan, and thus always respected the Bulls

Kobe Bryant idolized Michael Jordan, and thus always respected the Bulls

Kobe Bryant had two dalliances with the Bulls.

In July 2004, a Lakers’ three-peat ran its course with back-to-back playoff exits, including a 2004 Finals loss. Phil Jackson left as coach. The Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal relationship no longer functioned on or off the court.

One year after succeeding Jerry Krause as the Bulls’ top basketball executive, John Paxson flew to Newport Beach, Calif., with Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to pitch Bryant in free agency. Bryant liked what he heard.

In the pre-social media age, Bryant liked even more that the Bulls kept their pursuit quiet. A full week passed before any media outlet reported the meeting.

“We were looking at houses, we were looking at schools,” Bryant told the Chicago Tribune in December 2004. “We already were talking about a sign-and-trade.”

Even if O’Neal hadn’t requested a trade that landed him with the Heat, there’s no guarantee the Bulls would’ve acquired Bryant. The Clippers pursued him as well.

As it was, Bryant re-signed with the Lakers and eventually won two more championships. But those came after Bryant made noise about wanting a trade during the 2007 offseason and again expressed interest in the Bulls’ nucleus.

Reports of the Bulls refusing to part with Luol Deng were greatly exaggerated. For starters, Bryant wanted to end up with the Bulls only if Deng played for them. Furthermore, the Lakers engaged in non-serious trade talks mainly to appease Bryant, who eventually calmed.

Both those scenarios came to mind with Sunday’s heartbreaking news that Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter accident near Los Angeles. One of his four daughters was killed as well.

“The Chicago Bulls organization is terribly saddened about the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the other passengers in today’s horrific helicopter crash in California,” Paxson said in a statement. “While he leaves us far too soon, his legacy and persona will forever be remembered. One of the best to have ever played the game of basketball, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Bryant family and the other families affected.”

The Bulls never acquired Bryant, but the mutual respect between them always stood out. Beyond Bryant’s appreciation for Paxson and Reinsdorf’s 2004 pitch, this was guaranteed because the Bulls once employed Michael Jordan.

Bryant never hid his desire to 'Be Like Mike.' He walked like him, talked like him, won one fewer championship than him and relished having his cutthroat competitiveness compared to his idol’s.

That’s why, on his final visit to the United Center, Bryant spoke so eloquently about the influence Jordan had on him. And why, if he had ever become a Bull, the honor would have been his.

“No words can really do it justice,” Bryant said on Feb. 21, 2016. “As a kid growing up in Italy, all I had was video. And so I studied everything. I studied every player. And then once I came back to the States and I realized I wasn’t going to be 6-9, I started studying Michael exclusively. And then when I came into the league and matched up against him, I found that he was extremely open to having a relationship, a mentoring relationship. He gave me a great amount of advice in an amazing amount of detail — strategies, workout regimens, things like that.

“Seriously, I don’t think people really understand the amount of impact he has had on me as a player and as a leader. So if I was fortunate to come here, if that trade had happened, it’s not a pressure situation to live up to what he has done. It’s more can I carry on the man’s legacy? Can I do it justice? Can I represent Chicago the way it should be represented in his honor?”

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Michael Jordan makes statement on passing of Kobe Bryant

Michael Jordan makes statement on passing of Kobe Bryant

The world is mourning the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, who perished in a helicopter accident Sunday that also took the lives of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people.

Bulls legend Michael Jordan made a statement on the news. From Estee Portnoy, Jordan's manager/spokeswoman:

I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe's and Gianna's passing. Words can't describe the pain I'm feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply — and took great pride in his daughter's love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.

Bryant is survived by his wife, Vanessa, with whom he had four daughters. He was 41 years old. 

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