Bulls

Five observations: Bulls liven the United Center, but fall short to Toronto Raptors

Five observations: Bulls liven the United Center, but fall short to Toronto Raptors

The Bulls came up just short of a signature win, falling 93-92 to the Toronto Raptors. Observations from another loss flush with silver linings, but a loss all the same:

Bricks were laid

Seriously. You could have built a house of ’em. Both of these groups were on the second night of back-to-backs tonight, and it showed. 

At halftime, the two teams had combined to shoot 12-for-48 from 3-point range, a lot of which were, frankly, pretty open looks. Then, they missed their first eight combined attempts of the third quarter. The Bulls finished the night 12-for-46 from deep, the Raptors 7-for-29. Bleh.

The Bulls stayed in the game early — they led 51-49 at the half — by hunting good paint looks and getting to the foul line (and, of course, by way of Toronto’s poor shooting). They led the points-in-the-paint battle 16-8 at the end of the first quarter but tallied only 46 overall. Part of that had to do with the shooting picking up for a bit and another pesky bout of offensive stagnation.

The starters carried the offense for a while

At one point in the third quarter, Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter had 54 of the Bulls’ 58 points. It was that type of game, at least for a while. 

In the first half, Zach LaVine appeared to be on track for a bounce-back performance. He had 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and — crucially — no turnovers at the break. He didn’t score again.

Satoransky ran out to eight points and seven assists, and Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter combined for 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting in the first two periods. 

The bench was a non-factor until the third quarter. After closing the entire fourth quarter and overtime against Miami, Coby White shot 0-for-7 and had three turnovers, though he also logged five assists and eight rebounds. He didn’t play down the stretch. 

The bench came alive

The bench came alive for a spurt in the third quarter, behind four quick points from Daniel Gafford and 3-pointers from Thad Young and Denzel Valentine (and Kris Dunn, but he’s technically a starter). That carried over into the fourth quarter when the Bulls jumped out to a 14-6 run in the period’s first five-and-a-half minutes with a lineup of Satoransky, White, Valentine, Young, and Gafford on the floor. 

Valentine, especially, was phenomenal — he finished the night with 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting. The United Center was legitimately loud a few times early in the fourth. Most of those instances involved him (or Gafford blocks).

Bulls faded down the stretch again

Boylen rode that aforementioned lineup until about midway through the fourth, when he started filtering the starters back in (first LaVine for Coby White, then Carter for Gafford). After Wendell Carter fouled out with 3:52 remaining, Satoransky, LaVine, Valentine, Markkanen and Gafford closed the game.

It wasn’t always pretty, and again, they came up just short. At one point, the Bulls didn’t score for five-and-a-half minutes, allowing an 85-77 lead to become an 86-85 deficit with just under three minutes remaining. A Valentine transition layup, Markkanen 3-pointer and Gafford layup reignited the crowd for a moment. But the game ended on a failed LaVine iso possession.

Another solid defensive performance

It’s hard to tell how much of the Raptors’ poor offensive night was a result of there being a lid on the basket versus the Bulls executing defensively. But Boylen and co. will take holding one of the league’s best offenses to 92 points and 37.8% shooting.

For the second night in a row, the Bulls also did a nice job corralling a premier offensive talent. Pascal Siakam started strong with 13 first-quarter points, then finished the game with 22 on 7-for-18 shooting (he was at 5-for-10 after the first). 

Save for a few lapses in their transition defense, the Bulls played with tremendous intensity all night long. Fifteen forced turnovers is low for this steal-happy group, but many came at opportune times. Overall, a defensive performance worth building on.

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NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever

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USA TODAY

NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever

With Zion Williamson making his NBA regular season debut Wednesday night, we finally got a chance to see what a No. 1 overall draft pick is supposed to look like: an athletic and versatile skill set, with the chance to impact a franchise for years to come. 

2019 No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant also looks like a franchise-changing talent with his speed and playmaking ability, lifting Memphis into playoff contention.

So, which players will have that kind of impact in the 2020 draft?

Well, for now it’s almost impossible to say. James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 Memphis center, dropped out of school after playing just three games because of an eligibility battle with the NCAA. His size and raw tools are intriguing, but at this point his offensive game is extremely limited.

Meanwhile, Lonzo Ball’s younger brother, LaMelo is sitting out the rest of the Australian professional league season while he rehabs from a foot injury, another Australian professional, R.J. Hampton, just returned from a hip injury and North Carolina’s combo guard Cole Anthony is getting ready to return from a knee injury to finish his one and done season. 

That’s left NBA talent evaluators scrambling in trying to figure out the top of the draft, with only Georgia’s Anthony Edwards healthy and available among the players projected as the possible No. 1 overall pick. 

So, as we get closer to the end of January, here’s a look at how teams could view the available talent, with the understanding that the draft order will change dramatically as NBA scouts and GMs get a look at how players perform in the most important games of the season still to come.

2020 NBA mock draft 3.0

Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

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USA Today

Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

On Thursday, the NBA revealed the East and West starters for the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago. Take a look:


Bulls fans will be honed in on the East selections given Zach LaVine's absence, though his realistic chances of starting the game have been slim-to-none since the first month of the season. In the last round of fan voting returns, LaVine was sixth among Eastern Conference backcourt players. He finished there, as well:


LaVine will get a chance to slide into a reserve slot, but the East’s starting backcourt of Kemba Walker and Trae Young leaves a crowded field to contend with. Guards competing for the seven reserve spots include Ben Simmons, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, Bradley Beal, Malcolm Brogdon and Jaylen Brown. And that's without mentioning frontcourt favorites in Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum and Domantas Sabonis.

But a modicum of good news did come from this announcement for those stumping for LaVine: Kyrie Irving's omission from the starting lineup. Irving, who has only played 15 games this season, had been second in fan voting at the time of last returns. Had he snuck in with the starters, LaVine would have also had Walker or Young to compete with for a reserve spot, both of whom he matches up with unfavorably. One has to figure Irving's odds of being selected by coaches as a reserve aren't high.

LaVine's chances still aren't necessarily great, but the coaches' picks for reserves will be announced on Jan. 30. If LaVine is shorted there, as well, there remains the possibility of an injury replacement down the road, which commissioner Adam Silver would select (this is probably his best shot).

Once the final pool of players is decided, they'll be drafted by team captains Giannis Antetokoumpo and LeBron James on Feb. 6.

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