Kelly Crull's practice notes: 3 thoughts on the Bulls before playing the Cavaliers

Kelly Crull's practice notes: 3 thoughts on the Bulls before playing the Cavaliers

The Bulls returned home from a two-game road trip and practiced on Friday after a day off before hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. Here are my thoughts from practice...

1. What’s the Temperature?

There may have been snow falling on the Advocate Health Center Thursday, but the “black clouds” appear to be in the distance, for now. Despite the Bulls' 3-9 record and what will likely be another month before the Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn reinforcements hit the floor, the “next men up” seem to be engaged and still buying in to the growing process.

When asked about frustrations or the wear of being short-handed for so long, coach Fred Hoiberg said: “It’s my job to keep the morale up right now and I have been pleased with the effort. Our guys are going out there and playing extremely hard. And, as short-handed as we are, to still be in games as much as we have been, is a credit to our guys that they aren’t getting down.”  

That being said, the next two games will be a big indication of where this team is as they welcome the LeBron-less Cavs (1-10) and the 3-win Mavericks to town. Basically, must win games for Lavine & Co. before hitting the road to face the East’s three strongest squads.

2. Six Weeks & Counting:

Suited up in practice gear, Lauri Markkanen emerged from the training room and headed over to the far basket where he proceeded to work on his range of motion from about 8-10 feet out, with his RIGHT hand. That’s in all caps because until this morning, #24 was playfully tossing up shots with his left hand whenever we saw him on the court.

Although small, still a positive sign of progress for Markkanen who is now six weeks in, to the 6-8 week recovery time frame. Strongly suggesting the backend of that window being much more realistic at this point.

Zach Lavine admitted “he’s been working his butt off,” and is looking forward to picking up where they left off in training camp. “Lauri is such a good shooter. He almost makes the defender drop off and go into a help position. That helps spacing-wise. If they drop off too much, you can pass to him. I’m excited to get him back out there. That’s a good player, man.”

But, before getting ahead of yourselves Bulls fans, let Fred remind you “we’re still so far away from that happening, we’re focusing on the present.”

T- minus two weeks, maybe? We’ll see…

3. Starting Lineup Shakeup?

As mentioned on twitter by KC Johnson:  “This isn’t confirmed by Fred Hoiberg but Ryan Arcidiacono is taking reps with starters as Bulls practice begins.”

This on the heels of Arcidiacono playing 33 minutes against New Orleans versus Cam Payne’s 14. Maybe more telling, Arcidiacono played the entire fourth quarter and provided stability through the Bulls push to pull within six. He continues to be an outside threat, hitting 3-of-4 from behind the arc in an 11-point effort against the Pelicans.

Arcidiacono did mention to me in an interview on NBC Sports that it’s getting harder to control the hair the more minutes he plays…..can we get this guy a hair/product endorsement yet, or what?  

Speaking of hair, Collin Sexton has an impressive coiffure as well…..which will be the assignment for Hoiberg’s starting point guard as Sexton took over for George Hill, who remains sidelined with a sprained right shoulder.  We’ll follow up with Hoiberg before shoot-around Saturday regarding his starting lineup, but it looks like Kendall Gill may get his wish, as the Cam Payne experiment could be coming to an end.     

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 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-pointer 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 25.2 points per game, 3-point percentage at 38.9 and rebounding at 4.2. 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 31.2 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.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Zach LaVine drops 44 in Cleveland

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


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