Bulls

Kendrick Nunn makes his mark in in first NBA game at United Center

Kendrick Nunn makes his mark in in first NBA game at United Center

It wasn’t his first game at the United Center, but tonight, rookie guard Kendrick Nunn made his NBA debut in his home city of Chicago. And he made it count.

In front of 300 family members and friends — really, 300 — Nunn showed out, dropping 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting (3-of-8 from three) on the home court of the team he grew up revering.  

“It means a lot,” Nunn said, on getting the opportunity to play in Chicago. “I grew up watching the Bulls… When D-Rose was here, that was one of my favorite times, when he was playing with the Bulls in his early years. The first four years, getting an MVP, watching that. Bringing that to Chicago was big, so I'm just happy to be here.”

Nunn and Rose share a connection beyond the television screen, as well. Both attended — and were highly touted at — Simeon High School, a program that has produced a litany of NBA players, including Jabari Parker, Nick Anderson and Bobby Simmons. Nunn, a four-star recruit coming out of high school, led Simeon to a 2012 Illinois Class 4A championship alongside Parker. 

He then committed to the University of Illinois but was dismissed months after his junior season after being arrested on domestic battery charges in March 2016. His dismissal from the program was made official after pleading guilty to one misdemeanor domestic battery charge related to the incident.

“I’ve been through this countless times with the number of Chicago guys I’ve played,” Eric Spoelstra said, citing Dwayne Wade, specifically, as someone who had a special appreciation for the chance to return home.

“This is a business trip — it's only one quick day — and Kendrick understands that,” Spoelstra continued. “He's able to see some family and I know he's got everybody coming to the game tonight, and that's the great thing.”

“It's been great. Being able to come home, I don't get to see my family often,” Nunn said. “Made me feel good.”

But could that element of potential added pressure have pushed Nunn to try to do too much, especially early on?

“Not at all,” Nunn said after shootaround. “I'm pretty good at coming in the game and finding flow within the rhythm of the game and not trying to force anything.”

Things were certainly rhythmic and fluid for the Heat out of the gates Friday night. Nunn scored 10 of the team’s first 15 points, as Miami jumped out to a 15-0 lead on the Bulls just over four minutes into the first quarter. 

That type of torrid stretch has become common for Nunn this season. He’s averaging 17.6 points, 3.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game for the Heat and has supplanted long-tenured starting point guard Goran Dragic in their starting lineup.

“Tough guy, hard-nosed, Chicago-type basketball player,” teammate Jimmy Butler said. “We're so glad that we have him on our team because I wouldn't want to go up against him.”

Before the game, Nunn downplayed the impact playing in front of family and friends would have on his performance. But surely, after dropping 20+ and sparking a blowout victory in his hometown, no one would blame him for basking in the night.

Not so much.

“It was normal to me,” Nunn said. “When I play the game, I don't think about anyone in the stands or anything like that, I'm trying to win the game.”

For tonight, mission accomplished.

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Bulls observations: Zach LaVine steals the show in runaway win over Cavaliers

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USA Today

Bulls observations: Zach LaVine steals the show in runaway win over Cavaliers

The Bulls got back in the win column with a 118-106 victory over the Cavaliers, and Zach LaVine is ridiculous. Here's some observations:

Zach LaVine did it again

Whatever happens over the rest of this Bulls season, don’t put it at the feet of Zach LaVine. If you take one thing away from this one, make it that.

LaVine was simply tremendous tonight. He finished with a cool 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 39 minutes of play, and shot 16-for-30 from the field (5-for-12 from three; 7-for-8 from the free throw line). After the Bulls fell to the Kings on Friday, LaVine said he was fully prepared for any amount of advanced opportunity that might come his way. He proved that tonight. The Cavaliers threw the kitchen sink (and Tristan Thompson, for a couple possessions) at him, and it didn't matter.

Though he entered the fourth quarter with 39 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, LaVine was unable to clinch his first career triple double. He did make a modicum of history, though: 

Yeah, getting those last two assists would have been a cool milestone. But Bulls fans will take the sublime scoring performance — and victory — and run with it. LaVine’s fourth 40-point outing of the season doesn’t hurt his All-Star chances, either.

A bunch of good things happened in the third quarter

I’ve harped on it more than a few times this season, but the Bulls are not a good third quarter team. Their 27th-ranked -8.3 third quarter net rating proves it.

Tonight was different. The Bulls pounded the Cavaliers 40-19 in the third period, extending a two-point halftime lead to 23 entering the fourth.

To put it simply: Everything went right. The Bulls turned eight Cavaliers turnovers into 13 points, shot 16-for-21 (76.2%) from the field, 3-for-5 from three and slung 10 assists in those 12 minutes, alone. And though LaVine carried the load in the first half, the Bulls got 28 points in the third from the non-LaVine contingent of the team — a positive development.

Notably, Tomas Satoransky finished the night with a fully stuffed stat line of 19 points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals on 8-for-11 shooting. The Bulls’ second-scorer problem is still a pressing one, but we’ll put it aside for another night. 

Let’s have fun with this one

This win doesn’t assuage most any of the darkest clouds hanging over the Bulls. The Cavaliers are a disastrous team -- rated in the bottom eight of the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, and with the league’s highest turnover rate (Cleveland committed 21 cough-ups tonight). And yet, they shot 50% from the floor, 43.3% from the 3-point line and both outrebounded and out-assisted the Bulls tonight. 

But given the mounting adversity facing this team, this is one fans can afford to have some fun with. The Zach LaVine show marches on, and will continue to be worth watching.

Next stop: the UC for the Spurs on Monday.

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Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls' season

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USA Today

Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls' season

It’s no secret that the Bulls’ season hangs in the balance. At 17-30, the team is at once three games out of a playoff spot and slated ninth in the current lottery standings. 

To hear head coach Jim Boylen and co. tell it, a playoff berth remains the more desirable of those two timelines. But according to Basketball Reference, the Bulls have the third most difficult remaining strength of schedule in the East. And worse, they’ll have to face the (immediate) future without Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Daniel Gafford.

The loss of Markkanen — the most recent of that group to go down — has tipping point potential. In the Bulls’ first game without him, they mustered just 81 points at home against a swooning Sacramento Kings squad, shooting 8-for-37 from 3-point range in the process. The team’s need for secondary scoring outside of Zach LaVine glared

But, as Boylen has maintained all season, the Bulls are not going to change the way they play. They just need to play better.

“We gotta play faster, we gotta move the ball. I thought we had a couple possessions where the ball stuck. The ball can’t stick. We gotta move it, we gotta drive it,” Boylen said of the loss to the Kings before the Bulls’ Saturday night matchup with the Cavaliers in Cleveland. “I also think we missed some opportunities that we need to make.

“Our margin for error is not great. We have to make the plays we can make and make the shots we can make.”

For now, at least, the starting lineup won’t change (sorry #StartCoby crowd) — though Boylen said he’ll keep his rotation fluid. As for outside reinforcements being brought in?

“We have not talked about that. Doesn’t mean we won’t,” Boylen said when asked if the Bulls could actually pivot to ‘buying’ at the trade deadline, given their relative proximity to a playoff spot. “We’re in the middle of a really tough stretch of games, and a lot of games, so my focus has been on that.

“I love the guys we have,” he added. “And we’re gonna keep coaching and teaching the guys we have. I’ve got a good group, a coachable group.”

Absent from those adjectives was ‘interchangeable’ but that word has been ever-present in Boylen’s vocabulary through the ups and downs of this season. In his first full year at the helm, his primary goal remains clear.

“Because we’re establishing this system,” Boylen said when asked why, through thick and thin, the team’s playing style hasn’t changed, as it did last season after Boylen was hired. “Last year, we were tearing it down and then establishing it. Now we’re gonna keep establishing it.”

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