Bulls

Lauri Markkanen snaps slump, while Zach LaVine endures off night in victory

Lauri Markkanen snaps slump, while Zach LaVine endures off night in victory

At the 7 minute, 47 second mark of the first quarter, the Bulls’ future looked bright.

The struggling Lauri Markkanen had already thrown down two dunks, both off Tomas Satoransky feeds, and sank a 3-pointer. Zach LaVine had opened the scoring with a 3-pointer and thrown down a dunk of his own. The Bulls led by 10.

Two of those three positive developments held.

The Bulls snapped their three-game skid with a 109-89 drubbing of the out-of-sorts Pistons. And Markkanen, in a much-needed performance, posted his first 20-point game since the Oct. 23 opener with 24 points.

But LaVine didn’t score again after that first quarter stretch, finishing in single digits for the first time since scoring eight on Jan. 17 at Denver.

Given that Markkanen shot 50 percent from the field and knocked down three of four three-pointers, his breakout game is the bigger story. However, questions will continue to persist about the pairing of LaVine and Markkanen until they play well together consistently. To LaVine's credit, he didn't force shots---most of his misses came off good looks---and finished with four assists.

“Whenever he gets caught on fire or scores some easy points, it puts less pressure on our first unit,” Satoransky said of Markkanen. “He needed that personally. And we needed that too.”

Coach Jim Boylen pointed to Markkanen sprinting the floor early, something the coaching staff has been stressing to the big man.

“He’s thirsty for dunks,” Satoransky said of Markkanen. “He’s good at cutting. There were a couple moments I knew that he was going to cut, even in the fast break. He’s really aggressive. Getting those easy baskets, that’s what gives you good confidence on offense. Hopefully, he’s going to get his percentage to where it’s been for his whole career.”

Markkanen, who entered shooting just 36.2 percent and 26.8 percent from 3-point range, downplayed his struggles despite admitting to frustration after Monday’s loss to the Bucks.

“Nothing really changed. I just saw a couple go in at the beginning. That’s what it is,” Markkanen said. “The shot’s been feeling good the whole time. That’s why it’s frustrating to see it come out because you’re confident they’re going in. So it feels good to see a couple go in.

“Obviously, this is just the start. I have to keep working.”

The Bulls are a different team when Markkanen is playing at this level. He also attempted double-digit free throws for the first time since the Oct. 23 opener in Charlotte. If he hadn’t missed four of 11, his scoring night would’ve carried even more impact.

“I just tried to be aggressive, get to the rim,” Markkanen said. “I think I’ve had a lot of in and outs. Shot feels good and then hits the rim eight times and comes out. I’m glad they went in.”

The Pistons fouled Markkanen on three separate 3-point attempts. Markkanen made one and converted the free throw for a four-play, then finished a personal six-point possession when the Bulls kept possession because of a flagrant foul.

Markkanen said afterward he didn’t even realize he had a six-point possession. What’s crazy is that he scored more on that possession than LaVine did all game.

At least Satoransky and emergency starter Shaq Harrison stepped into the scoring void created by LaVine’s off night. Each scored 15 points. Harrison finished with a double-double, while Satoransky finished with 15 points and seven assists in one of his stronger performances.

“We win,” Markkanen said when asked what happens when Satoransky plays aggressively. “It does a lot. He’s a great player and he’s taking what the defense gives him. And we need him to be aggressive as well.”

The Bulls are in no position to nitpick victories. Like Satoransky, they have to take what the opponent gives them. LaVine and Markkanen have yet to each crack 20 points in the same game this season, but at least they head to the practice court Thursday to work on their chemistry following a victory.

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Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Tomas Satoransky is a perfectionist and a pleaser.

This can be a positive thing. It also can be negative.

“Everyone who is close to me will tell you that I’m hardest on myself. I always expect to play the best,” Satoransky said in an interview. “I always expect to be perfect, which isn’t always the best but in the long term it has always worked out for me.”

That’s because perfection is an unattainable quest. But Satoransky keeps working towards the unachievable goal. So he’s driven, which is good, but sometimes self-destructive, which isn’t.

Early on, as Satoransky slowly adjusted to a new city, new coach, new teammates and new system, the process didn’t go smoothly.

“I didn’t feel down. I felt frustrated and anxious to do better, anxious to help the team as much as he can,” coach Jim Boylen said when asked if he sensed frustration from Satoransky. “He really struggles when he lets the team down. That’s just basketball. You’re not going to play perfect all the time. He takes it to heart. I’ve spoken to him about it. I don’t need him to beat himself up. Just continue to grow and learn how we’re going to play and get used to guys. It does take some time to get a feel for each other.”

And it’s happening. Satoransky has posted nine straight games with at least five assists, the second-longest stretch of his young career. Coincidentally, his assist totals began to rise the more he looked for his shot.

“I think there’s a point where you make other people better, which he tries to do, and a point where you have to play your game. I think he’s starting to figure that out,” Boylen said. “I think he’s starting to understand where his spots are and how he makes people better but also doesn’t lose the positive things he can do individually.”

The selflessness of Satoransky is something that gets mentioned often by others when they’re asked about him. He’s someone who takes the time to read a situation before asserting himself, always trying to make the right play.

This dynamic was exacerbated by Satoransky not only joining a new team but doing so after playing a leading role for his Czech Republic national team at the FIBA World Cup this offseason.

“I think I’m very adaptable. But I won’t aggressively adapt. I’ll try to see what it is---new coaches, new offense---before asserting myself,” Satoransky said. “I knew I had to be patient, especially with a new team, new role. I’m also coming from a very different situation in the World Cup. And I’m trying to fit in and make my teammates feel the best and most comfortable around me. But I’m trying to be more aggressive because it opens up more space.

“I feel we’re more and more on the same page now.”

Satoransky’s averages of 9.6 points, 5.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 27.1 minutes are eerily similar to those he posted last season with the Wizards, his breakout season. In 80 games, including 54 starts for the injured John Wall, he averaged 8.9 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds also in 27.1 minutes.

He’s shooting 39.7 percent on 3 3-point attempts per game---again very similar to last season’s 39.5 percent on 2 3-point attempts per game.

“I tell him he has to take his shots. He’s a threat,” Zach LaVine said. “He can shoot and create for others. Once he gets in the lane, he’s crafty. He isn’t just a spot-up 3-point shooter.”

Satoransky is in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal that is only partially guaranteed in the final season. He said he is enjoying Chicago and playing for the Bulls.

“Everyone cares. We get along well,” Satoransky said. “This is my second NBA locker room, but I think this is one of the best groups I’ve had.”

Now, he just wants to improve the won-lost record to something closer to perfection.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 100-98 loss to the Warriors

0:45 - Reaction to loss and Bulls losing to Warriors again

2:30 - On 4th quarter struggles

3:30 - On Zach LaVine’s game-winning shot attempt

5:20 - Viewer comments on Coby White starting

9:20 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine leads to Matt rant

10:20 - Viewer comment on Wendell Carter

12:10 - Viewer comment on Sato needing to be more aggressive

13:30 - Viewer comment on Luke Kornet

16:35 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine talking trash to Warriors

18:00 - On LaVine not being the issue

19:00 - On Otto Porter’s injury and being out indefinitely

22:10 - Viewer comment on Bulls being contenders

23:50 - Viewer comment asking why Matt is always angry

24:50 - Viewer asking Sabine how he feels about the Bears beating the Cowboys

26:20 - Which team is more likely to make playoffs, Bears or Bulls?

 Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

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

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