Bulls

Next step for Bulls on nights like Friday is learning how to close

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USA TODAY

Next step for Bulls on nights like Friday is learning how to close

The good news is the Bulls were competitive against a playoff contender for the first time in three weeks. The bad news is they still have plenty of work to do before they’re able to close out games one they get to the finish line.

There were certainly positives to take from the Bulls’ 106-101 loss to the LA Clippers on Friday night, something that wasn’t the case 48 hours earlier in an embarrassing 20-point loss to the Hawks. The Bulls led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter and held a lead with 2:18 to play.

But the veteran Clippers made just a few more plays than the Bulls, who looked flustered down the stretch and ultimately dropped their 12th game in their last 13 contests.

“Hard fought game against a good team. Give them credit,” Jim Boylen said after the game. “I thought they made more plays than we did and I think they finished off the fourth better than we did.”

Zach LaVine caught fire in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 of the Bulls’ first 13 points in the period, including two clutch 3-pointers that both gave the Bulls one-point leads midway through. His second triple in the sequence gave the Bulls a 95-94 lead with 3:47 to play.

From there it was a struggle. LaVine missed a pair of shots after that triple and after a Kris Dunn floater gave the Bulls a one-point lead, Lou Williams connected on a triple and was fouled by the Bulls’ point guard. That four-point play gave LA a three-point lead. LaVine answered with a layup in traffic and Williams missed a floater on the ensuing possession.

That gave the Bulls a chance to take the lead inside a minute remaining. Instead, the Bulls played a round of hot potato, with Bobby Portis passing up on a 3-pointer from the top of the key and LaVine passing to Chandler Hutchison in the corner with the shot clock expiring. He airballed a 3-pointer and gave possession back to the Clips.

LA executed again out of a timeout. The Bulls doubled Williams, who found an open Patrick Beverley and finished with a tough floater over Bobby Portis to push the lead to 102-99.

The Bulls’ response was an ugly one. Dunn handed off to LaVine, who pulled up for an errant 3-pointer early in the shot clock. The result was another airball that gave the ball back to the Clippers. Again, Doc Rivers’ team executed, with Williams lobbing up an alley-oop to Montrezl Harrell for the clinching dunk.

From the 3:47 mark to that dunk, the Bulls were 2-for-7 while LA went 4-for-5. Making matters worse was the Bulls failing to capitalize on three Clippers turnovers in that span.

“We’ll watch it and we’ll learn form it and we’ll do what we do, which is teach and coach and explain and walk through and work on having a better result next time we’re in that situation. That’s all we can do and that’s what we’ll do. That’s what we do every day.”

It was still a bright spot in the Bulls’ recent woes. They actually played well much of the evening against a Clippers team playing their fourth road game in the last six days. Five players scored in double figures, including Jabari Parker, and they committed just 11 turnovers as a team.

But endings have been a struggle. The Bulls are actually tied for “clutch” games, which the NBA defines as a game within five points in the final 5 minutes. They’ve played in 24 such games, though their offensive efficiency in those contests ranks 29th, behind only the New Orleans Pelicans. One good sign? The Bulls committed just one turnover in the final 5 minutes; enterting tonight the Bulls were last in turnover percentage in clutch situations, so again there was improvement. Just not enough to stop a Clippers team with All-Star talent in Williams and Tobias Harris, who combined for 60 points.

“When you’re going through a close game like this you’ve just go to find ways to do the little things and get the win, and they did more of that than we did,” Dunn said. “We’re gonna go and watch the film tomorrow and see the things we could have done better to give us the advantage to get the win.”

LaVine has been asked to do plenty this season, and for a majority of the fourth quarter he looked ready to take on that closing role. He scored 13 of the Bulls’ 19 points in the final period, but also missed five of his final six shots when the Bulls were going back and forth down the stretch. Inst

“We made big plays. They just made bigger ones and they got the win. Their dudes made big plays,” LaVine said. “We’re still trying to learn how to win. I don’t know if this game was trying to teach us or not but it was a very winnable game. We made good plays. They just made more.”

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

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USA Today

Bulls will sign player to 2-way contract, but NBA roster is set for now

The Bulls waived Milton Doyle, Justin Simon and Simisola Shittu Saturday, which is minor news since they were mostly camp bodies competing for possibly a two-way contract.

The bigger development is that the Bulls’ roster is basically set, pending the signing of one player to the second two-way contract still available. No Iman Shumpert. No Alfonzo McKinnie. And that’s just naming two hometown products recently linked to the Bulls via the rumor mill.

The Bulls still want to see what they have in Chandler Hutchison, who did some individual shooting Saturday but missed all training camp with a hamstring injury. Denzel Valentine, currently out of the rotation, is staying ready.

And Shaq Harrison, who missed all five preseason games with his own hamstring injury but now is fully practicing, remains a Jim Boylen favorite.

And that’s what the roster staying set for now is about as much as anything. The buy-in Boylen has received from players dating to voluntary September workouts and bonds that have formed could be disrupted by the waiving of someone like Harrison, whose contract isn’t fully guaranteed but his commitment is.

While the Bulls recognize proven wing depth is a question mark, they value Harrison’s toughness and defensive ability. If Hutchison or Harrison or Valentine---if he gets an opportunity---don’t produce, perhaps a move could be made at a later date.

But expect only the signing of a second player to a two-way contract to join Adam Mokoka for now.

“We’ve been talking about that,” Boylen said. “We’re working on that. We’ve got our list and have reached out to some people. We’re actively in process.”

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Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

Lauri Markkanen is focused on team, not individual, goals for Bulls

You can’t put Lauri Markkanen in a box.

Just as you can’t pigeonhole one of the faces of the Bulls’ franchise offensively, you won’t get him to bite on any statistical goals for himself. As the outside world clamors for him and Zach LaVine to represent the Bulls at All-Star weekend in Chicago, Markkanen is focused on team goals.

“We haven’t made it to the playoffs and haven’t won many games since we’ve been here,” Markkanen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago following Saturday’s practice, alluding to himself, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. “That really bothers us. So we want to win first.”

In fact, as Markkanen fielded questions about a preseason that featured him playing more as a spot-up shooter than the dynamic, double-double machine that defined his February 2019, he shifted the focus to defense and rebounding.

Ho and hum, indeed.

“You’re trying to get me to say 22 (points) and 12 (rebounds) and 3 assists,” Markkanen said, smiling. “I don’t have those kinds of goals. I want to get our wins from 22 to whatever. And I want to get our home wins from nine to whatever. I’m not putting a number on those either. But I think guys are doing a good job of making unselfish plays and making the extra pass. We’re coming together as a team.”

In fact, Markkanen said, at least for now, his only individual goals are to “stay healthy and be consistent.” He reiterated his stance from media day that his goal is to play all 82 games after averaging 60 games his first two seasons.

“I wanted to focus on defense more this preseason and I was a little disappointed in myself in that regard early in preseason. But I watched a lot of film and I think I had my learning moments and I think I got better as preseason moved on,” Markkanen said. “I’ve talked to Coach. We both expect rebounding from me. I think we’re going to be really good offensively. It’s at a high level now, and we’re deeper. If we rebound and can limit their possessions, we have a chance to be really good.”

Don’t mistake Markkanen’s aversion to setting statistical goals for submissiveness. Early in the interview, he called his preseason “maybe not as great as I wanted to play” and acknowledged he needs to increase his free-throw attempts by getting to the rim more.

Of Markkanen’s 42 shots, 24 came from beyond the arc and he attempted just seven free throws in close to 91 preseason minutes. That average of 1.8 free-throw attempts in his four preseason games pales in comparison to the 3.8 he averaged last season.

“I haven’t got to the rim as much. I’m conscious of that. Those are easy points for us,” Markkanen said. “(Driving) is still available to me. But defenses are loading up on me more and trying not to let me get downhill. And we’re not in the post as much (offensively) as we used to be. We’re shooting a lot of 3s.”

Markkanen smiled again as he said this, so it’s clear he likes the Bulls’ approach. He also remains confident his varied offensive game will be on display at some point.

“I don’t always talk to him about his offense to be honest with you,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I talk to him about defending and rebounding and handling the ball. I’ve shown him some of his decisions in transition where he’s handled the ball.

“I want him to compete at the defensive end, rebound, handle the ball and everything else to me takes care of itself. I know he’s going to make shots. Historically, he’s been better when the lights come on.”

Those lights get flipped on for real Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. You can’t put Markkanen in a box. But he can put pressure on himself to help the Bulls make the playoffs.

“I have really high expectations of myself,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. I want to win."