Struggling Bulls know 'we've got to find ourselves again'

Struggling Bulls know 'we've got to find ourselves again'

There were travels at midcourt. Passes flew into the stands, airballs and shot-clock violations arose and at one point an inbounds to no one found Giannis Antetokounmpo in mid-stride. The Bucks All-Star took two dribbles, slammed home his easiest two points of the night and jogged back, waiting for the next Bulls’ possession.

Another game without Kris Dunn, another ugly offensive performance. It’s becoming a trend for the Bulls, who have now lost four of five after Sunday afternoon’s 110-96 loss. Ball movement was once again an issue despite 25 assists. Sixteen turnovers turned in to 16 points for a Bucks offense that didn’t need the help.

And for the second straight game the Bulls had a chance to push pace and failed to do so, resulting in just eight fast break points. An ugly performance against a Lakers team on Friday could have been predicted. Los Angeles had won seven of nine and the Bulls were returning home from a three-game road trip that included a double-overtime loss and a trashing in Philadelphia.

But the Bulls had two days to bounce back, fix what went wrong against the Lakers and prepare for a Bucks defense ranked 23rd in efficiency. Instead, the Bulls looked lost again without Dunn and will go back to the drawing board Monday afternoon.

“We’re going to have a hell of a practice tomorrow,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We’re going to have a training camp-type practice tomorrow. We’ve got to get our competitive edge back.”

After trailing by 15 in the first quarter on Friday, Hoiberg stressed his team needing to jump out to better starts. Whether it was the 2:30 start time or something else, they came out flat. Again. The Bulls trailed by seven, and a usually stout second unit allowed the deficit to blossom to 13 midway through the second half. By halftime the Bulls trailed by 19, and that was with Antetokounmpo only contributing eight points. The Bucks shot 62 percent from deep, while the Bulls committed nearly as many turnovers (10) as they handed out assists (11).

The offense settled in some in the second half, but so did Antetokounmpo. It made for an unfair fight, with the Greek Freak scoring eight of the Bucks’ first 10 points to open the period. He finished with 27 and added eight assists.

The Bulls tried to push back, but Zach LaVine struggled for a second straight night, missing his first nine shots and finishing with six points. Reserves Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis combined for 5 of 16 shooting, and Jerian Grant posted a rather empty 15 points and five assists.

It was a stark contrast from the Bulls team that reeled off eight straight wins, and even after coming down from that unprecedented run had won four of five before this losing streak began. Dunn is important, but not the end-all, be-all to the Bulls’ offense functioning.

“I just think we’ve got to find ourselves again,” said Justin Holiday, who scored 12 points on 13 shots. “We just got to try to find a way to get a flow back. Get our aggressiveness back offensively.”

That aggressiveness would serve them well. They finished with just 11 transition points against the Lakers, the fastest team in the league, and eight against the Bucks.

Denzel Valentine continued to be a bright spot on the second unit, going for 18 points – including four straight made floaters that were as unorthodox as they come – five rebounds and four assists. Since being moved to the second unit for LaVine, Valentine has flourished and brought energy alongside David Nwaba, while also acting as a de-facto point guard in some closing lineups.

“It’s going to take some time,” Valentine said of the offense acclimating with LaVine back, “but I think when it comes together it’s going to be dangerous.”

For those hoping the Bulls will enter a free fall and get back into the race for a top-3 pick in June’s draft, it’s headed in that direction. The Bulls are now tied for the sixth worst record in the league, and are just 3.5 games ahead of the NBA-worst Atlanta Hawks. But as Hoiberg and the Bulls have reiterated, there’s no talk of tanking in the home locker room at 1901 W. Madison St.

They’re attempting to build a winning culture, and before any talk of improving the roster and adding talent, it starts with effort. The Bulls showed very little of it on Sunday, and the current trend looks much more like the 3-20 Bulls that began the season than the one that reeled off eight straight wins. The answer is somewhere in between, and Hoiberg intends on finding it sooner than later.

“We’ve got to get our competitive edge back,” he said. “It’ll start at practice tomorrow.”

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen’s celebration for his 21st birthday coincided with another major honor, being selected to the All-Rookie First team.

Markkanen received 76 of 100 possible first-team votes to join Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma on the first team. Mitchell and Simmons were unanimous selections and Tatum was one vote short of joining Mitchell and Simmons.

Markkanen, acquired on draft night in the package of players for Jimmy Butler, showed he was far more advanced than many expected. His 15.2 points per game ranked third among rookies and his 7.5 rebounds were first.

Markkanen was a constant in a topsy-turvy season for the Bulls, scoring 30-plus twice and hitting the 25-point plateau another three times. As a perfect fit in Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system, Markkanen had eight games where he hit four triples or more, including a game in New York where he drilled eight 3-pointers against the Knicks.

Only 15 rookies have hit more than 140 triples in NBA history, with Markkanen accomplishing the feat in 68 games—he was joined by Mitchell and Kuzma from this year’s star-studded class.

As the season progressed and Markkanen took hold of the power forward position, the Bulls began maneuvering personnel around him, trading disgruntled forward Nikola Mirotic and making a concerted effort to put Bobby Portis at center to pair Portis with Markkanen as a spread-shooting duo.

As the most impressive rookie the Bulls have employed since Derrick Rose, he’s also the first rookie since Taj Gibson in 2010 to make All-Rookie First Team.

ESPN ranks Derrick Rose No. 36 in its World Fame 100 list


ESPN ranks Derrick Rose No. 36 in its World Fame 100 list

Yes, Derrick Rose Stans. Your boy still has plenty of relevance in the sports world.

ESPN released its third annual ranking of "the biggest names in sports," and the Timberwolves point guard ranked No. 36 on the list. ESPN formed the list based on a formula that took three factors into account:

1. Search score, "which measures how often a name is searched"

2. Endorsement dollars, with sources using ranging from Forbes to ESPN contributors

3. Social media followers, with ESPN taking only the platform in which the player had his or her most followers into account.

Rose's search score wasn't all that impressive, ranking 15 - the average on the top 100 list had a score of 35. But with Bulls fans, NBA fans and now of course Timberwolves fans chiming in on his game, Rose's name came across plenty of timelines and search engines.

Rose's $14 million in endorsements - primarily from that massive Adidas deal - was better than the average $12.6 million of the top 100 athletes.

Rose's top social media page is on Facebook, where he currently has more than 10.7 million likes. This, as ESPN notes, is largely due to the international following Rose and so many other NBA athletes have built up over the years.

In 2016, Rose ranked No. 30 on the list. In 2017 he was No. 33 on the list, so while he isn't trending in the right direction there's no denying his presence in the sports landscape. Love him or hate him, Derrick Rose still matters.

The only NBA players above Rose on the list were LeBron James (No. 2), Kevin Durant (No. 7), Stephen Curry (No. 9), James Harden (No. 24), Kyrie Irving (No. 27), Dwyane Wade (No. 31) and Russell Westbrook (No. 34). NBA players below Rose included Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Isaiah Thomas, and Cameron Payne.

OK, not Cameron Payne. He must have been No. 101.