Bulls

Zach LaVine excited to face Warriors with Markkanen and Dunn back

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Zach LaVine excited to face Warriors with Markkanen and Dunn back

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Bulls are not sugarcoating how badly their last matchup with the Golden State Warriors went.

“It was a blowout,” Zach LaVine said of the Oct. 29 loss at the United Center, a 149-124 beatdown that was staggering even by the standards of the two-time defending champions. Klay Thompson scored 52 points in just 26 minutes of floor time while setting the NBA’s single-game record by drilling 14 three-pointers. As a team, Golden State put up 92 points in the first half, the second-highest single-half total in NBA history.

For a Bulls team halfway through a season that’s all but over at 10-31, it would be a victory to simply avoid a repeat of that historically futile outing when they face off with the Warriors again in Oakland on Friday.

This version of the Warriors is not nearly as dominant as they were in the previous four seasons — they’re still the runaway favorites to make their fifth straight trip to the Finals until someone actually knocks them out, but at 27-14, their record is by far the most ordinary it’s been during this unprecedented half-decade run.

Not that that will likely matter much when it comes to a Bulls team that’s struggled all season to put together consistent 48-minute performances.

Down year or not, the Warriors are still trotting out a starting lineup featuring Thompson, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green; the Bulls, meanwhile, are playing long stretches with the likes of Shaquille Harrison and Ryan Arcidiacono on the court.

They hung around for much of Wednesday’s 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers before the talent gap became too much to overcome down the stretch. That’s been their story the whole season, and it’s never been more true than against a team like Golden State.

“Any one of those guys can get going,” LaVine said after practice Thursday. “Steph can come down and hit three straight threes, and then Klay, then KD. So it’s tough. But we’re all competitors. I know I’m not going to go out there and just lay down.”

One thing the Bulls have in January that they didn’t have in October is their health. In their first matchup with Golden State, they were without starting power forward Lauri Markkanen, who was rehabbing an elbow injury, as well as backup big man Bobby Portis, rehabbing a sprained MCL. Various key rotation players, from Portis and Markkanen to LaVine and Kris Dunn, have been in and out of the Bulls’ lineup all season with various injuries.

Now, other than Denzel Valentine’s season-ending ankle surgery, the Bulls have a clean bill of health, and that added depth is one reason to be optimistic their second matchup with the Warriors will turn out better than the first one.

“We’re almost fully healthy, player-wise,” LaVine said. “It’s gonna be good to go out there and see what we can do full-strength. We’re still trying to get our chemistry down and everything, but I think that’s the main difference [from the first matchup]. We didn’t have our full roster.”

The other thing these Bulls have is a new coach. The blowout loss to the Warriors was part of a dismal 5-19 start to the season that led to Fred Hoiberg’s Dec. 3 firing. Under Jim Boylen, they’re 5-12, still feeling out his new, tougher-minded coaching philosophy. That process has had its ups and downs, to put it mildly. Whatever the outcome, Boylen is going to use this second game against the Warriors as a learning experience.

“What we’re gonna try to do is respect our opponent and try to do the things that we’ve been doing in the last six weeks and try to do those things well,” Boylen said after practice. “Try to play within ourselves. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel for Golden State. We respect the heck out of them. But that doesn’t help us. We’re going to try to do what we do with effort and communication and competitiveness within our system.”

Even all the talk of effort and teamwork and communication may not be enough to make up for the disparity in talent between these two teams. Beating the Warriors is a tall order under any circumstances, but especially on the road.

“They get their crowd behind them and it’s not a lot you can do,” LaVine said. “You’ve got to compete. The game isn’t over. You might get down 10 or 15 or 20 but you’ve got to still have that mindset of, ‘We’re able to get back into the game.’”

 

Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

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Season in Review: Otto Porter shoots the lights out in small sample size

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono

Midseason expectations: Otto Porter Jr. arrived in Chicago the same night the Bulls posted a 126.3 offensive rating in a 125-120 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Maybe that was foreshadowing for how the offense would look two days later when Porter made his Bulls debut. That was the expectation, at least, that Porter would infuse life into a stagnant Bulls offense, space the floor and give the Bulls some versatility on the defensive end. Given the Bulls were 12-42 when Porter arrived, the expectation was that he’d gain some chemistry with Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen heading into the 2019-2020 season when he’d have an entire offseason to figure out a defined role.

What went right: How about 49 percent from beyond the arc? Again, it was a small sample size, but Porter connected on 39 of his 80 3-point attempts in 15 games with the Bulls. Perhaps a change of scenery and leaving that nightmare of a John Wall-less Wizards offense, was exactly what he needed. Past his lights-out shooting, Porter showed a knack for distributing that he rarely showed in Washington.

Consider that Porter had 40 assists in 15 games with the Bulls, half of the 80 assists he had with the Wizards in 41 games. He had a career-high eight assists for the Bulls in a March game against the Pistons, three more than his high in Washington last season. Porter is never going to initiate offense but playing well in pick-and-roll action and keeping the ball moving around the perimeter only adds to his value.

What went wrong: Pegged as two-way player when he arrived in Chicago, Porter didn’t do all that much on the defensive end. The Bulls were 1.1 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Porter sat than when he played. It’s a small sample size, and the Bulls defense was a mess regardless of who was or wasn’t on the floor, but it’s hard to pick out any real significant defensive plays that Porter made in his 15 games.

The Stat: 111.5

We’ll disclaim here that it was just a 17-game sample size, but that’s still more than 20 percent of the season. In the 17 games between Porter’s acquisition and when he was shut down for the remainder of the season, the Bulls’ 111.5 offensive rating was ninth best in the NBA, better than teams such as the Warriors, Hawks, Sixers and Nuggets.

What’s more, their turnover percentage (13.3%, 13th), effective field goal percentage (53.0%, 11th) and offensive rebound percentage (26.1%, 15th) were all top half of the league. It was their best stretch of the season, and it was no coincidence that it came while Porter was in the lineup and healthy. Small-ish sample size? Yes. Still promising? Yes.

2019-20 Expectations: A lot. No, the Bulls didn’t give Porter that massive contract. But it’s going to stick with him as long as the Bulls are paying him. Expectations are clear: Continue to be an elite 3-point shooter and move the ball – whether it be around the perimeter or in pick-and-roll action – once the defense shifts.

Speaking of defense, Porter will be tasked with changing the narrative in Chicago. The Bulls need to improve their defense if they’re going to have any change of competing for a playoff spot and much of that responsibility will fall on Porter. He’ll routinely be guarding the opponent’s best wing and will need to hide Zach LaVine at times. It’s a tall order, but it comes with the territory while making $27 million per year.

Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

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Report: Bulls possibly interested in adding Jrue Holiday?

According to a story by Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney, the Bulls may be looking for help in the form of one of the NBA’s better two-way players.

In the post, Deveney goes over the most salient points made by brand new New Orleans Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin. This included the fact that Griffin stated that Pels head coach Alvin Gentry will be back and that Jrue Holiday is considered “a franchise building block”.

This could be a bit of gamesmanship from Griffin, hoping to drive up the asking price for an All-Star caliber player such as Holiday.

But Deveney suggests that New Orleans may indeed be serious about their efforts to keep building with Holiday on the roster. Deveney stated, “if the Pelicans don't trade Holiday, it will set up the team for an attempt at a fast turnaround rather than a long, slogging rebuild......It will also frustrate teams looking for a versatile point guard in his prime, hoping that Holiday would be on the block.”

Phoenix was mentioned as the “top contender” for Holiday’s services should he be made available, as the Suns are one of the few teams with an obvious hole at PG. Along with the Suns, Chicago and Orlando were the other teams listed as having interest in Holiday. The Magic completed a low-risk trade during the 2018-19 season that landed them 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, so they may not be inclined to give up solid assets in a deal.

As far as the Bulls are concerned, any serious inquires on Holiday are likely to come after the May 14 NBA Draft lottery.

Depending on where the Bulls lottery pick ends up, the Pelicans could be much more inclined to make a deal with the Chicago front office. The Pelicans ended the season tied with Memphis and Dallas for the 7th spot in the draft lottery odds, and their specific organizational goals could make moving up in the draft order worth losing a valuable player like Jrue Holiday. And for the Bulls, nabbing a player like Holiday helps build onto the positive team culture that Jim Boylen wants to establish and gives the Bulls a perfect guard to pair in the backcourt with Zach LaVine.