Bulls

Busy week for Fire begins in Portland

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Busy week for Fire begins in Portland

The Fire is well-rested now after coming through its first busy stretch of games in great shape, getting seven of a possible nine points in a three-games-in-nine-nights stretch.

That run of Major League Soccer matches ended with a 2-1 home win over Sporting Kansas City last Saturday, and this Sunday the next busy stretch begins. Though the upcoming opponents havent played as well so far in the season, it could be a rougher challenge for the Fire.

The Fire just completed a successful run that included a win at Chivas USA before getting four points in two home matches against conference leaders, Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC.

The upcoming stretch is shorter - three games in seven nights - and it includes more travel. Sundays match is at Portland (2-5-3), then the Fire hosts FC Dallas (3-6-3) on Wednesday and finishes up at Columbus (3-4-2) on May 26.

In Sundays match the Fire (4-2-3) will catch a Timbers team that played the Houston Dynamo to a scoreless draw Tuesday on the road. Portland has had a slow start in its second MLS season but has played acceptably at JELD-WEN Field (2-2-1), and the Fire has never played a good match against the Timbers.

Last season the Timbers were an expansion team that feasted on the Fire. They won their first-ever league match with a rousing 4-2 victory at JELD-WEN Field on April 14 and then earned their first-ever road win with a 1-0 victory at Toyota Park on July 16.

The Fire wont be at full strength for the upcoming run of matches. Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender, was diagnosed with a Grade 2 right-hamstring strain and is expected to be sidelined 3-4 weeks. He suffered the injury 29 minutes into the Sporting Kansas City match. Dan Gargan, himself nursing a sore ankle, was pressed into service at his right back spot and Jalil Anibaba moved from the right side to the center, opposite rookie Austin Berry.

"We lost momentum when Arne came out of the game," admitted coach Frank Klopas. "It took us some time to adjust."

The Fire adjusted, but not after promptly giving up the games first goal, and later benefitted from a red card against SKC before getting the win.

"We got a little fortunate with the red card," said forward Patrick Nyarko, who assisted on Dominic Oduros game-winning goal. "That lifted our confidence. When we played Seattle (a 2-0 home loss) and Real Salt Lake (a draw) teams I think are among the top five in the league we didnt beat those teams. So, this one (vs. SKC) was crucial to our confidence."

This match has some historical significance for the Fire, with midfielder Marco Pappa scheduled to become the 15th player to play in 100 games for the franchise. Hes also tied for fifth in Fire history with his 22 goals. The No. 2 man in that department, Chris Rolfe, is still healing from a sprained left ankle suffered in his third day of training after re-joining the Fire following a three-year stint in Denmark.

Rolfe had 38 goals for the Fire from 2005-09, which is topped only by Ante Razovs 76 from 1998-2004. Rolfe finally resumed running at this weeks training sessions, but the club lists him as questionable for Saturday and hes unlikely to even make the trip.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Daniel Gafford breaks out in loss to Bucks

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Daniel Gafford breaks out in loss to Bucks

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, Dave Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 115-101 loss to the Bucks.

0:45                        Reaction to breakout game from Daniel Gafford

3:30                        On Gafford getting limited minutes and not playing in the 4th quarter

7:00                        Viewer comment on sitting Markkanen

8:55                        Viewer comment on on Zach and Lauri

10:15                     On the rotations and bench play

12:45                     Viewer comment on Coby White long-term potential

14:30                     Dave needs to do a show with no hat?

16:15                     Viewer comment on Zach LaVine

18:00                     Viewer trade idea with Warriors

19:45                     Viewer comment brings back Rose memories

20:05                     Change the starting lineup?

22:05                     Viewer makes Sabine happy by referencing Doncic

23:10                     Matt Peck breaks his mic

25:00                     On the Bucks having fun before the Bulls game

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

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen fail to produce in crunch time for Bulls

Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen fail to produce in crunch time for Bulls

Coby White’s second straight 3-pointer splashed through the net — a three that, combined with a Ryan Arcidiacono long-ball, capped a 9-0 run to give the Bulls a one-point lead over the Bucks with 6 minutes, 23 seconds to play.

For the second time in five days, the Bulls had an opportunity to knock off the Bucks, an Eastern Conference champion contender.

Then, reality hit. Or the starters returned. At this point, that’s one and the same.

Here’s all you need to know about where the Bulls’ rebuild stands as 'Year Three' fell to a 4-10 start following the Bucks’ 115-101 victory: Coach Jim Boylen admitted he considered riding a bench unit down the stretch over one that featured Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.

“They have a guy that they can go to that can get them a bucket, which is what good teams have,” Boylen said, referring to the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo. “I’ve been on those teams. We’re figuring out who that guy is and we’re learning to play that way. We’re not there yet.”

Boylen then supported his beleaguered core players, because that’s what he’s paid to do. But the sobering reality of the Bulls’ current fortunes didn’t just play out in LaVine’s stat line of 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting, or Markkanen’s 9 points on 2-for-12.

It played out when Boylen indeed returned to LaVine and Markkanen with 5:04 remaining, and the Bucks leading 103-99. From that point, the Bulls didn’t score another field goal.

Markkanen sank two free throws but missed a driving layup and 13-foot jumper. LaVine committed a turnover, missed a layup and a 3-pointer.

Game, set and match.

“They got the MVP over there. He did his thing. And we didn’t,” LaVine said. “It’s going to be tough when your leading players, me and Lauri, don’t perform at our level. You can understand that. You’re missing a lot of points and a lot of plays. We understand we have to pick it up.”

What’s that they say? Recognition is the first step towards recovery. The Bulls have to hope so, especially after Markkanen admitted his slump is affecting him mentally.

“It’s frustrating knowing I’ve never had this kind of stretch of not even not hitting 3s but missing layups and dunks,” he said. “I have to keep my head up knowing that you work too hard for this not to turn around. Keep working and I know it’s going to turn around.

“I noticed myself kind of thinking too much at the half. I tried to switch it up and make the plays for the team. That’s how you get out of your own head. I have to stay aggressive. Create contact and then finish every shot. Not getting out of it too early or anything like that. I’ve done my film study. Put the work in and I know it’s going to turn around.”

At one point, Markkanen actually missed two dunk attempts on the same possession. Following the second, he rolled his eyes toward the United Center roof as if to say, 'What’s next?'

Markkanen is shooting 36.2 percent overall and 26.8 percent from 3-point range. He missed all four three-pointers he attempted versus the Bucks.

“Just try to get an easy bucket and lay it in. But having two 7-footers there, I know it’s going to be blocked so I tried to go up quick and end up missing it,” Markkanen said of the dunk sequence. “It was frustrating. I know I can play better. It’s not going to be like this forever. I don’t know what else to say.”

Antetokounmpo made 13 field goals, equaling the total of five Bulls starters. How do you say 'ouch' in Greek?

“What I’m going to do is I’m going to support those two guys. I’m going to coach them like I always have. I’m going to show it to them on film and we’re going to work on it in practice. We’re going to get them to understand that we believe in them, we value them and that we need to do better,” Boylen said. “It’s all part of this process. We’re slugging uphill right now. We gotta keep slugging. That’s all I can say.”

Boylen said he returned to LaVine and Markkanen because he still believes in them. He has to say that and he has to believe that. The rebuild is structured for them to shine.

It’s not currently happening.

“I’m still developing two young guys,” Boylen said. “Zach missed a year-and-a-half. Lauri was hurt last year. He has basically played two years. I’m going to keep developing them to come in and learn how to win games. I believe in both of them. I believe they’re important to what we’re doing.”

Raising LaVine’s absence to an ACL injury and subsequent rehab is a curious approach from Boylen given that LaVine has been fully healthy and rehabbed for quite some time. But again, he has been placed in a position where he has to protect their play and lack of production in big moments.

The Bulls are a long way away from respectability at this point.

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