Bulls

Central Division rival Pacers dealing with their own injured-star woes

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Central Division rival Pacers dealing with their own injured-star woes

Heading into this season, the Pacers were supposed to be the class of the Central Division, capitalizing on Derrick Roses extended absence in Chicago.
However, due to a major injury of their owngo-to scorer Danny Granger, their starting small forward, is out indefinitely with severe knee soreness and reportedly wont return until the next calendar yearIndiana got off to a slow start.
They have since recovered from an early swoon that saw center Roy Hibbert, coming off an All-Star season and a maximum contract extension over the summer, seemingly regress and the teams multiple newcomersan overlooked aspect, as the Pacers have an almost entirely new bench, with the exception of holdover Tyler Hansbrough, a frequent Bulls antagoniststruggle to adjust to their new roles. Indiana is now 8-9, including a buzzer-beating win over the Lakers in Los Angeles, coming into Tuesdays showdown against the Bulls at the United Center.
I think more than anything, I think its just an opportunity for us to get a quality win against a good basketball team, veteran power forward David West told CSNChicago.com at the teams morning shootaround at the United Center. We know theyre not at full strength either, but again, theyre very capable. Were fighting for the division and its just a game thats on our schedule, that we have to do all we can to come out and try to get a win.
Were trying to fill in the gaps where we can, get some guys in positions, get them some experience that they havent had and guys get an opportunity to play. Thats what happens in the league when one of your main guys goes down. Other guys get an opportunity to play, step up and again, we started off rough, but I think guys are doing a better job getting into a flow. Weve had to adjust the offense to make some inroads, in terms of being able to compete and get wins, he continued.
Again, anytime you bring guys into a system, theres always an adjustment period, but its still early and we know what type of talent and capability we have on this basketball team, and we feel like well get in the right flow as the year wears on and obviously, you dont want to be playing your best basketball right now. You want to be playing your best ball later in the year. We feel like we have the team thats built to do that and hopefully we can pick ups wins when we go out, play the game the right way, but as the year wears on, get better.
Obviously you want to do better than you did the year before. I thought a key to our success last year was that we were just healthy. We didnt have any guys miss games. Obviously thats not the case this year, but were building toward the end goal and thats to be full strength as the year wears on, and hopefully fight for one of the top playoff spots. We dont feel like thats out of the grasp or out of the realm of reality for us.
West was an All-Star with his previous team, New Orleans, and appears headed back to that form early in the season, as well as taking over a more vocal leadership following a season in which he was still recovering from an ACL injury with the Hornets. Now in a contract yearhe signed a two-year deal after the lockout and is now poised to be one of the better free agents on the market next summerhes been able to put his stamp on the young Pacers.
I wasnt really healthy, in terms of being able to do what I wanted to do last year, really until the last month of the season. Having an opportunity to have a full summer to just work out, play, improve and then have a full training camp, full preseason, it just helps, he explained. Obviously just feeling more confident in my leg, confident in what I can do, thats contributed to some of the success that Ive had early on.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, who was just the interim coach when Indiana faced off with the Bulls in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs two years ago, now has experience to go with his youthful enthusiasm on the sidelines. Vogel understands that meshing together a retooled roster and continuing to develop young talent, including athletic swingman Paul George, is crucial, even as Indiana deals with preseason expectations.
Even the end of last year, we got to a point where we sort of the hunted because we were playing so well, so I think we got used to it, got a taste of it at the end of last year. Coming into this year, its a double-edged sword. Youve got the expectations and then, youve got to deal with readjusting with Danny being out, so its been a little bit of a struggle, but I feel good about the fact that were remaking our identity and I think that weve got some good basketball ahead of us, he told CSNChicago.com. Guys are just trying to play the team approach. No one guy can make up for Danny Grangers absence. Weve just got to move the basketball, share it and make up for it as a team.
Vogel believes that the Central Division will be a hard-fought race until the end, with the Bucks also factoring in, as the Bulls and Pacers try to hold down the fort without their injured stars.
Milwaukees playing great basketball, too. Theyre right up there, he said. Obviously us and Chicago are right around that .500 mark. Its going to be an interesting fight.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

David Haugh, Jordan Cornette, Shae Peppler join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Mark Schanowski joins SportsTalk Live to discuss Kris Dunn’s sprained MCL, Fred Hoiberg’s tough luck and Zach LaVine postgame criticisms of the coaching. Plus they’ll discuss another 0-3 team- LeBron’s Lakers.

20:00 – The panel discusses Mitchell Trubisky’s performance vs. the Patriots. Jordan makes the case that the media is giving the former No. 2 pick a pass.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

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USA TODAY

Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

Through the opening week of the NBA season, Hornets' All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and former Bull Niko Mirotic share the league scoring lead, averaging 33 points per game.

Bulls' fans have seen these hot stretches from Niko before, and chances are he'll start moving down to the mid to high-teens before long. But Walker is a big-time scorer who's quietly emerged as one of the most consistently productive point guards in a league loaded with stars at that position. He's averaged over 20 points and 5 assists in each of the last three seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team twice.

Last season, Walker lit up the Bulls for 47 points in an overtime loss at the United Center in November, making some of the most difficult shots you can imagine to keep his team in the game. He seems to be as this best when facing the Bulls and you can bet Fred Hoiberg and his staff will pull out all the stops to try to slow him down, especially with defensive ace Kris Dunn out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained left MCL in his season debut on Monday.

The Hornets made some personnel changes since last season. The one-year experiment with Dwight Howard at center is over. Howard put up solid numbers for Charlotte a year ago, but didn't make much difference in the win-loss column, so he's moved on to Washington in his NBA odyssey. Cody Zeller is now the starting center, backed up by Bismack Biyombo and former Benet Academy and University of Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky.

Charlotte tried to improve the athleticism on their roster by selecting Malik Monk and Miles Bridges in the first rounds of the last two drafts. Monk is getting more playing time this season, averaging 13.5 points in the Hornets' first four games. Bridges is averaging just under 16 minutes a game as a backup to starting forwards Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. Just like he did at Michigan State, Bridges is providing those highlight reel putback dunks, but it remains to be seen whether he'll develop a consistent enough outside shot to be a quality starter in the NBA.

The well-traveled Jeremy Lamb is now starting in the backcourt with Walker, and the Hornets brought in long-time Spurs' point guard Tony Parker to add some much needed experience and veteran savvy off the bench. Given the current state of the Eastern Conference (post-LeBron), it's not out of the question for this group to contend for one of the final playoff spots.

Here's what the Bulls need to do for a shot at their first win of the season. This also applies to the rematch in Charlotte on Friday.

1. CORRAL KEMBA. For whatever reason, seeing that Bulls' logo turns Walker into an almost unstoppable scoring machine. Walker is adept at working off his big men, either in straight pick and rolls or cutting through the post on give-and-go plays. He's one of the league's most creative scorers, and doesn't require much room to get his shot off. The Bulls' bigs will have to provide help on Walker whenever he comes off screens to keep him from taking over the game.

2. PUT THE BALL IN ZACH'S HANDS. Whether he's playing shooting guard or point guard, Zach LaVine needs to be the primary facilitator with Dunn sidelined. LaVine scored 34 points against Dallas Monday night on just 15 shots, which led to him questioning some of the offensive sets that were run in the 2nd half. LaVine told reporters on Tuesday that he smoothed things over with his head coach, explaining his comments were the result of the frustration he was feeling after a third-straight loss to open the season. Still, LaVine is on a major hot streak, joining Bulls' all-time greats Michael Jordan and Bob Love as the only players to start the year with three straight games scoring at least 30 points. The Bulls will need to ride that hot hand for as far as LaVine can carry them.

3. DEFEND THE 3-POINT LINE. You knew I would eventually get to this, right? Dallas made 15 of 47 3-point attempts on Monday after the Pistons knocked down 18 of 40 in a two-point win last Saturday. The Hornets have all kinds of capable 3-point shooters in Walker, Lamb, Monk, Batum and Williams (they're shooting .397 as a team on 3's), so guarding the arc will be crucial for the Bulls to have a chance at their first win.

Don’t forget you can catch Wednesday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and the new MyTeams by NBC sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 pm when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Kelly Crull join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Neil Funk and Stacey King have the play-by-play call at 7 pm, then stay tuned after the final buzzer for Bulls Postgame Live and the always entertaining Bulls Outsiders.