Bulls

After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

Dwyane Wade sounded every bit like a frustrated 35-year old father when talking about the repeated ills and so-called growing pains of his Bulls, as they surrendered yet another game against a sub-.500 team.

Sometimes it's the New York Knicks whom the Bulls are offering temporary refuge. Or maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves as they are all-too-generous to roll out the welcome mat for returning figures to Chicago.

Tuesday it was the Dallas Mavericks, the second-worst team in the Western Conference, who stormed into the United Center and escaped with a 99-98 win, courtesy of Wesley Matthews' triple with 11.7 seconds left followed by him locking down Jimmy Butler on the ensuing possession.

Wade was forced to take a contested 21-footer that went awry, but the Bulls' ills went far beyond the last two possessions, when the Mavericks exploited their strategy yet again.

"Either you learn the lesson or figure out," Wade said. "Keep putting your hand on the hot stove every day.

"We just gotta figure out not to put our hands on that stove. And understand when we come in the kitchen, that stove is hot, don't touch it. As I continue to say, this is a very young team and they have to play in these games and have to go through these moments. The one thing you want, whether it's this year or next year, is to not make the same mistakes."

The Bulls are apparently insistent on touching the stove and keep burning themselves, the most recent time with the confusion or the bad strategy in defending the Mavericks' final offensive possession.

Deron Williams found himself with Nikola Mirotic defending him off a switch from Jimmy Butler. Not the quickest afoot, Mirotic gave Williams an easy path to the basket and Wade was the backside help, not wanting to leave Matthews on the wing for a triple.

But with the bench commanding Wade to help, Williams easily found Matthews for an open 3 as Wade had no help for his man. With the Bulls up two, one could see how Wade didn't want to leave Matthews.

"I'll have to go back and watch, but it looks like Deron got downcourt, Wade went over to help and we didn’t rotate accordingly," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We obviously need to do a better job of staying in front of the other end."

Mirotic was supposed to be brought back slowly in his return from strep throat, but he played the entire fourth quarter and 22 minutes overall, having lost eight pounds with his illness that had him miss four games.

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Their issues were game-long and have been seasonlong as the Mavericks were supposed to absorb a shellacking from a Bulls team that felt a 25-point beatdown in Texas last month.

Instead, they would've been happy with settling for an escape when Butler rose up over his college teammate Matthews for a 20-foot wing jumper with 22.8 seconds left.

Butler nearly added a triple-double and clutch moment to his growing resume with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds but was dogged by Matthews all night, the defender who wouldn't give him airspace, went chest-to-chest and even earned a technical foul when he felt Butler exaggerated some contact in the third quarter.

"He took away my space, wouldn't let me get to my spot," Butler said of Matthews. "Good for him. I should've did something different."

Wade missed 13 of his 21 shots, scoring 17 with five rebounds on his 35th birthday

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 21 points being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki — and they were necessary considering the Bulls were without Taj Gibson (ankle injury) and Doug McDermott couldn't repeat his 30-point showing from Sunday in Memphis.

Rick Carlisle has long been regarded as one of the top strategic coaches, and though he doesn't have the usual personnel from the Mavericks' salad days, he had enough tricks up his sleeve to throw the Bulls off.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 points and Seth Curry's 18, as Barnes, Matthews and Curry combined for eight triples — spreading the Bulls out and picking them apart defensively.

The Mavericks started Nowitzki at center, going to an almost all-small lineup. And though Lopez scored 14 points in the first half, trying to feed him seemed to take the Bulls out of it in the second half.

The energy was tardy to the party, as they shot just 41 percent in the first half but woke up a little in the third quarter — continuing their all-too familiar trend of half-hearted efforts against lesser teams.

And it looks like the ever-optimistic Wade is dishing out some realism, probably something that comes with the perspective of turning 35.

"You can't keep getting stressed out or frustrated. We've been going through this all year. We'll get back in in the morning.

"Once you realize who you are, you're better off. I sleep better at night. Once we want to be a better team and start winning games, we will. I'm not mad, I'm not frustrated, I'm not stressed. Just taking the hits."

Even without Joel Embiid, 76ers' wings will give shorthanded Bulls fits

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USA Today

Even without Joel Embiid, 76ers' wings will give shorthanded Bulls fits

The Bulls are shooting for their second win in a row, but the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers stand in their way. The game tips off at 6 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

76ers’ last five games (3-2)

  • Jan. 15 — W vs. Nets: 117-106

  • Jan. 13 — L at Pacers: 101-95

  • Jan. 11 — L at Mavericks: 109-91

  • Jan. 9 — W vs. Celtics: 109-98

  • Jan. 6 — W vs. Thunder: 120-113

Storyline(s) to watch

Billed by many as true title contenders and the favorites to come out of the East, the Sixers’ (26-16) season has been of the hot-and-cold variety so far. Fortunately for people like me, it’s pretty easy to delineate when they’ll be which temperature: Philadelphia is 19-2 on its home floor in 2019-20 while just 7-14 on the road, and some of the statistical disparities are positively gaping:

  Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating 3P% TOV per game
Home 112.1 (9th) 102.5 (3rd) 9.6 (5th) 37.5% (7th) 14.4 (15th)
Road 105.9 (22nd) 109 (11th) -3.1 (18th) 33.5% (24th) 15.1 (18th)

Still, the Sixers are a suffocating defensive team with a litany of impressive wins under their belt (chiefly, their Christmas Day romp of the Bucks). And unfortunately for the Bulls, this one will take place in the city of brotherly love. A second straight win, and one against an above-.500 team, would be a major boost, but the Sixers’ impossible length and physicality make them a daunting matchup.

Player(s) to watch: Sixers’ wings

Without Joel Embiid (torn hand ligament), the Sixers will likely trot out a starting unit of Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford. Though the absence of a ‘traditional’ point guard isn’t new to Philly, this type of roster construction — wing-heavy, and big wings, at that — poses an intriguing challenge for a Bulls defense that thrives when it can hone in on the head of their opponent’s snake in the pick-and-roll.

Well, the Sixers run just 13.9 pick-and-roll plays per game — second-least in the NBA to only the iso-crazed Rockets — and with good reason: they score just 0.8 points per possession on such plays. Instead, their playmakers outside of Embiid make their living from the post and elbows (Horford, Harris), off-the-dribble (Simmons), and spotting up (Richardson, Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Trey Burke). The spacing can get clunky (Philly’s 109 offensive rating ranks 18th in the league), but against the undersized and undermanned Bulls, they could feast anyway.

Simmons and Harris will be key. In the four games since Embiid went down, Simmons is averaging 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and seven assists on 58.9% shooting, and is devastating in transition, where the Bulls have been prone to lapses defensively. Harris is a capable shotmaker at all three levels (especially the interior) and is coming off his second-highest scoring outing of the season against the Nets:

 

Matchup to watch: Zach LaVine vs. Sixers’ perimeter defenders

Now let’s flip to the other side of the floor. That presumptive starting unit of Richardson, Thybulle, Simmons, Harris and Horford enters the night with a respectable 105.5 defensive rating and superb 19.3% turnover rate (94th percentile) in 141 possessions together, per Cleaning the Glass. The Bulls will have to work for every bucket, with little to no margin for error.

Luckily, Zach LaVine’s been on a tear of late, averaging 32 points per game on 52.3/45.7/93.1 shooting splits over his last five. Unluckily, Thybulle, Richardson and Simmons (who’s leading the league in steals per game) don’t give an inch, especially around screens. Even when you think you’ve lost them, all three have shown the ability to block shots and poke away balls from behind — on Wednesday, they pestered Kyrie Irving all night long and held him to 14 points and 6-for-21 shooting.

LaVine has been up to most every scoring-related task that he’s been faced with this season, but in Philadelphia lies perhaps his greatest test. Even if the Bulls don’t pull out a win akin to their 108-107 primetime victory (in which LaVine dropped 39 and the game-winner) last March, he can still submit another bid for February’s All-Star game with a big night against stingy competition.

Injury report

  • Chandler Hutchison (right shoulder soreness) is officially listed as questionable, though he said at shootaround Thursday that he thought he “dodged a bullet” after falling hard on his shoulder in the fourth quarter of the Wizards game. The Bulls need his size and range tonight.

  • Joel Embiid is out with a torn ligament in his right hand and is set to be re-evaluated next week.

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The Pecking Order: Bulls' pre-NBA Trade Deadline to-do list

The Pecking Order: Bulls' pre-NBA Trade Deadline to-do list

We’re beyond the halfway point of what looks to be another lost season, Bulls fans. As we enter the next phase of the schedule, it’s important for this team to acknowledge their current reality and put emphasis on making positive steps to improve their future.

It’s not about playoffs anymore but that doesn’t mean there can’t be new goals to set and meet through these final 40 games. It starts with a critical stretch between now and the NBA’s trade deadline on February 6.

Here are five things I’d like to see the Bulls do over the next three weeks. It’s the Pecking Order.

1) Try something new

Earlier this week, when asked by our Bulls Insider K.C. Johnson to assess his team at the season’s halfway point, Jim Boylen said he likes that they’ve established a style of play at both ends of the floor. I’m sorry, but the Bulls' offensive rating of 104.7 currently ranks 28th in the league and falls to 96.2 when Zach LaVine is off the court? The Bulls' defense – which Boylen and John Paxson have pointed to as proof of growth – has fallen dramatically against tougher opponents? Through eight January games, the Bulls' defensive rating is 113.7.

If the style you’re using isn’t working – 15 wins and 27 losses – should you stick with it? As my buddy John Sabine said during a recent episode of Outsiders, “a mullet is a style.”

On offense, the multi-ball handler “style” is not working consistently, nor does it fit the strengths of the players on the roster. See Markkanen, Lauri. On defense, the high rate of forced turnovers yields little because the team can’t execute in transition and fastbreak situations.

The trapping pick and roll defense is picked apart by competent teams and has only been more exposed since Wendell Carter Jr.’s injury. Nonetheless, the Bulls stick with it, establishing these styles of play regardless of personnel. It’s a glaring example of their inflexibility and inability to make proper adjustments.

The Bulls can’t be satisfied with the systems if the team is 12 games under .500 through the “easy” part of your schedule. Try something else.

2) Play and trade Thad

Thad Young is back to being Thad Young. The veteran forward produced 35 points off the bench in the past two games, 23 of those came near the basket on post-ups or pick and roll actions. His half-court game is “old school” and doesn’t fit the “new school” (i.e. only threes and layups) that the Bulls demand from their players.

Guess what? Thad’s buckets this week were some of the most competent offense we’ve seen from this team all season, outside of LaVine’s individual brilliance.

Thad played 21 minutes on Wednesday night, while Luke Kornet led all players with 35. Anybody else see a problem here?

With the losses of Wendell and now Daniel Gafford for up to four weeks with a thumb, the Bulls must seriously consider starting Thad. Sliding Lauri to the five is certainly a calculated risk on defense, but is Kornet that much better if he is attacking ball handlers away from the paint? We learned in October that Kornet’s defensive pluses are replaced by severe minuses in this defensive system.

Why not significantly increase Thad’s minutes for the next three weeks? Showcase his talent to pair with his already tradeable quality of being a well-liked and respected veteran to playoff-bound teams. Everybody wins.

3) Play and trade Denzel

On Wednesday night, he was the only active player to not get any minutes. Yes, that includes Cristiano Felicio. Denzel didn’t even get in the game after Chandler Hutchison went down with his 14th different injury in the 15 games he’s played this season.

Denzel’s absence from the rotation is even more confounding when you realize that the Bulls are currently ninth in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted per game but only 19th in 3-point percentage. His 39.2% success rate from deep trails only LaVine and Ryan Arcidiacono among healthy players on the roster. On Monday, Bulls players not named Zach LaVine went 3-19 from downtown. When the Bulls don’t hit threes, they lose. It’s been a constant all season. Denzel’s other greatest attributes, his passing and IQ, could help this team’s constantly stagnant half-court offense.

If the Bulls have decided to give up on Denzel and not offer him a new contract, what’s the harm in playing him for three weeks to boost his trade value? Instead of letting yet another player leave for nothing in return, maybe a playoff-bound team can find use for a bench shooter and send the Bulls a pick or young player.

4) Play. Lauri. Real. Minutes.

Lauri Markkanen’s regression is easily the biggest disappointment in a season filled with them. His usage percentage (20.9), field goal attempts (12.0) and points per game (15.0) are all lower than his rookie season. His minutes per game (30.2) are barely higher than the 29.7 he played as a rookie.

Yes, some of the fault falls on Lauri for not asserting himself more. He looks completely passive and disengaged, but this offensive system isn’t doing him any favors. It won’t get fixed if he’s not on the court. Eliminate these long stretches where Lauri sits for eight, nine, 12 minutes at a time. In three of their past four games, Lauri has taken fewer than 10 shots. Inexcusable. This kid is supposed to be a cornerstone of the rebuild. Do everything you can to help him try to fix this terrible season.

5) Give Coby some plays to run.

Bulls fans have been debating all season long whether Coby White should start. I’m on the record as being against it because I don’t think he’s ready and has been too inconsistent. At this point, screw it. He clearly has talent and is the only other player on this roster besides LaVine capable of creating his own shot off the dribble. Iso Coby has fueled a lagging second unit on many nights. But in the back half of the season, I want to see him doing more point guard things.

I know it goes against the free-flowing system, but can we please install some actual offensive plays for Coby to run that involve other players? We know he can get to the rim and create his own shots. Great. Box checked. But this team is still searching for a real point guard, so why not see what the kid can do when you ask him to run plays for his teammates? Try some new stuff. Make use of your remaining games by developing a key piece of the rebuild.

It’s not a pretty to-do list, but the Bulls aiming to achieve some or all these things will help them in the long run.

Thanks for reading. See red, be good.