Bulls

With backs against the wall, Bulls loose and focused for Game 6

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With backs against the wall, Bulls loose and focused for Game 6

Facing potential elimination against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls’ sense of humor is still intact, at the very least.

When asked about the Bulls’ pulse, opening the door for a predictable cliché, the witty Mike Dunleavy had a catchy response.

“We got a good pulse, we're alive, we have one,” Dunleavy said to laughs. “We know what we gotta do. We gotta come out and get off to a good start and play a full 48 minutes.”

[RELATED: Do-or-die time for Bulls' revamped offense to show up]

Putting together a full 48 suitable for framing is a rarity at this stage. Teams are too studied on what the other wants to do, too accustomed to set plays for any one team to dominate the other.

As for emotion, it usually dissipates at this stage, as long as you discount the Taj Gibson-Matthew Dellavedova incident as two teams tired of dealing with each other.

“It usually does. Just gotta stay focused,” said center Joakim Noah, perhaps the most emotional of the Bulls. “It’s an emotional game. We gotta keep our composure and not get frustrated. There’s going to be frustration in the game always and just focus on the next play.

The Bulls, feeling a bit sour after coming up short on the last two games, know the difference between being up 3-2 or in this position is quite minute.

“It's tough. Both teams have great players,” Dunleavy said. “LeBron (James) is a load down the stretch of the game. It's a play here, play there. Last game, it was an offensive rebound.

“Maybe it's a steal, loose ball, it can be anything but it's really, we can be up 4-1 and the series could be over and vice versa. They could be moving on as well. That's the way this thing has gone. It could come down to the last possession.”

Being back home to the United Center certainly helps, as this could not only the last game of the season but the last of an era. Having Pau Gasol back is a confidence boost, even though he’s clearly not 100 percent.

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

They hope the scoring droughts of the last two games will come to an end with Gasol's reappearance, and for what he brings they’ll make sure he’s not exploited on the other end.

“Pau doesn't move around like a gazelle, so him at not 100 percent is OK with us,” Dunleavy said. “His size is still huge, he can still knock down shots. If he's a little slow getting up and down the court we can cover for him.”

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Lauri Markkanen’s injury and loss to Kings

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Lauri Markkanen’s injury and loss to Kings

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 98-81 loss to the Kings.

1:00 - Reaction to the loss and LaVine getting double-teamed

2:50 - On Jim Boylen saying don’t expect system changes with Markkanen hurt

4:25 - Sabine’s list of things that have happened since the last time the Kings made the playoffs in 2006

5:35 - Viewer comment on LaVine and Coby

6:40 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine

8:00 - On the importance of 1st vs 3rd quarter

9:00 - Viewer comment on possible trades

11:00 - Viewer comment on seeing Bulls without Markkanen

14:30 - On Lauri Markkanen’s hip injury and missing 4-6 weeks

18:40 - Viewer comment asking if Bulls should shut down Markkanen

19:50 - Hey Matt Peck, did you see what DRose did tonight?

21:15 - Viewer comment on what to expect from Lauri when he returns

23:40 - Viewer asking the greatest moment the Outsiders have witnessed

24:55 - On NBA naming the All-Star starters

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Without Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine's job will only get more difficult

Without Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine's job will only get more difficult

It’s been the most pressing on-court issue facing the Bulls all season — in a season full of them:

Outside of Zach LaVine, where do the points come from?

The glare of that question is only set to amplify with Lauri Markkanen now set to miss four to six weeks with a pelvic injury. Take tonight’s 98-81 defeat at the hands of the Kings as an example. LaVine tallied 21 — his 13th consecutive game with 20 or more. Thad Young chipped in 10; Kris Dunn did, too. But the rest of the team mustered 40, and the Bulls finished with 81 points against the Kings’ 18th-rated defense.

For a stretch — a 109-second one, to start the second half — it appeared LaVine might single-handedly save the day, as he has before. He opened the third quarter with 10 quick points to shave a 10-point halftime deficit to two after tallying eight in the first two periods combined.

But the Kings clamped up. The rest of the way, LaVine scored only thrice and was ever on the run from one, two or three Sacramento defenders at a time, depending on the possession. The Bulls’ dearth of scoring around him made the gameplan a simple one: Cut the head off the snake. LaVine finished just 8-for-21 from the field.

“I think they did a good job of that,” Jim Boylen said of the Kings’ throwing waves of bodies LaVine’s way. “Zach's a primary guy and they treated him like a primary guy. He got up 21 shots. You know, six rebounds. I thought he tried.”

This storyline isn’t going away. As of this writing, three of the Bulls’ top five scorers (Marrkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr.) are sidelined and weeks (at least) away from return. Young, steady as he is, isn’t going to transform into a consistent 20-point scorer overnight. Tomas Satoransky and Coby White represent the Bulls’ best chance of secondary explosions on a night-to-night basis — but against Sacramento, they combined for 16 points on 4-for-16 shooting.

“I mean, [opponents have] been doing that,” LaVine said of the double and triple-teams he received tonight. “We gotta get somebody to step up, and I think we'll find it. It's the first game without Lau [Lauri Markkanen]. We'll figure out what we gotta do in Cleveland.”

Easier said than done. Down another primary 3-point threat in Markkanen, the Bulls shot 8-for-37 from deep tonight, the fifth time in seven games they’ve made less than 10 3-pointers. They’re now 2-13 on the season when they make less than 10 3s.

“Will we have to adjust some things and maybe play a little differently? Maybe,” Jim Boylen said of the team’s shooting. “I'll evaluate with the shots we got and what else we had. But I'm not gonna reinvent the wheel in January, I'm not gonna do that.”

The Bulls — spearheaded by Boylen and LaVine — insist they’re going to keep plugging. Still, an offense already third-to-last in the league in offensive rating just lost another cog, and the impact was apparent. LaVine already carried as great an offensive load as anyone in the league. Now, if he didn’t already, he’ll receive as much attention as anyone, too.

“That's up to coach. I'm prepared for everything. I think my conditioning's [good], so we'll see, maybe I gotta do that,” LaVine said of potentially taking on more minutes.

And of the injuries: “Nobody's gonna feel bad for you. They're just gonna try to take advantage of it.”

The Kings did that successfully tonight. The Bulls hope it doesn't prove a foreshadowing.

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