Bulls

Bucks have the right attitude, but execution needs work

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Bucks have the right attitude, but execution needs work

Jason Kidd made it clear Saturday that the Milwaukee Bucks weren't simply happy to be here.

A 67-loss team from a year ago, touting four leading scorers all under the age of 23 with zero playoff experience could have relished the fact that they finished .500, qualified for the playoffs and could build for what looks to be a promising future by gaining valuable experience with a first-round matchup against a Chicago Bulls team with championship aspirations.

But just showing up wasn't going to be enough for Kidd, who won a title as a player with the Mavericks in 2010 and appeared in 158 career playoff games.

"We’re looking at getting better each time we take the floor, no matter what’s at stake game-wise," he said. "So there’s a lot to lose if we don’t come out and play hard."

Added 23-year-old Michael Carter-Williams, who three months earlier was running the point for the tanking Philadelphia Sixers: "We’re definitely going out there to compete. We want to win."

And though the first taste of playoff experience for four of the nine players who took the United Center floor resulted in a 103-91 loss in Game 1, the Bucks indeed showed flashes that they'll be more than just a tune-up for the Bulls and their potential second-round matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

[MORE: Rose, Butler lead Bulls to first blood over game Bucks]

Yet while the young Bucks brought the right attitude into Saturday night's affair, executing against one of the league's premier head coaches and veteran-laced groups was a different story.

After not allowing neither a single 30-point quarter or 95 total points in four matchups against the Bulls in the regular season, the usually resilient Bucks defense was porous, a step behind their opponent and and unwilling to get physical without fouling with a Bulls team that won the rebounding battle by 11 and and scored 42 points in the paint.

It was far different from what the Bucks had been under Kidd. Specifically since trading for the 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams at the trade deadline, the Bucks' 99.4 defensive rating ranked second in the NBA, helping mask an offense that in the first half of the season had been led by Brandon Knight, who was sent to Pheonix as part of the three-team deal. The offense under Carter-Williams had ranked 26th in the league in efficiency to end the season, with Jabari Parker's absence due to a torn ACL in January doing them no favors on that end of the floor.

It's why on paper the Bucks' first quarter numbers - 59 percent shooting and 29 points - didn't tell the whole story. Having led the majority of the opening stanza may have felt like a win, but Kidd understood getting into a shootout with the league's 10th most efficient offense was a recipe for disaster.

"That first quarter was fool's gold," Kidd said. "We're not an offensive team. We rely on our defense, and we fell in a trap of scoring the ball in that first quarter and thought we were going to outscore Chicago with our offense and not play defense."

Matters only worsened in the second quarter when the Bulls matched their 30-point total from the opening period. The charge was led by Derrick Rose, who had his way against Carter-Williams, finishing with 23 points and seven assists in his first playoff appearance in three years. Jimmy Butler added 25 more on the wing as the Bulls sliced up Milwaukee's plan to double-team Pau Gasol, who had torched them for 46 points earlier in the regular season.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Gasol finished with just 10 points on 5-for-17 shooting, but he added four assists and a handful of other passes that initiated offense, rotated Milwaukee's defense and led to open shots; the Bulls assisted on 30 of their 38 shots, with all five starters recording at least four helpers. The Bucks were 10-29 in the regular season when allowing 100 or more points, a number the Bulls reached with more than three minutes to play. They forced turnovers - the Bulls committed 19 giveaways which turned into 25 Bucks points - but weren't able to get stops when they needed.

"I think the (Bulls') score was high. If you want to win games, you have to keep the score low," said Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 12 points and four assists in his first postseason action.

That became a problem as the Bucks' offense regressed, as Kidd expected it would. In the first quarter the Bucks shot 59 percent, scored 12 points in the paint and added nine on the fast break; in the final three quarters they shot 33 percent, scored 24 points in the paint and only six on the fast break. Khris Middleton, who scored a team-high 18 points in his postseason debut, said his team needed better focus on the offensive end finishing possessions and not settling for outside jumpers.

"I thought we could have played better, a little harder. We could have had better possessions and shot selection," he said. "But I thought for the most part we did a decent job."

It was a decent start for a Bucks team that hung around - trailing by one with three minutes left in the first half - longer than many expected them to. But that's the mentality they're hoping to break this postseason, that being within a possession midway through the game should be looked at as a success. They'll need to re-focus offensively and find better looks with the ball in their hands on Monday in Game 2, but they took a step in the right direction Saturday by arriving with a mentality of more than just being happy to be playing past the regular season.

"Obviously (the Bulls) are a good team, but it’s not like we think we’re going to lose," said Zaza Pachulia. "I think we go into every game (thinking) that we have a chance to win. These are mistakes we can definitely can correct."

 

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

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USA TODAY

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

Monday's deadline came and went with expected results: Bobby Portis and the Bulls being unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Some 19 hours later all parties involved said the right things, that they value one another and hope to be working together long-term.

But all that will be shelved until July 1, when Portis enters restricted free agency at this coming season's end. The two sides found themselves in position to wait out on an extension.

For Portis, he's improved his game each of his first three seasons in the league posted per-36 numbers on par with some of the game's best big men. Expected to start while Lauri Markkanen recovers from a sprained elbow - and then act as the team's Sixth Man after that - Portis is in line to post career numbers once again.

For the Bulls, nearly all their front office decisions the past three seasons have been with an eye toward the 2019 offseason and having as much cap space as possible. Waiting on a Portis contract allows them to see if any of the top free agents in the class are interested in Chicago, while also having the ability to match any deal Portis gets on the open market.

It's similar to how the Bulls played out the rookie scale contracts of both Jimmy Butler and Zach LaVine.

John Paxson spoke during Tuesday's practice at the Advocate Center and reiterated how much the Bulls value Portis and the work he's put in since they drafted him 22nd overall in 2015.

Portis also spoke with reporters after practice. And what would normally be considered posturing from any other player, Portis' blue-collar mentality was present in his comments.

"I couldn’t see myself in no other jersey. Obviously, I got Bulls DNA," he said. "Me and the city have a love connection somewhere. At the same time, I just enjoy playing for the Bulls.

"I play this game because I love it. Obviously, you want to make as much money as possible to help your family. But I started playing basketball because it’s fun to me and I loved it. I still have that same passion, that same heart every night I go out there."

Still, the opportunity will be there for Portis to make himself significant money in the coming six months. After averaging a modest 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in Year 3, Portis will be called upon to shoulder a scoring load in the absence of Markkanen. And with Jabari Parker's Bulls career off to a shaky start, Portis will be the go-to guy on the second unit once Markkanen is back in the lineup.

"Bobby is a guy that is very confident in himself. He’s confident in his ability. That’s what we love about him," Fred Hoiberg said. "And like I said, he’s going to go out there and play the same way every time he steps on the floor, whether it’s practice, whether it’s a pick-up game in the summer or once we get started on Thursday. He’s a warrior, and he’s just going to go out there and play the right way with great effort.’’

The Bulls will need that with the start of the regular season just two days away. They open on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went 30-11 at home last season.

Portis will play a significant role in slowing down one of the NBA's best frontcourts. Whether or not this is his last season doing so in Chicago, he knows what the Bulls think of him and won't let the impending negotiations distract him.

"I know how much I’m valued. They tell me a lot. Give it all I got. Kind of the leader of the bunch. Blue-collar worker," he said. "Everybody respects me because I come in every day with a chip on my shoulder, try to push my guys to get better each day. That makes me go."