Bulls

Bulls avert crisis in close win over Magic

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Bulls avert crisis in close win over Magic

“Force” and “intent” should’ve been the words written on the whiteboard in the Bulls locker room before Sunday evening’s game against the youthful, athletic Orlando Magic.

On the immediate heels of the disappointing loss to Detroit, two things were clear: When cutting down on silly plays and allowing old bugaboos to haunt them, they held a double-digit lead for most of the night.

But the lesson they’re learning very early is opposing teams have no problem challenging the notion of this new Bulls identity that relies more on skill than will.

And the Magic proved to be a worthy but not-quite-yet-ready adversary, making them sweat before the Bulls compose themselves for a 92-87 win at the United Center.

“The last five years they’ve been taught very well on the defensive end,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, referencing the man he replaced, Tom Thibodeau.

[MORE: Bulls working to 'clean up and fix' turnover issues]

A 14-0 run that rendered the Bulls scoreless for nearly four minutes in the fourth quarter is giving more credence to the team’s lack of comfort level running whatever they need to in crunch time.

Derrick Rose found Pau Gasol for a free-throw line jumper shortly thereafter to break the ice, but the play with 2:50 remaining, one that gave the Bulls an 86-82 lead was their last basket of the night.

“He had a really nice pass to Pau, I thought he played really well,” Hoiberg said. “It was good to see him bounce back with a good one.”

From there, a little defensive muscle memory kept the Magic at bay, as Jimmy Butler did his best defensive back imitation, intercepting a pass from Andrew Nicholson at three-quarter court after a Bulls’ miss where a Magic player got behind the defense and would’ve had an easy dunk.

“Jimmy made a fantastic read,” Hoiberg said. “He got a deflection and we got the ball back.”

Butler, donning a Denver Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas jersey, described the play in football jargon.

“Me being a Denver Broncos cornerback, I backpedaled and saw Aaron Rodgers try to throw it over the top. I was Chris Harris on the play and I smacked it to Derrick, who was Von Miller.”

“I was just watching the guy to tell you the truth. I knew he was gonna throw it.”

Luckily for them, the Magic couldn’t do much offensively with the opportunities the Bulls gave them, until Victor Oladipo’s triple with 17.1 seconds left cut the lead to three—meaning free throws had to be made to seal the game, and the Bulls were perfect in their last six attempts.

“It’s a concern but we gotta learn from it,” Hoiberg said. “Thankfully we hit those free throws down the stretch. If you get them down by 15, you have to build it up to 20. We let teams back in.”

The Bulls corralled an early Magic surge when Joakim Noah and Doug McDermott came off the bench to provide a much-needed spark, with McDermott providing the shooting and Noah bringing everything else, illustrated by a two-handed dunk from Rose, a rare finish.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Noah finished with eight points, nine rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes, splitting the time with Gasol at the center positon.

“It was real good,” Hoiberg said. “Pau got us off to a good start and he had a good rhythm. Joakim’s energy off the bench was terrific.”

Rose was in facilitator mode again, with eight assists in 32 minutes, as he failed to crack double figures in scoring as he still battles double-vision.

“Right now there’s no point in shooting if I can’t see,” said Rose, who took just eight shots, making two. “I’m just paying attention to the way they play me and I need to either drive, shoot a floater or get the ball out to my teammates.”

Had the Bulls made a few more shots, it could’ve been an easier finish but they again struggled from the field, shooting 38 percent and missing 21 of their 28 3-pointers. Nikola Mirotic, Gasol and McDermott were the consistent scorers, with Gasol and Mirotic putting up 16 each and McDermott scoring 10.

McDermott hit a buzzer-beating triple and another wing three from penetration to give the Bulls a 12-point lead before halftime, one they seemed to hold dear until turning the ball over opened the door.

But they again played solid enough defense for the fourth straight game, keeping the Magic under 40 percent and not allowing them to creep on the glass too much, at least not in the way the Pistons did Friday.

Only committing 15 turnovers, it certainly wasn’t a game featuring pristine effectiveness but they appeared to learn a quick lesson from a smarting loss in Detroit.

It's time for the Bulls to spin the point guard roulette wheel

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USA TODAY

It's time for the Bulls to spin the point guard roulette wheel

Over the last couple seasons we've had some fun on our Bulls Pregame Live shows with the ever-changing cast of characters at the point guard position. We even brought the point guard roulette wheel to the show a couple years ago when Rajon Rondo, Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne all saw significant time at the position.

Grant began last season as the starter, followed by Kris Dunn and Payne with a little Ryan Arcidiacono mixed in.

But this season was supposed to be different. Dunn showed enough in his 52 game stint (13.4 points, 6 assists per game) in 2017-18 that he entered training camp as the unquestioned starter, with Payne and Arcidiacono as backups. The front office and coaching staff expected the 3rd year guard out of Providence to establish himself as a quality starter with elite skills at the defensive end.

Now, after playing just one regular season game, Dunn has been sidelined again, this time with a sprained left MCL suffered in his debut at Dallas Monday night. He's expected to miss 4-6 weeks of action, which should get him back on the court sometime in early December, right about the same time Lauri Markkanen is expected to return from his elbow injury.

So, what does Fred Hoiberg do now? Initially, you can expect Payne to replace Dunn in the starting lineup, with newly signed Shaq Harrison getting a look in the backup role. In case you don't know much about Harrison, he's an undrafted four-year player out of Tulsa, who spent most of the last two seasons in the NBA G-League. Like Dunn, Harrison is a physical 6'4" defense-first player who should be able to pressure some of the elite point guards the Bulls will face in the coming weeks. The front office showed their level of interest in Harrison's potential by signing him to a two-year NBA contract which includes a guaranteed salary for this season.

The Bulls also signed former Marian Catholic H.S. star Tyler Ulis to a two-way contract after he was released by Golden State in the final cutdown. Ulis started 58 games for Phoenix over the last two seasons, and is lightning quick in the open court. Problem is, he's generously listed at 5'10" which could create some serious issues at the defensive end.

And then there's always Arcidiacono, a Hoiberg favorite who's fundamentally sound, a solid defender and a decent outside shooter. Arcidiacono didn't play in Dallas Monday with Dunn back as the starter and it will be interesting to see how he's used with the coaching staff searching for answers at the position.

From my perspective, the Bulls' best option might be not going with a point guard at all in the starting lineup. Zach LaVine is on the hottest offensive streak of his young career, and he's most effective with the ball in his hands. LaVine played a lot of point guard during his rookie season in Minnesota, and he's more than capable of pushing the ball in transition.

Yes, I know having LaVine defend some of the high-scoring point guards around the league is not an ideal formula for success. The Bulls could move Justin Holiday to the shooting guard position, and see if he can match up defensively against opposing point guards. Again, not ideal.

The Bulls will be facing the likes of Kemba Walker, Trae Young, Steph Curry and Chris Paul over the next week and a half, and going without a true point guard might create defensive issues that are impossible to overcome. That's why you should expect to see Harrison take on a significant role in the upcoming games, since he's the only point guard currently available on the roster that has the physical skills to replicate in some fashion what Dunn brings on the defensive end.

Any way you look at it, the Bulls will be in survival mode over the next six weeks, trying to scratch out as many wins as they can until Markkanen and Dunn are healthy enough to get back on the court.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Reaction to Kris Dunn's knee injury and where Bulls go from here

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Reaction to Kris Dunn's knee injury and where Bulls go from here

Kelly Crull, Mark Strotman and Will Perdue react to the news that Kris Dunn will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a knee injury.

[MORE: It's time for the Bulls to spin the point guard roulette wheel]

00:55     Strotman reacting to the injury, expectations now for team

3:00        Perdue on impact on defense

4:55        Expectation on who will get majority of minutes moving forward at PG

7:40        Where Bulls are mentally as a team 

11:30     How Hoiberg will approach the options at point guard

12:55     Will the Bulls consider tanking again?

14:50     Making the case for LaVine to run point with Blakeney at the 2

16:05     How Dunn’s injury could impact Markkanen’s return

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