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Bulls' bench ready 'any given day,' makes good in win over Raptors

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Bulls' bench ready 'any given day,' makes good in win over Raptors

Three weeks ago in Boston, Tony Snell began a seven-game shooting slump in which he shot 30 percent and lost not only his spot in the starting lineup but also the rotation. Aaron Brooks logged a DNP-CD — his third consecutive healthy scratch — as did Bobby Portis, whose NBA resume to that point consisted of 22 minutes as the Bulls fell to the Celtics, their third consecutive loss.

Still, on Monday night, when those three reserves combined for 51 points on 54 percent shooting in a come-from-behind victory over the Raptors, it was less a surprise and more another chapter added to what's been as unpredictable a team as there is in the league. For that trio, which accounted for nearly half the Bulls' 104 points, playing time had been sparse because of depth. And when that depth wilted, they were ready and willing to pave another path to success.

"We have a bunch of looks on this team," Brooks said after the game, "and you never know on any given day."

It was Brooks and Portis closing the gap on a nine-point Raptors lead by scoring the Bulls' first 19 points in the second quarter. Brooks' 27 minutes were a season-high, with his quick drives to the lane resulting in a pair of three-point plays and an assist to Portis to begin the period.

Portis, seeing extended minutes with Joakim Noah (shoulder) on the shelf, then scored in the paint on consecutive possessions, followed by five points from Brooks that gave the Bulls the lead. Portis' 20-footer capped a 19-8 run that brought the Bulls back from what looked early on like another lethargic performance, this time against a tough Raptors team sporting a 10-7 road record, second best in the East.

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Brooks, who tied season-highs with 17 points and five assists, kept finding the paint in the second half. And where his aggressiveness resulted in points in the first half, it opened up the outside for arguably Tony Snell's best performance in a Bulls uniform.

Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose combined for 23 points in the third quarter to give the Bulls a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, and Brooks' objective for the second unit was direct.

"That’s your goal every time you go in for the end of the third quarter and the fourth is to make sure the starters don’t have to come back in," Brooks said. "The longer they can rest, the better it is for us."

Snell heeded those words. The swingman had played nine minutes in the Bulls' previous three games, twice a healthy scratch, scoring 15 points in his last four appearances. He topped that point total in a single quarter, pouring 16 of his season-high 22 points in the final stanza. The additional minutes came as a result of Doug McDermott's scratch minutes before tip with a sore right knee.

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Snell scored on a pair of drives, two mid-range shots and connected on two of his season-high four 3-pointers as the Bulls pushed their fourth quarter lead to as many as 13 points. The starters got their rest, and Snell capped off his performance with two free throws to seal the victory. The new role Snell played for a night was a stark contrast from his starting spot he held in 21 of the Bulls' first 25 games. But he stayed ready. And when his name was called, he flourished.

"After I took him out of the lineup, he took it like a champ," Fred Hoiberg said after the game. "'Whatever you think we have to do, coach, to win the game.' I told him to keep himself ready."

The Bulls' bench has been a sore spot to date. They rank 23rd in points per game and field goal percentage, and Noah's injury at a time when he was playing his best basketball was difficult, Portis' blossoming (12 points, nine rebounds) notwithstanding.

But for a night the bench was instrumental in the victory. The 51 bench points — Kirk Hinrich didn't shoot in nine minutes — weren't a season-high, but given Jimmy Butler's season-low scoring output (five points, 2-7 FG), just one starter logging a positive rating (Taj Gibson, +5) and Derrick Rose missing nine of his last 12 shots, the bench points were a season-best.

Inconsistencies continue to plague the Bulls, and they're still looking to heed Hoiberg's plea to play 48 good minutes. Still, the bench without its leading scorer took a step forward on a night in which the Bulls needed it in order to earn an important conference victory against an East contender.

"They played great basketball, man," Rose said of the bench. "That was, I think, the difference in the game, the way that they came out and played. It seemed like they knew where the ball was going, who was going to have the ball, and it looked more organized."

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.