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Bulls bench, stingy defense hold off Raptors

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Bulls bench, stingy defense hold off Raptors

Updated: Saturday, Jan. 14 at 10:53 p.m.

The mantra has been frequently repeated and served the Bulls (12-2) well Saturday night: when the team struggles with its shooting it can count on defense to bail them out.

That was certainly the case against the Raptors (4-9), as a lackluster offensive showing for most of the evening not to mention another big effort from the bench, a regular occurrence bailed out Chicago as they beat their Canadian foes, 77-64.

Were not concerned with the aesthetics. We just want the wins, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said in his matter-of-fact manner. I think our defense and our rebounding are huge and then of course, the turnovers, keeping those down. When we do those three things, we know were going to be in position to win, regardless of how we shoot the ball, and particularly with this schedule, where youre playing so many games in a short amount of time.

It minimizes your practices. Weve only had one practice since Christmas. The rest is your shootarounds, your walkthroughs, your film sessions, so I think our guys are doing a good job with it, theyre working at it and were still not where we want to be. Theres a lot of room for improvement.

For the second consecutive night, balanced scoring in the opening period paced the Bulls, as four of five starters got on the board. Derrick Rose (18 points, 11 assists), who claimed prior to the contest that his injured toe had improved, proved that his health was nothing to worry about, as he was aggressive as both a scorer and playmaker.

Meanwhile, the Bulls highly-scrutinized starting post players again showed concerns about its cohesiveness were overblown, as center Joakim Noah (12 rebounds) and power forward Carlos Boozer (17 points, 13 rebounds) were both productive and efficient in the early going, while ever-consistent small forward Luol Deng (14 points) got off to one of his usual quick starts.

Although Toronto swingman DeMar DeRozan (15 points) provided the Raptors with a scoring threat, the Bulls were still able to build a comfortable cushion and were up, 23-14, after a quarter of play.

Observed Thibodeau: I thought Carlos was terrific and I thought Joakim was great. His reaction to the ball was tremendous. His defense was excellent. His energy was high. So, I was very pleased with our bigs.

At the outset of the second quarter, however, the visitors closed the gap, led by a familiar face, ex-Bulls forward James Johnson (12 points), whose energy on both ends of the court and apparently either improved scoring ability or motivation to prove the team that drafted him wrong for trading him helped the Raptors cut what was once a double-digit deficit to a mere two points. But Dengs scoring managed to help stem the tide until Thibodeau inserted the rest of his regulars.

Surprisingly, the Bulls starting lineup was unable to create any separation from a young, inexperienced Toronto squad, which played a zone defense that seemed to occasionally flummox the home team, with Chicago often settling for contested jumpers. Despite strong play from Boozer and Rose persisting, the teams were tied at 37 at halftime, complete with identical 18-for-43 shooting numbers.

It remained a close-knit affair after the intermission, as the Bulls continued to struggle shooting the ball and seemed less than supremely motivated against a clearly inferior opponent. Rose and Boozer were the protagonists, but the teams overall offensive flow appeared to be out of whack, as the Bulls routinely forced perimeter shots or mishandled passes and rebounds alike.

Defensively, however, the hosts continued to limit the Raptors to similarly poor shot selection and although instant-offense reserve guard Leandro Barbosa (15 points) came off the bench to spark the visitors, the Bulls held onto a slim edge. At the end of three periods, the home team led their guests, 56-52.

Thibodeau went small at the start of the final stanza, plugging in third-string point guard John Lucas III (10 points) next to Rose (in lieu of the still-sidelined C.J. Watson), and using reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver next to the backup big-man tandem of Taj Gibson (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Omer Asik. Chicago responded with increased energy and a faster pace, as Gibsons relentless interior play and Lucas quickness freed up Rose and helped the Bulls gain momentum and take a double-digit advantage.

Whatever I have to do to help my team, Im willing to lay it on the line because I dont want to disappoint Thibs. I want to go out there and do the best job I can. Hes a good coach, Gibson explained. Thats one thing about our team. You never know whos going to provide the spark. Our starting five always does a great job. Theres always somebody whos going to come in and play lights out. Who knows whos going to step up the next game?

Added Thibodeau: I really liked it because Gibson didnt have a great first half, but he stayed with it and in the second half, he was great, so I liked how he persevered through things not going his way early on.

I thought our team played great in the fourth quarter, in all areas," Thibodeau continued. "Offensively and defensively. I thought John hit some open shots, I thought Derrick made some good plays, I thought the ball moved, I thought the defense was very good.

With Gibsons remarkable effort on the boards and the streak-shooting Lucas catching fire a monster follow-up dunk from Gibson, followed by a Lucas crossover move and finish at the rim energized the United Center crowd and caused the short-handed Raptors to start to unravel, as the Bulls lead ballooned.

In the end, the home team cruised to an easy victory, with a day off in advance of a Monday afternoon matinee in Memphis for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

Its still not over. They keep coming, deadpanned Thibodeau. Were not looking back. Were just looking at the next one.

Chimed in Rose: Weve still got a long way to go. Thats the scary thing about it. Were still learning each other.

Were trying to get as many wins as possible. We know that we have a good team, he added. Winning definitely feels good, but while were winning, were still going over all of our mistakes, so that all of us are on the same page.

NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever

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USA TODAY

NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever

With Zion Williamson making his NBA regular season debut Wednesday night, we finally got a chance to see what a No. 1 overall draft pick is supposed to look like: an athletic and versatile skill set, with the chance to impact a franchise for years to come. 

2019 No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant also looks like a franchise-changing talent with his speed and playmaking ability, lifting Memphis into playoff contention.

So, which players will have that kind of impact in the 2020 draft?

Well, for now it’s almost impossible to say. James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 Memphis center, dropped out of school after playing just three games because of an eligibility battle with the NCAA. His size and raw tools are intriguing, but at this point his offensive game is extremely limited.

Meanwhile, Lonzo Ball’s younger brother, LaMelo is sitting out the rest of the Australian professional league season while he rehabs from a foot injury, another Australian professional, R.J. Hampton, just returned from a hip injury and North Carolina’s combo guard Cole Anthony is getting ready to return from a knee injury to finish his one and done season. 

That’s left NBA talent evaluators scrambling in trying to figure out the top of the draft, with only Georgia’s Anthony Edwards healthy and available among the players projected as the possible No. 1 overall pick. 

So, as we get closer to the end of January, here’s a look at how teams could view the available talent, with the understanding that the draft order will change dramatically as NBA scouts and GMs get a look at how players perform in the most important games of the season still to come.

2020 NBA mock draft 3.0

Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

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USA Today

Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

On Thursday, the NBA revealed the East and West starters for the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago. Take a look:


Bulls fans will be honed in on the East selections given Zach LaVine's absence, though his realistic chances of starting the game have been slim-to-none since the first month of the season. In the last round of fan voting returns, LaVine was sixth among Eastern Conference backcourt players. He finished there, as well:


LaVine will get a chance to slide into a reserve slot, but the East’s starting backcourt of Kemba Walker and Trae Young leaves a crowded field to contend with. Guards competing for the seven reserve spots include Ben Simmons, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, Bradley Beal, Malcolm Brogdon and Jaylen Brown. And that's without mentioning frontcourt favorites in Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum and Domantas Sabonis.

But a modicum of good news did come from this announcement for those stumping for LaVine: Kyrie Irving's omission from the starting lineup. Irving, who has only played 15 games this season, had been second in fan voting at the time of last returns. Had he snuck in with the starters, LaVine would have also had Walker or Young to compete with for a reserve spot, both of whom he matches up with unfavorably. One has to figure Irving's odds of being selected by coaches as a reserve aren't high.

LaVine's chances still aren't necessarily great, but the coaches' picks for reserves will be announced on Jan. 30. If LaVine is shorted there, as well, there remains the possibility of an injury replacement down the road, which commissioner Adam Silver would select (this is probably his best shot).

Once the final pool of players is decided, they'll be drafted by team captains Giannis Antetokoumpo and LeBron James on Feb. 6.

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