Bulls

Bulls benefit from Thibodeau's past lockout experience

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Bulls benefit from Thibodeau's past lockout experience

After the NBAs last work stoppage, the New York Knicks made a Cinderella run of sorts, sneaking into the playoffs as an eighth seed, then advancing all the way to the finals, despite not having the services of All-Star center Patrick Ewing, before losing to the San Antonio Spurs. That Knicks team, the last New York squad to make it to the championship round, was celebrated for its heart, embodied by fearless players like Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby.

The head coach of that team was also beloved by its fans and while Jeff Van Gundy never got back to the Finals though he had some successful seasons in Houston, where injuries to stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady frequently derailed the Rockets playoff aspirations based largely on the Knicks run, his profile was greatly enhanced, something thats carried over to career as a broadcaster. One of Van Gundys assistant coaches in New York during that 50-game 1998-99 NBA campaign and subsequent playoff run (as well as in Houston) was currently Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Thibodeaus Bulls are constituted differently than that Knicks team and the circumstances, not to mention expectations, of this season also differ, as the league mandated a 66-game abbreviated schedule. Still, Thibodeau admitted that he does occasionally draw upon his experiences.

Hopefully you learn from all your experiences. Not just that season, but every season after that. How you pace your team, I think, as a head coach, is critical. You map it out. Once the schedule comes, you see where your schedules heavy and you have to plan accordingly, he said after Wednesdays morning shootaround at the Berto Center. You still have to get things done, youve got to be ready to play and theres different stretches, where youll have the opportunity to practice more, and you want to take advantage of that. Then, you have to evaluate whether rest is more important than practice. Theres a lot of things that factor into it. You never want to stay the same. You always want to try to get better, so I hope Im learning something every day.

While Thibodeau isnt one to make excuses whether now or in the past he noted how the Knicks injuries woes hamstrung the team, though he didnt mention Ewing specifically, but also cited that, in his opinion, the current scenario leaves less time for preparation.

I felt like we had more time during that lockout and my experience that year was we had a couple injuries early on, and then we had to, I believe, win eight or nine out of 10, just to get the eighth seed. Thats what it is, but you have to learn to navigate around all that stuff. Some years, youre healthier than others, said Thibodeau before realizing he was perhaps being too candid and reverting back to his usual name, rank and serial number mode that is used for the media. But like I said before, we have a deep roster, we have 14 players that we feel can all play and I think theyre all ready. When they get the opportunity, we expect them to play well. I think the way that they prepare each and every day I get an opportunity to watch them practice and see them concentrate so Im not surprised and Ive said this all along: I believe that we have more than enough to win with.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”