Bulls blow 20-point lead in preseason loss to Pelicans


Bulls blow 20-point lead in preseason loss to Pelicans

For those wondering if the Bulls would look like the disjointed outfit in their preseason loss to the Denver Nuggets or the free-flowing unit that blitzed the Minnesota Timberwolves, Monday night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans provided a clear answer.


They launched triples with comfort and regularity but also went through dry stretches, leading to a 123-115 loss at the United Center, in front of a spirited crowd by preseason standards, buoyed by periodic updates from the Cubs Game 3 playoff win.

Chicago native Anthony Davis kept the Pelicans somewhat close early, with a smooth 26 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes, but it was the reserves, the players who often finish exhibitions, that turned things around in their favor.

“We forced up some bad shots late in the clock because we couldn’t run our plays,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to give them credit because they kept fighting and it never stopped for them. We have to somehow take a stand and stay in front of your man.”

Putting the Pelicans on the line 37 times helped a 20-point lead get whittled to a tie game at the end of three quarters, which offset the Bulls shooting 51 percent in the second half.

[MORE: Derrick Rose attends Bulls shootaround; status to be determined]

Then the Pelicans jumped out to an 8-2 run to start the fourth and the Bulls reserves never recovered, despite playing efficiently early on.

“We stopped doing what got us the lead,” Hoiberg said. “We were getting out, we were running, we were getting open shots. And then our pace went bad and we didn’t stop anyone.”

For many parts of the evening, it looked as if Jimmy Butler having a dead-legged night didn’t matter, as his shots came up short and he had trouble containing the Pelicans guards as they waltzed to the basket.

He shot 2-for-13 in 27 minutes, as the Bulls starters didn’t display the cohesiveness the bench did overall, although they had their moments.

Their ball movement and crisp passing led to a bevy of open shots, as they seemed to master the “swing-swing” pass, easily spotting shooters on the perimeter for 18 of their 32 3-point attempts in the first half, shooting 34 percent on the night.

But falling in love with the 3-ball could prove troublesome once the games get going, no matter their proficiency, although it should be said playing without numerous rotation players can skew the observations, just a bit.

Derrick Rose was in the building, but out. Joakim Noah sat out as a precautionary measure, while Taj Gibson is aiming to return Wednesday against Detroit.

It was the bench that found its rhythm while the starters struggled offensively, as Bobby Portis is continuing his impressive play, scoring 20 with 11 rebounds, including a pair of 3-pointers and two blocked shots.

[RELATED: Until Butler and Rose succeed together, speculation will always loom]

“He was awesome, he came off the bench and gave us a big lift,” Hoiberg said. “He was hitting shots, banging around. I thought he battled defensively against Anthony Davis.”

Doug McDermott scored 17 while launching a team-high nine triples off the bench and E’Twaun Moore scored 10 in the fourth to keep the Bulls somewhat close.

But everybody wearing a Bulls jersey had trouble on the defensive end, as they allowed a whopping 69 second-half points, allowing Pelicans reserve Sean Kilpatrick to score 23, including a 4-point play that energized his team in the fourth.

Ryan Anderson would be a great fit in the Bulls’ system for his ability to shoot, but was a thorn in their side on this night, running the bigs ragged for open triples on his way to 18 points and 10 boards.

Kilpatrick is making a name for himself in what will be termed a meaningless preseason game overall, the aim of such exercises, while the Bulls will be looking over game film for adjustments before things get truly serious, looking for answers—the goal of such exercises for them as a unit.

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Picture yourself at 19 years old.

Maybe you were in college. Maybe you hit the job market early.

What you likely weren’t doing was guarding one the NBA’s best centers in your first professional game.

That was the task charged to Wendell Carter Jr. in the Bulls’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.

Carter Jr. was the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft after just one season at Duke. He earned the start in his NBA debut after an impressive preseason, but nothing could’ve prepared him for going up against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Carter Jr. said when asked if Embiid was as impressive as he thought he’d be. “He’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of, or the best, big man in the league. Very skilled, very poised. He knows his spots on the court.

“I didn’t go out there with my best effort. It’s just a learning experience for me.”

Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 20 minutes. He also picked up four fouls, which the rookie attributed to the physicality and craftiness of Embiid.

But he did flash the impressive and varied skill set that made him a high pick and such a coveted prospect. He was also able to garner the praise of the Bulls’ veterans.

“Even though Wendell got in foul trouble he was still playing (Embiid) solid,” Zach LaVine, who scored a team-high 30 points, said. “That’s a tough first game right there. But he didn’t lack for confidence. Made him take some tough shots, but he’s going to make them. He’s that type of player.”

To his credit, Carter Jr. was candid about his performance. He admitted that his emotions ran the gamut from nervous to excited to happy.

In a season that will have its ups and downs as the young Bulls develop and learn, there will likely be more games like this against other elite NBA competition. It’ll be how Carter Jr. responds that will define his career.

“It’s the first game so I don’t want to put too much on myself,” Carter Jr. said. “It would be different if it was like the 50th game or 60th game. It’s the first game. We’re just going to move on from it. We’ve got our home opener on Saturday (vs. the Pistons). That’s where my mind is right now.”

See, he’s learning already.

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

The Bulls backup point guard situation will be in dire straits all season, with no established veteran behind Kris Dunn. And although the front office has seemingly committed to Cameron Payne as the backup PG (for at least this season), Ryan Arcidiacono showed enough in the season opener to justify giving him meaningful plying time in the rotation. 

Here are the stat lines of Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne from the season opener in Philadelphia:

Arcidiacono: 8 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line

Payne:           0 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 from the 3-point line

With so many capable ball handlers and score-first players on the Bulls, point and assist totals aren’t as important as the rebounds and 3-point attempts. To provide the necessary space needed for driving lanes, there has to be openings in the defense caused by defenders sticking close to player they believe are a threat to shoot.

And that is where the problem lies with Payne.

Ryan Arcidiacono—while by no means a dominant scorer—showed a willingness to attack off of the pick-and-roll, even showing off an impressive ball-fake:

Payne, despite coming into the league with the reputation of a scorer, has yet to be aggressive enough to make teams think twice about leaving him wide-open on the perimeter. And he is not one to attack the basket with purpose, averaging less than half a free throw per game for his career. Payne's general lack of aggressiveness when on the floor is often times made worse by his occasional poor post entry passes that seem predetermined:

Even if the above play was designed to get the ball to LaVine in the mid-post, Payne chooses a terrible time to make the pass. When he starts the motion to give the ball to LaVine, Ben Simmons is positioned in front of LaVine to force a tougher pass, as rookie Landry Shamet gambles over the backside to get the steal.

Had Payne chose to swing the ball around the perimeter, or give it to Bobby Ports and then get it back, he could have created an opening for the LaVine pass.

Obviously, the Bulls 19-point loss can’t be blamed on solely on Payne, the terrible defense was a group effort, as was the sometimes questionable shot selection. But with the defense already appearing to be perhaps one of the league's worst units, Fred Hoiberg would be wise to put Arcidiacono in more.

Hoiberg is in a crucial year where he needs to show that he can be the head coach of this team when they finally become competitive.

And for Hoiberg to show that type of growth as a coach, he needs to set the tone that minutes are earned not given, something he has already started with his moving of Jabari Parker to the bench. Payne only received 22 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for Arcidiacono, and it is tough to see that changing if things continue on like they did on Thursday night.