Bulls bounce back with big win over Magic

Bulls bounce back with big win over Magic

If it’s one thing this Bulls team should learn or will learn, it’s that good to great defense will cover and cure a lot of ills, as their worst offensive quarter of Monday’s 112-80 win over the Orlando Magic was obscured by a defensive masterpiece of sorts in the same 12 minutes.

They responded to their first big of adversity this season with a resounding “A”, holding the Magic to 19 percent shooting in the third quarter, allowing just 11 points and outscoring the Magic by 16.

Forcing turnovers has been the only hallmark of this team defensively, but for the first time they forced an offensively-awkward Magic team into misses—especially after the first few minutes looked like an instant replay of the last three games, where defense was optional.

They changed that narrative for a night, as the Magic shot just 39 percent while trailing by as many as 39 points.

“That’s where it’s going to start for us,” Jimmy Butler said. “We scored the ball decently. But whenever we’re guarding, it makes the game a lot easier. We want to continue to play like that.”

They harassed the young and new Magic team to 15 turnovers, leading to plenty of open court opportunities and overall crisp offensive play that was missing in Indiana Saturday night.

“A totally different mindset than we had starting the game and the entire game at Indiana,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The big message at halftime was to be the aggressor going out and I thought our guys responded to that.”

Butler scored 20 with seven assists, five rebounds and four steals while Dwyane Wade and Taj Gibson each scored 16, as the Bulls shot 47 percent.

Gibson hasn’t spent any summers with Hakeem Olajuwon or Kevin McHale but his post work against new Magic addition Serge Ibaka probably led some to believe he acquired a new skill set over the summer.

He put Ibaka in the spin cycle for most of the night in the post, faking and wheeling around for easy layups and duck-ins while Ibaka, a pretty good defender, was left in the dust.

It signified a more definitive and aggressive Bulls team for most of the night. They went to the foul line far more (31 attempts to six) and outrebounded the Magic by a decent margin of 56-39.

“If you draw the defender and make the simple play, you take advantage of the numbers on the back end,” Hoiberg said. “When we attack the basket like we’re doing, trying to drive and close out and draw contact, you get yourself to the free throw line.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

That mindset was on both ends, as it’s clear the Bulls are playing in peaks and valleys early on.

“It takes awhile to get consistent. Some teams get it, some teams don’t,” Wade said. “You don’t have to win every game at home, but most at home and go .500 on the road. That will get you to 48-to-50 victories.”

He didn’t want to look too far ahead, being so early in the season but it’s clear if the defensive intensity can carry—especially on the road—then he believes a 50 win-season is possible.

In one sequence, Wade switched out and knocked it away from Evan Fournier, leading to a fast break and Butler layup.

Butler then stole the inbounds pass, saved it from going out of bounds and the hustle resulted in a Rondo short jumper.

In the end, the sequence didn’t mean much in the outcome, but with the Bulls only up by six, it turned things in the Bulls’ favor when past history suggests it was very possible.

“Be aggressive, attacking the rim,” Butler said. “We protected our home court, you don’t want to lose at the United Center.”

It was part of a 23-3 run that ended matters, as the Bulls took a 25-point lead headed into the fourth quarter.

Hoiberg made a shrewd move early in pulling Rajon Rondo after the Magic scored 20 points in the first five minutes, with Magic guard Elfrid Payton giving the Bulls fits with his penetration and feeding to Nikola Vucevic for easy jumpers.

“The message was to pick it up, start guarding, make it uncomfortable,” Hoiberg said. “We denied some passes, that threw off some timing. That’s what it was about, all about getting out and making them uncomfortable. We did a much better job.”

Isaiah Canaan was inserted after a Payton end-to-end layup and the fun ended for the Magic there. A 19-2 run ensued to finish the quarter, as Hoiberg also gave second-year forward Bobby Portis a look late in the first quarter to add more energy.

“We didn’t guard a soul in the first four or six minutes,” Butler said. “After that, we started doing our job.”

Wade scored 12 in the first half and Butler 11 as the Bulls still couldn’t fully put the Magic away, allowing them to stay within nine at the half by shooting 55 percent.

Then the third quarter began and the faucet was shut off, leading to the Bulls stopping the bleeding, dishing out some pain of their own.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.