Bulls

Bulls bounce back, blow out Hawks

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Bulls bounce back, blow out Hawks

ATLANTA A season-long revenge tour for the Bulls resumed Wednesday night at Philips Arena, as the Bulls (41-11) throttled the Hawks (30-22), 98-77, wiping away memories of a humbling January defeat in the same building. The hot hand of Luol Deng (22 points on 8 for 14 shooting with five 3-pointers) led the way, but the Bulls contributions from the entire lineup in bouncing back from a rare home loss at the United Center to the Nuggets Monday night.

Following a mildly disturbing recent trend, the Bulls dug themselves an early hole, allowing the hosts to take a 13-5 advantage, mostly by virtue of forcing turnovers and converting easy fast-break opportunities. Explosive forward Josh Smith (19 points, seven rebounds) was key for the Hawks in the early going, using his athleticism, versatility and underrated offensive prowess to key his squad, while center Zaza Pachulia added additional support.

The visitors would settle down, however, and with All-Star Deng leading the way, made it a close-knit affair. A balanced offensive attack and improved defensive focus allowed Chicago to close within 25-23 at the conclusion of the opening period.

Deng, paired with the Bench Mob, remained the hot hand in the second quarter and drained all three of his attempts from long range in the first half, while also doing an admirable job on Atlantas go-to scorer, fellow All-Star Joe Johnson (12 points). Backup center Omer Asik equipped the Bulls with a presence in the paint and once again, the inimitable John Lucas III (10 points, five assists) provided a spark, reaching double digits in the period with his instant-offense game.

Hawks point guard Jeff Teague was a bright spot for the home team, but the guests continued to pour it on, with contributions from the likes of Joakim Noah (10 points, eight rebounds) and C.J. Watson helping to give them a double-digit lead. At the intermission, the Bulls held both a 54-42 advantage and all the momentum at Philips Arena, which was seemingly split between Windy City loyalists and disappointed Atlanta fans.

After the break, the Hawks stormed back, going on a 10-2 run to make it a four-point game early in the third quarter. Johnson woke up to spark the run, but the Hawks success wouldnt last long, as Carlos Boozer (20 points, nine rebounds) began knocking down his potent mid-range jumper.

Noah started to control the paint on both endsdominating the glass, blocking shots and scoring with his unique offensive gametaking pressure off the hot-shooting Deng, who would then capitalize on open perimeter looks, aiding the Bulls in regaining a double-digit edge. The led further ballooned and with Taj Gibson (19 points on 8 of 12 shooting) coming off the bench to provide energy, Chicago headed into the final stanza equipped with a commanding 76-60 lead.

Gibson maintained his high level of play early in the fourth quarter, blending strong finishes around the rim with mid-range jumpers, while raising the frustration of the opposition as Smith and Johnson delivered hard fouls on him in short succession.

Solid defense and continued execution on the offensive end by the Bulls kept the pressure on Atlanta toward the end of the game, but it was already academic. However, Boozer put the exclamation point on the blowout with a thunderous left-handed slam with under three minutes to go.

John Paxson remains committed to Jim Boylen, seeing rebuild through

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USA Today

John Paxson remains committed to Jim Boylen, seeing rebuild through

Bulls executive vice president John Paxson addressed the team's slow start in a wide-ranging one-on-one interview with our K.C. Johnson. Paxson also granted separate one-on-one interviews to other select media outlets.

The last two times John Paxson oversaw this significant a roster overhaul, the Bulls experienced success, if not championships.

Paxson inherited a roster from Jerry Krause in April 2003 that he flipped completely, save for Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, and built a perennial playoff team centered around Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon and coached by Scott Skiles.

When that era fizzled, leading to Skiles’ Christmas Eve firing in 2007, the Bulls lucked into the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery and landed hometown product Derrick Rose. Paxson and general manager Gar Forman surrounded Rose with talent and hired Tom Thibodeau, who coached the Bulls to the 2011 Eastern Conference finals before Rose’s torn ACL altered the franchise’s trajectory.

Team president Michael Reinsdorf, Paxson and coach Jim Boylen all publicly pointed to this season, the third of a rebuild following the June 2017 trade of Jimmy Butler, as the one the Bulls would become relevant again. In their words, all expected nightly competitiveness and the challenging for a playoff position.

Entering Saturday’s home game against the Clippers, the Bulls stood as one of the biggest underachieving stories of the NBA. Their 9-18 mark marked not one victory against a winning team. They’ve been blown out and lost big leads. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, principals from the Butler trade, have appeared to regress.

Against that backdrop, Paxson sat for a 16-minute interview with NBC Sports Chicago Saturday afternoon. Here is that transcript:

Q: What has disappointed you the most about this season?

A: Obviously, we all expected to have a better record than we do right now. Given the offseason we had and the September we had, all of us in basketball operations thought we would have won more games. So that’s disappointing. If I have to point to reasons why, first I assume responsibility for the organization always. And I own where we’re at. The thing that I probably didn’t anticipate was that Jim put in a new system. We hired two new assistant coaches who have had their input with Jim. Especially on the offensive side of the ball, I thought it would carry over more quickly than it has. That was a miscalculation on my part. That said, I watch a lot of practices. I communicate with Jim and his staff consistently. I sit in on team film sessions to observe and hear what is being taught. What I see is a lot of good things being taught and emphasized to our team. What you don’t see is the consistent carryover from the practice floor to the film room to the games. Why is that? No excuses for it. But we still have a young team. And I think guys are still trying to figure out where their shots are coming from and how to play instinctively out of this system. My reference point is always from playing and Phil Jackson and Tex (Winter) put in the triangle. It wasn’t an instinctive way of playing basketball. It took us some time. We had the greatest player in the game so you’re going to win a lot of games. That’s the next step with this group. Here’s this system and we have to grow out of this system. Jim and his staff have to add to it. And the players have to grow out of it. But it’s playing with instinct out of the system. And we’re still taking baby steps. And I didn’t anticipate that. That’s on me.

Q: What is the system?

A: Like a lot of offenses in this day and age, it’s a lot of spacing. It is trying to create a situation on the floor where two guys are guarding one and you move the ball and you space it and shoot and you can get corner 3-pointers. Getting the ball to the lane is a priority. We’ve attacked the basket well this year. We haven’t finished at a rate that is high at all. That’s been an issue. If you’re going to break it down statistically, we haven’t shot the ball well. A component of that is are you getting the right guys the shots. That’s growth in terms of what we’re running. Those are all things that I know our staff is working on individually with players. That’s you need to see carry over at some point. But it takes patience. Coby White for example is 19. His ability to finish at the rim isn’t elite right now. But that’s what he has to work for. And I could go down the line with players on that.

Q: Do you think players believe in the system and, in turn, have belief in Jim Boylen?

A: I have good communication with our players so I have a good feel for what’s going on. I think this is a combination of a lot of things. When you’re not having success, it’s easy to question and point fingers. When you run an offense, if you’re getting open shots, individual players have to look at themselves too. Just like coaches have to look at themselves and I have to look at myself. I think it takes time for everybody to understand why you’re doing certain things. The one thing about this system that Jim and his staff have implemented is there is room to grow. Jim tells me we’re trying to set the foundation. That goes back to me getting guys to understand that and then start playing instinctually out of that. That’s the next area they have to grow.

Q: How would you assess Jim’s performance to this point and will he finish the season?

A: I’m not into giving rankings. We’re committed to Jim. There’s no quick fix to this. We’re not thinking of making any changes. Jim is a grinder. He’s going to keep grinding. One thing I respect immensely about him is he’s willing to listen to ideas. The thing he and I do is talk basketball. When I see things, he listens to what I have to say. Not that I’m making the decisions and I don’t tell him to play, but we talk basketball. And he’s open. He’s going to continue to grow and get better. I thought when we hired Chris (Fleming) and Roy (Rogers) this offseason, we improved our staff immensely. And I still believe that and they’re learning their rhythm together. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by our defense. We’re probably ahead of where we should be given the youth of our team. We’re committed to Jim. From my seat, I have to look at things from a 30,000-foot view. I’m not going to sit here and say there’s some move we can make, whether it’s personnel or anything right now, that’s going to make a huge difference. We have to continue to develop Wendell Carter, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine. Go down the line. We have Chandler Hutchison. Kris Dunn has done a great job accepting a role. That continues to be our focus. Develop these kids. Get them to grow into good players.

Q: Do you think the locker room still buys into Jim?

A: We recognize players have a voice in this day and age. They’re empowered in a way they’ve never been. And that’s a good thing for the league. They’ve taken that and used that in a positive way for the league. We talk to the players. Thad, we’ve spoken to. The one thing I am confident is guys in that locker room share the same goal. They are together. There’s never going to be a perfect situation. There’s always some conflict. It can be teammate to teammate or coaches to players. That’s inevitable in this business. I don’t expect this group to fracture. I’d be disappointed if they did. All the guys in that locker room expressed to us their character and that’s not where they want to go or would ever go. I believe when they tell me that. I know that when things are bad or you’re not winning as much as you should, people want to point fingers. I’m not doing that internally. And we can’t do that internally. Once you do that, you’re in trouble.

Q: On Media Day, your organization stated playoffs as the goal. Is that still a possibility? And it seems you have moved the goalposts a bit towards development, which obviously needs to happen as well. But the team hasn’t been competitive many nights.

A: What we said is our goal is to challenge and compete for the playoffs. I don’t know why that changes. And the reason we said that, the summer we had and the changes we made and the draft and the buy-in in September, our players felt good about themselves. And we all felt good about it. The way Jim is wired, we’re all wired, why shouldn’t we be sending the message to them to compete for the playoffs? If that’s a pressure you put on people, I’m fine with that. I don’t waver. But I don’t know where that lands. I don’t know if that’s a realistic thing right now. We certainly haven’t played like a team that’s playoff-bound. But 50-some games left, it can change. If it doesn’t, we obviously didn’t achieve something that we thought we could’ve.

Q: How much discussion is there from the Reinsdorfs to you about the attendance and how much of a concern is that?

A: Very little. But we’re all aware of it. And our fan base is so important to us. I feel really bad about it. I own where we’re at. What I want more than anything, and I told this to the players before the season started, is to have a team our fan base can root for and that competes. We all want to win at the highest level. We’re not at that stage. But I’ve always felt our fan base will support us if they see guys really giving everything they have and competing and showing they’re in it with them. So it is disappointing that we’re not drawing the way we have. You get back to winning and people will come and support you.

Q: That’s the difference to me. When you took over for Jerry, you built a team that competed and was well liked. And then when you lucked into Derrick, you built a team that won a lot. You guys pointed to this season as the season it was going to change. And it’s gone the other way. Do you see why fans are frustrated with that?

A: Of course, and that’s why I’m so disappointed. We all thought we would have won more games. And the way we’ve lost some of them has been hard to stomach. But like I said, I see things being done on the practice floor and the teaching and then the lack of consistent carry over to the games that has hurt us. Is that inexperience, immaturity? I know physical toughness has been an issue. Teams that are physical with us has hurt us a lot this year. When things aren’t going well, there’s a lot you can point to.

Q: Have you miscast players in roles?

A: I wouldn’t get into whether we’ve miscast guys. That’s not how I look at it. Lauri for example has played better lately. But I still think he’s trying to find his way in what we’re doing, where his shots come from. He needs to play with confidence and instincts. I’ve talked to him about this. His heart is in the right place. He wants to be good. He’s a key part of this. We’re not down on him at all. We still think he has so much room to grow. I think he’s just trying to find his way. He has to be consistent in his work, which he is. And I think he’ll find himself as we keep going through this.

Q: So you’re going to ride this out as is this season?

A: There’s not a quick fix. We’d like to get Otto (Porter) back. Part of our shooting issues has been that he hasn’t been on the floor. Lauri hasn’t shot to the level that he has the first two years. We need him to do that. We’re not giving up on Lauri, Wendell, Zach, Coby White. We’re all in this together. This is about all of us being better.

Q: You sound as committed as ever to this job?

A: I’m here. I don’t plan on going anywhere.

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What to watch for: Bulls face off with Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers

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USA TODAY

What to watch for: Bulls face off with Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers

The Bulls look to bounce back against one of the league's best in the Clippers, tonight. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here’s what to watch for:

Clippers’ last five (4-1)

  • Dec. 13 — W at Timberwolves: 124-117

  • Dec. 11 — W at Raptors: 112-92

  • Dec. 9 — W at Pacers: 110-99

  • Dec. 8 — W at Wizards: 135-119

  • Dec. 6 — L at Bucks: 119-91

Storyline(s) for each team

The Clippers come into this game with perhaps the deepest roster in the NBA — they have everything from top-tier star talent (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George), to specialized secondary options (Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley), to sparkplug role players (Landry Shamet, Montrezl Harrell, Moe Harkless, etc.) They’re 20-7 and own the second-best record in the Western Conference.

Like the Bulls, the Clippers are on the second night of a back-to-back (and the last night of a six-game road trip), so that full assortment of players won’t be in action. Leonard and Shamet have both already been ruled out. Williams and Beverley are questionable, but neither played the team’s game last night in Minnesota.

Whatever squad they field will likely still have an edge over the Bulls, who shot a paltry 27-for-90 from the field in an 83-73 loss to the Hornets on Friday. Jim Boylen was satisfied with the team’s defensive effort after that contest, but against the sixth-rated defense in the NBA, a markedly better offensive showing will be required to stay competitive against Los Angeles. Even without their full cast of characters, stealing this one would represent the Bulls’ best win of the season (for what it’s worth, not a compliment).

Player to watch: Paul George

George is set to suit up, and he’s a must-watch whenever he comes to town. Last night, him and Leonard combined to drop 88 points on the Timberwolves. It looked like a lot of fun:

 

Bulls fans are familiar with George’s exploits from his time with the Pacers, and he’s only leveled up further since leaving Indiana. Coming off a career year in Oklahoma City in which he finished third in MVP voting, he’s currently averaging 24.6 points on 39.9% 3-point shooting (10.2 attempts), and remains one of the preeminent wing defenders in the league. 

The Bulls haven’t had their lack of wing depth truly exposed by a team in a while. Unless Kris Dunn has an all-time defensive performance in him, the Clippers are about as safe a bet as any to exploit that mismatch.

Matchup to watch: Frontcourt rotations

Jim Boylen’s rotations have been scattershot all season, but in the wake of Thad Young requesting more minutes earlier this week, we reached peak randomness last night.  Franchise cornerstone Lauri Markkanen played 25 minutes, 34 seconds and at one point sat for nearly 15 consecutive game minutes. Young played 26 minutes, 33 seconds, Wendell Carter 23 minutes, 35 seconds and Daniel Gafford 20 minutes, 18 seconds. 

Boylen has often insisted that his goal is to win games while simultaneously developing all the players on his team, and all things considered, the Bulls have a pretty talented frontcourt rotation. But it’s unclear if their minutes being divvied up on a night-to-night basis (and seemingly on-the-fly) is consistent with either of those stated missions.

Against a dynamic Clippers frontcourt, this is worth monitoring. Expect more juggling to ensue.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.