Bulls bounce back, cruise past Sixers on the road


Bulls bounce back, cruise past Sixers on the road

If there was anybody who needed a bounce back game in the worst way, Nikola Mirotic was the obvious candidate running in a one-person race.

And the surprise starter—yes, the guy who started all year was a surprise starter at the last second, benefitted most from Joakim Noah’s unexpected absence in the Bulls’ 111-88 win over the perpetually-rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center Monday night.

Noah was slated to start at center, as announced by the team minutes before tipoff, before his left knee flared up and Mirotic returned back to the place he started and broke out of his mini-slump to score 20, including three 3-pointers, while adding 10 rebounds in 29 minutes.

“It was tough for me the last couple games, last three games, playing without confidence the last game [against Minnesota], getting in trouble with fouls,” Mirotic said.  “But I knew that I would be back soon with my offense. The last couple days, I was staying after practice to get my shots in, trying to get my confidence back, and [Monday] was the perfect day to get it back.”

Playing against a 76ers team that was already without Nerlens Noel, Robert Covington and Tony Wroten, the Bulls made quick work after a competitive first half where the home team surprisingly made it a game and tested Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg’s belief about his team’s ability to play a full 48 minutes—particularly against lesser competition.

“The one thing we talked about is how competitive they’ve been and how hard they play,” Hoiberg said.  “Noel is a difference maker with his ability to protect the rim and his energy. We had to play hard, it was evident by that run. I was glad to see we stopped that and got the momentum back on our side.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

After leading by 15 midway through the first quarter, 31-16, the Bulls allowed the 76ers to take a brief lead before halftime and then quickly restored order. The 76er reserves began to chip away as the Bulls had their usual lull, falling behind 40-37 after a 24-6 run fueled more by energy than anything else.

But Mirotic finally began to hit a few jumpers to start the third, including a couple triples, to give the Bulls a little breathing room as the 76ers began to predictably, regress to the mean.

That dreaded pump fake which resulted in three free throws began to break him from his lethargy, which couldn’t have come quicker for the Bulls. Doug McDermott added a rare four-point play and they were back off and running.

Mirotic scored 12 in the third, officially breaking out his slump.

“He stuck with it, especially after missing a couple early,” Hoiberg said. “He even missed a couple free throws but it was great tosee that ball go through the basket. That’s what shooters need,. To see that thing go in and take the lid off. Hopefully he can take off from here.”

A complete performance wasn’t necessary, especially as the 76ers shot 35 percent from the field and 18 from three-point range, and turned the ball over 17 times for 21 Bulls points.

Chicago native Jahlil Okafor actually outscored Mirotic in the period, scoring 14 on six of nine shooting, helping soothe an otherwise subpar shooting night although he achieved his first double-double with 21 and 15 rebounds, although he took 25 shots to get there.

Derrick Rose scored 12 with seven assists and five rebounds, while Pau Gasol scored 16 with nine rebounds and six blocked shots, as all their damage was done in the first three quarters of play.

McDermott scored seven in the fourth while reserve guard E’Twaun Moore scored nine to put things away and give the starters a breather with four days between games, completing a seven-game in 11-day stretch.

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.