Bulls

Bulls bounce back, cruise past Sixers on the road

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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.

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

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USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.