Bulls burned from deep in blowout loss to Clippers


Bulls burned from deep in blowout loss to Clippers

LOS ANGELES—In the NBA, a few things are undefeated: Father Time, a spurned player and the streets of Los Angeles.

With two days in between games on a California weekend, the rain arrived Sunday morning and that’s precisely when the fun ended for the Chicago Bulls.

Only they didn’t know it until Jamal Crawford emphatically slammed the door down on their chances as the Los Angeles Clippers shot and dribbled the Bulls into oblivion with a 120-93 win at the Staples Center, completing the L.A. two-step with a 1-1 record but leaving with a terrible taste.

Having to come with the appropriate mental toughness against an opponent more than capable of blowing you out, the Bulls failed that test yet again.

“We had no grit or toughness,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said in a short, terse postgame news conference. “We were way too lackadaisical with closeouts, we didn’t do a good job stay in front of the ball and they were able to kick it out for open shots.”

The Bulls’ defensive intensity went on vacation after having two days in Los Angeles, particularly on the perimeter as the Clippers torched the Bulls for 17 triples, most of them from JJ Redick, Wes Johnson and Jamal Crawford.

The Bulls have given up 15 triples three times this season alone after giving up just five such games since the 2004-05 season, and this one was seemingly without resistance, as the Clippers scored 69 points in the second half after leading by just four at the half.

Perhaps feeling they should’ve had a lead due to missing more than their share of makeable opportunities, the Bulls let that lethargy carry on after halftime, as their defense gradually evolved from one stage to the next: decent, alarming, to finally, unacceptable.

“It just snowballed,” Hoiberg said. “They got comfortable and our shots weren’t falling, which affected us on the other end. You’ve got to fight through these struggles.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Crawford, who wanted to be a Bull a few seasons ago after having a stint in Chicago as a youth, danced around with the ball at every occasion and scoring on consecutive 3-point plays to break the game open in the fourth as the Bulls were hanging by a thread.

He scored 12 in the fourth after Redick scored 11 in the third, most off long balls.

“We’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Loose ball, you gotta get that, rebound, you gotta get that,” Jimmy Butler said. “We lack discipline in a lot of key areas, which is why games turn out the way they do at times.”

They were only close early because Derrick Rose was attacking Chris Paul and getting to the lane at will, scoring 20 on 10 of 17 shooting. Although Jimmy Butler led the Bulls in scoring with 23 points, he was 8 of 22 from the field and couldn’t get it going until late, almost when the game was out of reach.

The Clippers’ bench had its way against the depleted Bulls’ reserves, with Johnson, Crawford and Austin Rivers combining for 53 points. Crawford scored a game-high 26.

“We’re not guarding anybody,” Butler said succinctly. “I think guys play hard but we gotta play on every possession.”

Nobody on the Bulls’ bench scored in double figures, but more than that they were undependable on both sides of the ball, unable to hit open shots and blowing assignments on defense.

“There’s no way our missed shots should’ve affected us on the defensive end,” Rose said. “It’s a learning experience once again, and we’ve got some young guys who we still have to give that confidence (to) if their shots aren’t falling early.”

It led to the Clippers shooting 54 percent and 53 from 3, as they amassed a 27-point lead late in the fourth just to make the score look lopsided.

DeAndre Jordan played over the top of the Bulls defense and grabbed 20 rebounds to go with 17 points, and despite that, the Bulls were within striking distance at halftime and after the third.

Butler’s triple pulled the Bulls to within six with a minute left but the Bulls gave it right back, falling behind by 11 at quarter’s end.

Before the Bulls even touched the ball in the fourth the lead ballooned to 14 on a 3-point play from Crawford and he had more coming, earning another 3-point play with a jumper and foul from E’Twaun Moore.

But it became a laugher from there, leaving the Bulls to regoup with a little over a day before playing in Salt Lake City.

But get them away from L.A., A.S.A.P.

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

The Bulls have struggled through the 2019-20 NBA preseason but have shown signs of a team on the rise in a drastically different Eastern Conference. ESPN's Zach Lowe released the second half of his NBA League Pass Rankings, with the Bulls making a surprising leap into the top 10 that supports the notion that they are a team set to be entertaining and much more effective in the 2019-20 NBA season.

While Lowe's League Pass Rankings are not power rankings, they go hand-in-hand with the idea that the Bulls are starting to become an interesting team on the national stage.

The highest score a team can get in Lowe's League Pass Rankings is a 50, based on a 1-10 ranking in five separate categories. The Bulls received a score of 34.5, finishing right behind the Utah Jazz.

Lowe credits the potential for Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. to develop into a "rare frontcourt pairing" as one of his main reasons for telling readers to look out for the Bulls this season.

While Markkanen has yet to shoot over 50% from 2-point range and Carter has yet to attempt more than 18 3-pointers in a season, the potential is there for both of these players to improve greatly in both of these areas, truly making them a "rare" and formidable offensive duo. 

Throughout Lowe's League Pass Ranking-breakdown of the Bulls, he had kind words for the Bulls' new pinstriped jerseys, the improvisational ability of the Bulls' veterans and LaVine's dunking ability.

LaVine is the best dunker since prime Vince Carter... 

-Zach Lowe on Zach LaVine 

And while Lowe hinted at Bulls head coach Jim Boylen playing a bit of a character, he had positive thoughts on him as well.

Lowe calls Boylen, "a smart coach," and states "there is even some logic in how he stripped the Bulls down to the basics of physicality and effort upon taking over."

The Bulls have lofty goals for the 2019-20 season, making the playoffs being the biggest one. At the same time, they are not pressuring the roster as Boylen himself has stated the most important goal is to "get better every day."

From what has been written about the Bulls this preseason—including Lowe's League Pass Rankings—it would appear most NBA writers expect the Bulls to be a more entertaining, effective, and cohesive unit over the course of the 2019-20 season. On October 23, when the games start to count, we will see if the Bulls can back up the hype.

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Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

There is much discussion in the basketball community surrounding the value of the midrange shot following a Sun-Times article from Joe Cowley that discussed the Bulls analytics department wanting Zach LaVine to limit his mid-range attempts, and a segment on ESPN's The Jump, discussing the same topic. On Tuesday morning Matt Moore of the Action Network chimed in, offering up the statistics that clearly support the notion that LaVine should be shooting many, many more 3-pointers than 2s. 

While Moore's points were solid and backed up by the numbers, NBA superstar Kevin Durant offered up his opinion from a player's perspective. Durant backed up LaVine's quote of "sometimes there's nothing better than putting the ball in your best playmaker's hands and letting him get the shot he needs rather than the one you want." KD commented that he has seen too many players pass up wide-open midrange shots to force up 3-pointers or contested shots at the rim, with analytics having an influence on the shots that players take, referring the mid-range as "forbidden."

Durant went on to comment and respond to users' comments on the situation. In one response Durant agrees with a user who states that he is teaching his son to work on his mid-range game first and shoot 3-pointers once he is strong enough, stating "that's how I was taught."

Moore had some fun with the response from Durant, stating that when he initially tweeted about the topic, his intentions were not to get into a debate on the value of mid-range shots with an active NBA player who is already among the all-time greats. 

 Moore's original sentiment agrees with what the Bulls' analytics department is trying to accomplish. LaVine has always been a good mid-range shooter but last year alone he shot 35.8% on mid-range shots and 37.4% on 3-point attempts.

It is obvious that players still need to have to players who can hit mid-range attempts, as some of the best teams in the league—including recent NBA champions Toronto and Golden State, who finished second in the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range shots—have relied on players who can generate solid mid-range attempts in high-leverage moments. But Durant's point is important to note too.

Durant stated that you have to be "confident to make any shot" but countered that whatever you work on the most is what you will be best at. He doubled down on that point, saying most primary scoring options in the NBA shouldn't worry about analytics and should play off of feel, rather than numbers. 

Ultimately, there has to be a balance.

As we have seen through the preseason, taking fewer shots from the mid-range has certainly appeared to benefit LaVine's game, as he is currently fourth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 23.3 points per game through three contests. But taking what the defense gives you, especially when you are as confident of a player as Durant or LaVine, still needs to be emphasized. 

In what should be a huge season for LaVine, he will again have a high-usage rate as he looks to lead the Bulls to a bounce-back season and mid-range shots, while limited, will still be a part of his shot profile.

So as far as Chicago Bulls fans should be concerned, this is a win-win. LaVine has clearly taken to heart was the Bulls' analytics department is preaching by shooting fewer mid-rangers but he still understands that that shot is going to be necessary for certain moments. So when LaVine is open from mid-range in 2019-20, the Bulls coaching staff will likely be saying the same thing Durant did on Tuesday morning, "Shoot em Zach."

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