Bulls

Bulls can't stop Howard in rare home loss

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Bulls can't stop Howard in rare home loss

Resiliency is a trait the Bulls (33-9) have prided themselves on during Tom Thibodeaus tenure as head coach and Thursday night, it was put to the test, as his squad battled back from an early 18-point deficit, but ultimately didnt have enough to pull off the comeback, falling to the Magic (26-15), 99-94, snapping their eight-game winning streak.

On an evening when All-Star duo Derrick Rose and Luol Deng both struggled shooting the ball, the Bulls valiantly attempted to gut out one of their trademark ugly wins, but hot shooting from Orlando, a rebounding disadvantage and an atypical defensive performance were too much to overcome, despite a strong outing from Carlos Boozer.

Thibodeaus concerns about his squads defensive slippage manifested themselves early in the contest, as the Magic jumped out to an 8-0 lead. Orlando bombarded its host with a barrage of three-pointers, putting the Bulls in a tough position, as they also had to be concerned with All-Star center Dwight Howard (29 points, 18 rebounds, three blocked shots) and a game of matching basket for basket doesnt suit their normally defensive-oriented style of play.

When you get in that big of a holestart of the game: 37 points, first quarteryou cant win like that, a dismayed Thibodeau explained afterwards. Weve got to be ready to play and that comes back on me. Ive got to get them ready to play. We got in a hole that we shouldnt have been in and you cant do that against this team. They got their confidence early, I think they had six threes in the first quarter, they outworked us, they crushed us with the second shot. You get what you deserve in this league.

Rose chimed in: Its tough, when you have someone like that whos got to commit everyone to the paint because hes so dominant in the paint and theyre a tough team to guard. Theyre a unique team, probably the only team in the league that runs that type of offense and thats what makes them so tough.

Came out sluggish, but some of the shots that they were hitting were contested shots. It was pretty tough, but they were pretty hot, gave them confidence and you cant do that to that team, he continued. Theres no excuses. If thats the case, every night we could have an excuse, like traveling and who were playing.

Despite a pair of timeouts called by Thibodeau to rectify the situation, his team didnt immediately respond and fell into a double-digit hole, with the likes of Jason Richardson (18 points), Hedo Turkoglu (13 points, six rebounds, six assists), Jameer Nelson (nine points, seven assists) and Ryan Anderson (11 points, 10 rebounds) draining long-range attempts.

Were capable of playing much better defense, from how we play the ball, how we get back in transition, how we challenge shots to how we finish. Every aspect, said Thibodeau. Were capable of much better, we have to have discipline and weve got to get back to that.

In a game like this, its a scramble game, Howards a load inside, and theyre a great shooting team, so you have to take care of the ball, you have to pressure the ball, you have to take care of the paint, you have to react out and then take care of the line, then youve got to challenge shots and youve got to finish. Youve got to pursue the ball, he continued. You have to give the appropriate help. Hes much improved offensively. I dont think he gets the credit. Theyve done a great job with him. Hes done a great job. Each year hes gotten better and youre not going to be able to guard him one-on-one, but youve got to make his catches hard, dig in at the appropriate time and get out at the appropriate time, without getting twisted around, closing short, recklessly foulingall the stuff that gets you beat.

Added Joakim Noah: Defense, its not great. We definitely have to do better, learn from your mistakes and know theres another level that we have to take it to.

Though they did get production out of Rose (17 points, nine assists) and the power-forward combination of Boozer (26 points, seven rebounds, four steals) and Taj Gibson (14 points), the Bulls trailed at the conclusion of the opening frame, 37-22.

The visitors offensive brilliance continued in the second quarter, as Howard began to dominate the interior, logging a double-double in the first half alone, with the Bulls being more conscious of Orlandos remarkable outside marksmanship. Though the Magic cooled down as shooters, the Bullswith the exception of Gibson, who played with his typical high energy, as well as rookie swingman Jimmy Butler, who was aggressive in rare extended minutes outside of fourth-quarter garbage timewere unable to capitalize offensively and still faced a healthy deficit.

I like what our second unit did in the second quarter. They got us within striking distance. They brought the game back and when our starters came back, I thought they played much better, said Thibodeau, who cited Butlers individual effort. But weve got to be ready from the start of the game. We cant ease into these games. Thats a quality team. Theyre all quality teams and if youre not ready to play, youre just asking for trouble.

Added Luol Deng: We didnt come out with the right mindset. We didnt really take anything away from them early. Our second unit did a good job with getting us back in the game. I thought Jimmy was great, got us back into it.

Deciding to fight fire with fire, the Bulls turned to designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver to spark them and he delivered, knocking down a trio of shots in short succession, although the home team couldnt make any serious inroads and allowed the Magic to regain the games momentum. A late push, capped by a Rose three-pointer on the move at the halftime buzzer, brought the Bulls to within 57-52, and brought the crowd to its feet.

Despite Howard remaining dominant inside and a sprinkling of perimeter shootingthough a far cry from the torrent of the first halfthe Bulls kept it close early in the third period, as Rose fought through a rough shooting night, Boozer made his presence felt on offense and until he picked up his third foul, Noah (nine points, 10 rebounds, three steals, three blocked shots) was effective. Thibodeau went to a small lineup, pairing Boozer and Gibson in the post, and it worked, as Boozers mid-range game took Howard out of his shot-blocking comfort zone, leading to the Bulls briefly taking their first lead of the contest.

"With a guy like Dwight, you want to keep him as far away from the basket as possible, so you put him in pick-and-rolls. If you keep him by the basket, hell get 10 blocks in a game, said Boozer. Sometimes you get the open jumper, sometimes you get the roll to the hoop. Tonight the jumper was rolling and we just kept going to the same kind of plays to get the jump shot wide open.

Added Thibodeau: Carlos, I thought he played a terrific game. Very effective in the pick-and-roll, I thought he battled Howard well. Unfortunately, it wasnt enough.

Gibson also continued to impact the game with his energetic play and offensive efficiency, but the home team didnt have enough of the latter as a team, which permitted the visitors, who found their overall shooting touch once again, obtaining some breathing room toward the end of the quarter. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were still behind, 79-71.

Boozer remained the Bulls offensive focal point at the outset of the fourth quarter, as the much-maligned power forward exploited Orlandos defense with a blend of mid-range jumpers and a polished low-post game, while the timely scoring and playmaking of backup point guard John Lucas III was also key in helping the hosts stay in close contact with their guests.

We probably had some tired legs, but we fought back. Our team is very tough. We fought through it, said Boozer. Were a tough team. We play through everything.

The game became a close-knit affair heading into its stretch run, but the Bullswho vastly stepped up their defensive intensity, though they remained mired in offensive struggleshad all of the momentum, with a raucous partisan audience celebrating every positive, such as Boozer breaking an 89-89 tie with just under three minutes to play with yet another mid-range jumper.

However, a monstrous Howard dunk over Noah seemingly took the wind out of the hosts sails and a subsequent Anderson triple, followed by a pair of free throws gave the visitors the push they needed to finish the rare road victory at the United Center.

We had our chances tonight. Im disappointed to lose the way that we lost. We know that they have a real tough player in the middle and that theyve got a lot of great shooters, and unfortunately, they got both going tonight. Tough loss. We had our chances. Got to learn from it and move on, said Noah. No excuses. We had our chances, so to look at that game and say, Oh, it was four and five nightswe fought hardI think thats what I love about this team is that were resilient and were just going to keep fighting. We had our chances. Thats why its tough right now, but weve got another one in a couple days.

Concluded Thibodeau: We got what we deserve.

Shaquille Harrison could improve the efficiency of Bulls bottom five defense

Shaquille Harrison could improve the efficiency of Bulls bottom five defense

The Phoenix Suns released guard Shaquille Harrison last week, and although it is not a move that will send shockwaves through the league, the Bulls picking up Harrison could be the exact type of move to help solve what ails them.

At 6-foot, 4-inches and with a long wingspan, Harrison would step in and likely be at least the second-best perimeter defender on the team behind Kris Dunn. And he is the type of player, when combined with a talent like Wendell Carter Jr. and/or Dunn, could help form the type of lineup that could have a transformative effect on the overall team defense.

Last season Harrison had a defensive rating of 109, this despite the fact that the Sun—as a team—had a defensive rating of 113.51, over four points worse than when Harrison was on the floor.

His best skill is his ability to “get skinny” around a screener, meaning that on defense, Harrison is adept at angling his body to get around players trying to screen him off his man:


The Bulls need more players who show Harrison’s effort level when navigating screens on defense, not just because it will make life easier on their rim protectors, but because they also need to make sure they continue adding players who lead by example on that end of the floor. A team as young as the Bulls needs to collect young talent who pride themselves on defense, and Harrison fits the part.

When it comes to offense, Harrison doesn’t have the most impressive profile, but his play on that end of the floor is similar to former Bull David Nwaba. Harrison is not even an average 3-point shooter  (23.1 percent from 3-point range), but he makes up for it in other ways.

His rebounding is an area of strength, and fitting in with his preference to bring physicality to his matchup, he is adept at getting to the free throw line.

Last year Harrison’s 30.6 percent free throw attempt rate would’ve been a top-five mark on the Bulls. But his low usage rate (18 percent) will likely be lower in Chicago, so the free throw numbers may fall. But with so many score-first players on the roster, Harrison will still be able to crash the glass against the many guards who forget to box out their man.

Offensive rebounding will be less of a focus for a Bulls team that wants to preach getting back on transition defense, but Harrison gives Fred Hoiberg a special player that can do both. Harrison will run back on defense to help create the “shell” that the best teams create to cut off easy forays to the rim, and then when his team gets the ball back and is on the fastbreak, he brings value as the “trailer” (trailing man on a fastbreak) even without shooting ability:

This signing could end up being a big one for the Bulls, however small it may seem now.

Around the league, more and more teams are starting to invest resources in multiple ball-handler offenses that negate the differences between point guard and shooting guard, making versatile back court defenders a must.

This will be evident when the Bulls take on the Dallas Mavericks in game No. 3 of the regular season, as Rick Carlisle's Mavericks feature Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic in an explosive offense that doesn't have a defined "lead" guard.

The Bulls will continue to attempt to curtail offense with a high-scoring back court duo when they take on the Charlotte Hornets in a back-to-back on October 26 and 27. If Harrison is worked into the rotation by then, expect to see Harrison and Dunn on the floor together to match up with Doncic and Smith respectively, but have the flexibility to switch defensive assignments on the fly. If Chicago's perimeter defense starts to offer significantly more resistance, it will allow quicker improvement from Carter and the rest of the Bulls bigs on the interior.

With Zach LaVine currently in the top-five in the NBA in points per game, Dunn returning and Lauri Markkanen getting healthy, the Bulls front office is slowly approaching the point where their team has enough players who are considered possible focal points of an offense.

To become a championship contender, you need to have that one player who is unequivocally a superstar capable of a heavy workload, and only time will tell if the Bulls already have that player or need to acquire him. But the other important factor in building a championship roster is having the elite-level role players who do the little things that make life easier for their teammates in all phases of the game, and Shaq Harrison is excellent prospect who fits that exact mold.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.