Bulls' chemistry on full display in blowout win over Nets

Bulls' chemistry on full display in blowout win over Nets

NEW YORK -- It felt like a home game for most of the night, as Dwyane Wade jumpers and spin moves were met with wistful cheers from the Barclays Center crowd, appreciated the way Hall of Famer should be.

“I always get great support when I come here to Brooklyn,” said Wade, as if he needed it on this night, as he was cheered every time he touched the ball in a laugher of a fourth quarter.

“It feels like a home. I didn’t even know if they cheer for me like that at home when I get the ball, so it was great to be out there in that environment.”

And more importantly, the Bulls played Monday night’s game with the proper appreciation that they weren’t going to toy around with an opponent who had no business being on the same floor with them for another big win.

It was an instant replay of Saturday’s thrashing of the Indiana Pacers, as the starters jumped on the Brooklyn Nets from the start and cruised to a 118-88 win in Brooklyn on Monday night.

For those counting, the Bulls are off to their first 3-0 start since the 1996-97 season, a year that saw the Bulls win 69 games and the NBA title.

The Bulls were a picture of efficiency yet again, hitting the 100-point mark midway through the fourth quarter as there was plenty of garbage time to go around for the second straight game.

“Our intensity has been really good,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “(Rajon) Rondo set the tone for our team by getting out, playing with pace and making simple plays.”

If Saturday was the bench players taking a star role, the starters took center stage against the backdrop of Broadway.

They pounced on the Nets early, taking an 18-point lead into the second quarter as they compiled nine assists, with Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson the main recipients. Butler led the Bulls with 22 points on just 10 shots, and Gibson went 7-for-9 for 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Nikola Mirotic came off the bench to score 16 points with 10 rebounds in 25 minutes, and Wade scored 12 in 29 minutes.

“I give our veteran leaders a lot of credit for the way we continue to put our foot on the gas and continue to extend leads as opposed to letting up and allowing our opponents to get back in the game,” Hoiberg said.

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More than a few times last year, the Bulls got up for the big games but let the novices of the NBA prevent them from making the playoffs. Seeing this team develop any kind of killer instinct should be viewed as a positive sign—especially considering Hoiberg was telling the team and the media before the game about how dangerous the Nets were, that they should be 3-0 instead of 1-2.

But minutes in, it was obvious the Nets couldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight as the Bulls’

“It’s fun. It’s a fun way to play when you’re sharing the ball,” Hoiberg said. “The ball’s not sticking in guys’ hands.”

The ball movement continued, accompanied by pretty plays and passes that displayed the Bulls’ athleticism and speed. Wade connected on a touch-pass alley-oop with Butler after a Rondo look-ahead pass that brought the visiting crowd out of their seats in the first half.

“It’s contagious, a trickle down effect. It starts with the first unit,” Rondo said. “Every team will fight back. We’ve been able to keep our foot on the gas. We figured out how to keep the lead above 20.”

Rondo only had four assists but the Bulls had 26 as a whole, many of them the swing-swing variety. Five players had three assists or more, with Isaiah Canaan leading the way with six to go along with his 15 points in 22 minutes.

“If we win by 20, I’m happy I didn’t have to play the fourth two games in a row,” Rondo said. “To start a season like that, it’s big for us. It’s fun. I love passing. It’s fun to watch.”

Subsequently, the Bulls have been able to make up for the fact that they shouldn’t be a strong 3-point shooting team by their ball movement. Doug McDermott went off from the line against Indiana but didn’t hit one against the Nets; However, it was Mirotic and Canaan who went off against the Nets, combining to hit seven of the Bulls’ 11 3-point makes.

They hit 11 against Boston in the opener and nine against Indiana Saturday.

The Bulls are almost flawless at hitting the open man from double-teams or off dribble penetration, playing with a chemistry that’s almost too good to be true this soon in a season with so many new players.

“I’m not surprised. I think whenever you buy into it and you hang out as much as we do and we know each other the way we do, I think it helps,” Butler said. “Me and D-Wade were talking about it earlier, how this locker room camaraderie, it really shows on the floor.”

It’s a stark contrast to what they displayed last year, when many began to wonder if Hoiberg’s system could fit with this team. But it’s been embraced by the team, and the players are embracing each other.

“You wanna be out there. You know the ball is coming to you,” Butler said. “You don’t know when, but you know whenever you’re open you’re gonna be in a position to score. Everybody wants a chance to score. That’s the reason you play.”

But a reserve player became center of attention for all the wrong reasons as Michael Carter-Williams injured his left knee early in the second quarter, limping off but not returning as the Bulls termed it a knee sprain and scheduled an MRI for Tuesday in Boston.

But aside from that major deterrent, the Bulls weren’t deterred in any facet, aside from the old bugaboo of turnovers rearing its ugly head for a few minutes in the third quarter, when a 25-point lead was cut to 18.

“We gotta cut down on the turnovers, we had 20. That’s too many,” Hoiberg said. “We gotta build habits for the long haul, for this long season.”

If that’s the most of Hoiberg’s issues, he’ll take it.

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.