Bulls

Bulls clinch home-court in first round with win over Nets

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Bulls clinch home-court in first round with win over Nets

BROOKLYN — It was all coming together for the Bulls, the timing, cohesiveness and muscle memory that comes when a group plays together for a long time during a season.

Except they hadn’t played together except for a few tantalizing stretches and even on this evening against the desperate Brooklyn Nets, they were without Joakim Noah who sat out with tendinitis.

But portions of what makes this team potentially great were on full display in their 113-86 win at the Barclays Center, if you could follow the zipping ball that moved around the floor all night on the way to the Bulls clinching home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, which start Saturday.

Leaping touch passes from Jimmy Butler to Nikola Mirotic, when Butler cut to the middle of the floor but had his eyes on the sweet-shooting rookie in the corner the entire time, who obliged the unselfish play with a swish.

[MORE: Mirotic responds to chiding from teammates in Bulls rout]

Or Derrick Rose looking ahead to find a streaking Pau Gasol ahead of the defense—while returning the favor to Butler for a layup when his backcourt mate galloped downcourt as Rose blazed his way through transition defense that looked like driving cones.

The piece that brings it all together lifts everyone and it appears the Bulls are nearing peak efficiency.

“Getting Derrick back is the big thing,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When you look at what Pau has brought to our team, it's an entirely different dimension, then add it Jimmy and what’s he’s doing, then all the other parts fit well.”

Rose had more moments where he looked like himself from an explosive standpoint, getting to the basket with ease, but his control of the game from the point guard spot was probably just as encouraging, as he had another efficient night with seven assists and just two turnovers to go with his 13 points in 23 minutes.

“I think the real function of the point guard is how the team plays,” Thibodeau said. “I thought he had a good pace, good tempo. He got the ball movement for us. I thought he gave us rhythm into our threes.”

[MORE BULLS: Why playoff seeding matters for Derrick Rose and the Bulls]

Rose’s vision was again a valuable part of his game, as his “point guard IQ” has risen in his various absences.

“I’m seeing the floor better,” Rose admitted. “They’re playing me different almost every game. Tonight they’re forcing me into the big. So Pau was open almost the majority of the pick and rolls.”

It was like that all night for the Bulls, who shot 50 percent from the field and took the life out of a road building yet again—like they did so casually in Miami. Mirotic, who was somewhat a favorite to the crowd that had a lot of red in the seats, nailed three straight triples to end the third quarter, to give the Bulls a 22-point lead.

The rookie scored 26 on six triples in just 24 minutes, while Gasol scored 22 with 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Butler scored 17 and Taj Gibson, starting in Noah’s place, scored 15 with nine rebounds and four blocks.

“You miss people because of injuries,” Rose said. “People getting sick, missing games here and there so we need everybody to be healthy to make this run. Jo sat out tonight getting his knee together. We’re gonna need everybody to make this huge push.”

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

Mirotic was the beneficiary of great ball movement, as were most of the Bulls who registered field goals, with an impressive 26-8 assist to turnover ratio on the evening.

As their offense got crisper, the defense got tightened up, even with Noah. The Nets came into the game looking to make amends for a puzzling road loss in Milwaukee Sunday night, attempting to regain the magic that brought them to the thick of playoff contention, but needing some help in the final games to earn a berth.

The Bulls had nothing to offer but advice, taking a 25-point lead after back-to-back feeds from Aaron Brooks to Gasol for dunks a few minutes into the fourth quarter, as Gasol passed the 18,000 point mark for his Hall-of-Fame bound career.

After trading baskets for the second quarter, the Bulls had enough of that, holding the Nets to 15 points in the third, running away with the ballgame and heading into the season finale playing with the type of rhythm that could make springtime in Chicago a long one.

 

Bulls mailbag: Who is getting traded? Does system fit Lauri Markkanen?

Bulls mailbag: Who is getting traded? Does system fit Lauri Markkanen?

Two weeks remain until the NBA’s trade deadline. Yet, according to a majority of your questions, it’s never too early for speculation.

What are Bulls officials saying about areas of need ahead of the trade deadline? Will they be buyers or sellers? – Will G.

Shockingly, they say very little to reporters about their plans. That said, it doesn’t take a genius, or even a reporter, to ascertain that nobody should be untouchable on this roster in this most disappointing of seasons. Do I think Zach LaVine or Lauri Markkanen will be traded? No. Should the Bulls listen to any and all offers for those players if they come? Absolutely.

As for being buyers, you need assets to do that. LaVine’s reasonable contract is one, although, as previously stated, I don’t see him being moved. Beyond that, the only asset I see ⁠— the Bulls historically have frowned upon surrendering first-round picks ⁠— is Thaddeus Young. And that’s mostly because he’s a solid veteran who would help any playoff team.

I see Young and Denzel Valentine as the most likely candidates to be moved. Executives from other teams that I talk to think Young will draw interest, particularly since the third year of his deal isn’t fully guaranteed.

Has the front office considered keeping Kris Dunn beyond this season? Or are they still attempting to move him by the deadline? – Ryan B.

I’ve heard no trade discussions involving Dunn since last offseason. Back then, it was well documented how available he was. And the Bulls had talks with the Grizzlies, at least, to move him there.

But, again, when you’re in a position like the Bulls are, you have to listen to any offers. I personally think there’s a good chance Dunn will be back with the Bulls next season. His role acceptance and ability to defend have made him a valuable rotation piece. As a restricted free agent, Dunn’s offers can be matched by the Bulls. It’s their duty to have a sense of what Dunn’s market will be this summer in restricted free agency. As previously written in this feature, I think a three-year, $30-36M deal is feasible for Dunn. And while that sounds like a lot, remember that the salary cap keeps increasing.

What are your trade ideas/wishes for the February deadline that you think the Bulls should make? – Areeb A.

I have no wishes other than to make deadline. As for ideas, this isn’t really original but a Young-for-Maurice Harkless deal makes plenty of sense for both the Bulls and Clippers. The Clippers get another savvy, strong defender for a player who, while valuable, is somewhat redundant with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. And the Bulls get an expiring contract and look at Harkless, who helps with the uncertainty surrounding Otto Porter Jr.

Count me strongly in the camp against trading LaVine. I’ve said this plenty, but people far too often focus on his weaknesses rather than his strengths. He’s an athletic marvel who can score easily and is still growing as a player while on a reasonable contract. His decision-making has improved. Maybe he’s not a No. 1 piece on a championship team. You traded Jimmy Butler for him and if you’re trading him away, you’re looking for a player like him from the draft lottery to replace him.

Like everyone else, I’ve been very disappointed in Lauri Markkanen’s season thus far. He is being criminally misused as a spot-up shooter in Jim Boylen’s vaunted offense that has a “modern” shot profile and emphasizes 3-pointers and layups. This is mentioned frequently by Boylen in press conferences. But it produces points at a level that the Minneapolis Lakers would recognize. Is there any credence to the recent trade rumors on Lauri, and if so, what type of return would we get? I’m sure he’ll immediately flourish if he’s able to escape the dumpster fire that this team has become this season so I wish him the best of luck. -Nick P.

Tell us how you really feel.

I’ve heard no trade rumors surrounding Markkanen. I do think, whether he’s being misused or not, this season raises legitimate questions on whether his ceiling is as high as the Bulls projected. That said, I completely agree he’s not this ineffective and he’d be better served if he’s on the move more. I know coaches have talked to him about cutting forcefully in halfcourt sets and running the wings hard in transition. But, yes, the fact this offense largely eschews midrange looks or postups has affected Markkanen.

Remember that drag step, one-legged fadeaway off the glass that he sank with regularity during his dominant stretch in February last season? It’s getting hard to since he rarely uses it anymore. Over half of Markkanen’s attempts this season have been from beyond the arc. He has certainly missed his share of open looks, which is on him. But he’s much more than a stationary shooter.

Do you think the front office will step in at some point regarding how Boylen is using Markkanen, especially since Lauri is starting to air some frustration with the system? – Jack S.

John Paxson and Boylen talk basically every day. They have a strong working relationship. Paxson also talks to Markkanen and other players regularly. Paxson’s M.O. with all coaches has been to offer input or suggestions if he sees fit but let the coach do the coaching. So this is Boylen’s system, for better or for worse.

I found it telling that Thad Young, at a recent shootaround in Boston, said how his role of staying more on the perimeter and shooting more 3-pointers wasn’t disclosed during the free agency process. At the same shootaround, Boylen went on to say how that was conveyed to Young during those voluntary September workouts and in October training camp. This seems clear that Boylen arrived at this offensive system late, although Chris Fleming’s hire likely started talks towards this style earlier in the offseason.

A lot has been made about Chris Fleming’s offense in Brooklyn. Why hasn’t that translated to Chicago? How Lauri is being handled in this offense is pathetic! – Derek B.

Speaking of . . .

To clarify, it’s not Fleming’s offense — either here or in Brooklyn. He’s an assistant coach with ideas and input and known for his offensive acumen. But the head coach signs off on the systems.

The Bulls wanted to modernize their offense with a more free-flowing, read-and-react system that emphasizes rim and 3-point attempts. Despite languishing in the bottom five for offensive rating all season, Boylen has touted strengths of the team’s shot profile and an establishment of a system. As of this writing, the Bulls rank second in attempts at the rim with 35.6 per game while converting just 56.7 percent. That’s tied for last with the Knicks. And that’s hard to do.

Can you please tell me why Jim Boylen feels it is more appropriate to build a system on both ends of the floor rather than play to his players strengths? I just don't get it, and the more I try and figure it out the more it baffles me. This equal opportunity offense is just stupid. Surely he can see that? – Matt A.

This isn’t meant to defend Boylen but to provide context. You have to remember management’s charges when he took over for Fred Hoiberg: Raise accountability. Build a culture. Establish a style of play.

Boylen waited over two decades for this opportunity. It’s pretty clear, from his strong relationship to the Reinsdorfs to the fact that he had some input on personnel moves this offseason, that he likes pleasing his bosses. So he is trying to establish a style of play with interchangeable parts so that if one player is injured, another can step in and play the same way.

You can call it whatever you want, but Boylen is doing what he believes is best to build championship habits. I personally would have, say, Luke Kornet playing more at the rim as a shotblocker than blitzing way out on the perimeter or more of a pecking order offensively. But I’m also not coach of the Bulls who waited two decades for his chance.

I hear all these comments about giving Lauri more minutes, but am I the only one that sees little if any production from him when he is playing? Missing wide open shots, going weak to the basket, turnovers, overpowered in rebounds. He looks very disinterested the majority of the time, so I, for one, don’t think giving him more minutes is warranted. Just my frustrated take. – Shawn J.

Frustration is allowed. I think everyone, Markkanen included, would agree he hasn’t played to the level of which he is capable. Any discussion of this season-long issue shouldn’t fully absolve Markkanen of his role in his struggles. I just personally think he has shown an ability to play at a higher level than this, so you also have to look at the system.

Will we get a chance to see Coby White actually run the point? Do the Bulls see him as a primary ball handler long term, or as an off-ball scoring threat? I know he’s valuable to us as a bench scorer this season, but I worry about the kind of habits that he’ll develop in such a scoring focused role for an extended period of time. – Patrick S.

The Bulls view him as a 19-year-old lottery pick who is extremely talented and will grow into whatever his proper role is. This is a byproduct of taking young players in the lottery who aren’t fully formed. Yes, he played point guard in his lone season at North Carolina. But that basically consisted of Roy Williams telling him to dribble up the floor as fast as he possibly could and get the best first available shot for him or others.

When, or if, the Bulls shift fully to player development as opposed to this pipe dream of chasing a playoff berth will be a storyline I’ll be monitoring once the trade deadline and All-Star break pass. It certainly wouldn’t hurt playing him more minutes as a pure point if the Bulls reach that full-on development stage. For now, their lack of pigeonholing or limiting him has been the right move for a young, raw talent.

Why was the Shaq Harrison contract guaranteed? How can you not make a single roster move all season? Will they admit the rebuild needs a rebuild? When will Lauri reject contract extension because he wants away from Boylen and Bulls? Does Doug Collins have any hair left after watching this disaster? – Andrew G.

The best part is this dude sent in two other questions that I trimmed because others asked them. Angst, much?

I assume you mean: Why was the non-guaranteed deal of Harrison allowed to become guaranteed past the guaranteed date? Because Boylen likes defense and toughness.

They’ve moved Cristiano Felicio back and forth between the G League. Does that count?

John Paxson answered that question during his round of media interviews “There is no quick fix,” he said. So I’m going with no.

I wrote that last week: The Markkanen extension talks will be more difficult because of Markkanen’s slow start to his season. His camp almost certainly will point to less opportunity, both in terms of touches and minutes. (Not to mention the system has affected Markkanen.) The Bulls, as always, will try to sign him on a team-friendly deal. Expect difficulty. (The Bulls would still own his rights, obviously, even if they fail to reach an extension.)

Doug has his hands full because he also watches his son, Chris, at Northwestern.

Hypothetical seven-game series. Each team has the exact same players, but the coaches are Boylen vs. Floyd. Who wins? – Andy H.

Not sure. But I know I’d like to interview Charles Oakley afterward.

Thanks for all your questions. Talk to you soon.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Markkanen and LaVine lead Bulls over T-Wolves

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Markkanen and LaVine lead Bulls over T-Wolves

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson react to the Bulls' 117-110 win over the Timberwolves.

0:45: Reaction to Bulls winning 10th game at home this season and good game from Lauri Markkanen

3:50: On Cristiano Felicio having his best game of the season

6:45: Viewer comment on Lauri Markkanen

8:20: On Jim Boylen calling a timeout with five seconds left

10:05: Viewer comment on Lauri’s play and postseason chances

11:15: Viewer comment on Kris Dunn not getting enough credit

13:30: Viewer comment celebrating a win

14:30: Viewer comment why the Bulls should sign Joakim Noah

15:20: Kendall Gill wants to know if Matt Peck saw what Derrick Rose did tonight

16:25: Viewer comment on afraid Lauri Markkanen becomes the Bulls Andrew Wiggins

17:30: Viewer comment on Chandler Hutchison developing his offensive game

19:30: Viewer comments on Felicio and Denzel Valentine

22:05: The Outsiders react to Channel 7’s Mark Giangreco throwing shade at the Bulls Outsiders during an appearance on Waddle and Silvy