Bulls

Bulls clinch playoff berth with blowout win over Nets in regular-season finale

Bulls clinch playoff berth with blowout win over Nets in regular-season finale

One wonders when the minds of the Bulls players and coaches shifted from the Brooklyn Nets to the upcoming playoff opponent, the Boston Celtics.

It could’ve been five minutes into the game or five hours before, when they realized the Nets weren’t making any special additions to their lineup while sitting their top players.

Either way, they didn’t put forth their best performance in a 112-73 win, where the led wire-to-wire, clinching a playoff spot with a 41-41 record—one game worse than last season but enough to make the playoffs in an underwhelming Eastern Conference.

“Now the fun begins,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, as Game 1 on Sunday evening starts the enjoyment against the Celtics in Boston, with Game 2 being Tuesday at TD Garden.

The Bulls were 34-39 a month ago, losers of five straight that included a 100-80 thrashing on a Sunday afternoon that wasn’t as close as the 20-point spread.

“I just told the guys how proud I am of them, our backs were against the wall,” Hoiberg said. “It was a great job of being resilient by our players, hanging in there and sticking in there and finding a way to battle all the way to the last day.”

They finished off their season like they started it—with more questions than answers, stumbling out after tipoff but thankfully for them, they played a team without Jeremy Lin, Brook Lopez and a few others who could’ve made the night miserable.

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Instead, it allowed the Bulls to shoot just 36 percent through three quarters but have such a comfortable lead that none of the starters were truly needed in the fourth quarter.

Jimmy Butler concluded his best season as a pro with a 25 point, six-rebound and four-assist showing, with career-high averages in all three categories. Had the Bulls record been better and Butler not gone through a mini-slump after the All-Star break, he’d be on the back end of some Most Valuable Player conversation.

“I think we all are seeing the evolution of Jimmy Butler,” said Wade in the morning shootaround. “I can’t say anybody, even Jimmy, knew that he would be this player right now. The biggest thing that surprised me is he’s a clutch player. For a guy who hasn’t had a lot of clutch moments in his career, he’s as clutch as it gets.”

He’ll have to settle for getting this rag-tag bunch into a playoff showdown with the Celtics, a team they probably feel confident against—or as confident as an eighth seed should against a top seed.

Presumably, Wednesday shouldn’t be an indication of how the Bulls are going to play but it appears their rotation is set the right way as Rajon Rondo returned from a right wrist injury to play 19 minutes and scored 10 points with five assists and six rebounds.

His backup, Jerian Grant, got valuable playing time in his stead and although he was right with the muck of the night, his 3-point shooting over the last couple weeks elevated him past Michael Carter-Williams for backup minutes.

And with Wade still working himself back into decent shape and rhythm, Paul Zipser had a career night, helping break the game open in the first quarter to score eight of his career-high 21 points off the bench in 29 minutes. The lead kept increased through the night against the undermanned Nets, who were led by Archie Goodwin’s 20 and K.J. McDaniels’ 15 points off the bench.

With the inconsistency of the season costing them throughout, it wasn’t a fatal blow as they get new life this weekend in Boston, with a chance to craft a new narrative and make the season a surprising success.

NBA teams ‘impressed’ by Bulls’ front office hires, monitoring Jim Boylen decision

NBA teams ‘impressed’ by Bulls’ front office hires, monitoring Jim Boylen decision

When the NBA went dark on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bulls got busy.

A front office overhaul that was first reported as a possibility during All-Star weekend in Chicago kicked into overdrive during the league’s hiatus with the hiring of Arturas Karnisovas as executive vice president of basketball operations and Marc Eversley as general manager, the firing of Gar Forman and the re-assigning of John Paxson to an advisory role. 

It’s the dawn of a new era in Chicago. Energy is palpable throughout the fanbase. Bulls players have expressed enthusiasm for the direction of the franchise, as well.

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And around the league, competitors have taken note. Take it from NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh, who stopped by the Bulls Talk Podcast recently to discuss the league’s impending restart, and the state of the Bulls.

“I think it’s a brighter future,” Haberstroh said on the team’s front office changes. “I don’t think any NBA team is happy about what [the Bulls] did, because it means that their lives are going to be a lot harder to win a championship. 

“The Bulls have been in a rough spot over the last several years, just trying to rebuild after the Tom Thibodeau era, and never really quite having an identity. And I think with the change, the identity change with Arturas Karnisovas, he’s shown that he is a people person, he’s a gym rat. He hired Marc Eversley who has a really strong reputation around the league.”

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Indeed, the rebuild catalyzed by the Jimmy Butler trade (which yielded Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn) has yet to fully bloom. The Bulls are just 71-151 since the trade, and poised for a fourth consecutive top-10 draft selection after going just 22-43 in an abbreviated 2019-20 season and being left out of the NBA’s 22-team restart in Orlando, Fla. — a season which began with self-imposed playoff expectations.

That has led to widespread speculation on the future of head coach Jim Boylen. Boylen owns a 39-84 record since taking over for Fred Hoiberg 24 games into the 2018-19 season. He signed a three-year extension in May 2019, and assembled his own staff — headlined by Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers — last offseason.

Haberstroh added that those aforementioned competitors are monitoring the Bulls’ coaching situation closely. For now, as NBC Sports Chicago has reported, Karnisovas is empowering Boylen as coach of the team and withholding final judgements until he is able to observe him in the Bulls’ building and establish a relationship with him. Boylen recently participated in a Juneteenth march alongside Wendell Carter Jr. and other Bulls’ staff, and has been active checking in on players, both individually and on team Zoom calls.

“I think the big question that people around the league are wondering is ‘What is going to happen for Jim Boylen?’” Haberstroh continued. “And I think the head coaching position is going to be a canary in the coal mine for how this is going to be run going forward. 

“If Arturas or Marc believe that they need a new voice running the team and they are met with some reservations from either ownership or from elsewhere, do they have the autonomy to make that decision? Or is it going to be a situation where, ‘Hey, we don’t want to pay another head coach, we already have this deal with Jim Boylen, we don’t want to have to pay another coach to be in here.’ I think that’s going to be an indicator of how things are going to be running going forward. So it will be interesting to see. People around the league are very, very impressed (with the hires) that they’ve made. But I do think they want to see how much autonomy, in reality. They can say all they want now in press conferences, but we’ll see when push comes to shove whether they’re going to have full autonomy making decisions about not just the head coach but just everything in the organization.”

“All indications are that they’re going to have that full autonomy. But I think from around the league that is the big question mark, and they’re watching the head coaching position.”

Listen to the full conversation with Haberstroh here or via the embedded player above.

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NBA releases scrimmage schedule for 2019-20 season restart in Orlando

NBA releases scrimmage schedule for 2019-20 season restart in Orlando

Before the NBA officially restarts its season on July 30, all 22 of the invited teams will participate in three inter-squad scrimmages, as a means of final preparation.

The league released each squad's schedule for those scrimmages on Saturday. Scrimmages run from July 22 - 28 and are mostly interconference, presumably to avoid teams getting premature reads on potential early-round playoff opponents:

Not announced is whether or not the games will be televised, or a broadcast schedule.

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And one other matter of note: As Caitlin Cooper pointed out on Twitter, teams will intermingle between hotel locations for the three scrimmage games. Take the Lakers' scrimmage schedule, for example: They face the Mavericks, Magic and Wizards. While the Lakers will stay at Gran Destino Tower during their stay, the Mavericks and Magic will inhabit the Grand Floridian, and the Wizards the Yacht Club.

According to the league's 113-page health and safety guidelines for the bubble, players will be allowed to socialize with players at different hotels starting with "Phase 5," which begins July 22, but any meals shared with a player or staff member from another team must be eaten outside. Before that, players will only be allowed to socialize with teammates or others staying in the same hotel as them.

Teams are set to travel to Orlando on a staggered schedule from July 7 - 9; from there, regular COVID-19 testing and symptom monitoring will go into effect. After a period of quarantine and producing two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart, players and staffers will be allowed to participate in group activities with their teams.

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