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Bulls' comeback attempt comes up short in loss to Blazers

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Bulls' comeback attempt comes up short in loss to Blazers

Whenever the Bulls get back as a close-to-full squad, games like Saturday’s hard-played loss to the Portland Trail Blazers won’t haunt them as much as the other giveaways they’ve participated in through the first 58 contests.

They fought adversity, fatigue and bouts of ineffectiveness, and while having their share of opportunities late, they couldn’t get enough done in the fourth quarter of a 103-95 loss at the United Center.

Being without Derrick Rose in addition to Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic, the margin for error was already thin, and they knew it coming in.

“First and foremost you wanna make sure you’re competing and scrapping,” Mike Dunleavy said. “If that doesn’t happen it makes it worse. But once you get to a certain level of losing, there’s a major disappointment.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was obviously disappointed at some of the mistakes that led to the loss, but there’s only so much he can do with what he has at the moment.

“I thought our guys competed and battled tonight and played the right way,” he said. “It showed with our movement with the assists and open shots. Defensively we couldn’t get back in the game, we just couldn’t get that big one (stop) when we needed it.”

[MORE BULLS: Derrick Rose out vs. Blazers, but Jimmy Butler improving]

In some ways it looked a lot like Friday’s loss to the Hawks, but the Bulls woke up late to have a shot at things.

Pau Gasol’s triple-double led them with 20 points, 16 rebounds and 14 assists, but even he had trouble with Blazers center Mason Plumlee, who stymied Gasol on a few drives to the basket.

As the Bulls clawed back, they were sent back by an attribute they lack — athletic shot-blocking in the form of Blazers forward Ed Davis.

When the Bulls attacked the basket, Davis was sending everything back in the Bulls’ faces, with five blocked shots, and the Blazers thwarted two attempts at the rim that could’ve cut the lead to four with under two minutes left.

“Their confidence is high,” Taj Gibson said. “They’re playing shorthanded as well, but they’re playing the right kind of basketball. Everybody wants to win, everybody means well. We have a lot of injuries, but we have enough to win. We have to shorten our mistakes.”

One player who had no such misfortune at the rim or otherwise was Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who has taken the NBA on his own personal revenge tour since not being selected for the All-Star Game despite statistics that look familiar to Derrick Rose’s 2010-11 MVP campaign.

Lillard shut down an early run with a three-point play midway through the fourth, scoring as soon as he re-entered the game. He scored 31 points on 12-for-26 shooting.

“He’s tough. He can shoot it, can drive it, he’s pretty shaky,” Dunleavy said. “The big thing was taking away those 3s, and we did tonight.”

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The Bulls’ inability to handle Lillard was offset by making sure Lillard’s high-scoring backcourt mate C.J. McCollum couldn’t get going, as he missed 11 of his 12 shots, and they limited the Blazers to just 5-for-21 shooting from behind the 3-point line.

After missing his first eight shots, E’Twaun Moore joined the party to hit seven in a row in the third, waking up to score 15 of his 19 in the period. Doug McDermott scored 18 for his best five-game stretch of his career, with double figures in all of them.

“He and Pau have really developed a nice chemistry,” Hoiberg said. “Pau is such a great passer, and Doug can cut and move. Having Mike out there with Doug helps him a lot.”

But by then, the Blazers had their own party going, moving the ball around fluidly and taking a 15-point lead. It was then where the Bulls finally woke up and injected some energy into the building.

Gasol achieved his first triple-double as a Bull midway in the quarter, McDermott continued his surge, and all of a sudden after his corner 3 to end the third, they were within six.

But their early hole and inability to take advantage of the few opportunities presented to them led to their second straight loss, as they’ve slipped to eighth place in the East, just two games over .500.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.


Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.


But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 


Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.

 

For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 


Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

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Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.


Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 


LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.


LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.


Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.