Bulls

Bulls' comeback bid falls short against Warriors

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Bulls' comeback bid falls short against Warriors

OAKLANDThe curse of Oracle Arena continued for the Bulls (1-1) against the Warriors (1-1) Monday night, as Chicago lost on the road to Golden State for the third consecutive time, 99-91.

Derrick Rose once again struggled in Oakland and the Bulls defense was uncharacteristically poor in the second game of the young season, as they failed to complete an improbable late comeback for the second straight night.

No defense, turned the ball over, put them into the open floor and gave them a lot of confidence early. You cant do that against a team like this, observed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team committed 20 turnovers on the evening.

Well, I think when youre on the road, you have to understand how difficult it is to win on the road, so you prepare yourself by being ready at the start of the game and you have to play defense, and you cant make it easy on them and youve got to take care of the ball. Youve got to eliminate all the ways in which you beat yourself first and then you have to establish your defensive game first. You have to know who you are: defend, rebound, inside-out, share the ball, low turnovers.

A fast-paced start to the contest played to the home teams strengths, as the transition-loving Warriors played at their desired pace. David Lee got the upper hand in his matchup with power-forward counterpart Carlos Boozer, though the Alaska native was able to get a semblance of revenge as the first quarter went on. The visitors successfully got new acquisition Rip Hamilton (10 points, four assists) involved from the outset and the game was a close-knit affair.

Meanwhile, Golden States go-to scorer, Monta Ellis wreaked havoc on the Bulls defense with 13 points in the opening periodgetting buckets in a variety of methods, from posting up the taller Hamilton to fast-break layups and deep jumperspropelling the Warriors to an early advantage. Through one quarter of play, the Bulls trailed, 30-22.

Contributions from reserves Kwame Brown, Brandon Rush and Ekpe Udoh propelled the Warriors, guided by star point guard Stephen Currys stellar floor generalship, to a double-digit winning margin early in the second period. Chicagos vaunted defense failed them and sloppy play reigned on the offensive end, even after Thibodeau reinserted his regulars, as a rash of turnovers compounded matters.

Our defense was bad and theyre a very good pick-and-roll team. We kind of struggled all game keeping them out of the paint. From the start of the game, I thought our defense wasnt there. A team like that, after the first quarter, they got confidence and they played with the lead the whole game, said Luol Deng.

Youve got to play hard and I thought, for some reason, they played harder than us from the start of the game and we cant keep doing that. I know its only two games, but falling behind and fighting back, its never fun and thats not the kind of basketball we want to play. We dont want to get into scrambling and trying to catch up all game. It just takes us out of our game.

After trailing by as much as 19 points, Rose (13 points on 4-for-17 shooting and 1-for-8 from three-point range, eight assists) decided he had enough. Perhaps the shellacking they took on the same court a season ago, in which he committed a career-high nine turnovers, motivated him and began to put his own unique stamp on the game, aided by Hamiltons perimeter marksmanship, in an effort to chip away at the deficit. But continued unforced miscues, lapses in transition on both ends, the smaller Warriors ability to compete on the boards and plain old errant shooting from the Bulls put them in a 57-41 hole at halftime.

Things didnt get much better for the Bulls after the break, as the trio of Lee (22 points, seven rebounds), Curry (21 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, six steals) and Ellis (26 points, seven assists) continued to decimate the guests of raucous Oracle Arena with their scoring prowess. Deng (22 points, 10 rebounds) was one of the few bright spots, but his individual efforts werent enough to counter an overall poor shooting performance, surprising ineffectiveness on defense and a general lack of focus.

Usually, your turnovers are a result of one of two things: either the risky pass or its one-on-one. We had a combination of those two things, said Thibodeau. Ellis and Curry are hard to guard normally, so then, you put them into the open floor and theyre coming at you with a live ball, and then were not back on the raise of the shot, so were not protecting the basket. Youre giving them easy baskets. You give a team like that easy baskets, their confidence goes way up and theyre impossible to stop after that. We cant play like that. We have to play defense, we have to rebound and we have to take care of the ball.

Golden States up-tempo approach and improved defensive intensity were appreciated by their always-supportive fans and the arenas carnival-like atmosphere only grew rowdier as the Warriors maintained their wide winning margin. Thibodeau made adjustments, tinkered with his lineups and went deep into his playbook in an attempt sway the tide, but the Bulls couldnt do anything right in a third quarter that ended with them on the wrong end of a 78-61 score.

Early in the final stanza, Chicagos inadequacy could be summed up by Curry tossing his second half-court alley-oop of the gamethe first, early in the contest was to Lee; swingman Dorell Wright received the secondan occurrence almost never seen against the Bulls, let alone twice in the same contest. Currys blend of scoring and playmaking gave the visitors increasing trouble as the game wore on, but the determined Bulls, as usual, refused to give up hope in what appeared to be a blowout loss in the making.

Thibodeaus troops soldiered on in their usual dogged fashionto counter Golden States small-ball quintet and zone defense, Deng and Rose partnered with reserves Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver (11 points) and C.J. Watson (13 points); the latter, a former Warrior, provided one of his patented scoring bursts in his old stomping grounds.

The Bulls trimmed a 19-point deficit to single digits with under five minutes to play. The action was fast and furious as the game entered its stretch run, but the Bulls made little headway, despite Watsons scoring, Gibsons inspired interior defense and Korvers late three-point barrage, resulting in new Warriors head coach Mark Jacksons first win.

Well, thats their strength, is the way they push and we ended up getting in such a big hole that we felt like we had to try to do something to speed it up the other way, so we could get going a little bit. But youre playing in such a big hole and youre scrambling to get back, said Thibodeau.

We were just searching, to be honest with you. It was a flat game. We had to get some energy into the game and so, we went with the two point guards, Lu had been playing well the whole game and Kyle gives us the three, so we felt we could get it up quickly and maybe make up some ground with the three.

Added Joakim Noah: Weve just got to play better as a team. Its disappointing to lose like this, but weve got to bounce back. Weve got another one in a couple days.

We cant let teams score on us the way that theyve been scoring on us. Theres a lot of improvement to be made, he continued. Its frustrating to lose the way that we lost and theres definitely a lot of things that we need to do better to go to where we want to go.

Thibodeau just said it was expletive and hes right. Were not going to get to where we want to get to playing defense like that and its frustrating. We have to improve, the center, who grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, went on to say.

Theres a lot of areas where we have to improve. Even though we won against the Lakers Sunday, we played well in lapses, but theres definitely areas that we need to get better at to get to where we want to get to.

They scored a lot of points off our turnovers in transition, bad pick-and-roll defense, bad post defense, lack of communicationeverything. Our defense was just bad. It was better at the end.

A dejected Rose appeared to take the loss just as hard.

Defense, defense, defense, he said. Of course, I missed a lot of bunnies tonight, open shots I normally hit, along with some of the other people on the team, but defensively, I think our communication, thats a big thing, but we can always fix it. All these things, we can learn from. If anything, its going to make us a better team.

The biggest thing is how quick we can jell. I think thats everybodys concern right now, he continued. Well play this team again. For sure.

We just dont want one of these nights again, anytime soon. Just learn from it and try to keep it moving. But remember.

NBA Buzz: Bulls counting on Otto Porter Jr. to lead the way back to playoff contention

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Bulls counting on Otto Porter Jr. to lead the way back to playoff contention

When the Bulls acquired Otto Porter Jr. on the eve of the trade deadline in a deal with Washington, John Paxson and Gar Forman knew they were effectively taking themselves out of the running for one of the elite free agents in the class of 2019. Paxson admitted as much, telling reporters the Bulls wouldn’t be able to attract superstars like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson at this stage of the team’s rebuild.

With Porter owed approximately $55 million dollars for the final two seasons of his contract, the 25-year-old forward basically represents the Bulls’ big strike with their available cap space. And, in the small sample size we saw Porter on the court with the Bulls other foundation pieces, Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine, the results were encouraging. The Bulls had the 9th best offensive rating in the 15 games that Porter played before his season ended early because of a shoulder injury.

Bulls’ head coach Jim Boylen raved about the Porter acquisition, telling me, “I read an article that said it was one of the best, biggest trades in the last 5 to 10 years in the league. We got positional size. We got positional expertise. We got a high character guy. When he comes in the game, it just calms us down. He makes the right play, a good decision. He makes a tough shot that stops their run. He has a feel for that, which is a big skill. He understands our defense and can play in his gaps with his length, 7-foot-2 wingspan.”

But it’s what Porter contributed on the practice court and in film sessions that really impressed his coach. Boylen says Porter routinely reinforces his coaching points and has been important in getting the younger players to buy in to the culture he’s trying to create. “Some guys haven’t been coached hard. Some guys haven’t been told the truth. When I tell these guys the truth, he (Porter) understands that’s what has to happen. They need that. We need that. I’m not caring for them if I’m not doing that to them, and he understands that. Not everybody does.”

Porter returned the compliment, telling reporters before the final home game, “He (Boylen) cares very much about the Bulls’ organization and about his players, and about growing and being together. I think that’s very important that the guys understand what he’s trying to say as far as everybody needs to be on the same page. We have one goal in common and that’s to win a championship, and guys have to buy into that.”

Porter went on to say, “That’s something I was able to see and understand what he (Boylen) wants. Once the guys started to see me following that model, I think that’ll continue to help us, and they’ll continue to understand what it takes. How much hard work you have to put into it.”

Boylen has big plans for Porter in his first full season with the Bulls, saying the 6-foot-8 forward will play a critical role with his 3-point shooting and ability to create in pick-and-roll situations. Boylen also plans to use Porter at power forward on occasion with Markkanen sliding over to center, giving the Bulls their best offensive lineup. And, with Wendell Carter Jr. returning next season to provide added rim protection, Porter’s defensive versatility will become an even more impactful weapon.

Porter shot 49 percent from beyond the arc in his 15 games with the Bulls, giving the team much better offensive spacing for Markkanen and LaVine to attack one-on-one coverage. The six year NBA veteran saw enough to believe a healthy Bulls’ team can challenge for a playoff spot next season. “I just have confidence in my guys. I’ve seen what we’re capable of doing, and we still didn’t have everybody. Just imagine if we did.”

Porter unleashed a hearty laugh and a big smile at the end of that last statement. Let’s hope a productive offseason has Bulls’ fans smiling with anticipation about what lies ahead.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

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Two of the Bulls’ division rivals head into the offseason with some uncertainty after suffering first round playoff sweeps. The Indiana Pacers hope to have All-Star guard Victor Oladipo back at full strength for the start of next season after he suffered a serious leg injury in January, but they’ll have multiple players heading into free agency, including starters Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young and Darren Collison.

The Pacers could look to upgrade at point guard by using their cap space to pursue three-time All-Star Kemba Walker, who’s hinted at testing the market after seeing his Hornets fall short of the playoffs once again. That could mean saying goodbye to Collison and top reserve Cory Joseph, both of whom could be considerations for the Bulls if they look to add a veteran point guard in free agency.

Collison turns 32 before the start of next season, which could put him outside the Bulls’ timeline, but the durable Joseph might be a possibility. Joseph has contributed off the bench for quality teams in San Antonio, Toronto and Indiana, and he’ll turn 28 in August.  The former University of Texas star has played in at least 79 games in each of the last five seasons, and could help a rookie point guard like Ja Morant or Darius Garland learn the ins and outs of life in the NBA.

Collison would also be a more affordable option than established starters like Collison, Ricky Rubio or Patrick Beverley.

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The future is also looking a little murky in Detroit, where the Pistons were drummed out of the playoffs by Milwaukee, losing all four games by at least 15 points. Granted, All-Star Blake Griffin sat out the first two games and was limited in the final two because of a knee injury, but the Pistons looked outclassed in every area.

Griffin has three years left on the max deal he signed with the L.A. Clippers and he’s been dogged by injuries throughout his career. Plus, the Pistons are still waiting for high-paid starters Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson to live up to their contracts on a more consistent basis. With little salary cap flexibility, the Pistons are basically locked into their roster for the foreseeable future. Dwane Casey did an excellent job in leading Detroit to the playoffs in his first season as head coach, but the challenges facing him could grow even more difficult in the years ahead.

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Still, the situations in Indiana and Detroit pale in comparison to what’s going on in Phoenix. After finishing with the worst record in the Western Conference again, the Suns promoted long-time NBA player James Jones to head of basketball operations. Jones initially said he was planning to retain head coach Igor Kokoskov, since he was involved in the hiring process last year. But Monday night, Jones changed his mind, firing the well-respected, long-time NBA assistant after just one season.

That means the Suns will have their fifth different coach in the last five years when they report for training camp in September. Phoenix has received permission to interview the hottest coaching candidate on the market, 76ers assistant Monty Williams, but Williams is also under consideration for the Lakers’ job, along with Tyronn Lue, Jason Kidd and Chicago native Juwan Howard.

The Suns have a number of talented young players on the roster, including high-scoring shooting guard Devin Booker, 2018 No.1 overall draft pick Deandre Ayton, 2018 lottery pick Mikal Bridges, 2017 No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson and 23-year-old Kelly Oubre Jr., but to this point they’ve been unable to show any upward mobility in the standings.

Phoenix is in desperate need of a starting point guard and would love to add Morant if the lottery combinations fall their way. Right now, the Knicks, Suns and Cavaliers all have a 14 percent chance to land the top pick in the upcoming draft, but as we’ve seen so many times in the past, high draft picks don’t always translate into immediate success.

Season in Review: Wayne Selden gives Bulls house money after Justin Holiday deal

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Season in Review: Wayne Selden gives Bulls house money after Justin Holiday deal

Over the next month we'll be recapping each of the Bulls' individual 2018-19 regular seasons.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Shaq Harrison | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter 

Midseason expectations: The Justin Holiday trade was far more about the second-round picks the Bulls acquired than the players. MarShon Brooks never even came to Chicago, and Wayne Selden was expected to get some run on the wing as an end-of-the-bench rotation player. His expectations shifted slightly when Chandler Hutchison suffered a broken toe and ultimately missed the remainder of the season. Selden was expected to log minutes, keep the ball moving and hit a few shots here and there. Again, whatever he provided was simply house money after acquiring a pair of second-round picks from Memphis.

What went right: Well, he was just about as subpar as Justin Holiday was? Seriously, the Bulls were buyers at the trade deadline and Selden was essentially a throw-in to match up salaries, and Selden’s 8.1 PER in Chicago was slightly worse than Holiday’s 8.8 in Memphis. Selden had a terrific January and with the Bulls prior to the All-Star break, he averaged 7.1 points on 44 percent shooting. Nothing to write home about, but solid (and hit 44 percent of his 3-pointers). Also, while Selden only averaged 1.7 assists he did a nice job on the second unit pushing pace by himself, driving and kicking and finding open shooters. He wasn’t necessarily a positive defensively but wasn’t poor on that end, either.

What went wrong: He showed very little consistency. As always, it was difficult for any of these young players to put together good stretches of play given the injuries and roster turnover, but Selden was up and down once the All-Star break rolled around. His shooting dipped down to 39 percent and he hit just 24 percent of his triples in his last 21 games. He popped up now and again with a 20-point outing or a double-double, but it was few and far between a simply average season.

The Stat: 20-8-4

Alright, so we cherry-picked it. But work with us. Selden had an outstanding night in the final game of January, scoring 20 points on 6 of 10 shooting along with four 3-pointers and eight assists. That statline of 20 points, 8 assists and 4 3-pointers was accomplished only one other time by a Bulls player in 2018-19, when Zach LaVine had 47 points, 9 assists and 6 3-pointers in the quadruple-overtime game. LaVine accomplished his feat in 56 minutes; Selden needed just 36.

2019-20 Expectations: Will he be back next season. He’d be a cheap option and the Bulls are going to have to fill out their roster. It might depend on what happens with Ryan Arcidiacono in restricted free agency and what the Bulls do in the draft. For the sake of this story we’ll assume he’s back on a small, one-year deal.

Selden’s goal will be consistency from beyond the arc and pushing in transition. The return of Denzel Valentine could give the Bulls two nice options on the wing behind Arcidiacono (or even Kris Dunn) to provide some offense. Even if Selden can work his way up from 31.6 percent to 34 or 35 percent it’ll make a world of difference for his NBA future. Past that, he’s simply going to be a practice body behind the Bulls’ starting wings and Hutchison.