Bulls crushed by Hornets to end disappointing 2-5 road trip


Bulls crushed by Hornets to end disappointing 2-5 road trip

CHARLOTTE—Shorthanded, tired, weary and ready to go home after a 13-day stay away from the United Center, the Bulls had one final chance to imprint a decent impression on their cross-country swing.

But with Derrick Rose a late scratch likely due to the big picture, the small one took a backseat as the Bulls had little chance against the Charlotte Hornets Monday, a squad that waxed the Bulls with a close-to-full roster earlier this season.

The Bulls competed but were out-manned in a 108-91 loss at Time Warner Cable Arena, their third straight loss and fifth in seven games, concluding their road trip with a 2-5 mark.

Already without Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and with Mike Dunleavy just playing his second game back, it didn’t leave Fred Hoiberg with a lot of options, and a 38-point first quarter from the Hornets dashed any real hopes of being more than competitive.

“That didn’t help,” Pau Gasol said. “They had a strong start, made a lot of shots. We didn’t make them feel uncomfortable enough, to make them take tough shots. They started strongly and confidently. We fought back but it was too big a hole to get out of.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Their only solace came in fleeting moments, like when Cameron Bairstow found himself on an island against the jittery Kemba Walker at the end of the third quarter, and with Walker ready to dance Bairstow into embarrassment, Bairstow held his ground and defended Walker’s shot at the buzzer—to cheers from the Bulls fans in attendance and the bench.

“I thought the one thing we did do was I thought we executed our stuff very well,” said Hoiberg, noting the Bulls’ 25 assists on 35 field goals. “They were sharing the ball out there. After that first quarter, we dug ourselves a whole, it’s hard to climb out.”

They competed, shorthanded as they were but participation trophies aren’t given out when a team with title aspirations fall to 27-24.

The Bulls cut a 25-point lead down to 12 when Gasol found Doug McDermott for a wing triple midway through the fourth quarter, but the Hornets quickly restored order, with their wings getting everything they wanted.

They stretched out the Bulls’ defense for 13 triples and got to the line 30 times, while the three ball was the only thing keeping the Bulls within a respectable distance, hitting 10 of them but getting out-rebounded by a wide margin.

Gasol was the only reliable option, with 22 points and 10 rebounds with seven assists. Taj Gibson scored 11 but the offense was difficult to come by, if not impossible, as the Bulls shot just 39 percent.

In a vacuum, this loss wouldn’t look as bad if the Bulls hadn’t given away more than a handful of winnable games, but added to the lot of losses on this trip, with regrettable finishes in Utah and Denver, the tussin’ doesn’t go down so smoothly.

“Right now a lot of teams smell blood,” Gibson said, trying to laugh it off. “We just gotta figure out a way to get over it. Nobody’s gonna feel sorry for you.”

And going home for one game before the break is no solace, as the Atlanta Hawks are no pushover, and the first home game after a long road trip is usually difficult—especially considering the Bulls have been in four time zones in four days, taxing in itself.

“We have one big one left,” Hoiberg said. “It’s not the All-Star break yet. We have to put this behind us. It was a long, grinding trip. It’s tough, it took a toll on our guys.”

[NBA POWER RANKINGS: Healthy Jazz looking dangerous]

Meanwhile the surging Hornets have won four of five, as Walker again played tormentor with 30 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. With the older Kirk Hinrich taking Rose’s place in the starting lineup and no Butler, Walker wasn’t challenged on the defensive end and roamed free on offense, along with Nic Batum.

Batum plugged in holes, scoring 19 with 13 rebounds and eight assists as the Hornets pulled closer to the eighth spot—and the Bulls are now a mere half-game out of eighth place.

Yes, it seems time to consider the possibility of the Bulls being left out of the postseason party, even with the aforementioned circumstances.

The Hornets are getting themselves together and while no one in the Eastern Conference is running away with anything, the Bulls’ streak of seven straight playoff appearances appear to be in real jeopardy with this latest losing binge.

“The thing us you have to go back, regroup and come out swinging on Wednesday,” Hoiberg said.

The question is, how much snap is left in his team’s punches?

Scottie Pippen discusses Kobe Bryant's legacy and connection to Michael Jordan on GMA

Scottie Pippen discusses Kobe Bryant's legacy and connection to Michael Jordan on GMA

Bulls legend and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was on Good Morning America on Monday, discussing the legacy of Kobe Bryant, who passed away on Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA. Pippen knows quite a bit about Bryant, having been at the tail end of his prime years right when a fresh-faced 17-year old Bryant was drafted into the league. As Pippen discussed in the GMA interview, his NBA career—which lasted until the 2003-04 season—spanned the majority of Bryant's rise to prominence. By the time "Pip" retired in 2004, Kobe was a six-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion. 

Pippen fondly remembered Bryant's drive, saying that his "competitive fire was unmatched." He went on to of course discuss the profound impact that Michael Jordan had on Bryant's career, essentially providing him a roadmap for the type of NBA legacy he wanted to leave:

I look back at Kobe and I watch his growth and development. He was one of those players that idolized Michael Jordan but he mimicked Michael Jordan in a lot of ways, and it was a guy that y'know, I watched him watch films on one of the greatest players that ever play[ed] the game [Michael Jordan] and he emulated his game to a T and to some degree overcame all of his weaknesses and became to me, one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

Pippen is also a part of one of the greatest moments of Bryant's illustrious career.

When the Kobe-Shaquille O'Neal Lakers were in pursuit of their first NBA title with head coach Phil Jackson in the 1999-2000 season they ran into an extremely tough and formidable Portland Trailblazers team in the Western Conference Finals, led by the veteran trio of Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, and Steve Smith. The series ending up going seven games and that high-pressure Game 7 is when Kobe showed a national audience what the rest of his NBA career was going to look like.

Bryant and O'Neal led the Lakers back from a 15-point deficit, capped off by an amazing alley-oop from Kobe to Shaq that will be replayed on NBA highlight reels for ages, and led to the first title for the Lakers' dynasty of the 2000s.

By the time he retired, Kobe Bryant racked up 18 All-Star game appearances, 15 All-NBA appearances, and five NBA championships, solidifying his place as one of the all-time greats, a thought Pippen said was shared by his NBA peers:

"I've heard a few players even say it, Kobe Bryant had no weaknesses in his basketball game. He worked hard at everything and he became great at every part of his game."

Bulls react to Kobe Bryant's stunning death with emotion, eloquence

Bulls react to Kobe Bryant's stunning death with emotion, eloquence

The tears streaming down Jim Boylen’s face said all you needed to know about the Bulls’ reaction to the stunning death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven other victims in a Sunday helicopter crash that has rocked the NBA community.

Like Bryant, Boylen has daughters who love basketball. Like Bryant, Boylen is uber competitive and serious about his job.

But he’s a father and a human being first.

“Obviously, a very emotional, tearful day in our building. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Kobe Bryant’s family, the other families that are involved in the accident,” Boylen said. “These things hit your team and the league on different levels. There’s the rookie out of high school breaking into the starting lineup, one of the hardest workers ever and becoming an All-Star and a champion and a Hall of Fame player. And then there’s the second half of your life where you earn respect from the basketball community and you’re a husband and a father and a mentor for the rest of the league. Difficult day.

“And if you have children like many of us do, it’s painful.”

The Bulls discussed the tragedy after a Monday morning shootaround to prepare for a game against the Spurs that everyone acknowledged would be difficult to play. The United Center has projected images of Bryant, smiling in his Lakers uniform, since Sunday night and fans have started a makeshift shrine outside the building.

The Bulls will have a moment of silence to honor Bryant, and Thad Young, who will wear Bryant’s “Zoom Kobe 4 ‘Prelude’” shoe, said it’s likely they’ll take a 24-second violation to honor one of the numbers Bryant wore.

“Kobe has always inspired me — and not just me but other guys around this league, from young to older guys,” Young said. “He's always been very inspiring to each and every one of us just because of what be brought to the game and his life outside of the game. He was pretty much an open book. You know, he let us see how he treated his wife and kids. He let us see the behind the scenes of how he lived his life.

“We thank him for that. He showed us how to continue to walk this Earth and be upstanding citizens and he showed us how to be not just a person to walk this earth but to be a loving husband, father and family member.”

LaVine, who wears No. 8 in part to honor Bryant, acknowledged the difficulty of playing Monday night but said it’s the best way to honor the future Hall of Famer’s legacy.

“It’s going to be really sad, but I think it’s something that he would have wanted — for people to get back into the game and play,” LaVine said. “I feel like that’s how he would approach it. So I’m going to go out there and play the way I do, play my heart out. Obviously, everybody is going to have a heavy heart. But we still have a job to do. It’s terrible you have to play under those circumstances, but I feel like it’s something he would want as well.’’

LaVine grew up idolizing Bryant.

“He inspired a whole generation of kids pretty much. They wanted to be like him. It’s like kids in the 80s and 90s wanted to be like Mike. We wanted to be like Kobe,” LaVine said. “Growing up and seeing the different highlights of his hard work, I feel like that’s one of the biggest things that was instilled in me was his hard work. I try to bring that to my game. And his passion for the game, how ruthless he was as a competitor. But it’s more than that as a basketball player. He was a father. There were more families on there. It’s just terrible what happened, man. It’s just such a loss in so many different ways.”

LaVine proudly detailed one anecdote from his rookie season when he scored 28 points off the bench in a Timberwolves road victory at Staples Center on Nov. 28, 2014.

“I just remember Kobe was guarding me in the fourth quarter, and obviously I knew growing up and idolizing him that he always guarded the best player [late],” LaVine said. “I had a really good game so he was guarding me, and we were standing at the free-throw line and he tapped me on the butt and said, ‘You know, keep going.’ It was almost shocking to me that I was in that situation as a 19-year-old. It was like, ‘This is a dude I idolized, he’s guarding me.’ It was just surreal.”

LaVine also recalled how he fouled him to send him to the free-throw line that gave Bryant the points to pass Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. But LaVine’s takeaways from Bryant were as much professional as personal.

“I try and take his hard work,” LaVine said. “He was somebody that after games, I heard so many different stories from former players that have coached me where if he had a bad game he would stay all night. Or during the summertimes, he wouldn’t take time off.

“Obviously, everybody is different. But I just try and take that mindset of working hard and being in the gym and his mindset of coming in to just kill every game. That was his mindset. There will never be another Kobe Bryant. There’s only one person like that ever. He touched so many lives in the way he affected basketball, and beyond that as well.’’

Young also acknowledged Bryant’s competitiveness.

“He's just always been a clear-cut assassin. There's a reason they call him the Black Mamba. He's one of those guys that's very ferocious, very competitive, do whatever it takes to win, even if it means dunking on his grandmother,” the veteran forward said. “But at the end of the day, he's one of the greatest to ever do it, one of the realest to ever do it. He's put this league on his back. He's helped make the league to what it is today. He's helped inspire and lead the way for guys like me and younger guys to come into this league and be able to do a lot and be able to continue to grind.”

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