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Bulls' defense comes unglued in Game 2 blowout

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Bulls' defense comes unglued in Game 2 blowout

Coming off a Game 1 win in which they mostly dominated the action, then watched superstar Derrick Rose suffer a devastating, season-ending torn left ACL injury, the Bulls vowed to play with the same ferocity they did when Rose was absent for approximately half of the regular season. During that time, they achieved the leagues best record for the second consecutive season.

Well, the plan worked for a half Tuesday night, before the Bulls succumbed to a barrage from the 76ers, falling 109-92 in Game 2 of the first-round series, which is now tied at one game apiece.

Despite Roses injury, the home team and its supporters had ample reason to be in high spirits, as the reigning league MVP surprised fans by presenting the game ball to the referees at the outset of the contest before watching his teammates from a luxury suite in the arena. Without the All-Star point guard, the Bulls exemplified balance in the opening period, as all five starters got on the board.

Former All-Stars Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton were especially active in the early goingthe latter dished out four assists, perhaps compensating for the absence of Roses playmaking abilitywhile Joakim Noah (21 points, eight rebounds, five assists) brought his typical energy, All-Star Luol Deng displayed his versatility and fill-in starter C.J. Watson ran the team well.

Meanwhile former Bull Elton Brand, less-than-beloved Chicago native Evan Turner (19 points, seven rebounds, six assists), point guard Jrue Holiday (26 points, six assists, 11-for-14 shooting, 3-for-3 from three-point range) and rookie reserve Lavoy Allen (11 points, nine rebounds) were each effective for the visitors, but the Bulls held a 28-25 edge after a quarter of play.

Philadelphia proved that while Roses injury was the story in Chicago, they were more concerned with evening the series and stealing home-court advantage, as Holiday continued to do damage with his penetration and finishing ability, not to mention the Sixers as a whole getting out in transition. At the same time, the Bulls suffered through one of their periodic scoring droughts and appeared generally listless.

To cure their woes, Noah was inserted into the contest and immediately made an impact, particularly on the offensive end, where he was effective off the dribbleincluding making Sixers reserve forward Thaddeus Young look silly with a dynamic in-and-out moveand knocking down his unorthodox Tornado jumper, complete with his trademark finger funs celebration.

But the star of the quarter was fan favorite John Lucas III (15 points, four assists), who notched 11 points and three assists, finally getting the partisan audience to respond in a manner worthy of the contests magnitude and helping the Bulls take a 55-47 lead into the intermission.

After the break, Philadelphia stormed back behind Holiday, whose torrid outside shooting and dynamic finishing gave the Bulls fits. With Turner, his backcourt mateSixers head coach Doug Collins inserted the West Side product and center Spencer Hawes into the starting lineup for Game 2, giving the visitors more sizeshowcasing his all-around skills and Brand popping out for mid-range jumpers, the Sixers went on a 17-6 run to start the third quarter to seize the lead.

While Watson bounced back from a previously dreadful period to help stem the tide for the time being, it didnt last long, as Philadelphia got out in transitionAll-Star swingman Andre Iguodalas monster dunk, plus the foul, hushed the crowdand Turner found his rhythm. With the games momentum dramatically shifting, aided by multiple dunks in both transition and even against the Bulls set defense, the Sixers lead ballooned, putting the hosts in a 83-69 hole entering the final stanza.

Philadelphia continued to pour it on at the outset of the fourth quarter, dominating the Bulls vaunted defense in the paint and scoring on the break, as the likes of reserves Young, Allen and Lou Williams (20 points, six assists)the Sixth Man of the Year candidate and his teams leading scorer during the regular season found his offensive game and torched the Bulls in a variety of ways, from alley-oops and transition layups to contested pull-up jumpers and tough finisheswere all major factors.

As the game shockingly headed toward blowout status, the United Center crowd voiced its displeasure with the home team and a portion began to exit midway through the period with the Bulls deficit hovering around 20 points.

The energy that marked the Bulls regular season without Rose in the lineup simply wasnt therethat held true for the fans, tooand there would be no miraculous comeback, as the Sixers just isolated their preferred matchups and successfully attacked one-on-one off the dribble.

Now, after giving up home-court advantage in the series, the Bulls must look in the mirror and determine how much fortitude they have after taking a beating, then go on the road and win in a hostile environment.

Why NBA role players could see on-court benefit from bubble environment

Why NBA role players could see on-court benefit from bubble environment

Kenny "The Jet" Smith never made an All-Star team across his 10-year NBA career. Nor earned an All-NBA selection.

But he did display a knack for stepping up when the spotlight shone the brightest. His two rings with the Houston Rockets evidence that. In the two postseasons that yielded those championships, Smith started all 45 games for Houston and averaged 30 minutes, 10.8 points and 4.3 assists per game while canning 44.4% of his attempts from 3.

The 2019-20 NBA playoffs will be unlike any the league has seen before. Over the next three days, 22 teams will make their way to Orlando, Fla. to tie a bow on an eight-game conclusion to the regular season and a 16-team playoff in a bubble environment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Throw home court advantage out the window. All games will take place on a neutral court, and without fans.

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Who could such an environment benefit the most? Smith broke down his thoughts on the latest episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast, hosted by Jason Goff:

“I don’t know if it’ll affect the (quality of the) product,” Smith said of the unprecedented bubble atmosphere. “Like, they’re the best 350 players in the world. But there are levels inside of the 350. Players who are marginal inside of the best 350 in the world are going to play better. Because guys don’t play as well on the road as some play at home. There is no home. There is no road. Every game’s a home game, every game feels like a practice setting.

“The superstars have taken over a lot on road games. There is that. So now, I think you’re going to be like, ‘Man, I did not know such and such was so good,’ because he’s going to have a comfort level that he’s never had before. It’s going to feel like every game feels like an intense practice — more than an NBA game, but a super intense practice, which they’re accustomed to and they’re comfortable in that environment.”

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Of course, there will be other factors in play, as well. Though the NBA baked a three-week ramp-up period and scrimmage schedule into its restart plan to reacclimate players, the league’s four-month hiatus will have impacted each player differently depending on the resources at their disposal from their respective homes. With social distancing a priority, and gyms and practice facilities shuttered, think of the training differences between players living in big-city high-rises compared to sprawling suburban residences, plus the salary gap — and thus, the resource gap — that exists between older and younger players. Also looming will be the still-present dangers of COVID-19, which trump any purely basketball-related consideration.

Still, Smith’s theory is an interesting one. Long has the hypothesis of role players performing better at home than on the road in the postseason persisted. Perhaps the Orlando bubble will mark a definitive test of that.

RELATED: NBA season restart 2020: Schedule for 8-game seeding round for every team 

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Kenny Smith launches virtual basketball camp featuring NBA and WNBA stars

Kenny Smith launches virtual basketball camp featuring NBA and WNBA stars

Two-time NBA champion and TNT analyst Kenny Smith is launching Jet Academy, a virtual basketball camp staffed by the highest-level hoopers in the world to help boys and girls train their game while maintaining social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was sitting at home and social distancing and quarantine, and my kids typically go to basketball camps,” Smith told Jason Goff on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast. “They can’t go to camps anymore, I can’t do my basketball camp in North Carolina, I had 700 kids. And I just noticed it was a need in the world that was going on, and I said I’m going to create — and I created — the first virtual basketball camp for kids and adults and anybody who plays the game, virtually. And you can do it from anywhere, any time, on any device, with anyone.”

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As for the instructors? Kemba Walker, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Victor Oladipo, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Trae Young will all lead or co-lead training sessions. Those seven players account for 35 All-Star appearances and two MVP awards. 

Smith was clear that his intention isn’t to replace traditional trainers, but he believes those that have achieved greatness at the highest level will have special perspective to offer.

“I was talking to Kemba, I was like, ‘OK, Kemba, so this is what we need to do in the camp’ and he’s like, ‘OK, what are the drills you want to do?’” Smith said on the podcast. “I said, ‘No, no, no. Trae, Kemba, I want you to do the drills that you do to get ready. I want to see how you got your jumper like that. That’s what I would want to see. ‘Kemba, show me the pullback.’ He said, ‘Alright, I’ll show you the pullback.’ I said, ‘No, but then you gotta tell us why you use it and when you use it.’ That’s what a trainer at times can’t give you.”

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The camp tips off July 20 and will feature live, daily, two-hour video sessions with instructors that campers can follow along with remotely. Campers will also be able to text questions to instructors, upload video of them training for response within 48 hours, and view sessions on-demand. Smith stressed the importance of that interaction towards developing one’s game. 

Listen to the rest of Smith and Goff’s conversation, which touches on the litany of considerations facing the NBA as it embarks on its bubble experiment in Orlando, here or via the embedded player above.

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