Bulls

Bulls drop third straight in lethargic loss to hapless Nets

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Bulls drop third straight in lethargic loss to hapless Nets

Joakim Noah yelled for Aaron Brooks to locate him wide open off an inbounds pass but all looked to be well once Taj Gibson had an easy floater inside, and an easier tip in.

But both shots went awry as the Brooklyn Nets danced downcourt after the ball bounced out of bounds.

After all the feel-good rhetoric of Monday morning made everyone believe an easy win over the Eastern Conference’s second-worst team was upcoming, the Bulls’ most recent history and bad habits suggested otherwise.

They played with fire at home yet again and got burned, this time a 105-102 loss at the United Center for their third straight loss.

“It’s a bad, bad loss,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, in the understatement of the night.

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Suddenly the four-game winning streak looks worlds away and what’s worse, they could be without Joakim Noah for a considerable amount of time after he hurt his left shoulder reaching in on an Andrea Bargnani shot in the third quarter.

What’s more, the issue isn’t about offense or pace or embracing Hoiberg’s system. The Bulls were bullied on their home floor by a team that didn’t seem intent on winning, but the more the night went on the more confident the woeful Brooklyn Nets became.

“It was defense. We had no togetherness at all,” Hoiberg said. “We had no toughness. When we finally did get some stops they would get the rebound.”

The Nets grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, including nine from Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez. Without Noah on the floor, the Nets feasted on the glass late, even after the Bulls rebounded from an 81-69 deficit midway through the third quarter.

The energy was great when he was on the floor but without him it seemed non-existent, as the Bulls only led one time during the evening, late in the second quarter when they woke up and made a run.

But they went back to the snooze button soon as halftime ended, allowing the Nets to dictate tempo and barely put any pressure on the visitors defensively on the way to giving up more than 100 points for the 11th time, and they’re 1-10 in such matters.

[MORE: Noah leaves Monday's game early with shoulder injury]

“The biggest thing was we would help and we wouldn’t be there for the next guy,” Hoiberg said. “We were good at that for awhile. We’ll get back to it tomorrow and make improvements. If not it could get ugly, Oklahoma City on Christmas.”

Jimmy Butler scored 24 and Pau Gasol 20, as the former made biting comments following Saturday night’s loss in New York to the Knicks about needing to be coached harder.

“We were missing a lot of parts of the game tonight,” Gasol said. “A sense of urgency. We cruised for most of the game. That’s when we have our back against the wall, we turn it up and try to give ourselves a chance. But sometimes it’s too late.”

Apparently, they’re in need of plenty of things across the board as the energy lacked and they couldn’t put together quality possessions even as the Nets tried to donate them the ballgame.

The Nets grabbed six offensive rebounds in the fourth after shooting 25 percent, making just six field goals, clearly leaving the door open for a comeback. The Bulls only scored four more points in the fourth, with Butler scoring 10.

Derrick Rose scored eight with five assists on just three of 11 shooting, and Taj Gibson scored 10 with nine rebounds and four assists.

The lineup change putting Nikola Mirotic at small forward in place of Tony Snell in order to free up time for rookie Bobby Portis had mixed results as Portis scored 11 with five rebounds while Mirotic again struggled to find a rhythm offensively, unable to hit open shots with the floor spread.

But Mirotic’s struggles only mirror the Bulls’ overall issues at this point, as the team tumbles closer and closer to the .500 mark as we get closer to the new year

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”