Bulls

Bulls eager to get off on the right foot on final Circus Trip

Bulls eager to get off on the right foot on final Circus Trip

PORTLAND, Ore. — The dreaded “Circus Trip” is upon the Bulls: six games where players won’t have anyone but their teammates and coaches to see every day for the next week and a half.

Traditionally, the intangible goal is to develop some chemistry in closed quarters and hostile environments, with wins being hard to come by — especially on this five-game set out west before going to Philadelphia the day after Thanksgiving.

“Everyone has this longer road trip in the NBA. The Bulls have a cool name in the Circus Trip,” guard Dwyane Wade said after the morning shootaround before the Bulls' game against the Portland Trailblazers Tuesday. “The Heat didn’t have one. San Antonio got a cool name: the Rodeo Trip. The Clippers have the Grammy Trip. We didn’t have one in Miami. It’s the same thing. It’s good. It’s a time you get out here and you’re playing the best talent in the NBA in the Western Conference. You build confidence by being able to get wins out here.”

Finding wins against the likes of Portland, Utah, a better-than-expected Lakers team, a Clippers team that’s steamrolling everybody and the Denver Nuggets squad that gave the Trailblazers fits in Portland recently will be the toughest tests to date for a Bulls team that’s struggled on the road.

Wade called the offensively-potent backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum the second-best in the NBA behind Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Lillard is averaging over 30 a game and McCollum, last year’s Most Improved Player winner, is averaging over 22. That’s nearly half the Blazers’ scoring output, and with Rajon Rondo struggling defensively, it puts the spotlight on the perimeter defense.

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“When you have guys who put up 45 to 50-plus points, that’s tough,” Wade said. “That’s what you gotta worry about when you worry about them offensively. But then you have to worry about all the intangibles with the other guys who will give them other opportunities by rebounding and running the floor.”

In the Bulls’ losses, every one of them have come from slow starts in the first quarter. Considering Portland’s Moda Center is one of the better homecourt advantages in the league, along with the Blazers’ style of getting up shots early and often, it may not be long before Monday’s outcome is decided if the Bulls can’t handle the early onslaught.

“They’re a team that gets out of the gate very fast in this building, so we’ve got to do a good job executing our transition defense,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Just go out there and try and slow them down as much as possible, but you can’t get deflated if Lillard pulls up and hits a 35-footer coming down over half-court.”

“It’s just something you can’t put your head down, you gotta keep playing, and try and weather their spurts because they’re a team that once they get going they’re tough to slow down and stop.”

As for a goal on the trip, Wade said breaking even is the goal, as he’s stated going .500 on the road for the entire season is the starting point to become a good team.

“50. Always a success when you can break 50,” Wade said. “If you go 4-2, you’re good. You go 5-1, ooh. I always go with that mindset, ‘Hey, you go on a six-game trip and you go 3-3, it’s a solid trip for you.’ You go anything over that, it’s love.”

LeBron James passes Wilt Chamberlain on all-time scoring list, now eyes Michael Jordan

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USA TODAY

LeBron James passes Wilt Chamberlain on all-time scoring list, now eyes Michael Jordan

This is not a LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan debate.

This is not a LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan debate.

This is not a LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan debate.

Got it? Great. Let's move on with the story.

Late Wednesday night LeBron James passed Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list as part of his 44-point outing in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers. James was magnificent in the Lakers' fourth straight win, making 13 of 19 shots, draining five triples and adding 10 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks in 36 minutes. He was, erm, pretty good.

In the process James passed Chamberlain with his 31,420th point late in the fourth quarter. James added five more points after that, leaving him with 31,425 career points and alone in fifth place on the all-time scoring list.

Who's No. 4? Yep, His Airness.

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 38,387
2. Karl Malone: 36,928
3. Kobe Bryant: 33,643
4. Michael Jordan: 32,292
5. LeBron James: 31,420

Yes, Jordan took two years off in his prime to play baseball. Yes, Jordan played three years in college. No, we don't care. This won't move the needle on anyone's stance as to who the greatest of all-time is.

But it's worth noting that James, who is 873 points away from passing Jordan, could break the record against the Bulls on Jan. 15. He's averaging 27.6 points per game this year, and if he scores that average he'll surpass Jordan in 33 games. The Lakers play the Bulls in 31 games in Los Angeles.

That'd be something. Now, continue the endless and unnecessary LeBron-Jordan debate.

Wendell Carter Jr. making a name for himself as top defender in 2018 class

Wendell Carter Jr. making a name for himself as top defender in 2018 class

Wendell Carter Jr. has been one of the few bright spots in a tough stretch for the Bulls. 

Speculation around the time of the 2018 NBA Draft was that Mohammed Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr. or even DeAndre Ayton could end up being better defenders than Carter due to their athleticism. And while time will tell if this is true, so far in 2018-19, Carter has shown that he is ahead of his peers in terms of breaking down what is happening in front of him and assessing what his responsibility is. One of the main thing holding back the Bulls on defense is ball-watching.

To be effective against an opponent that swings the ball around on offense—generating good shots from the strong and weakside—your defense needs to have all five players on the floor with their head on a swivel, keeping an eye on the ball and their man. Carter has done a lot of leading by example in this specific area. 

Carter's defensive numbers have been head-and-shoulders above his fellow rookie big men and with Hoiberg trusting him with 25+ minutes a night, the gap between he and his peers is likely to grow.

Heading into Wednesday's game, opponent's attacked him frequently within 6 feet of the basket. When Carter defends shot within 6 feet of the basket he makes opponent's shoot 9.3 percent worse, the best mark on the Bulls if you consider sample size. 

As of now, Carter is still on pace to be the only teenager in NBA history to average at least 2 blocks per game. And if he keeps this up, his case for Rookie of the Year will only get stronger.

And with all of the injuries and struggles of this young team, Carter's impressive defensive IQ continues to bring hope.

The Bulls upcoming back-to-back will see them take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard respectively. 

These matchups will likely show just how far away the Bulls are from being a competitive team. But with Chicago’s perimeter defense lacking sufficient wing defenders, these two games will also showcase Carter’s ability to be the last line of defense, on a team that could use a first one.