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Bulls end three-game western swing with win over Trail Blazers

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Bulls end three-game western swing with win over Trail Blazers

The fourth quarter at the Moda Center is generally known as “Lillard Time” because Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has created more than his share of magical moments in that building with his exploits.

But the Chicago Bulls had no plans on being on that next highlight package, going back to their gritty defensive ways to shut him down early and late en route to a 93-88 win Tuesday, concluding their three-game western swing at 2-1.

Lillard didn’t get the last shot, as his emerging backcourt mate C.J. McCollum did, catching Joakim Noah on a switch, as a 3-pointer would’ve tied the game and likely sent it to overtime.

But McCollum leaned into Noah and didn’t get a quality look, instead looking for help from officials that never came, tossing up a half-hearted miss that concluded matters and sealed one of the Bulls’ more impressive defensive showings of the season.

And it started with Derrick Rose’s defense on Lillard, as Rose returned from missing the last two games with a left ankle injury. Rose had his moments offensively, finishing with 17 points and six assists in 34 minutes, and was a game-high +11 while on the floor.

“I thought he was good. We tried to give him rest when he could,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He was expending a lot of energy, did a terrific defensively. Lillard is one of the toughest guards in this league and he had to stay attached to him at all times, so I thought Derrick had great awareness on that end of the floor.”

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Lillard nearly had a triple double with the numbers were mostly hollow as he struggled to go one of nine in the fourth and four of 20 overall with 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

McCollum, who’s emerged as a capable sidekick to Lillard since the departures of LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews, scored 18 on seven of 17 shooting, but the duo was nearly 10 points below their nightly averages.

“Anybody I play against I try to give them a tough time,” Rose said. “Let them know it’s going to be a long night and try to contest all of their shots. He’s a great, great player.”

It was necessary because their offense, one that helped build a double-digit lead multiple times throughout the evening, faltered down the stretch in a usual disappearing act.

Rose hit his first 3-point attempt early in the first and a couple bank shot jumpers he’s become so adept at. Early in the fourth he went on a quick spurt to put the Bulls back up by 10 with eight minutes left before they came roaring back.

But holding the Blazers to just 35 percent shooting and forcing 15 turnovers made up for getting beat up on the glass 55-44, and helped prevent a late-game disaster when it appeared the Bulls were going to lose their composure.

Jimmy Butler and Mason Plumlee got into it when Plumlee threw his shoulder into Butler on a screen late in the fourth, prompting Butler to lock his legs on Plumlee in one motion and the two locked heads but no blows were thrown.

A technical was assessed to Butler and a flagrant one was given to Plumlee.

“He thought he was playing football for a second there,” Butler said.

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Derrick Rose jersey]

They thought to fully restore order when Pau Gasol drove for a layup on Plumlee to give the Bulls a five-point lead with 1:45 left, but after Rose got a layup blocked, Plumlee drove it end to end with no one bothering to stop the ball, making it a two-point game with 1:14 remaining.

Gasol struggled from the field, making just five of 15 shots but hit a fadeaway jumper with the shot clock running out for one of the Bulls’ five fourth-quarter field goals.

Noah, who got the last stop, had an offensive game for the first time in awhile after going scoreless against Golden State, making his first jumper of the season and scoring seven points with six rebounds and three assists—none of which was a chief reason he was on the floor for the final possession, but likely added to his confidence nonetheless.

“We got stops when we needed them most and that’s what you have to do when your offense isn’t clicking,” Hoiberg said. “We missed some good ones and when that ball got on the other side of the floor it didn’t get side to side nearly enough, so again, we gotta keep working on getting better down the stretch.”

Butler made key free throws after the Blazers’ final gasps came up short, completing an efficient 22-point night that lead all scorers, adding four assists and four steals.

It wasn’t the first time they’ve used defense as a calling card but they exorcised a few demons in a building they hadn’t won at since the 2007 season, giving them good feelings on the way back home.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

David Haugh, Jordan Cornette, Shae Peppler join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Mark Schanowski joins SportsTalk Live to discuss Kris Dunn’s sprained MCL, Fred Hoiberg’s tough luck and Zach LaVine postgame criticisms of the coaching. Plus they’ll discuss another 0-3 team- LeBron’s Lakers.

20:00 – The panel discusses Mitchell Trubisky’s performance vs. the Patriots. Jordan makes the case that the media is giving the former No. 2 pick a pass.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

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USA TODAY

Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

Through the opening week of the NBA season, Hornets' All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and former Bull Niko Mirotic share the league scoring lead, averaging 33 points per game.

Bulls' fans have seen these hot stretches from Niko before, and chances are he'll start moving down to the mid to high-teens before long. But Walker is a big-time scorer who's quietly emerged as one of the most consistently productive point guards in a league loaded with stars at that position. He's averaged over 20 points and 5 assists in each of the last three seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team twice.

Last season, Walker lit up the Bulls for 47 points in an overtime loss at the United Center in November, making some of the most difficult shots you can imagine to keep his team in the game. He seems to be as this best when facing the Bulls and you can bet Fred Hoiberg and his staff will pull out all the stops to try to slow him down, especially with defensive ace Kris Dunn out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained left MCL in his season debut on Monday.

The Hornets made some personnel changes since last season. The one-year experiment with Dwight Howard at center is over. Howard put up solid numbers for Charlotte a year ago, but didn't make much difference in the win-loss column, so he's moved on to Washington in his NBA odyssey. Cody Zeller is now the starting center, backed up by Bismack Biyombo and former Benet Academy and University of Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky.

Charlotte tried to improve the athleticism on their roster by selecting Malik Monk and Miles Bridges in the first rounds of the last two drafts. Monk is getting more playing time this season, averaging 13.5 points in the Hornets' first four games. Bridges is averaging just under 16 minutes a game as a backup to starting forwards Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. Just like he did at Michigan State, Bridges is providing those highlight reel putback dunks, but it remains to be seen whether he'll develop a consistent enough outside shot to be a quality starter in the NBA.

The well-traveled Jeremy Lamb is now starting in the backcourt with Walker, and the Hornets brought in long-time Spurs' point guard Tony Parker to add some much needed experience and veteran savvy off the bench. Given the current state of the Eastern Conference (post-LeBron), it's not out of the question for this group to contend for one of the final playoff spots.

Here's what the Bulls need to do for a shot at their first win of the season. This also applies to the rematch in Charlotte on Friday.

1. CORRAL KEMBA. For whatever reason, seeing that Bulls' logo turns Walker into an almost unstoppable scoring machine. Walker is adept at working off his big men, either in straight pick and rolls or cutting through the post on give-and-go plays. He's one of the league's most creative scorers, and doesn't require much room to get his shot off. The Bulls' bigs will have to provide help on Walker whenever he comes off screens to keep him from taking over the game.

2. PUT THE BALL IN ZACH'S HANDS. Whether he's playing shooting guard or point guard, Zach LaVine needs to be the primary facilitator with Dunn sidelined. LaVine scored 34 points against Dallas Monday night on just 15 shots, which led to him questioning some of the offensive sets that were run in the 2nd half. LaVine told reporters on Tuesday that he smoothed things over with his head coach, explaining his comments were the result of the frustration he was feeling after a third-straight loss to open the season. Still, LaVine is on a major hot streak, joining Bulls' all-time greats Michael Jordan and Bob Love as the only players to start the year with three straight games scoring at least 30 points. The Bulls will need to ride that hot hand for as far as LaVine can carry them.

3. DEFEND THE 3-POINT LINE. You knew I would eventually get to this, right? Dallas made 15 of 47 3-point attempts on Monday after the Pistons knocked down 18 of 40 in a two-point win last Saturday. The Hornets have all kinds of capable 3-point shooters in Walker, Lamb, Monk, Batum and Williams (they're shooting .397 as a team on 3's), so guarding the arc will be crucial for the Bulls to have a chance at their first win.

Don’t forget you can catch Wednesday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and the new MyTeams by NBC sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 pm when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Kelly Crull join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Neil Funk and Stacey King have the play-by-play call at 7 pm, then stay tuned after the final buzzer for Bulls Postgame Live and the always entertaining Bulls Outsiders.