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Bulls' errors spoil valiant effort in San Antonio

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Bulls' errors spoil valiant effort in San Antonio

It happens so quick and yet, it doesn’t feel devastating even though it’ll show on the boxscore that the San Antonio Spurs win every game by a margin unmatched in NBA history.

The Bulls were every bit the Spurs’ equal Thursday night but overall couldn’t match their execution, falling 109-101 at the AT&T Center.

Every time it seemed the Bulls were ready to grab some momentum, something worked against them.

Trailing by five late in the third, they had a chance to cut it to two but Nikola Mirotic missed a wide-open triple from the corner, followed by Kawhi Leonard having one bounce softly off the rim then back in again, pushing the lead to eight. It seemed to be that way all night for the Bulls, fighting uphill against a buzzsaw and against their own limitations.

They hit five more triples than the Spurs, made 12 of 13 free throws and outrebounded them by a 50-40 margin, but their own worst energy came back to bite them, with 21 turnovers leading to 16 Spurs points.

“That was the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Played well for the most part except for the turnovers. You can’t give a team like that, especially in their home building, extra opportunities.”

The Bulls leave San Antonio feeling they let yet another winnable game get away.

“It was a game for the taking,” said Taj Gibson, whose missed dunk led to Hoiberg getting the first technical foul of his career late in the fourth quarter, both believing he’d been hacked on the way up.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“We turned the ball over a lot, a little myself. There’s plays you wish you could take back. We had great looks, the energy was good. We just came up short.”

By the time Danny Green snuck behind E’Twaun Moore for a follow-up dunk with 4:09 left to put the Spurs up 10 and re-establish some breathing room, it seemed fait accompli the Bulls’ effort in ending the Spurs’ 30-0 home start would be for naught.

“They’re so experienced, so talented and they just know the game,” Derrick Rose said.

Moore had a standout game, hitting four triples, most of them when the Bulls were teetering in the first three quarters and the threat of being out of the building was high.

Moore finished with 20, starting in place of Jimmy Butler, but they sure could’ve used Butler on the Spurs’ best player.

Derrick Rose was guarded by Kawhi Leonard, the premier perimeter defender the NBA has to offer. And without Jimmy Butler, not only was Leonard free to roam offensively but to hassle Rose on the other end.

Leonard led the Spurs with 29 points and seven rebounds to go along with two steals and two blocks. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 with 10 rebounds in 33 minutes and Tony Parker, who kept Rose’s head spinning all night with constant activity, scored 20 in his return from injury.

Rose, along with Moore and Justin Holliday (12 points), played exceptionally well in spurts to keep the Bulls in it. He scored a quick seven in the first four minutes to start the third quarter and the Bulls made the Spurs sweat.

The Spurs had moments where shots rolled in and out, which Rose pointed out succinctly.

“They missed a lot of wide open shots, too, so that was our reason to hang in the game a little bit longer,” he said.

[MORE: Jimmy Butler receives positive news from Dr. James Andrews]

Rose scored 21 points with six assists, and only committed one turnover in 36 minutes.

“I wouldn’t say one play away,” Rose said. “A couple plays away. We had plays where we didn’t box out, (they) pitched it back out for open shots. We had plays where they got all the way to the lane.”

But he was one of the few who was unfazed by the Spurs’ perfect position defense.

They didn’t make many mistakes but when they did, the beauty of the Spurs was revealed.  Although the giveaways didn’t come in spurts, they didn’t have to because the Spurs capitalized, seemingly every time.

The Bulls had their turnovers and to boot, could only force eight out of the Spurs, limiting their chances for easy opportunities.

“That’s that great experienced teams do,” Hoiberg said. “They’ve won 30, 40 games in a row at home. You shoot yourself in the foot giving up so many easy opportunities.”

Then the other aspect of this team is when Gregg Popovich sits down and allows his team to run its offense to perfection.

Flawless cuts to the basket. Precise picks. And most of all, perfect passes.

The Spurs tallied 29 assists on their 44 field goals, with Parker dishing out 12 helpers.

Hoiberg won’t complain about effort, as they fell to a superior team in a perfect atmosphere in a building that hasn’t seen a loss in over a year.

But it didn’t stop the Bulls from sliding back into ninth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, with the Miami Heat meeting them in Chicago Friday.

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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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.