Bulls fall asleep at the wheel in loss to Knicks


Bulls fall asleep at the wheel in loss to Knicks

If there was any doubt about the Bulls’ sincerity to keep things interesting this season, the stage was set to fulfill such beliefs.

And true to their character, or the guys in red uniforms playing like characters in a bad movie, they played down to expectations.

They continued their Mendoza-line like performances, against a team that is drenched in so much turmoil the Kardashians are jealous of the New York Knicks.

And over the course of 24 hours, the woebegone Knicks can put the Bulls out of their misery with two wins on back-to-back nights, as the Bulls will head to Manhattan on Thursday night.

The Knicks took care of Part 1 with a 115-107 win Wednesday at the United Center, as the Bulls put together a showing they swore was behind them, a performance that was allegedly beneath their competitive character.

The Knicks treated the Bulls as if they were a D-League team, dominating them on the glass, running the so-called archaic triangle offense to perfection and embarrassing them on national TV — on a night where playoff tickets were announced to be on sale.

“I told our guys they have two choices: They can tuck their tails between their legs and walk out of here with their head down. Or they can tough it out, suck it up and find a way to win tomorrow,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

[MORE BULLS: Fred Hoiberg suggests Derrick Rose shouldn't have played to start season]

The Bulls had a choice to close out a four-game homestand with a 4-0 mark but came out flat against a Knicks team with seemingly nothing to gain with a win, as the Knicks outworked them statistically and intangibly.

“They won every loose ball, battled the rebounds, they got all of those tonight,” Hoiberg said.

The Knicks blitzed the Bulls with 14 3-pointers, hitting them at a 56-percent rate. One couldn’t tell if the Knicks were having a night for the ages or if it was non-existent defense from the Bulls, but given the Bulls’ recent track record of allowing anything and everything to opposing teams, one wouldn’t be wrong to assume the latter.

Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis scored 29 with 10 boards, torching the Bulls in every way possible: from the pinch post, from long range and with devastating dunks in transition.

A 35-point third quarter for the Knicks, where they stretched a seven-point lead to 19 in the last six minutes of the quarter, scoring virtually on every play, silenced the hopefuls and sent out the detractors who believe the Bulls don’t possess the consistency necessary to make a legit run at the playoffs.

“At halftime we talked about how we need to come out and take control of the game. We did the opposite,” Hoiberg said. “They got control and built their lead up, and we dug ourselves too deep a hole to get out of.”

Nikola Mirotic hit triple after triple in the fourth on the way to a career-high 35 points on nine 3-pointers to try to bring the Bulls back, as the Bulls hit 15 3s in total.

“I had a good game, but I’m not happy because we lost this really important game at home,” Mirotic said. “We need to come with a different mindset. We cannot give up 115 points.”

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

Mirotic’s 20 in the fourth led to a modest run that brought the score to 109-101 but was ultimately silenced when Carmelo Anthony’s 9-1-1 shot with the clock running down sent fans scrambling for the exits.

Anthony scored 24 on 10-for-22 shooting with four triples and five assists in 39 minutes.

“They got confidence, and Porzingis and Anthony really rose up and made shots in the fourth because of the confidence they had (earlier),” Hoiberg said.

Derrick Rose scored seven of his 21 early in the fourth, but offense wasn’t the problem, though the Bulls clearly believe they can win playing one end of the floor.

Allowing that point total on 52-percent shooting, nearly being doubled up on the boards (53-34) while playing with a willful aversion to defense — an action not uncommon this season.

Again, offense wasn’t the problem, though Pau Gasol scored just four points and Jimmy Butler (seven points, 3-for-11 shooting) continued to struggle on his way back from a knee injury that’s assuredly bothering him more than he’s willing to let on.

The Bulls didn’t turn the ball over at all before the half, yet trailed by two, with the belief a little defense could go a long way.

It was offset with the Knicks going 9-for-11 from 3 early, as the Bulls’ defense again became spotty as the Knicks shot 52 percent from the field. Porzingis was having his way with 17 and six boards.

But that desperation didn’t show up until it was much too late, as they panicked when things started to get away and were forced to play recklessly to get back in it before it proved futile.

“We hit some shots,” Hoiberg said. “That’s the thing that gets us going. We didn’t give (ourselves) a chance at the fourth because we let them control the game.”

Sounds like a microcosm for the season.

Too little, too late.

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.

The long-awaited debut of the Bulls starting lineup, rusty Wendell Carter Jr. and all

The long-awaited debut of the Bulls starting lineup, rusty Wendell Carter Jr. and all

After getting a look at each point guard in the starting lineup this preseason, Jim Boylen finally got a look at what appears to be his starting lineup for Opening Night. 

Tomas Satoransky started as the point next to Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. That group was down 10-7 when Carter subbed out at the 8:36 mark but looked better in later stints in the game. 

Carter was noticeably slow on his first step on his defense, specifically on plays where Raptors center Chris Boucher was able to use his speed and length advantage to finish at the rim. But he was solid on the glass, even chipping in on the offensive rebounding side of things, grabbing 3 offensive boards in the first half alone. 

Carter was clearly re-adjusting to the speed of NBA basketball and as play-by-play broadcaster Stacey King noted during the game, he "just doesn't have his legs underneath him." He was 1-6 from the floor, struggling to get lift as he went up for putback layups around the basket. 

That being said, he was decent, more so on the defensive side of the floor where he became more active as the game wore on.

In his 16-minutes stint, Carter posted 2 points, 7 rebounds, an assist and a block, while picking up 3 personal fouls. 

Outside of Carter's return stint, the Bulls new-look starting group looked solid and offers hope as we approach the start of the NBA regular season.