Bulls

Bulls fend off pesky Wolves

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Bulls fend off pesky Wolves

CHICAGO--After looking like a dream team early, the Bulls (9-2) fell asleep before waking up late to survive a challenge from the Timberwolves (3-7) in their 111-100 win Tuesday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis, the second game of their only back-to-back-to-back stretch of the season. Several contributors made an impact, but the one-two punch of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng closed it out for the Bulls, who squandered a 24-point first-half lead as a result of Minnesota rookie point guard Ricky Rubio's impressive play.

Propelled by a smothering defense and the assertive scoring efforts of Rose (31 points, 4-for-8 three-point shooting, 11 assists, two blocked shots) and Deng (21 points, 11 rebounds), the Bulls jumped all over the Timberwolves right out of the gate, seemingly scoring at will in both transition and out of halfcourt offensive sets. Thirteen first-quarter points from Rose--in a variety of methods, from deft off-hand finishes after dribble penetration, to three-point bombs off the bounce and wide-open flushes as the result of a backdoor cut--but countering the visitors' ballooning lead was the reigning leave MVP tweaking an ankle late in the opening period, after which the Bulls led, 33-17.

Rose would leave the court between quarters (he'd return to the contest midway between periods after receiving medical treatment for his injury), but his services weren't needed, as an offensively-aggressive "Bench Mob," led by an assertive John Lucas--again playing significant minutes in place of the sidelined C.J. Watson, the diminutive third-stringer's effectiveness allowed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to play Rose off the ball for a stretch--Taj Gibson's (three blocked shots) usual high activity level on both ends, Omer Asik (six points, six rebounds), displaying polished post moves, and temporary starter Ronnie Brewer's (17 points) subtle contributions, maintained the Bulls' wide winning margin. However, behind versatile power forward Kevin Love's (20 points, 3-for-8 three-point shooting, 13 rebounds) outside marksmanship and Rubio's playmaking, the Timberwolves made a 20-2 before halftime to trim the deficit and send the Bulls into the break with a 53-47 advantage.

Minnesota continued to chip away at Chicago's increasingly tenuous lead, as the precocious Rubio created for himself and teammates, such as hot-shooting veteran starting point guard Luke Ridnour (22 points, 3-for-3 three-point shooting, 8-for-11 overall) and talented young big man Anthony Randolph (18 points) against their guests, who insisted on settling for perimeter shots. The visitors saw the gap close completely when their hosts tied the score at 70 apiece, but kept afloat by Deng's timely scoring, the Bulls managed to escape the third quarter ahead, 79-74.

Chicago was able to maintain its cushion early in the final stanza due to Deng's consistent point production, Gibson's defensive prowess, sharspshooter Kyle Korver's (13 points, 3-for-3 three-point shooting, 5-for-6 overall) potent stroke and Rose finding his groove again, keeping the hosts, who remained within striking distance, at bay. But down the stretch, the combination of Rose and Deng, as well as the perimeter firepower of Brewer and Korver, were too much for the feisty Timberwolves.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.