Bulls grind out preseason-opening win against Pacers


Bulls grind out preseason-opening win against Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS--It was if the Bulls and Pacers decided to use their preseason opener to resume the fierce battle they waged in April, when the two teams faced off in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The play was physical, ragged and intense, Carlos Boozer struggled throughout the contest, Chicago's defense was dominant, the second unit gave the team a major boost and the Bulls methodically came back from a large deficit to eventually leave the unfriendly confines of Conseco Fieldhouse with a 95-86 victory Friday night.

"To me, your first game, you've got to establish who you are. What our identity is not going to be based on what happened last year. We have to re-establish who we are this year, so this is the first step," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said afterwards. "There's a lot of things we've got to clean up, obviously.

"Defensively, I thought our defense was horrid in the first quarter and then the last three quarters, I thought it was better, but it's still not anywhere near where it needs to be. I thought we gave up a ton of second shots, so that has to be cleaned up," the reigning NBA Coach of the Year continued about his team, which committed turnovers on the evening. "I always say, 'You have to eliminate the ways in which you beat yourself,' and it starts with those turnovers."

Concurred Derrick Rose: "Turnovers. We can deal with missed shots; that's going to happen in the game. But turnovers, that's something that we've definitely got to change and that starts with me. A perfect game to me is no turnovers. I don't care about any other stat, other than turnovers."

A sloppy start, compounded by Rose (16 points, 10-of-10 from the free-throw line, six turnovers) picking up two fouls in the first two minutes of the contest, didn't bode well for the Bulls. Playing catch-up from the outset against the Central Division rival Pacers, a mix of unforced turnovers and untimely fouls didn't help the situation.

"The first five minutes of the game, I didn't like the tone at all, on either end," said Thibodeau. "It was real easy for them."

Although the Bulls faced a double-digit deficit, backup point guard C.J. Watson (15 points) was a bright spot, filling in for Rose with ten first-quarter points to keep the visitors afloat. However, the rugged inside presence of Pacers power forward Tyler Hansbrough and a strong overall team showing allowed the home team to take a 33-22 advantage into the second stanza.

After Watson picked up his own second foul late in the opening period, Thibodeau reinserted Rose, who mostly played orchestrator for his teammates, guiding them back into close contact with the Pacers behind stalwart defense from the reserve post duo of Taj Gibson (12 points, nine rebounds, two blocked shots) and Omer Asik. By the midway point of the quarter, the Bulls had knotted up the count at 37 apiece, following rookie Jimmy Butler (eight points, 3-for-3 from the field) hitting the third of his first three NBA shot attempts.

"I was nervous at first, but those guys told me to calm down and do what I've been doing for however many years and that's play basketball. They wanted me to be successful and they said I did all right," said the beaming NBA novice after the game.

"Everything about the game surprised me," he continued. "You can get away with stuff in college by being more athletic or your length. At this level, everybody can do everything, so it was definitely a learning experience out there.

"That first jumper, off the glass--I didn't call it, so I don't know--but after that, I think my nerves started to calm and after my first defensive trip, I was like, 'Maybe I do belong here.'"

His teammates and coaches took notice.

"He's great, man. He's a great addition to our team, with him being so young and understanding the game. He has a lot of confidence--quiet confidence--but when he's out there, he's always doing something good. He can defend, plays smart--especially to be a rookie--and I think he's going to be one of the pieces Coach is going to use a lot," said Rose.

Added Thibodeau: "And like all rookies, he did some things well, some things not so well, but overall, I was very pleased with what he did. He's worked very hard, he's studied hard, he's prepared himself well thus far and now he has to show he can do it over the course of the season, but I think he's got the right attitude and the right approach, and that's the first step."

Thibodeau was pleased, in general--after all, he's never completely satisfied--with how his reserves performed.

"The defense was great," Thibodeau observed. "That group the second unit gave us a good lift.

"I love our depth," he added, choosing his words carefully, so as to avoid a fine so early into the campaign. "It was interesting today because of course, Derrick had a couple calls that were tough calls, but it was good because it got C.J. into the game early and I thought he gave us a big lift. I think we all have a lot of confidence in his ability."

Chicago would seize its first lead of the game at 40-39 and with Luol Deng (16 points, six rebounds) having one of his quietly effective nights, the Bulls slowly built a small cushion against their hosts. Despite neither Boozer nor Rose--who did hit seven free throws--making a first-half field goal, the visitors, buoyed by a defense that held the Pacers to 2-of-23 shooting went into the intermission with a 52-47 advantage, after a Deng bucket in the waning moments of the period.

While the Bulls maintained their slim lead, the feisty Pacers continued to battle, keeping things close behind center Roy Hibbert's (14 points, seven rebounds) aggressive interior offense. Rose, however, started to find his offensive mojo--as both a scorer and a playmaker, and even on the offensive glass-but with active swingman Paul George (17 points, 10 rebounds) and other comrades providing high-energy plays, the contest evolved into a back-and-forth affair.

"I charged, traveled, like some high school turnovers, but I just know that comes with being excited," said Rose. "But I know my game is definitely going to come back to me, since I've been working so hard this summer.

"It feels good just being in the training room, just seeing guys excited about going out there playing, and the fans, seeing them come, cheer, boo against us, it doesn't matter. Just us being in this atmosphere is great," he continued. "I hope the fans like it. We were out there, really getting at it. A lot of tough plays, really diving for the ball, rebounding, a lot of intensity and it shows that both teams are trying to do something this year."

Boozer (seven points on 3-for-3 shooting, six rebounds, three turnovers) wasn't as appreciative of the rowdy Indianapolis crowd, many of whom targeted Bulls players--especially him--for verbal abuse.

"Some of them are funny, some of them are not so funny," he quipped. "I've got to knock the rust off, knock the cobwebs off and then, now we can start getting loose a little bit more.

"It seems like we've played them 20 times," he went on to say. "Doesn't it seem like we played them a lot over the last 12, 16 months? We're very familiar with them, to say the least.

Added Thibodeau: "I did like the way Boozer and Ronnie were playing off each other. I thought his floor game was very good. I thought he had some bunnies that he normally makes, that he didn't make. But some good, some bad. Just got to keep building."

The on-court action couldn't be described as crisp, but the Central Division rivals exhibited midseason effort, in terms of hustle, as if they were picking up from where they left off in their spring first-round playoff series, as the brand of "smash-mouth basketball" Pacers sideline skipper Frank Vogel--the league's youngest head coach, hired on a permanent basis in the offseason after ending the franchise's postseason drought as an interim coach--employs paid dividends. However, through three quarters of play, the Bulls held a tenuous 72-71 lead.

Gibson continued his consistent play, using his left-handed jump hook--a product of post move-intensive summer workouts--a mid-range jumper and solid awareness to provide the Bulls with a scoring presence, along with Watson resuming his first-half efforts. But the Bulls were mainly propelled by their defense, which led the league a season ago and looked to be top form--rebounding, contesting of shots, hustle plays and help-side defense were all at a high level--despite it only being the preseason opener, helping the Conseco Fieldhouse guests gain some separation from home-standing Indiana.

Joakim Noah (10 points, eight rebounds began to put his stamp on the contest's stretch run, with plenty of activity on both ends of the floor, particularly the backboards, while also playing his usual role as the team's formidable back line of defense. As the game wound down, the Bulls, equipped with a double-digit lead, would cruise to a hard-fought triumph, with a rematch looming Tuesday in Chicago.

"They're a good team, I'll say. There's no other way you can put it. They're a good team and when you play against good teams, sometimes the games aren't going to be that pretty," Rose explained. "We know each other--know the players, coaches--like the back of our hand. It's the same way with them. We make things tough on them sometimes, too."

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

Chicago, IL (October 15, 2018) – NBC Sports Chicago – THE Home of the #AuthenticFan – has announced it will launch Bulls Outsiders, a brand new, live, multi-platform, fan-interactive Bulls program that will provide a fresh take on that evening’s game and much more from three non-conventional sports show hosts.  Bulls Outsiders will make its network debut after the Bulls 2018-19 road/season opener this Thursday, October 18 (approx. 10:00 PM CT) immediately following Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois on NBC Sports Chicago+, via live stream to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive, and -- on Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago). NOTE: Bulls Outsiders will also re-air on the main NBC Sports Chicago channel on this night at 11:00 PM; the majority of airings will also air live on the main channel location.

Hosted by three, die-hard Bulls enthusiasts – Matt Peck (@Bulls_Peck), David Watson (@bawlsports), and John Sabine (@jsabine214) – Bulls Outsiders will provide viewers with the hottest takes, insightful analysis, and spirited commentary from the fans' perspective. This new half-hour program will immediately follow the network’s dedicated, season-long presentation of Bulls Postgame Live for all 82 Bulls games this season.  

In addition to the lively post-game discussion with the show’s hosts, Bulls Outsiders will also emphasize heavy viewer interaction via fan engagement on a number of the network’s social media platforms including Twitter (@NBCSBulls; fans urged to utilize the Twitter hashtag #BullsOutsiders in their posts) and Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago), which will enable Bulls fans to directly interact with the show’s hosts via comments and questions pertaining to that particular evening’s game, the key topics presented to them that night, or anything else they want to discuss from a league-wide NBA perspective. 

“Our primary goal at NBC Sports Chicago is to super serve our fans and with the introduction of Bulls Outsiders to our multi-platform programming line-up, we are able to continue that mission with a fresh and fun new program that not only speaks to Bulls fans, but one that directly involves them in the dialogue,” said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. 

In preparation for the hiring of the program’s three primary hosts, NBC Sports Chicago reached out to a number of notable local (and vocal) die-hard Bulls fans who stood out among the vast Bulls social media community. Candidates who responded back with interest were simply asked to shoot a one-minute video on their phone and offer up their take on Chicago native/Simeon Career Academy H.S. grad Jabari Parker joining the Bulls via free agency.  From there, the initial two dozen candidates were narrowed down to eight, who were then all brought in for in-studio auditions. Following the lengthy on-camera process, Cross, along with Bulls content producer Kevin Anderson, finalized their decision and welcomed Peck, Watson, and Sabine to the NBC Sports Chicago family.  

“It was an intricate process in choosing our hosts, but there’s no doubt Matt, David, and John have a great chemistry and solid individual strengths,” added Cross. “I’m also excited about how Bulls Outsiders will take fan interactivity to a brand new level and I couldn’t be more pleased that we will be able to deliver this show to the passionate and undeniably-dedicated Bulls fan base.”

Please note the following Bulls Outsiders host bios:

Matt Peck - Podcast host/writer for ‘Locked On Bulls’

Age: 31

Hometown: Glen Ellyn, IL

Favorite Bull of all time: “MJ, obviously…but Rodman is a very close second.” 

Favorite Current Bull: Lauri Markkanen 

Favorite Bulls moments: 

1st place – “1997 NBA Finals Game 1. MJ hits the game-winner at the buzzer after Karl Malone misses 2 FTs...Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays."

2nd place – “2011 Eastern Conference Finals Game 1…Bulls blow out the ‘Heatles.’ Taj destroys Dwyane Wade's soul. And has a FILTHY put back dunk late with the route on. The Madhouse goes insane. We all leave that night thinking we were about to win the title.” 

David Watson - Bulls writer/podcast host for BawlSports.com

Age: 39

Hometown: Chicago, IL                            

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: Michael Jordan

Favorite current Bulls player: Lauri Markkanen

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan Flu Game in ‘97…Noah dunk on Paul Pierce in ’09 first round Game 6 Triple OT…oh, and that Pippen dunk on Ewing in the ’94 playoffs.”

John Sabine - Actor, copywriter, and improviser…he has performed with The Second City IO and The Improvised Shakespeare Company.

Age: 34

Hometown: Originally from Dallas, TX…has lived in Chicago for the last 11 years

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: “Pippen or Rodman, it's probably Rodman. Is it weird it's Rodman?”

Favorite current Bulls player: “Lauri Markkanen, but really Bobby Portis. I want to be friends with Bobby Portis.” 

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan's return from baseball. As a kid I couldn't understand, I said "wait ...he just decided to not play and now he decided to play, but like he has a new number and he's still awesome...what?!’ or…either 2013 Round 1 Game 4 against the Nets 3OT, Nate Robinson. It was a Marvel Movie.” 

REMINDER: NBC Sports Chicago will carry the 2018-19 Bulls HOME OPENER on Saturday, October 20 (Bulls Pregame Live presented by Coors Light at 6:00 PM; Bulls vs. Pistons tip-off at 7:00 PM; Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois at approx. 9:30 PM, which will immediately be followed by Bulls Outsiders at approx. 10:00 PM).


Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Healthy in October for the first time in three seasons, Zach LaVine entered training camp as the $78 million man looking to justify one of the summer’s largest deals that many criticized.

And just a few days into camp, the spotlight homed in on him further when the Bulls lost Lauri Markkanen to an elbow injury.

LaVine responded to both challenges, putting together a preseason performance that not even the most optimistic expectations could have included.

In just 22.3 minutes he averaged 17.8 points on 52 percent shooting, made 44 percent of his triples and got to the free throw line a team best 4.8 times per game. In short, he looked much more like the potential franchise-building piece the Bulls believed they were acquiring 19 months ago.

“I’m my hardest critic, so there’s nothing on the outside that I haven’t told myself of where I want to be at. You want to tell the doubters on the outside I told you so, but it’s mostly coming from a place where I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for.’’

The fifth-year shooting guard was fluid, attacked in a variety of ways and looked like part of the offense, something that at times was non-existent during last year’s injury-riddled comeback season. Taking shots in rhythm, attacking the rim instead of settling for contested jumpers, running the floor. LaVine looked a lot like the player who shot 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from deep before the ACL injury in 2017.

“I think I found a good rhythm and then just keep that going into the regular season. I think last year still, I was trying to catch my rhythm with the games I played,” LaVine said Monday at the Advocate Center. “I’d play two good games and two bad games. I felt like that up and down was a little bit with the consistency of not playing. Now that I’m back fully I think that’s where I should be.”

The offensive uptick is a sight for sore eyes, especially with Markkanen on the mend. But where LaVine can quiet his harshest critics – including himself – is on the defensive end.

It’s just a five-game sample size, but LaVine’s individual defensive rating of 97.3 was better than the team’s overall 100.2 rating. A year ago, LaVine’s defensive rating was 113.9, the worst on the team, and worse than the team’s overall 110.4 mark. They’re baby steps, but steps nonetheless for a player who knows what the book says about him on that end of the floor.

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” he said. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

The preseason is one hurdle cleared, but they get much taller and difficult to get over when Thursday and the Philadelphia 76ers come around. No matter who starts in the frontcourt – Fred Hoiberg isn’t ready to announce Bobby Portis and Wendell Carter Jr. yet – or if the Bulls get good Jabari Parker instead of preseason Jabari Parker, all eyes will be on LaVine.

It’s the contract. It’s being the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butle trade. It’s how well he played before the injury and how dominant he looked in the preseason. He’s off to a good start and knows now is this time to build on it.

“There are a lot of things you want to reach and get better at every year, and I put a lot of work into this offseason,” he said. “I have a lot of things to prove and want to get better at, and yeah, I feel like it’s just motivation for yourself when you want to accomplish things.’’