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Bulls improbably collapse, fall in Atlanta

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Bulls improbably collapse, fall in Atlanta

Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Posted 8:34 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

ATLANTAThis was one you had to see to believe, but not in a good way.

Even as things unfolded, it seemed impossibleespecially with such a tough-minded, consistent bunchbut somehow, it happened. After leading for the entire contest, Tom Thibodeaus 48-minute foreshadowing came true, as the Bulls were overtaken by the Al Horford-led Hawks in the games final minute Wednesday night and improbably dropped an 83-80 affair at Phillips Arena.

Perhaps Joakim Noah put it best: We tricked it tonight.

Even without being up on the latest slang, Noahs statement is easy to interpret. Chicago blew the game.

The visitors jumped out of the gatesCarlos Boozer (11 points, seven rebounds) was particularly aggressivewith a 10-0 start in the first three minutes, punctuated by a Derrick Rose (12 points, 12 assists, six turnovers) steal and dunk that led to a Hawks timeout. Not that the half-empty Phillips Arena crowd minded, as the majority of attendees seemed to be Bulls fans, many of whom chanted M-V-P for Rose.

The lead eventually extended to 14-0, as another Rose steal led to a textbook give-and-go fast break, resulting in a Keith Bogans layup as the typically light-scoring shooting guard scored eight first-quarter points. Atlanta finally got on the board with nearly five minutes elapsed in the contest.

If anything, however, the Bulls could have further capitalized on their early advantage. Instead, the Hawksled by Noahs (13 points, 12 rebounds, four assists) college teammate Al Horford (31 points, 16 rebounds) and sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford (12 points, four assists)closed on their guests as the opening period wore on and while Chicago, aided by the scoring contributions of the ever-active Taj Gibson, didnt completely squander their seemingly insurmountable lead, they held a 28-19 lead after a quarter in a suddenly more competitive affair.

Despite their hot start on both ends, the Bulls struggled with turnovers and general mishandling of the basketball, even when they made hustle plays, kept rebounds alive and made strong defensive efforts. As if they were locked in step with the typically late-arriving crowd at the Highlight Factory (as the Hawks home arena is nicknamed), the games pace slowed to a lull early in the second period, with neither team immediately able to find a rhythm.

When we got the big lead, I thought we got real loose at the end of the second quarter, carried over to start the third. Youve got to play 48 minutes. You dont do that, youre not winning in this league, said Thibodeau afterwards. Youve got to play tough with the lead.

Chicago gradually rebuilt their winning margin to a double-digit level, as the visitors held their hosts to 31.7-percent shooting, while Atlanta doled out only five assists in the first half. Although their red-hot marksmanship to begin the contest cooled, the Bulls got sporadic easy opportunitiessuch as an uncontested Rose double-pump dunk after he grabbed his own offensive rebound of a three-pointerand with their stifling defense, as well as Luol Deng (15 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals) bouncing back after struggling early and Noah impacting the game with his energetic interior play, they took a 50-33 edge into the break.

Atlanta started the third quarter on a 6-0 run, increasing their defensive intensity, employing full-court pressure (a key aspect of which was keeping the ball out of Roses hands), forcing turnovers and influencing Thibodeau to put a brief halt to the proceedings. The game became a single-digit affair, with the home crowd fully engaged and the visitors out of sync.

I think the effort was there. We just came out too loose in the second half. This loss stings, its a tough loss, but our schedule doesnt get any easier and we can learn a lot from this game. Tough way to lose, but it just shows, youve got to play the game for 48 minutes, said Noah. I take full responsibility for not coming out with the right juice at the beginning of the third. They kind of got whatever they wanted to start that third quarter and weve just got to bounce back quick.

Crawford told CSNChicago.com: We felt like we were never out of it. Even though they got up big, they couldnt hit shots and we couldnt either. We felt like at some point, wed start hitting our shots and Al had a heck of a game.

Horfordthe competitive undersized center was the Hawks saving grace early and showed his fiery side in a near-skirmish after taking exception to a hard Boozer foul in the second quarterwreaked havoc on the Bulls interior defense with his ability to not only stretch the defense, but drive to the basket against his close acquaintance Noah, prompting Thibodeau to later call for the defensive-minded duo of Gibson and rookie Omer Asik (nine rebounds, two blocked shots).

Horford played great. He was hitting a lot of shots from deep, said Noah of his former teammate. I think he played very well tonight. Great rebounding, running the floor hard as hell. Just an overall great performance.

Still, timely baskets from the forward combination of Deng and Boozer enabled Chicago, which displayed outstanding offensive balance, to maintain a slight cushion over Atlanta for the time being.

A Rose turnover, however, led to a Horford follow-up dunk in transition late in the period, making the contest a one-possession game, much to Thibodeaus ire.

This game was definitely on me, but I think Im definitely going to learn from it and get better from it, said Rose, who shot 5-for-21 from the floor and committed an uncharacteristic six turnovers. Ive got to take care of the ball. Shots werent going down like they normally do.

Careless. Thats on my part. Im the one with the ball the majority of the time, he continued. We let one escape.

Concurred a hoarse and frustrated Thibodeau: They did a good job on Rose. He had a hard time getting going. I thought he had some shots that he normally makes, that he couldnt put down. Thats going to happen sometimes. Then, hes got to do other things.
Al Horford tied a career-high with 31 points, 22 coming in the second half to help Atlanta erase a 17-point halftime deficit. (AP)
Asiks offensive rebounding aside, there wasnt much to be pleased with from a Chicago perspective, as the Hawks cut it to 63-58 with one frame remaining and all the momentum on Atlantas side, despite leading scorer Joe Johnson (12 points, seven rebounds, nine assists) experiencing a poor shooting outing.

Asiks energy, defensive presence and offensive rebounding sparked the Bulls in the fourth quarter, giving them multiple possessions and getting the starters to applaud his effort from the bench. Chicago was able to stave off the home teams charge for the time being and Thibodeau reinserted his regulars into the tight-knit contest with the games stretch run approaching.

Horfords dominant effort continued to bring Atlanta to the brink of overtaking Chicago, but every time the Hawks seemed poised to seize the lead, the Bulls managed a timely contribution from any number of players. However, when Marvin Williams (10 points, four rebounds) blocked a Rose dunk attempt, leading to a Hawks fast-break bucket (aided by a Deng goaltend), it felt like the games turning point.

Kyle Korver, the teams designated sharpshooter nailed a three-pointer with under two minutes to go, but Williamswho had been dormant most of the evening answered with his own corner triple.

We believed in each other. We believe in our coaches and we believe in each other as players. Weve been down before and guys didnt hang their heads. We just kept plugging away, plugging away. Finally the tables turned in our favor and we were able to get a win, Williams told CSNChicago.com. We kept creeping closer and closer and closer. We just kept chopping away at the deficit. I think every bucket that we got and every stop that we got gave us more confidence.

After the Bulls failed to convert on the other end, Noah fouled Horford while attempting to grab an offensive rebound. With the score 79-78 in Chicagos favor, Horford split a pair of free throws to tie the game with 56.9 seconds left. On the Bulls next trip, Rose penetrated the defense and dropped the ball off to Noah, who was also fouled and made one of two attempts from the line to give the visitors an 80-79 advantage with 37.1 seconds remaining.

Out of a timeout, Crawford found Horford cutting to the basket off a pick-and-roll for a powerful dunk, thrilling the crowd and giving Atlanta its first lead of the contest, 81-80, with 29.4 seconds to play. Following a Bulls timeout, a bungled exchange between Boozer and Rose resulted in a Johnson steal and subsequent transition dunk over Rose.

I think he hit me in my head. I think I was trying to take off too quick, Rose explained. Just one of those games for me.

Chicago rushed to get off a late three-point attempt to tie the game, but Rose missed a tough look over Horford. Although Noah got the offensive board and the ball made its way to Korver via Boozer, the long-ball specialist airballed a wide-open look with all zeroes on the clock.

It was the kind of shot you want. It actually felt kind of good leaving my hand, Korver told CSNChicago.com. I was really shocked that it went short, but you get ready to shoot the next one.

Thibodeau refused to place the blame on a singular playat least on the offensive endfor the loss.

We couldnt get stops and we couldnt score. Beat ourselves at the end, said Thibodeau. But the game was lost way before that.

By then, we were struggling so much. We didnt have a good rhythm. Those are miracle shots, he continued. Theyre a good team. We should be able to count on our defense when were not making shots and all we had to do was get a shot at the end of the game there. We had the lead. You get a stop, its your game. We couldnt do that, so we lose.

Summed up Noah: Its on us. Its always tough to lose that way we lost, but I know that we were up 19 points and we got loose. We cant play that way and at the end of the day, the positive about is we know that were a lot better than that and well bounce back because thats what we do.

You learn from your experiences. Losing like thiswe havent had a loss like this all yearbut it hurts and you know what, itll make us tougher in the long run.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Terry Rozier didn’t know Michael Jordan, Bulls 3-peated twice until ‘Last Dance’

Terry Rozier didn’t know Michael Jordan, Bulls 3-peated twice until ‘Last Dance’

It’s as shocking as it is true.

Terry Rozier, 26 years old and an established NBA player employed by the Charlotte Hornets, did not know that Michael Jordan and the Bulls three-peated twice in the 1990s until viewing “The Last Dance.”

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He confessed as much to Jonathan Abrams of Bleacher Report:

"Just actually seeing this documentary, I learned so much," Rozier told Abrams. "I didn't even know that they (the Bulls) won three straight [championships two times]. I'm just being honest... To do things like that in this league, you have to be super special.”

 

Fact check for all of the above: true. And while undeniably humorous to hear Rozier admit this, the larger piece offers a heartwarming testament to Jordan’s influence from the perspective of Rozier, backcourt-mate Devonte’ Graham, Cody Zeller and other members of the team the Bulls’ great now owns. It's an engaging, worthwhile read.

Rozier even said he could have foreseen himself fighting MJ if, in another life, they somehow found themselves on the same team. “The Steve Kerr route,” as he puts it.

The feature also touches on Jordan and Jordan Brand’s $100 million commitment to social justice causes.

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Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Tuesday begins the staggered, three-day voyage of 21 NBA teams to Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. for the 2019-20 season restart (the Raptors have already arrived).

For the Bulls, and Bulls fans, that’s not of direct consequence. Excluded from the bubble, supporters and observers will be limited to loose Bulls ties — enter: Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler — and draft lottery dreaming as the NBA’s best battle for the 2019-20 crown in Orlando.

But that doesn’t mean the next five months, which will comprise an unprecedented offseason in the league’s history, don’t hold significance for the Bulls. A likely third consecutive top-10 draft choice is on the way for the team, as are key contractual deadlines for players currently on the roster and a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

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There remains much unknown about the 2020 NBA offseason — chiefly, from the Bulls’ perspective, the salary cap, luxury tax line and status of the predraft process, the last of which has been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also now in play is the matter of a possible eight-team bubble being constructed in Chicago for the squads not joining the league in Orlando, though there are hurdles galore on that front.

What we do have is a framework of a reported schedule to track through the remainder of the summer and ensuing autumn. Here are some key dates for Bulls fans to watch for the time being (all of which are, of course, subject to change given the potentially fluid nature of the league’s calendar amid the pandemic):

NBA Draft

Aug. 17: Early entry deadline for prospects

The last day for underclassmen not automatically eligible to declare for the NBA draft to state their intentions. Moved back from its original date of April 26, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Scott Phillips has you covered tracking who’s already declared or testing the waters.

Aug. 25: Draft Lottery

Typically, the early entry deadline and draft lottery would be nearly two months apart, with the combine sandwiched in between. But with the pandemic moving predraft interviews to Zoom, and live, remote workouts currently prohibited, it appears the league will squeeze both into an eight-day span, also per Wojnarowski.

The Bulls have selected No. 7 three years in a row, using those picks to draft core pieces in Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White. And even as the world erupts into chaos around them, they slot seventh in the lottery ranks once again this season. 

But with the NBA smoothing its lottery odds before the 2019 draft, the Bulls will have a modicum higher of a chance of leaping. They enter the lottery with a 7.5% chance of nabbing the No. 1 pick, 32% shot at vaulting into the top four and 19.7% odds of staying locked at No. 7. They also own mathematical chances at No. 8 (34.1%), No. 9 (12.9%), No. 10 (1.3%) and even 11 (0.03%).

Last nugget of note: This year’s lottery intentionally falls 11 days after the conclusion of the NBA’s eight-game seeding round in Orlando; while the eight teams left out of the bubble are locked into their current slots, the final six teams in the 14-team lottery will be populated by those who fall short of the playoffs. Right now, those six are the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards. If any of them vault into the postseason during the seeding games and play-in round, they’ll flip places with the team they usurp outside of the lottery. Both the lottery order, and the order of selections 15 - 30 will be determined by team record from when the league suspended play on March 11. 

Oct. 6: Early withdrawal deadline for prospects

Any not automatically eligible prospects that declared for the draft on or before Aug. 17 will have the opportunity to rescind that declaration (and maintain NCAA eligibility) on or before Oct. 6, per Wojnarowski.

Oct. 16: 2020 NBA Draft

The draft this year will fall three days after a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals (Oct. 13), according to Wojnarowski. Broadcast, location and logistical specifics appear to be undetermined as of yet.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft 6.0

Option/Offer Deadlines and Extension Eligibilities

From there, a few key decision days for players already on the Bulls’ roster loom. First and certainly not least...

Oct. 17: Otto Porter Jr.’s player option deadline

As reported by ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Otto Porter Jr. will have until Oct. 17 to decide whether or not to exercise his roughly $28.5 million player option for the 2020-21 season. His opting in appears all but a certainty (especially coming off an injury-riddled season in which he appeared in just 14 games, and amid a potentially tumultuous cap environment), and will essentially seal the Bulls’ fate as an over-the-cap team this offseason. 

Heaping that $28.5 million figure onto the Bulls’ books would bring the team’s guaranteed salaries for the 2020-21 season to $106,027,707 (numbers via Spotrac) before addressing restricted free agents or contracts for any draftees. The latest reputable pre-pandemic cap projection, from Wojnarowski, was $115 million, which could now be subject to change.

Oct. 17: Qualifying offer deadline

Also on Oct. 17 is the last day for teams to extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents, per Marks. The Bulls have three: Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Shaq Harrison. Full breakdown on the considerations at play for each here.

Oct. 18: Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Porter and Cristiano Felicio become extension eligible

The next day, per Marks, three Bulls starters become extension eligible — Markkanen on a rookie-scale basis, while LaVine and Porter are of the veteran designation.

Markkanen’s case is among the more curious in the league. His third season saw marked regression from his second in usage, opportunity and production, but given his skillset and considerable potential, he still represents a possible building block for the Bulls moving forward. A year ago — assuming expected development — we might have thought we’d be pondering a max for Markkanen at this point. Now, with a new front office regime in place, his market value is anyone’s guess. Maybe Arturas Karnisovas and Markkanen’s representation find an amenable compromise before the start of the 2020-21 season. But perhaps just as likely is Karnisovas wanting to see more from him, and Markkanen taking the opportunity to bet on himself making a leap in a contract year and earning some extra dough, as Jimmy Butler did five years ago.

RELATED: Bulls mailbag: Which free agents fit? Lauri Markkanen extension talks?

LaVine has two years and $39 million remaining on a contract he has become one of the more team-friendly in the league given his production since returning full-time from his ACL tear. Porter and Felicio’s deals enter their final years in 2020-21. Frankly, it’d be surprising to see any of them consummate extensions before Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley get a chance to see the Bulls up close and in action.

Free Agency

Oct. 18: Free Agency opens

According to Wojnarowski, free agency is expected open Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. ET, with the moratorium period running from Oct. 19 - 23, and lifting on Oct. 24.

As mentioned, the Bulls will likely be out of the running for any appreciable cap space when that window opens. But they will have their (as of now) non-taxpayer mid-level exception to work with — possible targets for which you can peruse in K.C. Johnson’s latest mailbag.

And for what it’s worth, that luxury tax line could be worth monitoring. In a tweet Monday, Marks mentioned a previous projection of $139 million for next season’s luxury tax. That projection would have to plunge pretty far for the Bulls to need sweating it out, but in the current climate, who knows what could be on the table? If the Bulls somehow found themselves over that line, the difference in last seasons non-taxpayer and taxpayer MLE was about $3.5 million (~$9.2 million to $5.7 million).

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