Bulls improve to 2-1 with preseason win over Timberwolves


Bulls improve to 2-1 with preseason win over Timberwolves

By Jeff Hamilton

WINNIPEG — Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg wanted to see a bounce back game from his troops following a 112-94 loss to the Denver Nuggets Thursday, calling the “little bit adversity” created from the Bulls’ first preseason defeat “not the worst thing in the world” for his team.

He got what he wanted two nights later as the Bulls downed the Minnesota Timberwolves in a rare clash north of the border, beating their opponent 114-105 in front of an energetic, sold-out crowd of 15, 294 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man.

“Yeah, absolutely,” said Hoiberg after the game. “I thought the guys really went out and competed. The defense was something we wanted to improve on in a big way and we took a step in the right direction.”

[MORE: Entering Year 15, Bulls' Pau Gasol conscience of his minutes]

E’Twaun Moore paced the Bulls with 18 points — one of six Bulls players to hit double-digits on the night — shooting 8-for-12 from the field including 2-for-5 from behind the arc.

“We have everyone ready on offense, you don’t know who will get the shot at the end and that’s just fun basketball,” said Moore, who also chipped in five assists and two rebounds. “I don’t think our energy was there last game and that’s what we can control, every night, is our energy and how hard we play; we come out and play hard and we give ourselves a chance.”

The win improves the Bulls preseason record to 2-1 on the year, while Minnesota goes to 0-2 after falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 122-99, earlier in the week.

Hoiberg dressed a starting group led by center Pau Gasol, who saw his first bit of action after sitting out the first two games, and included a supporting cast of Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell.

Together they exploded out of the gate, toying with a Minnesota’s starting line-up that had both a youthful look in former No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, mixed with some experience in 20-year pro Kevin Garnett. By the end of the first buzzer Chicago had more than doubled their opponent 34-16.

It was the second quarter Thursday that created fits for the Bulls in the loss to the Nuggets, and it was another blip again on Saturday. The T-Wolves would cut the lead to nine but a solid defensive effort to close out the half regained the Bulls double-digit lead, 65-55, at half.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Chicago opened the half with back-to-back three-balls to regain command of the game, but things would equalize as both teams traded shots back and forth to keep the Bulls up 89-77. Minnesota threatened late in the fourth, capitalizing on some sloppy and undisciplined play from Bulls to pull within six in the final minutes.

But another three-ball, this time from Cristiano Felicio, would regain the Bulls lead by 10, and put an end to the Wolves chance of a comeback.

“It was good to win and it’s always feels good to win in this league,” said Jimmy Butler. “It’s basketball, man, it’s a game of running. There’s some things that both teams can fix so it’s back to the drawing board for both of us — that’s what preseason is for.”

The Bulls now return home to the United Center to take on the New Orleans Pelicans Monday night. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.

Five observations from Bulls' preseason, including Zach LaVine's focus

USA Today

Five observations from Bulls' preseason, including Zach LaVine's focus

The Bulls blew through four preseason games in seven days, a pace coach Jim Boylen acknowledged by resting his starters for one.

But now it gets real. Wendell Carter Jr. made his debut Sunday in Toronto after sitting the first three games with a bruised tailbone, but the second-year big man only played first-half minutes.

Thursday’s preseason finale at the United Center against the Hawks is an opportunity to extend minutes, set rotations and square off against a young, rebuilding team looking to make a similar jump. Here’s what the Bulls’ preseason has shown so far:

Zach LaVine is playing with a proper edge

The preternaturally gifted scorer often is accused of being an empty calories player, spouting empty words. Those who are around LaVine on a daily basis see his work ethic and care factor and say otherwise.

LaVine has made no secret of his desire to represent the Bulls at the 2020 All-Star game at the United Center. But through three games---he sat with the other starters last Friday in Indiana---he isn’t trying to get there with a head-down, selfish approach.

LaVine has shown leadership, an improved commitment at the defensive end and his 23.3 points in 23 minutes proves he still scores in bunches. Boylen deserves some of the credit for LaVine’s focus, challenging him to be a better two-way player. Veteran Thaddeus Young also has been in LaVine’s ear. But LaVine put in the work and is playing like a man on a mission.

Coby White is fearless

The first-round pick said all the right things about playing with confidence when the Bulls used the No. 7 selection on him. But so many 19-year-olds have uttered similar sentiments and then looked overwhelmed.

White isn’t that. His speed and scoring ability have demanded a rotational role. And who cares if he’s not a point guard yet, with just five assists in 105 minutes? His ability to push the ball and play off it will be critical for a second unit that will feature the defensive-minded Kris Dunn.

White still needs to eliminate his tendency to take long 2-pointers and learn to finish better. And the point guard knowledge needs to come eventually. But for now, unleash him and let his athleticism do the trick.

Boylen and the Bulls are playing like a modern NBA team

In the three games the regulars have played, the Bulls have attempted 38, 37 and 49 3-pointers. The 49 3-pointers versus the Raptors would’ve represented a franchise, regular-season record.

After taking over for the fired Fred Hoiberg last season, Boylen drew widespread criticism for his publicly stated plan to slow down the offense and build it back up with proper fundamentals. Furthermore, last season’s roster, particularly down the stretch as the Bulls fielded gloried G League lineups, didn’t lend itself to perimeter shooting.

The additions of Tomas Satoransky, Luke Kornet and White help. So does a more versatile roster with multiple ballhandlers. This approach isn’t going away this season.

Carter needs to stay on the court

The defensive-minded big man consistently draws praise from coaches and teammates for his communication skills and ability to read the court. There also are raves for his offensive potential.

However, it’s getting to the point where the Bulls need to see it consistently, not talk about it. Between thumb surgery limiting him to 44 games in an otherwise promising rookie season and now Carter showing some rust---and some nice plays---Sunday in Toronto, consistency and reliability needs to follow.

After all, Carter never fully mastered the art of avoiding foul trouble last season. His interior defense and rim protection will be critical for a team challenged in both areas.

The Bulls need to broaden Lauri Markkanen's offensive game

The good news is Markkanen shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range in three games. The bad news is over half of Markkanen’s shots have come from behind the arc.

Markkanen is too talented---and too much a matchup nightmare---to be relegated to a spot-up shooter. During his dominant February stretch last season, Markkanen displayed a dribble, drag-step move that seemed unguardable. Offseason talk centered on his bulking up for more post play.

This is where Markkanen’s rebounding is so essential. He has the ability to push the ball up the court himself. There’s nothing wrong with Markkanen shooting 3-pointers. But he’s at his best in motion, with multiple offensive options at his disposal.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Guest Ricky O’Donnell on the future with Zach LaVine


Bulls Talk Podcast: Guest Ricky O’Donnell on the future with Zach LaVine

Kevin Anderson is joined by SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to talk Zach LaVine and the Bulls preseason.

0:55 - On Zach LaVine’s preseason and if he is the true star on this Bulls team

3:00 - What should we expect from LaVine this season?

4:45 - LaVine’s true ceiling is…

7:00 - Can LaVine be a top-3 scorer in the NBA?

9:15 - Concerns over Lauri Markkanen

12:40 - On the LaVine and Lauri 2-man game

15:50 - Ricky explains why he’s optimistic on the Bulls

17:25 - On Bulls depth and White vs. Dunn in rotation

21:15 - Expectations for Bulls win total this season

24:00 - Are Raptors likely to make the postseason?

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast