Bulls' Jimmy Butler on loss to Hornets: 'We were soft'


Bulls' Jimmy Butler on loss to Hornets: 'We were soft'

The numbers were alarming and the way it was done is even more a cause of concern for the Bulls, five games into the season.

But Monday’s non-competitive blowout 130-105 loss to the then-winless Charlotte Hornets exposed some flaws that were covered up in the first few games, ones that looked like fool’s gold in hindsight.

In some twisted way, Jimmy Butler has been expecting a game like this since the preseason began, when the Bulls showed some bad habits they didn’t have any urgency on fixing.

“It was gonna happen sooner or later,” Butler said as he got dressed inside the Time Warner Cable Arena locker room, still smarting from a shocking loss in which he scored a quiet game-high 26 points. “Fifth game in? We can fix it. I can tell you one thing, Thursday it can get ugly very quickly if we don’t guard.”

[MORE: Bulls suffer worst loss of season to Hornets]

Ahh, Thursday. That only brings in the two most dynamic scorers not named Stephen Curry in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder on the national TV stage, a team that can light the Bulls up for 130 without having a special night.

It’ll just be a random Thursday.

“We didn’t stop nobody, they put up 130,” Butler said, referring to the actual 130 points the Hornets put on the Bulls. “We gotta nip that in the bud now. That’s not winning basketball, it’ll never be winning basketball here, never has been winning basketball here. We always prided ourselves on playing hard and not being pretty. Tonight we were pretty, we were soft. Got our (butts) whipped.”

The recent Bulls teams wouldn’t dare allow themselves to be called soft, let alone allow it to have a grain of truth to it. The Hornets drove to the basket without feeling an opposing player breathe on them, much less fear retribution at the rim, much less being misdirected to take another route to their destination.

Bulls’ basketball used to be about detours, and Butler fears the muscle memory is disappearing way too easily. It’s a simple solution, he feels.

“Effort. Effort will fix all of that on the defensive end,” Butler said. “It’s all if you want to do it, to tell you the truth. We have a lot of guys capable of it. I think we focus too much on offense a lot of the time.

“Not most of the time, a lot of the time and we forget about what you gotta do on the other end of the floor. Speaking for myself and a lot of guys on the team, we gotta guard, that’s where it’s gotta start for us. We gotta be the dogs that everybody in Chicago knows we are and always been. Just some hard-playing guys that play harder than everybody.”

The paradigm shift that’s taking place hasn’t been an easy transition, going from a primarily defensive team to one that tries to outscore people. The lineup change that puts Joakim Noah on the bench for the talented Nikola Mirotic is exhibit A in the change.

[RELATED: Bulls' defense carrying the load thus far; Dunleavy on the mend]

The freedom that comes with a change on the sidelines from a buttoned-up Tom Thibodeau to a buttoned-down Fred Hoiberg can be intoxicating. And right now the Bulls are drunk off the hooch, perhaps seduced by the numbers that said they were just as potent a defensive team through four games as they had been last year.

“We haven’t been playing (any) defense,” Butler said. “Other teams just been missing shots, to tell you the truth. We (have to) get to guarding, we score enough points, that ain’t the problem.”

Telling from their defensive effort Tuesday, one wouldn’t think they treat defense serious enough from the roots, but Butler said they go after each other harder in practice than they do against an actual opponent, when the games count.

Wednesday’s noon session sounds like a showdown at the O.K. Corral, which from the looks of their recent performance, is a necessary expense.

“It’s more important to go in practice and compete,” Butler said. “Man up, roll that ball out and be dogs, y’all go dive on that ball, y’all play one on one, get a basket, get a stop.”

“Until we start competing the way we’re supposed to compete, ain’t no film, no talking gonna get you to do that. You gotta go out there and compete. The way we compete in practice, everybody’s going hard, hitting each other, fouling, we gotta do that to the opposing team not just each other.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

In his comments, Butler made sure to include himself in his assessments, as not to separate himself from his teammates. And he didn’t give the slightest indication about individual agendas, but the transition is indeed a transition.

“I know what everybody’s mindset is, it’s to win,” Butler said. “At times people take it on themselves, ‘I’m gonna get this basket, I’ma do this, do that’. We gotta focus on team. On offense, on defense, it’s five guys out there.”

“We got a play for one another. We can never get lost in the fact we’re all good players, we’re a really good team, a deep team. When we buy into that team aspect, and everybody goes toward that common goal, we’re gonna be tough.”

Considering Butler has made such a big to-do about being more of a vocal leader this season, he was asked if this was his time to speak up, but he said he has to be the change he wants to see in everyone else—before expecting it of his teammates.

“This is the time most definitely,” Butler said. “But I think it’s gonna start for me on the floor. You can talk about it all you want, yadda, yadda, yadda, until I man up and start locking my man down and set the example, this is how you do it, I can’t say too much.”

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games


Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East


Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.