Bulls

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

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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.”

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

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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

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USA TODAY

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

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