Bulls

Bulls: Joakim Noah struggling, unsure of where he fits offensively

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Bulls: Joakim Noah struggling, unsure of where he fits offensively

One more.

That’s all the Bulls truly needed to challenge the Golden State Warriors on their home court, with the dual opportunity to end the champs’ unbeaten streak and become the first team to win at Oracle Arena since they did it nearly a year ago.

It wasn’t one more shot, but another shot creator was needed besides Jimmy Butler considering Derrick Rose was out with his ankle injury.

And although Joakim Noah doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional shot creator, if he were the confident, swaggering Noah who could make plays with everybody around him, it could’ve made things truly interesting.

But as Noah sat in his locker after Friday’s loss, after 17 frustrating minutes that saw him turn the ball over four times along with going scoreless for the second straight game and fifth time overall this season, he looked to be confused—not necessarily at his play but he wonders how he’s supposed to play.

[MORE: Derrick Rose aiming to play Tuesday vs. Trail Blazers]

“I guess be more aggressive. It’s frustrating right now, not being able to help the team win tonight,” Noah said. “Disappointing, but just come back next game and do better.”

When Noah was an offensive hub back in the 2013-14 season, Rose was out with injury after the first 10 games and Butler hadn’t yet emerged as a true No. 1 option. So Noah exemplified making lemonade out of lemons.

No sugar, no sweetener and no ice.

It wasn’t always pretty but it was effective, as he averaged 5.4 assists and had an offensive rating of 111 points per 100 possessions.

Now that Fred Hoiberg has taken the helm and there are a plethora of options offensively, either he hasn’t found a way to best utilize Noah or Noah isn’t comfortable with how he fits in this new scheme—as Noah is averaging 3.5 assists but his offensive rating has dropped to 84 points per 100 possessions.

His down-on-himself demeanor hasn’t gone unnoticed by teammates who believe he’ll get out of this funk soon enough.

“I feed him a little bit,” Rose said after the team's practice at Golden State's facility in Oakland. “When he’s in the game with me, they kinda forget he’s out there when I have the ball. There’s been some plays in the past where I’ve fed him and he’s had a chance to dunk the ball or whatever. Whenever he’s in the play and rolling to the rim, if he’s open I’m definitely gonna give him the ball.”

[RELATED: Bulls hang with Warriors but can't finish them off]

To be fair, Pau Gasol, an offensively wizard for his size if there ever was one, wants the ball to go more inside as opposed to being so perimeter oriented.

So there’s plenty of kinks to be worked out, still, although Noah’s issues seem more front and center because of the sway he holds in the locker room, his contractual status as a free-agent-to-be, and all he’s accomplished in a Bulls uniform.

“The big thing is if you cut and move and screen and do the unselfish things, that stuff takes care of itself,” said Hoiberg, not speaking of anyone in particular. “With Pau, you give him the ball at the elbow and he can make plays. He’s a very good passer. But we can’t stand. That’s where we need to get better. We’ve made improvements from where we were at the beginning of the season. But it needs to continue to get better.”

In training camp, Hoiberg said Noah would flash to the ball almost too quickly from the baseline, something that could muck up the desired spacing on the perimeter considering Noah isn’t a threat to shoot.

What’s happened since is Noah has become far more tentative and unsure of when to exercise his instincts, perhaps in fear of disrupting a rhythm-based offense.

“He made a couple good backdoor passes. Those are the type of plays that Jo can make from out on the top of the floor,” Hoiberg said. “But you have to have movement. If he gets the ball up top, you can’t be stationary. You can’t stand still. That’s with all players but especially with our big guys. You can’t stand and allow them to load on the guy in the middle of the floor.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The bigs often screen, then re-screen from a different angle near the perimeter. Rolling to the basket isn’t as prevalent in Hoiberg’s offense, and considering he’s big on the team playing with pace there’s a fine line between being methodical and rushing.

Hoiberg said he doesn’t have to make severe modifications to the offense to fit any one player, but seemed to admit they haven’t put Noah in supreme positions to be successful.

Noah, who struggled through last season after knee surgery following the 2014 playoffs, certainly looks to be in more discomfort mentally than physically.

“I got to be more aggressive offensively and look for my opportunities,” he said before repeating himself. “Right now I’m not really sure where I can get them but when they come I have to be ready.”

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Dallas Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”