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Bulls last regular-season team to win at Oracle Arena, but improbable task lies ahead

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Bulls last regular-season team to win at Oracle Arena, but improbable task lies ahead

PHOENIX — In the last 365 days or a little longer, depending on who’s counting, three teams have defeated the formidable Golden State Warriors on their home court at Oracle Arena.

Let’s see, the Cleveland Cavaliers stole Game 2 of the NBA Finals in that building this past June in an overtime affair, a series that saw Golden State claim the championship by winning three of the next four games.

The Memphis Grizzlies won Game 2 of their semifinal series at Oracle, even taking a 2-1 lead before falling in six. They returned to Oracle a couple weeks ago, hoping to reclaim some of that mojo only to get slapped with a 50-point whipping that wasn’t even that close.

So what fate awaits the Bulls, the last team to beat Golden State at Oracle in the regular season? If the last two examples are any indication, pain could be on the menu and lots of it.

Entering Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Warriors are undefeated at 12-0, winning more games by double-digits than anything else (a +15.3 point differential) and riding the wave of disrespect that came from critics who intimated they were “lucky” by circumstances out of their control in last spring’s romp to the title by taking it out on the NBA as a whole, looking more dominant than the team that won 67 games last season.

The Bulls have the muscle memory of knowing they can win in almost impossible circumstances, although they could be without Derrick Rose (ankle), the man who hit the game-winner in last year’s improbable win.

Rose scored 30 (on 33 shots and committed 11 turnovers) but hit a step-back jumper on Klay Thompson with seven seconds remaining.

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“He did a little bit. He didn’t do anything on the floor,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It was all just warm-up stuff, so it’s still too early to tell if he’ll be able to go tomorrow.”

Since then, 25 straight regular-season games at Oracle and all of them have resulted the same, with the Warriors most likely galloping off the court with a slew of highlights or in a rare case, breathing a sigh of relief, such as their surprising overtime win against the pathetic Brooklyn Nets Saturday.

Either way, it’s 25-0 and considering the Bulls could be without Rose and will certainly be without Aaron Brooks (hamstring), they’ll likely be facing an onslaught of threes from MVP Stephen Curry and backcourt mate Klay Thompson.

Curry’s numbers are unfathomable and his development unpredictable, elevating himself to the “best shooter of all time” category while simultaneously entering the greatest point guard conversation, meaning it’s safe to say the Bulls will be consumed with the slightly-built assassin.

Curry leads the NBA in scoring at 33.7 points per game, adding 5.9 assists, 4.2 rebounds and hitting five triples a game, taking and making more than a couple teams have this year.

And his Player Efficiency Rating of 34.9 is Jordan and Chamberlain-esque.

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“You have to plan your gameplan around a superstar,” Hoiberg said. “You did it when you played the old Bulls teams with Michael (Jordan), with LeBron, that’s where it starts with that team.  The same thing with Golden State with Steph. But they have other guys who can hurt you as well. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green is a key in their success. Harrison Barnes. If you take away one guy and have your whole defensive plan, they’ll hurt you in other ways.”

To wit, the Warriors are doing this without head coach Steve Kerr, recovering from offseason back surgery, and the former Bull has left Luke Walton in his place—to which the Warriors haven’t missed a beat.

They’re sharing the ball as well as anyone and still defending like a hungry team that lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, not like one who should be high off the fat of summertime parades and well-wishes from fans all around.

“It’s impossible to guard,” Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. “The way (Curry) playing right now is out of his mind. Not seeing crazy amounts of them but seeing bits and pieces of him because we’re always playing and busy traveling. It’s fun to watch. Nobody has found an answer for it yet. We’ll see.”

Jimmy Butler, he of the fourth-quarter 14-point (32 overall) masterpiece in Phoenix, wants the assignment of guarding the league’s most explosive player.

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“Again, he’s gonna spend some time on him, no doubt about that but other guys will have to step up to the challenge,” Hoiberg said. “You’re right, Jimmy almost played 43 minutes last night.”

And they’ll likely have to survive an early onslaught to repeat last January’s performance.

“We just stuck with it,” Hinrich said. “They came out and hit us on the head right away. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Got up on us. Somehow we were able to stay with it, not get down and found ourselves sneaking a win.”

And if that happens, plenty of teams will be calling up the Bulls asking for the blueprints of the escape from Alcatraz.

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker and Tyler Ulis shine at open run in Chicago

Jabari Parker is looking forward to what will surely be an intriguing season for he and the Chicago Bulls.


Parker signed a two-year, $40 million contract, that essentially acts as a tryout for the Bulls. The second year of the contract is a team option, meaning should things not go well, the organization can cut ties with him. But after 183 career games with the Bucks over four seasons, it was clear that Parker was in need of a fresh start. In Chicago, he will slide in as the day one starting small forward, and is already paid like a player who is definitely appreciated by his organization.


But with all of the off the court stuff taken care of for now, Parker's main focus is getting in to the best shape of his life, as he prepares for a full season as a wing player. 


Part of Parker's preparation was a great pickup game in downtown Chicago organized by the Chicago Basketball Club.

 

For Bulls fans itching to get a look at Parker on the court, the video shows off some flashy passing ability, impressive handles and a flurry of pull-up jumpers from the 23-year old forward. He also finishes well in transition in the video, though that is to be taken with a grain of salt as Parker was easily the biggest player on the court. 


Other players in the pickup game included former Simeon teammate of Parker's, Kendrick Nunn; and NBA free agent and former Marion Catholic star Tyler Ulis (a possible Bulls target?). If Parker looks as dynamic against NBA competition as he did in the pickup game below, the Bulls are going to have one of the more valuable contracts in the league in 2020, and would be likely to lock up Parker to a long-term deal. 

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

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USA TODAY

Bulls need to develop a secondary playmaker

These are the career points per 36 minutes numbers for the three players who figure to get majority of the field goal attempts on the 2018-19 Bulls:

Zach LaVine: 17.6 
Lauri Markkanen: 18.4 
Jabari Parker: 17.9

There is no debating that this current Bulls roster has multiple players who can flat-out put the ball in the basket. The the biggest questions come into play when you try to imagine how these players will keep each other involved, assuming they take the lion's share of the field goal attempts.

Kris Dunn finished just outside the top 10 in the league in assist percentage (33.3 percent), a higer mark than Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry or Stephen Curry. And though he is a talented passer, what this figure really shows is that the Bulls severely lack a secondary playmaker to take pressure off of Dunn to create shots for others.

Per Ben Falk's site Cleaning The Glass, Markkanen was not able to create for others with his offense, but shockingly, Parker and LaVine did an OK job in the play-making department, considering their reputation as shoot-first players.

Assist rate is a great way to see how much a player is distributing when they are on the floor. And usage rate is perhaps the best way to get an idea of how many possessions a player uses on offense. So naturally, assist to usage ratio is one of the best tools to use to assess a player's ability and willingness to create opportunities for others on offense. What the statistic boils down to is: how often did a player get an assist given how much they had the ball. 

Parker finished last season in the 67th percentile in assist to usage ratio, and LaVine finished in the 58th percentile. These numbers show that both players are capable passers and clearly have the potential to be great setup men.

This is crucial because Markkanen’s development will heavily depend on if he can expand his scoring repertoire, something that looks increasingly difficult with Parker and LaVine, who have averaged a combined 29.5 field goal attempts per 36 minutes for their careers. 

Many times throughout the offseason you likely heard about how the Bulls have many mouths to feed in the locker room. But this doesn’t pertain to just shots, ball-control will be a major concern as well. With incumbent point guard Kris Dunn still a relatively weak floor-spacer (32 percent from 3-point range last season), Fred Hoiberg will need to get creative with his rotations to keep the offense running efficiently. Backup point guard Cam Payne shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last season, and when inserting him into the game for Dunn, Parker would flourish as a point-forward (possibly) surrounded by four competent shooters. Parker could derail the Bulls offense because he is not an elite 3-point shooter, but that issue is mitigated when you put the ball in his hands to let him create.


Parker was fourth in the pecking order in Milwaukee last season, and so it comes as no surprise that his free throw attempts, points and field goal percentage dropped from his 2017 numbers. If you look at the 2017 season (Parker’s breakout season) you see that Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo pretty much split the No. 1 options duties on offense. They each took about 16 shots apiece and combined for 8.2 assists per game. This is a best case scenario for the Parker-LaVine wing duo. 


LaVine has the benefit of coming into the league as a point guard, and he has still retained the ability to make the right pass when it presents itself. And last season, he had an impressive turnover percentage that was just below 10 percent. However, the reason for this was that he averaged 4.34 seconds per touch, a very long time in an NBA possession, usually looking to score and nothing else. It’s easy to avoid turnovers when you aren’t looking to pass.


LaVine usually makes the obvious play if it is one pass away, but he does not move the ball around to prevent the offense from becoming stagnant.


Both LaVine and Parker will have their struggles on defense (understatement of the year), but much more important to their development is understanding that if you give the ball up on offense, it will find its way back to you. This is perhaps the only way a Bulls team that ranked 28th last season in offensive rating, can make a big enough leap in scoring efficiency to make their way back to the postseason.