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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.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“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.

Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

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USA Today

Wendell Carter Jr. is now 6 feet, 9 inches---and other Bulls' height adjustments

With player heights long a topic of question and debate, the NBA informed teams that all players must be measured by a team physician this training camp.

It’s all part of the league’s push towards transparency, which includes detailed reports on officiating and other initiatives.

So who grew and who shrank among the Bulls?

Wendell Carter Jr. dropped from 6 feet, 10 inches to 6-foot-9, which will do nothing to change the narrative that he's an undersized big man. Kris Dunn moved from 6-4 to 6-3. Daniel Gafford isn’t 6-11, as first advertised when drafted, but 6-10. And Denzel Valentine is no longer 6-6 but 6-4.

The Bulls even pushed down Coby White’s flamboyant hairstyle and discovered he’s 6-4, not 6-5.

As for those who grew, well, Zach LaVine’s All-Star candidacy now features him as a 6-6 guard, not 6-5. New big man Luke Kornet is really big; he’s 7-2, not 7-1. And Shaq Harrison somehow grew from 6-4 to 6-7.

That’s the official Bulls’ roster. 

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Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

Insider K.C. Johnson calls Bulls the 'sexy pick' to make the postseason but tempers expectations

On the 2019 NBA Preview Show, NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson broke down what it would truly take for the Bulls to make the jump into playoff contention following a particularly tough 22-win season. 

Johnson, like most of the national NBA landscape, is optimistic about the prospects of the 2019-20 Bulls. He stated that it is "widely accepted that they had a pretty strong offseason," but cautioned us against simply penciling in the Bulls for a playoff spot this season. 

Despite the additions of savvy veterans like Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young, the Bulls still enter the 2019-20 NBA regular season as the second-youngest team in the NBA, as good of a reason as any to temper expectations.

That being said, the Bulls, from a simple talent standpoint, are much better than last year's squad that featured a ton of injuries and many Windy City Bulls/NBA G League call-ups. 

With a new coaching staff around head coach Jim Boylen and a new offensive philosophy, things will be very different in Chicago this season.

But as Johnson stated in Tuesday's 2019 NBA Preview Show, for the Bulls to achieve their ultimate goal of reaching the postseason, "basically, all of those [free agent] additions need to hit.

"You need to see Tomas Satoransky prove that he can be a full-time starter at that point guard position, you need to see Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen take a step towards stardom, you need to see Otto Porter Jr. stay healthy enough to contribute at that small forward position and you need to see Wendell Carter Jr. hit the two-way potential that the organization believes he has... and Coby White... needs to bring you something off the bench."

If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is and it appropriately represents the amount of work needed to make the leap from 22-wins to a playoff spot. 

What the Bulls have working on their side as of now is that everything we have seen and heard from the team throughout preseason has indicated that there is good shot that every one of the things K.C. Johnson named happens. 

Carter was limited to just 44 games due to injury last season and while he has looked rusty in the preseason, he has also had some explosive finishes and shown his trademark appetite for help defense and blocked shots. Carter blocked 2.0 shots per game over two preseason games but was abysmal in terms of his offensive efficiency (26.7% from the field), something to keep an eye on throughout the first week of regular-season games. 

Boylen recently made comments about managing Porter's workload, so clearly keeping Porter healthy amid the backdrop of the Bulls questionable wing depth is already something the organization has discussed and seems to have a concrete plan for. 

Satoransky has shown that he can comfortably handle the starting duties at the one as Johnson suggested, averaging 7.5 points, 4.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game while being lights-out from 3-point range (80% on 1.2 attempts per game). And while Sato represents the steady hand, Coby White represents the true "boom-or-bust" option in the backcourt, capable of going off for 25+ points or fading into the background while playing more of an off-ball role. 

The factor that Johnson mentioned that will have the greatest impact on the 2019-20 Bulls season is if Markkanen and LaVine can take a step towards superstardom.

LaVine looks clearly poised to do so, finishing the preseason third in the league in scoring at 23.2 points per game on 59.3/56.0/ 83.3 shooting splits. Markkanen, on the other hand, struggled to find his shot and despite being one of the top-three scoring options on the team, struggled to get his scoring average just over 11.0 points per game (11.2). 

It is only preseason action, so all results are to be taken with a grain of salt. But as we gear up for the start of the Bulls games that count on Wednesday, it is clear that the national outlook on the Bulls is much rosier than it has been in the past.

Johnson stated that the Bulls are indeed shaping up as a "sexy pick" to make the playoffs and that alone is a monumental step in the right direction as the franchise looks to put last season's disappointment further in the rearview mirror. 

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