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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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."