Bulls last visit to Auburn Hills a bitter one

Bulls last visit to Auburn Hills a bitter one

AUBURN HILLS, MI — The Palace of Auburn Hills used to be the setting for some strange Bulls occurrences when the building first opened in 1988, and for the Bulls' final visit they turned back the clock in the worst way.

Their fourth quarter offense grinded to a halt and their defense again faltered after a decent start, with Pistons guard Reggie Jackson regaining some of the lost swagger as the Pistons pulled away to win 109-95 Monday night.

In a statement that will be full of painful nostalgia from the days of yesteryear, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the Pistons "punched us in the mouth" — a little surprising considering Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn were in the building but not in uniform as they were reminiscing about the Pistons-Bulls rivalry of the late 1980's and early 1990's.

Be it lack of toughness or lack of creativity offensively, the Bulls mustered just 16 points in the fourth as Jimmy Butler was taken out of the game with swarming double teams — with Butler actually hearing Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy yell for his team to keep coming to Butler on pick-and-rolls.

The Bulls had no counter aside from hoping guys would make open shots or take advantage of the opportunities on the back side of the defense. It resulted in 30 percent shooting in the fourth.

"We got some wide open looks," Hoiberg said. "When teams blitz like Detroit did tonight, like teams are gonna do to Jimmy, those shots are gonna be open and we have to knock them down."

Taking what the defense gives you can only survive for so long, as you wonder if the Bulls will be satisfied with Butler being negated late in games, especially with no Dwyane Wade as a safety valve or Rajon Rondo as a secondary playmaker.

"I think everybody knows who's gonna get the ball in the fourth now that D-Wade's out, Rondo's out," Butler said. "I could hear (Stan Van Gundy) yelling it on the other end. I want the young guys being aggressive, shooting the ball when you're open, attacking when you can. It's only gonna make us better."

Jackson, who was on the trade block before the Pistons failed to make a deal, began to look like the fourth-quarter monster he was last season as the Pistons made their charge past the Bulls and into the eighth seed.

He scored 24 of his team-high 26 in the second half, exploiting the Bulls' lack of interior defense and made his first eight shots after the half. The Pistons torched the Bulls for 65 points in the second and third quarter after building a sizeable lead early.

"We all know that kid can really play. Passing, shooting, attacking the rim," said Butler of Jackson. "He does so many things well and when you focus on him, he's finding open guys or finding (Andre) Drummond for a dunk."

In the fourth, the Bulls fell behind by a 23-9 margin after playing with so much pace and speed throughout. Jimmy Butler vowed to be more aggressive and it worked to a degree, as he scored 27, and equaling his seven shot attempts from the Clippers loss early in the second quarter.

"They were really aggressive on our pick and rolls," Butler said. "It's easy, actually. I try to beat a double team here and there but I gotta pass it. Maybe a force it here and there but you gotta pass the ball to the open guy. You make it, great, you miss it, great."


That shoot-first mentality carried over to Cameron Payne and Nikola Mirotic, as Mirotic took five shots with the first five times he touched the ball and Payne taking nine 3-pointers and 13 shots overall in 22 minutes.

Payne received more time with Rajon Rondo out with an ankle injury and Dwyane Wade nursing an injured thigh he sustained over the weekend. Jerian Grant stepped forward with a career-high eight assists and Robin Lopez took advantage of a sagging defense with 18 points on 17 shots.

"I missed the majority of them but they were open shots," Payne said. "I wouldn't say they were all bad shots but some were bad shots. I gotta get better with shot selection but I gotta knock them down."

Payne did score 14, but Denzel Valentine went scoreless on his return home in 15 minutes, Mirotic went just two for seven and Bobby Portis couldn't sustain a strong first half performance, scoring just two points with one rebound after halftime.

The Bulls tried a little bit of everything to stop the surging Pistons, going to the "Hack-a-Drummond" strategy with Pistons center Andre Drummond, and they continued the strategy in the third quarter even after he made three of his first four free-throws.

Drummond didn't have a dominant game like he usually does against the Bulls, scoring just 12 with eight rebounds but four starters scored in double figures and the Pistons methodically worked themselves back into the game after a 13-point deficit.

On the Pistons bench, Stan Van Gundy has Tobias Harris and Aron Baynes, dependable reserves who can play starting roles for other franchises.

For Fred Hoiberg, he's forced to rely on young players whose showings differ on a nightly basis, and it showed itself again to be a frustrating finish.

For these great rivals, their ending at the Palace was much like their beginning — a point guard dominating down the stretch and leaving the Bulls' young star frustrated at his lack of help.

Otto Porter Jr. suffered an injury setback, where could the Bulls look for wing help?


Otto Porter Jr. suffered an injury setback, where could the Bulls look for wing help?

The Bulls are in a dire spot in terms of their wing depth and that was something that was true before Otto Porter Jr. suffered another injury setback

Chandler Hutchison and the then returning from injury-Denzel Valentine served as the Bulls only real small forwards behind Porter on the depth chart, and Bulls head coach Jim Boylen did not make Valentine a significant part of the rotation until early December. Now, with Porter out and Hutchison still out nursing his persistent shoulder injury, the Bulls are starting guard Kris Dunn at the three with Valentine as his backup. 

Starting the 6-foot-3 Dunn at small forward is quite a tough ask for a Bulls team that has struggled heavily rebounding all season long (Bulls currently rank 29th in the league in rebound percentage). So with the 8-17 Bulls looking nothing like the Eastern Conference playoff contender that they expected themselves to be, they will need to string together a sustained stretch of good basketball to prevent themselves from becoming a clear-cut lottery-bound team (yet again).

The Bulls haven't announced any intentions to make a roster move, but with the buyers and sellers starting to become clear, who are some wings that could potentially help the Bulls and are reportedly available?:

Robert Covington 

Robert Covington is the least likely option for the Bulls in terms of available wing help. It was reported by The Ringer's Kevin O' Connor that title-contending NBA teams have been monitoring the Minnesota Timberwolves and Covington, who has long been one of the league's premier 3-and-D forwards. This season Covington is averaging 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 36.9% from 3-point range. Covington is shooting 5.5 attempts per game from 3-point range and is hitting a career-best 90.2% of his free throws. 

Covington has been heavily linked to the Houston Rockets which makes a ton of sense considering that he started his career there and would be able to play a familiar role, acting as a catch-and-shoot specialist next to James Harden. Though Covington makes the most sense on a contending team, he would have value to the Bulls. Covington's contract has two more seasons on it at a reasonable amount (around $11 to $12 million per year) and even once Porter returns, he would be an amazing addition to a Bulls bench that has already been outperforming the starters on a regular basis

Danilo Gallinari 

It was correctly assumed that when the Oklahoma City Thunder made their franchise-changing trades for Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari, they would be open to moving the players for the right trade offer. It has been reported that the Thunder are indeed open to trading Gallinari (and others).

The Bulls aren't in desperation mode, but that is OK in regards to Gallinari, as he is an asset that may be able to be acquired at a reasonable price. The Thunder came into Tuesday with an 11-12 record, good for the No. 7 seed in the West, but they may not care as much about making the postseason considering their long-term goal is to collect as many valuable assets as possible.

The Thunder may not necessarily enter "tank mode" but if the 31-year old Gallinari—who is on an expiring deal—is not a part of their plans for next season or beyond, he could be had for a reasonable price despite currently averaging a solid 18.3 points per game. The Bulls have their own draft picks, plus the Thunder reportedly are open to taking back salary, so any combination of Bulls players could work to get a deal done. 

DeMar DeRozan

Despite being in clear need of help on the wings, DeMar DeRozan doesn't exactly fit this year's Bulls but hey, beggars can't be choosers. The Bulls would be lucky to an All-Star talent to their roster in a buy-low move, and DeRozan potentially presents the opportunity to do just that. 

The four-time All-Star has a 2020 player option, which is likely to be accepted and represents the last year on his deal. Depending on who the Bulls gave up in a potential deal for DeRozan, they would be able to pair his proficiency as a scorer (especially in the pick-and-roll, where he is averaging 0.92 points per possession) with Lauri Markkanen and/or  Zach LaVine's abilities as 3-point shooters. 

The Spurs look to be on the cusp of missing the postseason for the first time since 1997 and could be more open to making an in-season trade than they have in the past. He is by no means a great fit in Chicago but there are a few things he does well that could make a difference. DeRozan's 5.8 free throw attempts per game would lead the Bulls and his 57.1% true shooting would be better than any Chicago wing outside of Valentine. If the Spurs and Bulls both continue to slide in the standings, even starting discussions on such a trade could become more of a reality.

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The wait for Otto Porter Jr. continues after another injury setback


The wait for Otto Porter Jr. continues after another injury setback

The wait for Otto Porter Jr. continues---and continues to lengthen.

Porter, who has been out since Nov. 6, now will be reassessed in four weeks after visiting Dr. Bob Anderson, a noted foot and ankle specialist, Monday in Green Bay, Wis. In a release, the Bulls said Anderson confirmed Porter’s bone injury in his left foot. The team also said the “healing response (is) consistent with a small fracture that has become more clearly defined with repeated imaging over the last five weeks.”

Porter will remain in his walking boot for now. And the Bulls’ depth at small forward, which also currently features Chandler Hutchison out with a bruised shoulder, will continue to be tested.

Kris Dunn will remain in a starting role until Hutchison returns. Denzel Valentine also has taken advantage of his opportunity created by these injuries.

However, Porter’s absence is significant. He's a reliable two-way player who adds shooting, leadership and versatility at both ends. Though he got off to a slow start this season, he had started to play impactful minutes just before he got injured.

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