Bulls

Bulls looking to right ship after two-game losing streak

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Bulls looking to right ship after two-game losing streak

Following Wednesday afternoons practice, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was in high spirits, almost chipper. Perhaps it was because the basketball junkie finally had a chance to see his full roster practice, but his mood was in sharp contrast to the negative vibe emitting from him after Mondays home loss to Houston.

Our team needed it. We havent a lot of opportunity to practice, so it gave us a chance to clean up some things and hopefully itll carry over tomorrow, he said. Offensively, we havent been scoring the way we would like and its probably a compilation of things. Were playing low energy, so weve got to try to get some easier baskets. Now, weve shot the three fairly well, so thats been a plus, but overall, we havent shot well and were in a little bit of a lull. Hopefully the two days off will be good for us.

We feel great about our depth and weve got some guys who are nicked up in the backcourt, and theyre playing, but we do have good depth and sometimes you go through stretches where youre not shooting it well, and hopefully your defense and your rebounding will carry you through that, he continued. I thought the big thing in the last game was the whole year weve been a very good low-turnover team, but the Houston game we turned it over 19 times for 25 points. That really lost us the game.

Thats contrary to the message he sent Monday.

No edge, no defense, Thibodeau said after the Bulls blew a 15-point lead to lose to the Rockets at the United Center. I felt like we let go of the rope. Usually, were a team that has shown great fight all year, great resolve. Get down, fight back, never let go of the rope. The last two games, I felt we let go of the rope. We have to get that fight back. We have to get that edge back. Right now, were not playing well. We have to work our way out of it.

Its collective. Were capable of playing much better. The one thing I know about this league is things change quickly, both from good to bad and bad to good. We have a Boston team thats coming in and playing great. At this time of the year, you have teams playing with great urgency. Houston played a great game. They played hard. They fought. Theyre fighting for a playoff spot. Every night when you come in, you have to be ready to fight. People are playing for things. You relax, let your guard down, youre going to get knocked on your ass. Thats the way it is, he continued. If you do three things -- defend, rebound, keep your turnovers down -- youre going to be in position to win regardless of how you shoot. Right now, were bogged down scoring. If we do those other three things, well be in position to win. But were not defending, were turning it over and were not scoring. You cant win like that. We have to correct that. Thats the first step. We have to get that down.

His players didnt deny that the team is currently in a malaise.

I don't think we let go of the rope, but anytime we lose two in a row, questions creep in. Look, the only way we're going to get out of it is us. We fix it ourselves, We put ourselves in this great season and we're going to finish with it a great season. It's up to us to fix it, said Carlos Boozer. We'll figure it out.

Added Luol Deng: We've got to get back to the way we play, just find ways to win. We're not doing that right now.

It's a lot of things throughout the game that we've got to look at. The first thing is always defensively, but it's a lot of stuff, a lot of things we've got to go back, see what we're not doing and try to get back to what we do.

We just didn't bring it. There's still games left in the season to try to fix it. We know where we want to get to and what we want to do. It's definitely something that you don't want to go through, but we've got to turn it around as fast as possible," he continued. "We've got enough guys in here to win. We've proven that. We've got guys that can play. Guys have stepped up all year. Teams are going through the same schedule as us, so it's not that Rose being out. They've got guys out, too. Derrick's a big part of what we do, but we've still got enough guys in here to win games. If we lost every game with the injuries that we've had, then we would say that, but we've beaten good teams.

We can't wait for him to be back.

Thibodeau agreed that Roses ongoing 11-game absence the All-Star point guard could return in the Bulls next game isnt the reason for the teams slide.

To me, thats the convenient excuse. At this time of the year, you can say injuries. You can say condensed schedule. I dont know, what else is there? Back-to back, four in five, three in a row? The fact of the matter is we lost the last two games because of our mistakes. Not because of injuries. Not because of Derrick. Not because of any of that, he explained. The guys we have have shown we have more than enough to win with. We can fall back. But every team in the league is dealing with injuries and the same schedule. We have to have a determination that were going to get it done regardless of the what the circumstances are. The teams that succeed in this league find a way to win. And thats what we have to do.

Overall, however, theres no reason to push the panic button. After a 62-win regular season a year ago and having the leagues best record for the majority of this campaign, its easy to get spoiled, but the fact that people are up in arms about the Bulls simply losing two games in a row is a testament to just how good this team has been.

One could view Sundays embarrassing loss at Oklahoma City as especially concerning the fact that Thibodeau tinkered with his starting lineup (inserting Kyle Korver and bringing Ronnie Brewer off the bench to match up with Thunder sixth-man extraordinaire James Harden) was surprising, even considering the matchup, for the by-the-book coach and not giving a full effort against Houston was another mild shock, but in the course of an NBA season, things happen. To Brewer, the answer to the Bulls problems is simple.

We just have to get a sense of urgency. We've only got so many games left. Miami's right on our butt and if we don't start to play better, we're going to lose home court, so that's very important to us. You never want to lose a game, especially two, he said. We've just got to play better. We've been rebounding pretty well, but we're not making teams miss and the rebounding goes out of the window. That's one of the things that have made us successful all year long -- dominating the boards, getting stops and getting into our offense.

Not to take anything away from Houston, but the way we've been playing all year and last year, if we play our style of our basketball, play hard and cut down on all the mistakes, we're supposed to win games like this, so whenever you lose to a team you're capable of beating, it's always a little tough, Brewer, back in a reserve role with Rip Hamiltons return to the lineup, continued. We didn't play our best basketball against the Thunder, so you try to wipe that game out and come back Monday and try to play better, but unfortunately, we didn't.

Still, it isnt as if the Bulls are suddenly a middle-of-the-pack team, fighting for their playoff lives and with the rival Heat also enduring their own struggles and even the mighty Thunder dropping a game Tuesday night, its just that time of the year where title contenders especially those missing their best player might not look as dominant when matched up with squads in need of simply qualifying for the postseason. Brewer reasoned that losing two games shouldnt put people in a frenzy.

It's not the end of the world. We still have a lot of games left. I don't think we're going to have a demise and we're not going to make the playoffs. We need to continue to get better, continue to work on things and turn it around sooner than later, the backup swingman said. When you lose games, you can look at everything. You can say we didn't shoot a high percentage from the three, we gave up a high a field-goal percentage, you can say we missed free throws, you can say we didn't get defensive stops. You can point a lot of different things in a loss.

Everybody plays the same amount of games. Everybody's has back-to-back-to-backs, everybody's had back-to-backs, four in five nights, so to say the short season with a lot of games and guys are getting tired, to me, that's an excuse, Brewer went on to say. We play basketball. We get paid fairly well to do it, so you find a way to fight through and continue to play at your highest level. There's stretches where you don't play your best basketball -- you miss shots -- but effort should never be one of the things that is not there.

Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

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Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

After years of being handcuffed by the ill-fated Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trade that cost the Nets’ franchise several prime lottery picks, Brooklyn is starting to come out of the abyss under energetic young coach Kenny Atkinson.

The Nets’ front office was able to absorb the contracts of veteran players like DeMarre Carroll, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur for draft considerations, while also picking up former #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell by taking on the massive contract of Timofey Mozgov from the Lakers. In addition, they also traded veterans Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic for 1st rounders that became starters Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

Under Atkinson’s direction, the Nets have bought into a culture of hard work and unselfish play. They improved from 20 to 28 wins a year ago, and are currently within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the East.

LeVert is currently sidelined after dislocating his right ankle in a scary fall in early November, but he should return at some point this season. At the time of his injury, LeVert was leading the Nets in scoring at 18.4 points per game while shooting nearly 48% from the field, looking like a candidate for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. In his absence, the Nets have gone with a share the wealth approach, with Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all scoring in double figures.

Dinwiddie is the name that should be familiar to Bulls’ fans. He was with the team during training camp in 2016, but let go when the Bulls acquired Michael Carter-Williams in a deal with Milwaukee. Since that time, Dinwiddie has fully recovered from an ACL injury he suffered in college and emerged as a top candidate for the NBA’s 6th man award, averaging 17.2 points and 5 assists per game while shooting almost 48% from the field. Hindsight is always 20-20, but Dinwiddie would certainly look good in the Bulls’ backcourt right now.

Still, the most exciting thing for Nets’ fans right now is the team’s salary cap situation. Thanks to all the moves made by General Manager Sean Marks, Brooklyn could have the ability to offer 2 max contracts in 2019 free agency. Whether Marks will be able to get a meeting with any of the big names like Durant, Leonard, Irving, Butler and Thompson is still to be determined, but at least there’s finally some hope for a turnaround in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have sunk to 7-24  and have been the league’s least efficient offensive team since Jim Boylen took over as head coach. Boylen wants his shorthanded team to play at a more deliberate tempo in direct contrast to the current pace-and-space trend that’s taken over the league. With leading scorer Zach LaVine out because of injury and Jabari Parker inactive while the front office tries to work out a trade, the Bulls are painfully short on offensive options and need to rely on an improved defense to stay competitive in games.

Like Brooklyn, the Bulls figure to have cap space this summer to pursue free agents, but they’ll need to show improvement and stability over the final 51 games to make their sales pitch effective.

As for Wednesday’s game, here’s what the Bulls need to do to have a chance for a home court win.

1.   FAST BREAK POINTS.  We know Boylen wants to put the brakes on the Bulls’ transition game, but the Nets come to town after hosting the Lakers Tuesday night which means there could be a few players on the court with tired legs. When the Bulls force a turnover, they need to look for an easy scoring opportunity before the defense sets up. Oklahoma City had a 27-9 advantage in fast break points on Monday.

2.   MARKKANEN IN THE POST.  The 7 foot forward was extremely effective in the 2nd half of the come-from-behind win in San Antonio by isolating against smaller defenders for drives and step-back jumpers. Markkanen will have a height advantage against Brooklyn’s smaller frontcourt, and he should be able to shoot over the top of Hollis-Jefferson, another former Arizona Wildcat.

3.   SHUT DOWN SPENCER.  Dinwiddie has been in celebration mode this week after signing a brand new 3 year, 34 million dollar contract extension. Still, Dinwiddie gets pretty serious in talking about the 2 NBA teams that gave up on him (Pistons and Bulls) knowing that all he needed was time to fully recover from a serious knee injury. The 25 year old guard has been providing instant offense off the bench for Brooklyn, and you can bet he’ll have the green light when he enters the game at the United Center.

We hope you’ll join Kendall Gill, Kelly Crull and me for Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 Wednesday on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. After the game goes final, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for Jim Boylen’s media session and player reaction from the locker room on Bulls Postgame Live, followed by Bulls Outsiders.

Justin Holiday broke a Bulls franchise record, and now he is adding on to his lead

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Justin Holiday broke a Bulls franchise record, and now he is adding on to his lead

Justin Holiday has been the model of consistency since playing for the Bulls. He has shot at least 35 percent from 3-point range in every Bulls season he has been a part of. But this year—partly through necessity and partly due to the stylistic shifts in the sport—Holiday has taken his floor-spacing to the extreme end of the spectrum, taking 55 percent of shots from 3-point range this season.  And the combination of his increased volume and trademark accuracy has resulted in one very impressive streak.

As of December 18, Justin Holiday has made at least one 3-pointer in 42 straight games.

The streak started on March 21, 2018 and is still ongoing, with Holiday's last game with a made 3-pointer coming in the Bulls loss to Oklahoma City on Monday.

Holiday is averaging 12 PPG this season and is shooting 38 percent from the 3-point line. His over 7 attempts per game from 3-point range keeps defenses honest, and Jim Boylen has started to use Holiday more in actions to free up Lauri Markkanen and/or Wendell Carter for open shots.

The streak will have a chance to continue when the Bulls take on the Brooklyn Nets tonight—with Bulls Pregame Live on NBC Sports Chicago at 6:30 p.m. CST—but it will be tough as the Nets are the best in the league at limiting their opponent's 3-point attempts, holding their foes to just under 27 attempts per game from 3-point range.

Holiday's excellent year shooting the ball is all the more impressive when you realize it comes on a team that is in the bottom 10 in 3-point attempts, 3-point makes and 3-point percentage. 

At 42 straight games with a 3-pointer, Holiday is already 11 games ahead of Kirk Hinrich, who previously held the Bulls' record for consecutive games with a 3-point shot made (at 31 straight games).

With the Bulls playing Holiday 35 minutes a night (10th in the league) and currently dealing with an injury to their leading scorer, Holiday could see this streak last a very long time.