Bulls: Pau Gasol questionable for Game 4 vs. Cavs


Bulls: Pau Gasol questionable for Game 4 vs. Cavs

Amid the celebration at the United Center after the Bulls' Game 3 win lies a sense of nervousness for the rest of the series concerning their rock, Pau Gasol.

Gasol didn’t feel a pop, but there was certainly tightness in his left hamstring from the first quarter on, and after a few minutes in the second half he grabbed his hamstring again and was on the bench for the rest of the night.

His MRI revealed a strain and he’s listed as questionable for Game 4.

“Hopefully I’ll wake up tomorrow with not too much soreness,” said Gasol Friday. “And I’ll go to the hospital and do whatever it is they have to do and we’ll go from there.”

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn’t reveal any gut feeling on the matter, other than saying Gasol didn’t do anything in the Bulls’ walkthrough Saturday.

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“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Thibodeau said. “He’s got some soreness.”

The bulk of Gasol’s minutes went to Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic, as the Bulls had to adjust on the fly with Gasol playing just 21 minutes and scoring six points with four rebounds and four assists.

“First quarter, early in the first quarter,” Gasol said. “Thought it was gonna loosen up, thought I could push through it but the more I pushed through it the worse it got. It is what it is. I just gotta find out tomorrow what’s going on and go from there.”

Gibson could be the next man up if Gasol doesn’t play, but he’s certainly earned minutes based on his Game 3 performance alone. His activity under the basket was a key factor in the Bulls dominating the boards.

“My energy is going to be the same no matter what,” Gibson said. “Be ready to go out there and play however many minutes I play. Just go out there and go hard. Understand that every game is intense. Just have to bring it.’’

After a night of “bringing it" (nine points, nine rebounds), especially against a dump truck named Tristan Thompson, Gibson woke up feeling every bit of his battle with the man who grabbed 13 rebounds in 41 minutes. Despite being on the unfortunate end of Derrick Rose’s game-winner, Thompson is one of the bigger matchup problems the Bulls face because of his activity.

“He's a load, man. He's a load,” Gibson said. “Like I said, it's a man's game. He's real physical down there. I woke up this morning with so many aches I didn't even know I had. It's a real physical game. He's a talented player.”

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Throwing Mirotic and Gibson out there together didn’t prove to be as troublesome as Thibodeau may have expected, as he seemed reticent to do before circumstance forced his hand.

At the start of the fourth, they helped push the Bulls to a 82-77 lead with seven minutes left before Mirotic was subbed for Mike Dunleavy.

“Thibs, you never know what he's going to throw at you,” Gibson said. “You've just got to be ready. I think defense was the main key in that. He felt like our smaller unit could move with their unit. It was one of those quick decisions that coach made.”

Mirotic’s shooting and size gave the Cavs problems, much in the same way the Cavs’ smallish lineup dictated terms in Game 2 in Cleveland. Mirotic had his way with James Jones, who doesn’t have the height or footspeed to keep up, and registered a game-high +19 on the plus-minus side.

“My teammates, they really find me, first play when it goes in,” said Mirotic, who scored 12 while hitting his first shot. “Really trying to share the ball to get the advantage. When I was with Jones (on me), they tried to find me in the low post too. I think we are playing good basketball.”

And if the opportunity for more time comes up, Mirotic will take it. He wants more of that atmosphere and the pressure that comes with a playoff series like this.

“It’s a big difference,” Mirotic said. “I was playing in the second quarter, my legs were really tired. But you know, you need to push yourself mentally too. You need to be ready. But I’m really excited.”


'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."

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done


Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

Monday's deadline came and went with expected results: Bobby Portis and the Bulls being unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Some 19 hours later all parties involved said the right things, that they value one another and hope to be working together long-term.

But all that will be shelved until July 1, when Portis enters restricted free agency at this coming season's end. The two sides found themselves in position to wait out on an extension.

For Portis, he's improved his game each of his first three seasons in the league posted per-36 numbers on par with some of the game's best big men. Expected to start while Lauri Markkanen recovers from a sprained elbow - and then act as the team's Sixth Man after that - Portis is in line to post career numbers once again.

For the Bulls, nearly all their front office decisions the past three seasons have been with an eye toward the 2019 offseason and having as much cap space as possible. Waiting on a Portis contract allows them to see if any of the top free agents in the class are interested in Chicago, while also having the ability to match any deal Portis gets on the open market.

It's similar to how the Bulls played out the rookie scale contracts of both Jimmy Butler and Zach LaVine.

John Paxson spoke during Tuesday's practice at the Advocate Center and reiterated how much the Bulls value Portis and the work he's put in since they drafted him 22nd overall in 2015.

Portis also spoke with reporters after practice. And what would normally be considered posturing from any other player, Portis' blue-collar mentality was present in his comments.

"I couldn’t see myself in no other jersey. Obviously, I got Bulls DNA," he said. "Me and the city have a love connection somewhere. At the same time, I just enjoy playing for the Bulls.

"I play this game because I love it. Obviously, you want to make as much money as possible to help your family. But I started playing basketball because it’s fun to me and I loved it. I still have that same passion, that same heart every night I go out there."

Still, the opportunity will be there for Portis to make himself significant money in the coming six months. After averaging a modest 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in Year 3, Portis will be called upon to shoulder a scoring load in the absence of Markkanen. And with Jabari Parker's Bulls career off to a shaky start, Portis will be the go-to guy on the second unit once Markkanen is back in the lineup.

"Bobby is a guy that is very confident in himself. He’s confident in his ability. That’s what we love about him," Fred Hoiberg said. "And like I said, he’s going to go out there and play the same way every time he steps on the floor, whether it’s practice, whether it’s a pick-up game in the summer or once we get started on Thursday. He’s a warrior, and he’s just going to go out there and play the right way with great effort.’’

The Bulls will need that with the start of the regular season just two days away. They open on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went 30-11 at home last season.

Portis will play a significant role in slowing down one of the NBA's best frontcourts. Whether or not this is his last season doing so in Chicago, he knows what the Bulls think of him and won't let the impending negotiations distract him.

"I know how much I’m valued. They tell me a lot. Give it all I got. Kind of the leader of the bunch. Blue-collar worker," he said. "Everybody respects me because I come in every day with a chip on my shoulder, try to push my guys to get better each day. That makes me go."