Bulls

Bulls put on defensive clinic, demolish Hornets

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Bulls put on defensive clinic, demolish Hornets

NEW ORLEANSIn an effort to show the good people of New Orleans how to thoroughly dominate an opponent defensively, Tom Thibodeau brought his team to the Crescent City and put on a clinic Wednesday night. With an audience that included Hollywood star Will Ferrell watching, the Bulls (22-6) demolished the Hornets (4-22), 90-67.

The challenge is to study, prepare and when the ball goes up, know your opponent well and know what youre going to try to get accomplished. I think if you build that habit and you continually work on it, and do the right things every day, the results will take care of themselves, said Thibodeau. Were just pleased with the win.

Aided by the presence of Derrick Rose (six points, six assists, five rebounds) in the starting lineupthe All-Star starter was a game-time decision, due to his ailing backthe Bulls jumped out to a 9-0 start, based upon their stifling, turnover-inducing defense and an efficient, balanced offense. The early run was exacerbated by the fact that Hornets fans attempted to stand until their team scored (they eventually relented during a timeout aimed to stop the bleeding), which they didnt do until 7:55 was left in the opening period.

Were playing well right now. Were coming out early, defending, running the floor, getting the lead and playing well with it. Weve just got to keep doing that, said Luol Deng. Were learning how to play with a lead. Theres times when teams get a run, but were better at it now than we were last year. Theres a lot of times where weve played well and let teams get into it, and theres times where weve played bad and played from behind, but I think guys are more comfortable, youre more confident when you come out and play with a lead.

Observed Thibodeau: Again, I think readiness to playfirst quarter, well-balancedand offensively, the way the ball was moving. Its not sticking anywhere and were getting good shots, so I was pleased with overall performance.

Chimed in Carlos Boozer: I dont know what the first quarter was, but I think we did a good job contesting shots, making them take tough shots and at the same time, I thought we did a good job of executing our offense to make the lead grow.

Rose didnt have to do much heavy lifting for the visitors, as Boozers (18 points, six rebounds) deft scoring touch and Joakim Noahs (13 points, 10 rebounds) energetic play and high activity level were the focal points for Chicagos offense. However, behind backup center Chris Kaman (17 points, nine rebounds), New Orleans charged back and after a quarter of play, the Bulls held a 23-14 advantage.

Kaman came in, he got some shots on us and theyre dangerous. As they get their players back, theyll be fine, said Thibodeau. The challenge is to be ready to play and I thought we did that. There are a lot of things that we could do better and thats what we strive for.

With increased focus on Kaman and fresh legs in the form of the Bench Mobparticularly reserve big men Taj Gibson (14 points, six rebounds) and Omer Asik (eight points, eight rebounds), who were both strong defensive presences and active around the basket on the offensive end of the floorthe guests lead again surged to double digits. While Chicago was less efficient scoring the basketballwith the exception of the interior duo of Boozer and Noah, whose offense was hitting its stride, as he showcased more confidence and diversityits sieve-like defense limited their hosts to several empty possessions.

Undermanned New Orleans simply couldnt find many answers for the defensive pressure it facedfor the moment, Kaman was tamed, although Hornets starting shooting guard Marco Belinelli (13 points) went on a late scoring spree late in the second quarteragainst a clearly superior ballclub. At the intermission, the Bulls had a 44-31 edge.

After the break, the visitors extended their winning margin, going on a 8-2 run at the beginning of the third period, behind continued overall unselfishness, with Boozer and Noah being the prime beneficiaries. But it was the Bulls defense that was the main protagonist, as the Hornets just couldnt score against Chicagos length and tenacious perimeter defense.

Were getting better and better, trying to improve, said Boozer. Were staying humble, were staying hungry and were just doing a good job of setting the tone defensively.

As a whole, were trying to get more post-ups now, he continued. I thought everybody from one through the whole team did a great job.

Added Thibodeau: All four bigs were really good in all aspects. Defense to rebounding to post play to making the extra pass. I thought they played complete games and I thought that set the tone for us.

Rose, clearly not at 100 percent, played the role of facilitator for the Bulls, but neither he nor Luol Deng (nine points, seven rebounds, five assists)the potential Eastern Conference All-Star reserve played a solid all-around gameneeded to be a potent scoring threat, as they tend to be on a nightly basis. Although Kaman remained effective for New Orleans and starting center Emeka Okafor (10 points, nine rebounds) began to make a slight impact, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with a 70-46 lead.

Staying focused, knowing that were on a mission and we cant take any steps back. It takes us playing with a lot of energy in the beginning, getting a comfortable enough lead that, if were out of the game, the bench can come in and do what they have to do, said Rose. Were learning. This is something that we have to work on. The last couple of games, weve been jumping on people and thats the right way to be.

That was the biggest thing, playing defense. I know on the defensive end, we were playing against scorers. Hornets point guard Jarrett Jack is definitely a great scorer and thats what I was really worried about, just sticking him and getting other people involved in the game, he continued. We know that we have a little more work to do, especially on the weak-side defense, but I think that its coming along.

With the game long over and the already sparse crowd in attendance increasingly dwindlingand more excited about 80s Night at New Orleans Arena than the actual gameThibodeau sent in rookie swingman Jimmy Butler early in the period and actually took a seat on the bench, something the normally-pensive coach is usually loathe to do. His teams defense continued to suffocate the Hornets, while Gibson and reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver provided enough offense to mercifully finish the job.

This is the NBA. Every team has talented players. They have a talented roster. Jarrett Jack is very talented, Belinelli is very talented, Chris Kaman is very talented. All those guys, their team is a talented team. Now, dont get me wrong, theyre still missing some other guys that are very talented, like injured shooting guard Eric Gordon and other guys, as well, said Boozer. But for us, were not concerned with who they play or who they have. Were concerned about the Chicago Bulls. We want to continue to improve how were playing and I think were doing a very good job of it, especially on the road.

While Hornets head coach Monty Williams was critical of his own squadWe couldnt throw it in the ocean, he remarked at his postgame press conferencehe also lauded the Bulls for their defensive performance, which would have held the Hornets to a franchise-low point total, if not for a Belinelli three-pointer at the final buzzer.

Thats the way you play if you want to win a championship. Everyone on their team knows their role, they have an identity and they live it out every night, he said. They have defensive players, a great system and a great coach, so that is a combination for success.

'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

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USA TODAY

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."