Bulls

Bulls' road domination continues

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Bulls' road domination continues

CHARLOTTEAs the Bulls nine-game road swing winds down, the results keep getting worse for the opposition. Even without Derrick Rose, who missed the contest with lower back spasms, the Bulls (23-6) annihilated the hapless Bobcats (3-23), 95-64, at Time Warner Cable Arena Friday night.

Were really doing a good job. Were just coming out from the start of the game, getting the lead and then playing with the lead, said newly-named Eastern Conference All-Star Luol Deng. Everyone is just doing their part, which makes it so much easier and its just fun to be out there playing like that.

C.J. Watson, starting in place of Rose, knocked down a three-pointer on the Bulls opening possession, and despite the reigning league MVPs absence, it appeared as if the visitors would pull off their fourth consecutive start-to-finish domination of an inferior opponent.

Our depth is definitely our greatest strength, but obviously we know that we need everybody healthy more than anything when that thing happens at the end, Joakim Noah remarked. This is definitely not a sprint; its a marathon and we need everybody right.

Balanced offense again marked Chicagos quick start, although it was partially mitigated by Bobcats swingman Reggie Williams and forward Boris Diaw getting loose for early buckets.

Still, behind Dengs (12 points) accuracy from deep, Carlos Boozers (16 points, six rebounds) work on the interior and Noahs (17 points, 14 rebounds) energetic play, the Bulls jumped out to a double-digit first-quarter lead. With a stingy defensive effort frustrating a young Charlotte squad, the guests took a 31-16 advantage into the second stanza.

It was just a fun game for us. We just tried to get out early on them, Watson observed. Boozer played great, Jo got some rebounds early and scoring early, and I think thats what really hurt them.

We just go to whoevers hot. Booz was hot early, kept trying to ride him throughout the game and all the open shots came off that.

Added Noah: Well, we play off Booz a lot and he demands a lot of attention out there, so he either scores and kicks it out, and it creates easy offense for everybody else.

Chimed in Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Defensively, the first quarter we were very good. Our big guys played with a lot of energy. C.J. did a great job running the team, making us play with pace. We had a number of guys contribute.

The Bench Mobminus Watson, who was replaced by John Lucas III (11 points) in the second unitextended the gap between the two teams, using typically solid defense, transition offense and more selfless play to flirt with a 20-point lead. Taj Gibsons inside play, Omer Asiks (12 rebounds) presence in the paint, Korvers outside marksmanship and Lucas usual aggressive scoring set the tone.

We did a great job of sharing the ball. We still want to go inside-out. We do a great job of making the extra pass on offense, explained Boozer. Defensively, were still very, very sharp, getting better at our defensive scheme and trying to do a good job of helping each other. Were a help-side defensive team and I think were getting better and better at our system.

I just think weve gotten better. Were not the same team we were. I think weve improved. Guys have gotten great experience to help us out, he continued. When we go to our bench, we dont lose anything. The starting five does a great job of setting the tone and then the second unit, our Bench Mob comes in and takes it up even another notch.

Added Deng: We just keep telling the bench, Dont play the score, just keep working on what weve got to do and try to get better while were out there.

To be honest, though, the inept Bobcats were their own worst enemy, as their inability to finish, keep Chicago off the glass or stop the visitors from getting either point-blank opportunities or open outside looks. As Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reinserted his regulars, his teams winning margin further ballooned, leading to a 56-34 advantage at the intermission.

Jo was great, in every aspect. Running the floor, defense, energy, rebounding, multiple effort, anchoring the defense, passing the ball. Then, Carlos got going, said Thibodeau. A number of guys played well. Lu was Lu. You can count on him every night.

Echoed Deng about Noahs performance: He was great, man. He had a lot of energy. He got second-chance shots. He was getting us second looks and everything. He played great tonight.

Things followed the same pattern after the break, as Boozer and Noah pounded the Bobcats inside and on the other end, continued to defend Charlotte into submission. With backcourt mainstays Gerald Henderson and D.J. Augustin both sidelined with injuries, the game was an opportunity for first-round draft pick Kemba Walkerlast seasons NCAA player of the year and a national champion at the University of Connecticutto gain experience, for better or worse, while fellow rookie Bismack Biyombo had the chance to battle in the lane.

Unfortunately for the home crowdmany of whom had likely turned out to see the injured Roseflashes from the teams future wasnt enough to prevent an onslaught, as the Bulls showed no signs of letting up. Through the conclusion of three periods, the hosts trailed Chicago, 79-51.

You have to learn how to play with a lead. You have to play tough with a lead, said Thibodeau. Theres a lot of areas where we have to improve upon, but were doing a better job with that as of late.

Extended garbage time, a recurring trend of recent Bulls routs, was the theme of the final frame. Chicagos lead swelled to over 30 points, even as deep reserves like veteran Brian Scalabrinewho, as in almost every city, got a huge ovation when he checked into the contestand rookie swingman Jimmy Butler saw action.

Late-game suspense came in the form of whether the Bobcats would have a double-figure scorerbackup forward Derrick Brown (10 points) finally cracked the barrierand would Scalabrine score (he did) before the final buzzer. In the end, it was just another night for the red-hot Bulls, who will face their first challenge in more than a week Sunday afternoon, when they take on the Celtics in Boston.

Were focused right now. Were just trying to play the right way. Whatever the challenge is, were just trying to play the right way. Were definitely getting better, said Noah. Its a good feeling and theres a big one coming up on Sunday, and we just didnt want to have any letdowns coming into this game. We handled our business.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”