Bulls 'show some character' in home victory over Hornets


Bulls 'show some character' in home victory over Hornets

Revenge was on the Bulls’ minds but the Charlotte Hornets had no desire in being willfully ignorant, putting themselves in position for another shocking win, this one more definitive than the blowout affair from a week ago.

Capitalizing after every turnover, the Hornets found themselves right at the precipice of another upset, even as the Bulls put forth the effort they claimed was missing in Charlotte.

But it wasn’t until Jeremy Lamb’s corner three bounced off the front rim with the Hornets trailing by three before the Bulls could exhale, slightly, and when Jimmy Butler’s perimeter jumper rolled around and down, a hearty breath was taken by the United Center crowd.

Butler’s jumper with 5.4 seconds left put the capper on a 102-97 win Friday, as he completed a 27-point night where he struggled early but finished making eight of 16 shots from the field and went to the line 14 times, including one trip where he fell on his left wrist and was shaking it on the subsequent free throws.

“I’m fine. If I would’ve dunked the basketball, I wouldn’t have fallen on my wrist,” he joked.

After his 2-7 start, he received necessary encouragement from Derrick Rose, who refused to let him be discouraged by the slow start.

“That’s my point guard telling me to stay aggressive and keep shooting,” Butler said.

As for the late jumper, which hit the glass before sliding in, Butler said, “Shooters’ touch. It’d better went in, that’s what I was thinking. Definitely (a relief).”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Butler finished what was started by Joakim Noah, who in his return from a one-game knee-induced sabbatical, grabbed 18 rebounds and passed out six assists in 23 minutes, including guarding Hornets center Al Jefferson and helping hold him to six points and five rebounds.

“Just wanted to bring some energy tonight,” said Noah, playing with a heavy heart on the heels of the attacks in Paris, where he lived for 10 years. He checked with family members before the game to ensure their safety.

“It was an important game for us, especially the last time we played this team. We showed some character tonight.”

Noah was part of a bench brigade that brought the energy, along with Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore after the starters weren’t producing.  And now, especially with Nikola Mirotic back struggling, one has to wonder if Noah will make a return back to the starting lineup given his affect on the club.

“Taj I thought defended great. You always know you’ll get energy from those two guys (Noah and Gibson),” Hoiberg said. “(Noah) had great pop. He had bounce. He was out yelling and screaming at everybody.”

They had trouble tracking Hornets guard Nic Batum, who made his first five triples but missed one with less than a minute remaining in one of their final attempts to make the Bulls do more than sweat.

But the Bulls had to get out of their own way after a disastrous third-quarter where they shot just seven for 22, which accompanied their anemic night from the 3-point line where they hit just four of 16 while the Hornets made 15 of their own, single-handedly keeping the contenders within striking distance and giving them a slight lead at the start of the final stanza.

“Charlotte shot the 3-ball great,” Hoiberg said. “We tried to play tight D. A lot of them were contested. Just a few of them we got lost out there.”

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They didn’t make things worse by getting pounded in the paint as they did in the first drubbing, and controlled the boards 57-47 to offset not creating many turnovers and giving up so many 3-pointers.

From there, Moore and Rose keyed a quick run to give them an 82-77 lead, as Moore finished with 11 points and five rebounds, playing key minutes as part of a defensive-minded unit.

Rose missed 10 of his 14 shots but had a key layup late and dished out eight assists, including one to Pau Gasol for a jumper late in the fourth, as Gasol had 19 points and 13 rebounds.

But another slow start almost derailed things until Noah entered midway through the first, and he immediately made an impact, tipping in a Butler miss and displaying his trademark emotion.

Led by Batum, Marvin Williams and Kemba Walker, the Hornets did more than keep things interesting down the stretch, refusing to turn the ball over and playing with poise until the jumpers finally stopped going down on the final possessions.

The Bulls some semblance of payback, but it came much harder than they anticipated.

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

Bulls crack the top-10 in ESPN's NBA League Pass Rankings

The Bulls have struggled through the 2019-20 NBA preseason but have shown signs of a team on the rise in a drastically different Eastern Conference. ESPN's Zach Lowe released the second half of his NBA League Pass Rankings, with the Bulls making a surprising leap into the top 10 that supports the notion that they are a team set to be entertaining and much more effective in the 2019-20 NBA season.

While Lowe's League Pass Rankings are not power rankings, they go hand-in-hand with the idea that the Bulls are starting to become an interesting team on the national stage.

The highest score a team can get in Lowe's League Pass Rankings is a 50, based on a 1-10 ranking in five separate categories. The Bulls received a score of 34.5, finishing right behind the Utah Jazz.

Lowe credits the potential for Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. to develop into a "rare frontcourt pairing" as one of his main reasons for telling readers to look out for the Bulls this season.

While Markkanen has yet to shoot over 50% from 2-point range and Carter has yet to attempt more than 18 3-pointers in a season, the potential is there for both of these players to improve greatly in both of these areas, truly making them a "rare" and formidable offensive duo. 

Throughout Lowe's League Pass Ranking-breakdown of the Bulls, he had kind words for the Bulls' new pinstriped jerseys, the improvisational ability of the Bulls' veterans and LaVine's dunking ability.

LaVine is the best dunker since prime Vince Carter... 

-Zach Lowe on Zach LaVine 

And while Lowe hinted at Bulls head coach Jim Boylen playing a bit of a character, he had positive thoughts on him as well.

Lowe calls Boylen, "a smart coach," and states "there is even some logic in how he stripped the Bulls down to the basics of physicality and effort upon taking over."

The Bulls have lofty goals for the 2019-20 season, making the playoffs being the biggest one. At the same time, they are not pressuring the roster as Boylen himself has stated the most important goal is to "get better every day."

From what has been written about the Bulls this preseason—including Lowe's League Pass Rankings—it would appear most NBA writers expect the Bulls to be a more entertaining, effective, and cohesive unit over the course of the 2019-20 season. On October 23, when the games start to count, we will see if the Bulls can back up the hype.

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Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

Kevin Durant chimes in on Zach LaVine's comments on mid-range shooting

There is much discussion in the basketball community surrounding the value of the midrange shot following a Sun-Times article from Joe Cowley that discussed the Bulls analytics department wanting Zach LaVine to limit his mid-range attempts, and a segment on ESPN's The Jump, discussing the same topic. On Tuesday morning Matt Moore of the Action Network chimed in, offering up the statistics that clearly support the notion that LaVine should be shooting many, many more 3-pointers than 2s. 

While Moore's points were solid and backed up by the numbers, NBA superstar Kevin Durant offered up his opinion from a player's perspective. Durant backed up LaVine's quote of "sometimes there's nothing better than putting the ball in your best playmaker's hands and letting him get the shot he needs rather than the one you want." KD commented that he has seen too many players pass up wide-open midrange shots to force up 3-pointers or contested shots at the rim, with analytics having an influence on the shots that players take, referring the mid-range as "forbidden."

Durant went on to comment and respond to users' comments on the situation. In one response Durant agrees with a user who states that he is teaching his son to work on his mid-range game first and shoot 3-pointers once he is strong enough, stating "that's how I was taught."

Moore had some fun with the response from Durant, stating that when he initially tweeted about the topic, his intentions were not to get into a debate on the value of mid-range shots with an active NBA player who is already among the all-time greats. 

 Moore's original sentiment agrees with what the Bulls' analytics department is trying to accomplish. LaVine has always been a good mid-range shooter but last year alone he shot 35.8% on mid-range shots and 37.4% on 3-point attempts.

It is obvious that players still need to have to players who can hit mid-range attempts, as some of the best teams in the league—including recent NBA champions Toronto and Golden State, who finished second in the league in percentage of points coming from mid-range shots—have relied on players who can generate solid mid-range attempts in high-leverage moments. But Durant's point is important to note too.

Durant stated that you have to be "confident to make any shot" but countered that whatever you work on the most is what you will be best at. He doubled down on that point, saying most primary scoring options in the NBA shouldn't worry about analytics and should play off of feel, rather than numbers. 

Ultimately, there has to be a balance.

As we have seen through the preseason, taking fewer shots from the mid-range has certainly appeared to benefit LaVine's game, as he is currently fourth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 23.3 points per game through three contests. But taking what the defense gives you, especially when you are as confident of a player as Durant or LaVine, still needs to be emphasized. 

In what should be a huge season for LaVine, he will again have a high-usage rate as he looks to lead the Bulls to a bounce-back season and mid-range shots, while limited, will still be a part of his shot profile.

So as far as Chicago Bulls fans should be concerned, this is a win-win. LaVine has clearly taken to heart was the Bulls' analytics department is preaching by shooting fewer mid-rangers but he still understands that that shot is going to be necessary for certain moments. So when LaVine is open from mid-range in 2019-20, the Bulls coaching staff will likely be saying the same thing Durant did on Tuesday morning, "Shoot em Zach."

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