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.

'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."