Bulls

Bulls shut down Spurs at buzzer to seal victory

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Bulls shut down Spurs at buzzer to seal victory

Getting up for the big games has rarely been a problem for this bunch of Bulls in recent memory, and with the formidable and decorated San Antonio Spurs coming to town, there was very little doubt the effort would be as present as the sold-out crowd.

The execution was the question, and even though they didn’t score a basket in the last half of the fourth quarter, the defense of their headliners closed out the 92-89 win at the United Center.

Jimmy Butler forced a miss from Kawhi Leonard with seconds remaining, then Derrick Rose got just enough of his hands on Tony Parker’s corner triple after Tim Duncan recovered the ball, sealing the win.

“I thought Jimmy defended great,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He made Kawhi take a very difficult shot. We knew their offense would try to bat it out. Derrick made a key play and he had the corner.”

Rose had a spurt late in the second quarter but shot five for 17 while Butler scored 14 on just nine shots, not looking very aggressive offensively as Leonard, his counterpart, scored 25 with eight rebounds in 40 minutes.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

But the Bulls relied on their defense late, including Pau Gasol, who had a block on LaMarcus Aldridge late when the Spurs could’ve taken a lead. Aldridge had his way with the Bulls with 21 and 12 rebounds but couldn’t find much traction late, much like both sides in terms of effectiveness on that end.

The Spurs went one of seven from the field in the last four minutes themselves, shooting 29 percent in the fourth.

“To hold that team to 16 fourth quarter points was a great effort,” Hoiberg said. “They’re obviously a great team with great firepower.”

Gasol had 18 with 13 rebounds but missed 12 of his 18 shots, helping contribute to the offensive lethargy to finish.

“Everyone contributed tonight in a positive way. This was one of the hottest and biggest teams in the league,” Gasol said. “It was a great test for us tonight and a  good chance to bounce back after such a tough loss.”

It was the bench that brought the power, turning a 73-70 deficit to start the fourth to an 81-75 lead within three minutes. Joakim Noah turned back the clock, Tony Snell awakened to hit more jump shots than he’s hit in the last month and Taj Gibson followed up a Doug McDermott missed layup with a dunk while the Spurs stood flat-footed.

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Noah had one of those bounce-back games, looking light on his feet and even blowing by David West for a layup then doing the same to Duncan a couple plays later, on the way to an eight-point, 11-rebound, seven-assist evening.

“He’s confident when he’s making moves and taking shots he knows he can make,” said Butler of Noah. “He gets everybody riled up and hype. To have him making plays is big.”

He helped the Bulls to a 32-point second quarter after the first was played at the Spurs’ pace, and it looked like their defense would lock up the Bulls for 48 minutes, holding them to 17 points on 38 percent shooting.

But they put together an efficient showing before halftime, started by the likes of McDermott and Noah with his passing and finished off by Rose, who hit three straight baskets before the half, going head-up with Parker, to energize the United Center and propelling the Bulls to a 49-48 lead.

Snell and McDermott, on the day the Bulls announced Mike Dunleavy suffered a setback with his recovery from back injury, combined to score just as much as Rose and Butler (23 points to 25).

It was played in close quarters, as the Bulls never led by more than six and the Spurs never had anything greater than a nine-point advantage, with Aldridge scoring big early and Leonard doing the damage later, as he had multiple plays called for him down the stretch, making Butler use most if not all of his energy on that end of the floor.

Midway through the fourth, the Spurs never found themselves away from arm’s reach after the Bulls’ emotional rush, trailing by one and taking the lead on a Tony Parker jumper with a little over four minutes remaining.

Regrouping by way of making their free throws down the stretch, the Bulls started a stretch of nine of 10 games at home with a win they needed in the worst way, against the best possible opponent this side of Oakland, California.

NBA Buzz: Will another Chicago homecoming pay off for Bulls?

NBA Buzz: Will another Chicago homecoming pay off for Bulls?

Bulls' public address announcer Tommy Edwards is already getting his familiar introduction ready for next season. "Froooooom CHICAGO, a 6'8" forward, Jabari Parker!

Not sure if Parker has the resume to be introduced last for Bulls' home games this season, but there will be plenty of fanfare regardless of where he falls among the starting five. After all, Parker was a part of four straight state championship teams at Chicago's Simeon H.S., earning national prep player of the year honors along the way. And, he's been recognized for his tireless charitable work, including an essay in the Player's Tribune proclaiming his desire to be a factor in creating a safer environment in his hometown. 

Parker is articulate and driven to succeed, which will make him a go-to guy for members of the Chicago media during the upcoming season. Question is, can he succeed where so many other Chicago prep stars have failed? You know the names. Derrick Rose, Eddy Curry, Dwyane Wade, Hersey Hawkins, Dave Corzine, Cazzie Russell and even our own Kendall Gill. All Chicago area high school stars looking to replicate that greatness playing for the Bulls. But none of them were part of an NBA championship team in their hometown.

So, what will expectations be like for the 23 year old Parker? The No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft has already come back from two separate ACL tears in his left knee, which effectively removed him from the list of young players projected as future All-Stars. Still, Parker was averaging over 20 points a game for the Bucks before his second ACL injury in February of 2017, and he came back this past season with his trademark explosiveness at the rim still very much intact.

It's obvious playing for his hometown Bulls has always been a goal for Parker, but will the fit on the court be as good as his fit in the Chicago community?

Parker, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn are all at their best with the basketball in their hands, which means the coaching staff will have to be creative in finding ways to feature all three of those players, plus the frontcourt duo of Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. 

The best solution will be to push the pace to get early shot clock scoring opportunities. Parker is at his best running the floor for fastbreak lay-ups and dunks, and you can the bet the Bulls’ coaches are excited to see Dunn pushing the ball upcourt with Parker, LaVine and Markkanen running the wings. Fred Hoiberg wants to see his players get into a flow offense coming out of the initial attack in transition and when Carter Jr. is on the floor, the Bulls will have five athletic players, 24 years old or younger to get into secondary actions. 

Defense will be the biggest issue in the upcoming season. Parker and LaVine ranked near the bottom of the league among wing defenders in the analytics breakdowns from last season, and their ability to stay in front of talented shooting guards and small forwards will be a nightly key to the Bulls' success. Carter Jr. showed tremendous potential as a shot-blocker during Summer League games, but he can't be expected to block everything if opposing wings are getting straight line drives to the rim. 

So, where does this new-look Bulls team figure in the East? It's hard to project a win total for a team as young as the Bulls, but it's clear they have enough talent on the roster to see a double-digit increase over last season's 27 victories. 41 wins could be good enough to grab the last playoff spot in the East, so if everything comes together for the Bulls next season, they should be playing meaningful games in March and early April. 

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION
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Did you see LeBron James show up at the Vegas Summer League wearing a $500 pair of Lakers' customized shorts? I guess James wanted to make sure everyone knew he had switched teams this summer, and those shorts are now the hottest items in L.A. sports merchandise shops. 

As for the basketball fit, James has already met with Lakers' coach Luke Walton and seems satisfied with the jumbled roster he'll be leading in the upcoming season. James isn't expected to speak publicly on his latest move until the end of the month, but apparently he's been assured the Lakers will be bringing in another superstar at some point, either in the trade market or 2019 free agency. 

Magic Johnson must be confident he can sign Kawhi Leonard next summer, but after watching Paul George state his desire to join the Lakers, then change his mind and re-sign in Oklahoma City, Lakers' fans will be understandably cautious about projecting him as LeBron's running mate for the 2019-20 season. 
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Maybe that other All-Star caliber player is already on the Lakers' roster. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are versatile forwards who have the potential to become 20 points per game scorers in the league, while Lonzo Ball could be an elite facilitator at the point guard position. And, the Lakers' other 1st round pick from the 2017 draft, Josh Hart, was just voted Summer League MVP, an honor that went to Ball a year ago. 

Hart is a 6'5" shooting guard who averaged 7.9 points as a rookie, connecting on 47% of his shots from the field and 40% from the 3 point line. He poured in 37 points Monday night to lead the Lakers to an overtime win over Cleveland in the Summer League semi-finals. The former Villanova star will compete with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lance Stephenson for minutes at the shooting guard position opposite the point guard tandem of Ball and Rajon Rondo.

It's an odd roster put together by Magic and GM Rob Pelinka, but adding James to the mix should almost guarantee 50 wins and a top five seed in the West. 
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Here's a look at the All-NBA Summer League team voted on by media members in Las Vegas.

Wendell Carter Jr.  (BULLS)
Josh Hart                 (Lakers)
Collin Sexton           (Cavs)
Kevin Knox              (Knicks)
Christian Wood       (Bucks)

Top five draft picks Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young were voted to the 2nd team. 

We've already told you about Carter Jr. and Hart, but Sexton impressed all the NBA people on hand in Vegas with his speed in the open court and his ability to get to the rim. There was some discussion in the Bulls' draft room about possibly taking Sexton with the No. 7 overall pick, and he was quickly snapped up by the Cavs after Carter Jr. went to the Bulls.

In the post-Lebron, post-Kyrie era in Cleveland, finding a dynamic point guard to run the show was absolutely crucial for GM Koby Altman and it looks like the Cavs have their man in the ultra-competitive Sexton, who famously almost beat the University of Minnesota by himself when his Alabama team was forced to play three-against-five during a Thanksgiving tournament game last season. 

Cleveland will be looking to shed some of the bad contracts on the roster like Tristan Thompson, George Hill and J.R. Smith, and veterans Kevin Love and Kyle Korver could be on the move as well. Sexton is a quality piece to start the rebuild, but I don't think the Cavs should count on winning the No. 1 overall pick three times in four years like they did the last time LeBron left.
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Finally, don't put too much stock into the Sporting News report listing the Bulls as one of the teams showing interest in free agent center Jahlil Okafor. The former Whitney Young H.S. star worked out for four teams in Las Vegas last week, but the Bulls were not in attendance. Okafor will probably have to sign for the NBA minimum this season to re-establish some value around the league.

The No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft is in great shape and is trying to prove he's more than just a low-post scorer. Okafor played sparingly in Brooklyn after he was acquired in a mid-season trade with Philadelphia. He's averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds over his three-year NBA career. 

The Bulls are already overloaded at the center position with Carter Jr., Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio and Omer Asik. 

Bulls interested in Jahlil Okafor?

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USA TODAY

Bulls interested in Jahlil Okafor?

A report via Sporting News writer Sean Deveney surfaced early on Tuesday morning, stating that the Bulls possibly have interest in free agent big man Jahlil Okafor. 

Deveny stated:

According to sources, Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, worked out for four teams last Wednesday in Las Vegas, and remains hopeful of signing with a team ahead of training camp next fall.

The Pacers were listed along with the Bulls as teams that could be looking at Okafor, though neither team was at his summer workouts in Las Vegas.

From a public relations standpoint, the Bulls could sell the idea of having a roster with multiple IHSA champions. It would be a feel-good story, with Okafor and Parker joining a young and developing core. But from an on-court perspective, the move makes little sense.

Chicago has a clogged frontcourt rotation that includes Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis, Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio and No. 7 overall pick Wendell Carter Jr. And while Parker is likely going to play the majority of his minutes on the wing, he will see time at the four and possibly five as well in spot minutes. Okafor has proven to be a capable low-post scorer and little else at this stage in his career.

Okafor has averaged 12.9 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game, but has only played 131 games over three seasons. He struggled to get minutes last year with the Sixers or the Brooklyn Nets (12.6 minutes per game in 2017-18). His continued poor defense and lack of rebounding prowess were the main reasons why.

He had a 59.3 true shooting percentage in his 26 games with the Nets, as well as 18.2 points per 36 minutes. But his defensive rating of 110 points given up per 100 possessions would do little to help a Bulls team that currently lacks established defensive centers sans Lopez. Even on a minimum contract, an Okafor signing would likely signal a forthcoming trade from the Bulls. In today’s NBA, having four centers on your roster would be ridiculous, no matter how good the narrative is.