Bulls stay close but fall late to unbeaten Warriors


Bulls stay close but fall late to unbeaten Warriors

OAKLAND, CA- Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler hit the floor for a long loose ball after a Stephen Curry missed triple, a sign the champion Warriors had no designs on ending their season-starting 13-game winning streak.

Thompson cooly pitched it to Curry, who drained a triple, blowing the top off the fanatical Oracle Arena with five minutes remaining — a sign for the visitors an upset would require more than just effort.

It would require more than just keeping the MVP to an off-night and have him commit more turnovers than usual.

Beating the NBA champs means playing a damn near perfect game at this stage and even without Derrick Rose, the Bulls put up a valiant effort but even weary and off their game, the Bulls were just another victim to the Warriors’ march to validation, falling, 106-94, Friday night.

“We gotta always win the 50-50 balls, can’t leak out for shots,” said Butler, the best player on the floor for the second straight night with 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. “They hit a lot of threes off offensive rebounds. I’m not gonna say that’s why where we lost the game, but it had something to do with it.”

Butler did all he could on the big stage, but aside from early play from Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol, he didn’t have enough help.

Joakim Noah continues to be lost within the offense, going scoreless in 17 minutes with seven rebounds and four turnovers, as it appears he can’t find his place when one more playmaker is all it would’ve taken for the Bulls to pull off an improbable upset.

“I have to be more aggressive offensively and look for my opportunities,” Noah said. “Right now I’m not sure where I can get them but when they come I have to be ready.”

Through 42 minutes it was hard to tell which was the better team, at least until Golden State’s deadly lineup finished the night by not allowing the Bulls to get anything going offensively in the last half of the fourth.

But the Warriors’ offensive rebounding was an Achilles’ heel, giving up 15 as Draymond Green came up with more than his share of loose balls, producing an effect that went beyond his nine-point, nine-rebound night.

“Yeah, loose balls,” Hoiberg said. “Draymond Green, he’s a horse in there. He does a great job watching his body, getting in there for extra ones. Those loose balls, you’ve got to find a way to come up with those.”

They harassed Curry into six turnovers, as Kirk Hinrich gamely put up 17 before fouling out, including eight in the fourth and a triple to tie the game at 89. Hinrich’s scoring was necessary considering the bench, aside from E’Twaun Moore’s nine points, couldn’t produce much offense, placing a lot of pressure on Butler, Mirotic (18 points) and Gasol (14 points, 10 rebounds).

Meanwhile Andre Iguodala scored 12 off the bench to accompany Harrison Barnes scoring 20, a sharp contrast to the Bulls’ production at small forward, with Tony Snell scoring two and Doug McDermott hitting one of his four triples.

Despite that, the Bulls held leads in the second half and had the Oracle Arena crowd sitting on their hands and knees before things got away late.

“I thought we battled, we really competed,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We wanted to hold them to 10 threes or under.”

Then Curry re-entered the fourth midway through hitting just two of his eight triple attempts, then that one fell to break an 89-all game.

Waiting on the inevitable knockout punch that always comes wasn’t part of the plans, as the Bulls kept Curry and Thompson relatively in check, holding them to a 42-point night total.

They controlled tempo, didn’t turn the ball over and refused to be seduced into Golden State’s addictive style of play. It allowed them to shoot just 40 percent from the field to the Warriors’ 49, yet they had a real chance to steal one on the road like the last team that beat them in their building — themselves, last January.

“Nobody’s perfect, man,” Butler said. “I think we had to play really well. I think we did alright. We got away from their shooters at times and they made big shots, that’s what players in this league do.”

But the Warriors’ small ball lineup more than made up for their sluggishness, as Barnes’ two late triples made it a 10-point game with 1:02 left, leaving the Bulls a bit dazed, confused and added to the lot of Golden State victims to start the season.

23 Days to Opening Night: The Greatest of All-Time


23 Days to Opening Night: The Greatest of All-Time

Need we say more?

There isn’t a number more synonymous with greatness in basketball - and maybe in all of sports - than No. 23.

We’d list of all M.J.’s accomplishments but there isn’t enough room, even on the internet.

All we know is no Bulls player (or Heat player) will ever don the No. 23 uniform again.

And honestly, once LeBron James retires, it’d be pretty cool to see the NBA retire the number for good. Now we’re just getting nostalgic. No. 23 is No. 1.

#MuscleWatch: Lauri Markkanen's new frame will add critical component to his game

#MuscleWatch: Lauri Markkanen's new frame will add critical component to his game

#MuscleWatch has become a staple of NBA Media Days each year. Players from all 30 teams hitting the weight room all summer in preparation for their best year yet while feeling as strong and healthy as they’ve ever been. More times than not it’s fluff. Some of the world’s greatest athletes – many of whom are still maturing in their late teens – adding weight and muscle is expected. Even if that growth is real, 29 other teams’ players have accomplished the same.

That being said, it would have been impossible to see Lauri Markkanen on Monday at the Advocate Center and not believe he’s a changed player.

The second-year Finn spent his summer in his native Finland and also made joined a handful of NBA players in traveling to China for the Yao Ming Foundation Charity Game. When Markkanen wasn’t traveling he was spending hours in the weight room, and it’s easy to see that the results paid off.

A noticeably bigger, more defined Markkanen said he’s up to 240 pounds, 17 pounds heavier than his playing weight as a rookie. The transformation is a product of Markkanen having a more open summer after he spent the lead-up to his rookie season playing for Team Finland in EuroBasket 2017. There wasn’t as much time, Fred Hoiberg admitted, to work on Markkanen’s body as they worked him in slowly once he arrived in Chicago.

“I feel fresh,” Markkanen said. “We’ve been playing here (in Chicago) every day almost so I’ve been going up and down the court, but it’s different. I’ve been able to work on my body and actually be healthy. So I feel good.”

The next part of Markkanen’s transformation will be using it to his advantage on the floor. The 7-footer was impressive in Year 1, overshadowed some by the historic seasons posted by fellow rookies Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum. Markkanen’s overall numbers didn’t jump off the page – 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.1 3-pointers, 43.4% from the field – but, taken in context, were solid. He began the year behind both Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis, then found himself in the Opening Night starting lineup after the infamous fight in practice.

And where Markkanen was good and showed off his massive upside, his 20-year-old frame expectedly held him back in other areas.

Per NBA.com, Markkanen used just 11 percent of his offensive possessions in the post. And of those 111 possessions, he scored points on 45 of them. That 40.5% scoring frequency placed him in the 36th percentile league-wide. He shot 41.6 percent in post-up situations – nearly two percentage points lower than his overall number – a less-than-inspiring number considering the high percentage nature of those looks.

That should change with the added weight. Markkanen’s new frame, Hoiberg said, will also give the Bulls more options on offense.

“To be around our guys and to be in the weight room and to put on the size and strength that he did will help him overall all over the floor,” Hoiberg said. “Hopefully the ability to be able to punish a switch more consistently on the block. And his strength, as far as his ball handling and keeping guys on his hip (and) when he’s able to go by a bigger player.”

Where it will make an even more significant impact – as Hoiberg also alluded to – is on the defensive end. Teams went after Markkanen in the post, as a team-high 15 percent of his defensive possessions came in the post. And teams were smart to do it. Markkanen’s post-up defense ranked in the 28th percentile, allowing opponents to shoot 49 percent and score 101 points on 103 possessions, per NBA.com.

“I’m not going to get back down as easily,” Markkanen said.

His strength will add another component to what’s already becoming one of the most unique skill sets in the league. Zach LaVine is the $78 million man, Jabari Parker is essentially in a contract year and Bobby Portis could be in one if he and the Bulls don’t reach an extension agreement by Opening Night. Even Kris Dunn is entering a critical year for his growth (and future earnings).

But if the Bulls are going to take the next step of their rebuild and begin winning games, it’ll be Markkanen leading the charge. Though he admitted there may be nights “I might not be able to get touches as much” because of the new faces and spread out talent, the Bulls are hoping he’ll take on more on an Alpha role and become a leader. Markkanen himself admitted he’s always been a leader by example but needs to accomplish more vocally in his second season.

It’s a lot to ask for from a 21-year-old, but such is life in the NBA. His teammates see it in him, and they’re confident the 240-pound version will be the best one yet.

“He had such a good rookie year with the opportunity that he had,” LaVine said. “And the sky’s the limit for him. He’s one of those players that can do a lot of big things. Lauri’s off the charts.”