Bulls stay perfect, knock off Nets with strong offensive showing


Bulls stay perfect, knock off Nets with strong offensive showing

NEW YORK, NY-- All that matters is the result, and the Bulls can worry about style points later.

Two games into the Fred Hoiberg era, the Chicago Bulls haven’t played consistent or pretty basketball for extended stretches but they’ve yet to register a loss, as they took care of the Brooklyn Nets, 115-100 at Barclays Center.

The first several minutes produced Bulls basketball at peak efficiency, ball movement, open shots and an over-matched opponent, as they should’ve run the Nets out of their own building.

And although it looked that way, the Nets gathered themselves after some early timeouts and didn’t stammer after a couple big Bulls runs in each half.

“We took our foot off the gas a little bit, Brooklyn got back into the game,” Hoiberg said. “They were hitting a lot of shots, a lot of long twos.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The Bulls led by 16 in the first quarter and 19 in the third but found themselves only leading by six with a little over 3 minutes left, as the ball rolled near halfcourt with the shot clock down to three.

Then Derrick Rose, who missed six straight shots after making his first four, scooped it up and went on a blur to the basket, with a burst of speed that usually isn’t displayed.

The floater went in before the shot clock had a chance to go off, the second such occurrence the Bulls cheated fate or flat-out bad possessions with singular offensive plays before the shot clock expired.

Jimmy Butler did it first a few minutes earlier, hitting a triple in front of the Bulls bench without so much as taking a dribble with eight on the clock, with Joe Johnson in his face.

“He was phenomenal tonight,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy handled the ball, headed down a few times and we wanted to get the ball in his hands to make some plays. He hit Niko for a 3, had a great drive to the basket and hit a big shot.”

Rose finished with 15 and three assists while Butler had a much better shooting night considering he didn’t have to play the role of LeBron James’ shadow, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts and hitting nine of 11 overall for 24 points.

“I’m not gonna lie about it, I had a lot of energy,” Butler said. “We were making shots tonight so it made it a lot easier to drive to the rim. Everybody’s taking and making a lot of threes so it leaves me and Derrick to do what we do best, which is driving to the rim.”

Nikola Mirotic again created room as the threat of the long ball kept the Nets bigs at bay, and he still produced 18 points on just 10 shots, including four triples while adding nine rebounds.

[HONDA ROAD AHEAD: Rose, Mirotic impress in the early going]

Some generous shot making negated some bad poor spacing and the Nets being devoid of superior talent prevented them from making the Bulls truly sweat, shooting just 42 percent from the field.

The Bulls shot a sterling 53 percent, including 13 triples but Hoiberg will likely find a few holes in the statistics to harp on before their next contest in Detroit. The 20 overall turnovers prevented it from being a complete offensive showing.

They couldn’t make things easy for themselves, either because they were playing on a travel back to back or continued a trend that was on display last year of playing down to the competition.

An easy, breezy 16-point first quarter lead was whittled down in the second as the Bulls’ defense yielded 11 scores in 13 possessions from the Nets, a team that will clearly struggle to score this season.

“When we get stops we’re pretty good flowing into our offense,” Hoiberg said. “But when we’re taking the ball out the net, it’s tough. I thought besides that second quarter, we were solid but we have to build on what we’re doing right and getting better on things we need to work on.”

Being a bit too casual with the ball was a firm illustration, with 11 turnovers essentially negating perfect first halves from Butler and Rose, who didn’t miss from the field and each had three assists.

Hoiberg couldn’t have been pleased with the early defensive play of Pau Gasol, who allowed open look after look to Brook Lopez and didn’t box out on defense either. Lopez scored 26 with seven rebounds and former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani scored 17 with seven boards in 22 minutes off the bench.

Gasol rebounded from a two-point performance on opening night to score 16 with nine boards.

As was the case in the opener, it wasn’t pretty but the Bulls will take it.

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


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


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.”