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Bulls suffer crushing Game 3 loss; Noah injured

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Bulls suffer crushing Game 3 loss; Noah injured

PHILADELPHIABizarre, ugly and painful are just some of the words that could be used to sum up the Bulls 79-74 Game 3 loss to the 76ers in their first-round playoff series Friday night.

As opposed to Game 2s third-quarter collapse, the Bulls downfall took place in the fourth period this time aroundthe Sixers used a 19-4 run to take control of the defensive struggleand coupled with center Joakim Noahs left-ankle injury, a season full of promise, now looks to be on the brink of ending, as the top overall seed in the playoffs now faces a 2-1 series deficit with Game 4 in a hostile environment looming, the teams superstar not in uniform and now, the heart and soul of the squad also ailing.

In an emotionally charged playoff environment, the Bulls kept pace early, led by the much-maligned Carlos Boozer, who mixed his usual feathery mid-range touch with aggressiveness and brute strength on the interior.

The Sixers, buoyed by their raucous home crowd, got varied contributions, but while the duo center Spencer Hawes and point guard Jrue Holiday were the offensive headliners at the outset, their determined overall approach set the tone.

A much more defensive battle than the series first two games ensued, as each possession was a grindBulls head coach Tom Thibodeau employed full-court pressure after turnovers and fouls in the backcourt on Philadelphia side out-of-bounds passes, utilizing center Joakim Noahs agilitythroughout the opening period, though the Sixers got a boost from instant-offense sixth man Lou Williams off the bench.

At the conclusion of the first quarter, the Bulls led, 20-19, following John Lucas IIIs buzzer-beater.

Thibodeau rode his starters through the outset of the second quarteronly Lucas, who replaced starting point guard C.J. Watson toward the end of the previous frameand it worked, as Noah joined Boozer in being an interior force by playing with his trademark energy, Rip Hamilton got to the free-throw line and Luol Deng, while he wasnt an effective scorer, played his typically high level of defense and crashed the boards proficiently.

The fact that Thibodeau altered his rotation, evidenced by backup swingman Ronnie Brewer not seeing any minutes and rookie Jimmy Butler receiving playing time, exemplified the significance of the pivotal matchup.

While Lucas scoring was a boon for the visitors, Chicagos offense also struggled with turnovers and though second-year Sixers wing Evan Turner, a Chicago native, was effective against a set defense, the Bulls managed to keep their hosts out of transition and dominated the glass.

Still, they couldnt obtain much breathing room and what was a slim cushion evaporated as the period waned on, due to one of their periodic offensive droughtsthey went approximately six minutes without making a field goaland at the intermission, Philadelphia held a 40-39 advantage.

After the break, the Bulls took advantage of a sloppy Sixers beginning to the second half and drew first blood, going on a 6-0 run to regain the lead.

Then, however, disaster struck, as Noah, while pushing the ball in transition, severely turned his left ankle after stepping on Philadelphia All-Star swingman Andre Iguodalas foot with 7:57 left in the period.

Noah immediately went to the ground in pain, clutching at his ankle and while he hobbled off under his own power and returned to shoot the ensuing free throws after a timeout, he was clearly laboring and came out of the game with 6:46 to go.

However, thanks to Boozers aggressive offensebefore he, along with a struggling Deng, picked up a fourth foul apiece; Boozers replacement, Taj Gibson, threw his own scare into Chicago after going down clutching his knee, but he eventually got up and joined his teammates on the other end of the floor, apparently suffering no significant consequencesand Philadelphias inept shooting, the Bulls lead actually ballooned, giving them a 60-51 edge heading into the final stanza.

Hamilton, playing his first fourth-quarter minutes of the series in the city closest to his hometown, continued his fine all-around play and carried the Bulls offense as both a scorer and playmaker, while Gibson recovered enough to dominate the offensive boards, leading to multiple second-chance opportunities for the visitors.

Remarkably, Noah also made a brief return to the game and even knocked down his patented Tornado jumper, but limping even more than before his trip to the locker room, he soon exited the contest for good after a two-minute, six-second comeback.

With their rowdy fans behind them, the Sixers sped up the tempo in a spirited comeback attempt, which was mostly held off by Boozer, who played with the force fans have desired since his arrival in Chicago, but Philadelphia center Spencer Hawes, after struggling throughout much of the game, came alive to bring the hosts back as part of 19-4 run, giving the home team a 72-71 lead with 2:11 to play.

A badly-missed Boozer jumper with just over a minute left, followed by a Holiday offensive rebound on the subsequent possessionhe was fouled on the play and split a pair of foul shots with 49 seconds left, giving Philadelphia a four-point leadappeared to seal the deal.

But the Bulls revived the never-say-die spirit that carried them all season long and Lucas nailed a three-pointer on the next trip to make it a one-point game, after which Turner made a pair of free throws to make it 77-74 with 20.1 seconds on the clock.

After a timeout, Deng air-balled a game-tying three-point attempt with 16.9 seconds remaining and Holiday drained two shots from the charity stripe to provide the final score.

Terry Rozier didn’t know Michael Jordan, Bulls 3-peated twice until ‘Last Dance’

Terry Rozier didn’t know Michael Jordan, Bulls 3-peated twice until ‘Last Dance’

It’s as shocking as it is true.

Terry Rozier, 26 years old and an established NBA player employed by the Charlotte Hornets, did not know that Michael Jordan and the Bulls three-peated twice in the 1990s until viewing “The Last Dance.”

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He confessed as much to Jonathan Abrams of Bleacher Report:

"Just actually seeing this documentary, I learned so much," Rozier told Abrams. "I didn't even know that they (the Bulls) won three straight [championships two times]. I'm just being honest... To do things like that in this league, you have to be super special.”

 

Fact check for all of the above: true. And while undeniably humorous to hear Rozier admit this, the larger piece offers a heartwarming testament to Jordan’s influence from the perspective of Rozier, backcourt-mate Devonte’ Graham, Cody Zeller and other members of the team the Bulls’ great now owns. It's an engaging, worthwhile read.

Rozier even said he could have foreseen himself fighting MJ if, in another life, they somehow found themselves on the same team. “The Steve Kerr route,” as he puts it.

The feature also touches on Jordan and Jordan Brand’s $100 million commitment to social justice causes.

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Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Bulls offseason watch: Key dates for 2020 NBA Draft, Free Agency

Tuesday begins the staggered, three-day voyage of 21 NBA teams to Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. for the 2019-20 season restart (the Raptors have already arrived).

For the Bulls, and Bulls fans, that’s not of direct consequence. Excluded from the bubble, supporters and observers will be limited to loose Bulls ties — enter: Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler — and draft lottery dreaming as the NBA’s best battle for the 2019-20 crown in Orlando.

But that doesn’t mean the next five months, which will comprise an unprecedented offseason in the league’s history, don’t hold significance for the Bulls. A likely third consecutive top-10 draft choice is on the way for the team, as are key contractual deadlines for players currently on the roster and a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

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There remains much unknown about the 2020 NBA offseason — chiefly, from the Bulls’ perspective, the salary cap, luxury tax line and status of the predraft process, the last of which has been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also now in play is the matter of a possible eight-team bubble being constructed in Chicago for the squads not joining the league in Orlando, though there are hurdles galore on that front.

What we do have is a framework of a reported schedule to track through the remainder of the summer and ensuing autumn. Here are some key dates for Bulls fans to watch for the time being (all of which are, of course, subject to change given the potentially fluid nature of the league’s calendar amid the pandemic):

NBA Draft

Aug. 17: Early entry deadline for prospects

The last day for underclassmen not automatically eligible to declare for the NBA draft to state their intentions. Moved back from its original date of April 26, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Scott Phillips has you covered tracking who’s already declared or testing the waters.

Aug. 25: Draft Lottery

Typically, the early entry deadline and draft lottery would be nearly two months apart, with the combine sandwiched in between. But with the pandemic moving predraft interviews to Zoom, and live, remote workouts currently prohibited, it appears the league will squeeze both into an eight-day span, also per Wojnarowski.

The Bulls have selected No. 7 three years in a row, using those picks to draft core pieces in Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White. And even as the world erupts into chaos around them, they slot seventh in the lottery ranks once again this season. 

But with the NBA smoothing its lottery odds before the 2019 draft, the Bulls will have a modicum higher of a chance of leaping. They enter the lottery with a 7.5% chance of nabbing the No. 1 pick, 32% shot at vaulting into the top four and 19.7% odds of staying locked at No. 7. They also own mathematical chances at No. 8 (34.1%), No. 9 (12.9%), No. 10 (1.3%) and even 11 (0.03%).

Last nugget of note: This year’s lottery intentionally falls 11 days after the conclusion of the NBA’s eight-game seeding round in Orlando; while the eight teams left out of the bubble are locked into their current slots, the final six teams in the 14-team lottery will be populated by those who fall short of the playoffs. Right now, those six are the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards. If any of them vault into the postseason during the seeding games and play-in round, they’ll flip places with the team they usurp outside of the lottery. Both the lottery order, and the order of selections 15 - 30 will be determined by team record from when the league suspended play on March 11. 

Oct. 6: Early withdrawal deadline for prospects

Any not automatically eligible prospects that declared for the draft on or before Aug. 17 will have the opportunity to rescind that declaration (and maintain NCAA eligibility) on or before Oct. 6, per Wojnarowski.

Oct. 16: 2020 NBA Draft

The draft this year will fall three days after a potential Game 7 of the NBA Finals (Oct. 13), according to Wojnarowski. Broadcast, location and logistical specifics appear to be undetermined as of yet.

RELATED: 2020 NBA Mock Draft 6.0

Option/Offer Deadlines and Extension Eligibilities

From there, a few key decision days for players already on the Bulls’ roster loom. First and certainly not least...

Oct. 17: Otto Porter Jr.’s player option deadline

As reported by ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Otto Porter Jr. will have until Oct. 17 to decide whether or not to exercise his roughly $28.5 million player option for the 2020-21 season. His opting in appears all but a certainty (especially coming off an injury-riddled season in which he appeared in just 14 games, and amid a potentially tumultuous cap environment), and will essentially seal the Bulls’ fate as an over-the-cap team this offseason. 

Heaping that $28.5 million figure onto the Bulls’ books would bring the team’s guaranteed salaries for the 2020-21 season to $106,027,707 (numbers via Spotrac) before addressing restricted free agents or contracts for any draftees. The latest reputable pre-pandemic cap projection, from Wojnarowski, was $115 million, which could now be subject to change.

Oct. 17: Qualifying offer deadline

Also on Oct. 17 is the last day for teams to extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents, per Marks. The Bulls have three: Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Shaq Harrison. Full breakdown on the considerations at play for each here.

Oct. 18: Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Porter and Cristiano Felicio become extension eligible

The next day, per Marks, three Bulls starters become extension eligible — Markkanen on a rookie-scale basis, while LaVine and Porter are of the veteran designation.

Markkanen’s case is among the more curious in the league. His third season saw marked regression from his second in usage, opportunity and production, but given his skillset and considerable potential, he still represents a possible building block for the Bulls moving forward. A year ago — assuming expected development — we might have thought we’d be pondering a max for Markkanen at this point. Now, with a new front office regime in place, his market value is anyone’s guess. Maybe Arturas Karnisovas and Markkanen’s representation find an amenable compromise before the start of the 2020-21 season. But perhaps just as likely is Karnisovas wanting to see more from him, and Markkanen taking the opportunity to bet on himself making a leap in a contract year and earning some extra dough, as Jimmy Butler did five years ago.

RELATED: Bulls mailbag: Which free agents fit? Lauri Markkanen extension talks?

LaVine has two years and $39 million remaining on a contract he has become one of the more team-friendly in the league given his production since returning full-time from his ACL tear. Porter and Felicio’s deals enter their final years in 2020-21. Frankly, it’d be surprising to see any of them consummate extensions before Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley get a chance to see the Bulls up close and in action.

Free Agency

Oct. 18: Free Agency opens

According to Wojnarowski, free agency is expected open Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. ET, with the moratorium period running from Oct. 19 - 23, and lifting on Oct. 24.

As mentioned, the Bulls will likely be out of the running for any appreciable cap space when that window opens. But they will have their (as of now) non-taxpayer mid-level exception to work with — possible targets for which you can peruse in K.C. Johnson’s latest mailbag.

And for what it’s worth, that luxury tax line could be worth monitoring. In a tweet Monday, Marks mentioned a previous projection of $139 million for next season’s luxury tax. That projection would have to plunge pretty far for the Bulls to need sweating it out, but in the current climate, who knows what could be on the table? If the Bulls somehow found themselves over that line, the difference in last seasons non-taxpayer and taxpayer MLE was about $3.5 million (~$9.2 million to $5.7 million).

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