Bulls suffer first home defeat


Bulls suffer first home defeat

The bowels of the United Center felt like a funeral parlor after the Bulls (16-4) first home loss of the season, a 95-90 defeat at the hands of the Central Division rival Pacers, a team determined to establish a rivalry. Though Chicago was short-handed without the services of the sidelined Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, the disappointment in Tom Thibodeaus voice and in the home locker room reflected more than just the final result.

We started sluggishly, we werent sharp and in this league, you get what you deserve, said the dejected coach. Getting ready to play is a big part of this league. I think youve got to be ready to play every night. I think as soon as you start feeling good about yourself, youre going to get knocked on your expletive. Thats the way it is.

It starts with me. Ive got to get them ready to play, so thats on me, he continued. Its pretty simple. We do the same things and it starts in practice, it starts in your shootaround. Come in, be serious, get ready. When the ball goes up, youve got to know what youre doing.

The feisty visitors, as they did in the preseason opener and tougher-than-expected first-round playoff series last spring, came out swinging against their more highly-touted Central Division rivals. With no Deng to pester him, Indiana small forward Danny Granger (22 points, nine rebounds) was both aggressive and productive from the outset, using his size to take advantage of fill-in starter Ronnie Brewer (20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists)capable of playing both wing positions, the reserve swingman is perhaps better suited to defending shooting guardsand inexperienced rookie Jimmy Butler, who surprisingly saw early action.

Its definitely going to hurt us, not playing with them, but its the NBA. No excuses, said Derrick Rose, referring to the absences of key cogs Deng and Gibson. Cant say we lost this game because we didnt have them. We were up 10 at half. We lost this game because of us and it hurts.

But behind the play of usual suspect Rose (24 points, two blocked shots)the All-Star point guard was in attack mode, both slashing to the rim and looking for his much-improved outside jumperthe Bulls kept it close in the opening period, though they had to endure yet another injury scare when veteran shooting guard Rip Hamilton (17 points) briefly writhed on the floor in pain before getting to his feet shortly thereafter. However, with the likes of free-agent acquisition David West (14 points, seven rebounds) and the developing young duo of center Roy Hibbert (20 points, eight rebounds) and point guard Darren Collison (11 points, eight assists) also contributing, the home team trailed, 24-23, after a quarter of play.

The contest remained a close-knit affair into the second quarter, as neither teams bench could get much going offensivelyboth sets of reserves have been lauded as among the leagues bestand with defensive-oriented styles ruling the day, easy baskets were few and far between. Athletic second-year swingman Paul George (13 points) began to make his presence felt for the guests, while Brewer also started to assert himself, with the passing assistance of his current and former teammate Carlos Boozer (11 points, seven rebounds), whose floor vision remains an underrated aspect of his game.

I think we were prepared. I think in the first half, we came out playing extremely hard, getting stops on defense, which allowed us to run the floor, get easy baskets. We were executing our offense, said Brewer, the lone player Thibodeau cited as being prepared.

As the half wound down, Chicago surged ahead, building a slim cushion by virtue of trademark tough defense, as well as opportunistic transition offense, something the team had gotten away from as of late. The visitors were flustered into turnovers and harangued at every turn, sending the United Center crowd into a frenzy as the lead ballooned to double digits by the intermission, when the Bulls took a 54-44 advantage into the break, following a 7-0 run to end the period.

We had a chance just to put them away. I think in the first half, we took their confidence a little bit. Then, they got it back with a couple of easy baskets and started the third quarter, and they just ran away with it, said Rose. We could have focused a little bit better today at walk-through and shootaround, and stuff, but as a player, I really didnt see it. But as a coach, he sees everything, so the only thing we can do next time is come in here, go into shootaround and go into walk-through, and be very professional.

Added Thibodeau: The ball moved in the first half. Second half, I didnt think we had the same type of movement. Youve got to try to attack them before theyre set, then when theyre set, theyve got great size up front, so youve got to try to move them. Ball moves, great things will happen. I didnt think we were as aggressive as we needed to be. Got to the line maybe 12 times in the first half, I think three in the second, so I guess weve got to drive the ball harder, got to post it harder.

Indiana immediately stormed at the beginning of the third quarter, closing the gap to two points with a 11-3 run, sparked by Hibberts interior play, to start the second half. But the Bulls responded, as Joakim Noahs (10 points, 13 rebounds) high activity levelthe center seized a defensive board went coast to coast for a layup, a blast from the pastand Brewers continued perimeter marksmanship got the squad back in rhythm.

The game evolved into a dogfight, with Rose shouldering the offensive load with his typically determined drives, with able assistance from the perpetually-moving Hamilton and the Pacers turning to their man in the middle, Hibbert, for low-post scoring, as well as getting an energy boost from rugged reserve Tyler Hansborough (10 points, six rebounds), the scourge of Chicago during that first-round series a year ago. Heading into the final stanza, Indiana snatched the lead back from the Bulls and held a narrow winning margin, 75-74.

They came in at halftime, made an adjustment, slowed the game down a little bit, executed their sets, got the ball in the spots where their key guys were able to work. We were missing shotsnot that thats an excusebut we had some turnovers. Theyre a great rebounding team, physical team and that kind of took us out of some of the things we were doing in the first half, said Brewer. I dont think we ever were not aggressive. We dont really play passive. If we get stops, we tend to push the ball, but we werent getting stops. They were able to knock down shots, get fouled, go to the free-throw line and that puts a standstill on the ball, and makes us run our sets and if youre not making shots, you cant put points on the board.

West, an All-Star power forward when he was in the Western Conference, but still obviously not 100 percent after suffering an ACL injury late last season, gave the Pacers a lift early in the fourth quarter with his combination of finesse and physical play. But the visitors breathing room was short-lived, as Boozer came to life and the Bulls again raised their level of defense to slice into the deficit.

After being dormant for a while, Granger regained his effectiveness and again powered the Pacers to a seven-point spreadin this hotly-contested affair, that was like a 20-point lead in a normal gamebut scrappy play from the Bulls had them back in it down the stretch. However, the 50-50 balls that normally went Chicagos way were instead corralled by the visitors, whose underdog mentality after being tormented by their division rivals was worn on their sleeves.

Noted Rose: They were the aggressor. They were getting to the rebounds, loose balls quicker than us. Weve just got to learn from it. Usually, we out-rebound teams, but it just didnt happen tonight.

Although the Bulls cut the deficit to 92-90 with under a minute to play and secured possession after a Noah rebound, deep reserve Brian Scalabrinein the game for Boozer, who had struggled defensively and had five foulsmissed a potential go-ahead three-pointer, eventually leading to a Hibbert dunk with 13.1 seconds remaining as the Pacers scrambled upcourt.

I was just trying to pick my spots. I think I picked them very well, where we got ourselves in a position to win, but it just didnt work our way at the end. We still got a good shot off, but we never want to put ourselves in that position. Thats exactlyexactlywhat we did tonight, a dejected Rose said, prior to taking a 12-second pause to collect his thoughts when asked what aspect of the loss was most disappointing. Not learning from my mistakes. Jumping on the team and letting them come back. Its always like that. Hopefully we get to learn it soon.

Chimed in Brewer: D-Rose is D-Rose. He makes plays for himself, he makes plays for others. It shows his unselfishness that he made a play, guy was wide open in the corner. He could have took a shot with a guy on him or he could have passed the ball to a wide-open person. Passed it to a wide-open person, who had a great shot, who works on that shot every day, so its a good shot. Unfortunately, it didnt go in for him.

Thibodeau concurred, albeit tersely: Derrick in the open floor, I thought he made the right play. The help was there, they collapsed, Scalabrine open in the corner three, make-or-miss league. He missed.

Theyve got to be ready from the start. Desperation in the fourth quarter, poor effort. That efforts got to be there from the start of the game, he added. You get your energy from your preparation. Thats where your energy comes from, your concentration, getting prepared, knowing what youre doing, so you dont do the necessary things, youre not going to be ready to play. Simple as that.

It was all academic in the end and the disappointed audience, while treated to a competitive game, buzzed with a sense of foreboding that the Central Division wasnt going to be the cakewalk they thought.

Theyre a good team, but its not about them. Its about us, said Noah. You win some, you lose some. We know we made mistakes that hurt us tonight.

Its always going to be a physical game, especially when the game gets close. Theyre a good team and we know that we can play better, he continued. Noah felt like expletive. We lost. You always feel like expletive after you lose.

Basketball is a game of runs, but you look back on it and you see the mistakes that you made, what you could do personally to help the team and tomorrow, we have a day off, so well go in and watch some film, and learn from this. Youve got to learn if you can deal with the good things that happen, youve got to be able to deal with the bad and learn from your mistakes, the center went on to say. I dont know about not being prepared, but I feel like were always pretty prepared. But we definitely didnt play to the best of our ability.

Brewer added: I dont think after a loss, you have a good taste, regardless. First loss at home, on the roadwhatever it isyou want to win every game that you step on the floor, especially at home. You dont want to lose in front of your fans, so well get back to the drawing board, come back with a lot better effort for 48 minutes of basketball.

5 Bulls remaining must-watch games of 2019-20 NBA season

NBC Sports Chicago

5 Bulls remaining must-watch games of 2019-20 NBA season

There are 23 games left, Bulls fans! Not that I’m counting, or anything. As we prepare to enter the final month of the NBA regular season, the Bulls are a Leap Day loss to the Knicks away – it could happen, we’ve seen it happen – from being 20 games under .500. Given the goals set forth by John Paxson and Jim Boylen on media day, I think it’s fair to say that the underachievement this season has been jarring.

Some fans have checked out and will tune back in for the draft lottery in May. To those of you I say: I get it. But there’s still basketball to be watched!

The Bulls’ remaining schedule is a gauntlet of playoff-bound teams including a daunting west coast trip in April. This likely means the playoffs are a pipe dream, regardless of what the math says in the “games back” column of the Eastern Conference standings. But this tough schedule in March and April also provides Bulls fans with some fun games to watch, with individual matchups that might just provide glimpses of hope for next season.

Here are 5 games I’m excited to watch in the remaining Bulls schedule. It’s the Pecking Order.

1. March 2 – Bulls vs Mavericks

I know, I know. It’s not fair that the Mavericks went straight from the Dirk Era to the young and wildly promising Luka Era with no gap in between while the Bulls languish in the third year of a rebuild that hasn’t taken off. It’s only human to wonder “what if” the Bulls had gotten luckier in the lottery or managed to make the trade Dallas did to land Luka Dončić two years ago. John Sabine doesn’t help matters with his nonstop Luka talk.

But I can’t help it. Luka, and this entire Mavericks team, is so much fun to watch. Their offensive efficiency this season isn’t getting nearly enough talk or respect. The Bulls kept it close when these teams met in January despite a modest 20-point night from Zach LaVine. Lauri Markkanen had one of his better games of the season with 26 and 9 rebounds.

Dončić didn’t even need his sidekick Kristaps Porziņģis, as he picked apart the Bulls to the tune of a 38-point triple double. And this was before defensive anchors Wendell Carter Jr. and Kris Dunn went down with injuries. Hopefully Wendell will be back on the court for this one and we’ll see how he handles Kristaps, who looked pretty darn good in February.

2. March 14 – Bulls @ Heat

The Bulls are 0-2 against Jimmy Butler’s new team so far this season. One of those was a backbreaker that saw 17 ties, 15 lead changes and went to overtime. The Bulls led for 37:38 of the game’s duration, while the Heat only led for 6:10. Zach LaVine drew a foul on Jimmy Butler and sank free throws to send the game to an extra frame, where Tyler Herro drilled three of his game-high five 3-pointers to seal the win for Miami.

The Heat have been reeling of late, including losses to Atlanta, Cleveland and Minnesota. But they’re still dynamite at home, where their record is 23-4. Could the Bulls manage to steal one in a trap game for the Heat? Zach didn’t play well in either matchup so far, scoring 15 and 18 points. How great would it be to see a LaVine-Butler duel like the one we saw three years ago when Zach was fresh off his ACL rehab and Jimmy was still with Minnesota? And if the Bulls come out on top? Sure would be fun to watch.

3. March 21 – Bulls @ Rockets

The Bulls were beat by Houston back in November in their first game after Otto Porter Jr. went down. James Harden was one assist shy of a 42-point triple-double and Russell Westbrook chipped in 26. The Bulls, meanwhile, had all five starters and seven total players score in double figures, but nobody scored more than 13. Yikes.

Since shipping off Clint Capela and going all-in on their small ball strategy, the Rockets have surged to just two games back of the second seed in the West. I can’t wait to see what Jim Boylen does with his game plan, as we’ve recently seen him use some give-guard lineups in similar fashion to the Rockets. Might he go back to this even if certain members of the Bulls frontcourt have returned from injury?

It would be a bonus to see a back-and-forth showdown of recently surging rookie Coby White and the always-going-100-mph Westbrook. Give us at least 48 minutes of this! And hopefully, a more respectable outcome.

4. March 23 – Bulls vs Nuggets

We actually get a twofer here, as the Bulls play Denver again on April 3rd as part of their five-game west coast trip. There’s one big reason I can’t wait to watch both matchups with the Nuggets: Wendell vs The Joker, Parts II and III.

In his NBA coming out party on Halloween night 2018, Wendell admirably battled Nikola Jokić in a devastating overtime loss. The Joker did his usual thing, putting up 22 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. But Wendell also gave him some challenges, forcing Jokić into an uncharacteristic six turnovers. The Bulls' seventh overall pick finished the night with a stuffed stat sheet of 25 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks. The Nuggets big man even paid his respects to the rook after the game.

We never got to see Part II of that matchup last season, as Wendell was out with an injury the second time these teams played. We’ve heard that Wendell is expected back in the lineup as soon as this Saturday against the Knicks after recovering from his high ankle sprain. I cannot WAIT to watch Wendell go at The Joker twice in the final few weeks of the season. Please, Jim Boylen. Let Wendell go at him.

5. April 8 – Bulls @ Lakers

I want revenge. That loss to the Lakers way back on November 5 still bothers me. It’s bothered me all season. Instead of closing out a solid win over LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the juggernaut Lakers, Bulls fans watched the team let a fourth quarter lead slip away with our primary starters watching from the bench. Boylen said he had "15 guys to develop” when he explained his rotation after the loss.

One potential hiccup here: a revenge win will mean a LOT less if LeBron and AD are managing loads in the final games of the season as they prepare for their title push. I hope they’re playing, and I hope we pay them back.

Thanks for reading. Let’s close out these final 23 together, Bulls Nation! See red, be good.

After 30 years, Hank Gathers is never far from Bulls' Chip Schaefer's mind

NBC Sports Chicago

After 30 years, Hank Gathers is never far from Bulls' Chip Schaefer's mind

It doesn’t take an anniversary for Chip Schaefer to think about Hank Gathers.

“It’s never really far from my mind,” Schaefer said in a recent interview.

Schaefer is the Bulls’ director of sports performance, working his second stint with the franchise after serving as the athletic trainer for the dynasty. But one of the Deerfield, Ill., native’s first jobs was athletic trainer and strength coach at Loyola Marymount University from 1987-90.

In fact, Schaefer was the first non-player to Gathers’ side on that fateful March 4, 1990 day when the star forward collapsed on the court during a West Coast Athletic Conference tournament game and died moments later due to a heart condition called cardiomyopathy.

Wednesday marks 30 years since Gathers’ death. On Saturday, Loyola Marymount will unveil a statue honoring him. The family invited Schaefer to the ceremony, no small gesture in Schaefer’s world.

But with the Bulls in New York and Schaefer having already squeezed a trip into Los Angeles this week for Kobe Bryant’s memorial service, Schaefer merely sent his appreciation and respects to the family.

“It doesn’t take much for me to think of him,” Schaefer said. “Every time we’re in Philadelphia, his hometown, I think of him. Every time I flip around the TV and see a Loyola Marymount game, I think of him. I run into people, Jay Hillock, one of (the Bulls’) scouts, was an assistant coach on the staff, and I think of Hank. He was special.”

Schaefer isn’t merely referring to Gathers’ athletic ability, which had NBA talent written all over it.

“He was really an extraordinary personality,” Schaefer said. “He had just an unbelievable sense of humor and a wonderful gift for mimicry.

“I remember one year we had the typical college, end-of-season awards night. It was supposed to be MC’d by one of the local sports anchors. He had to cancel at the last minute. Hank wound up MC’ing it. And he killed it. He could’ve done Vegas with the bit. He had a whole (Muhammad) Ali- (Howard) Cosell bit. It was just unbelievable. He had something funny for every player. And he was riffing, completely spontaneous. I remember nights like that where his rich personality and wit and intelligence was on full display.”

Much like with Bryant, who Schaefer worked with for 12 seasons with the Lakers, he is trying to remember the happy times. When Loyola Marymount hired Schaefer from the esteemed Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles, he was only a few years older than Gathers.

“Hank was actually a patient that I met at the clinic. I think he had patellar tendinitis. And we really hit it off,” Schaefer recalled. “That Spring, the athletic trainer before me (at Loyola Marymount) was let go. Hank came in all bubbly and was all excited about me applying for the job.

“So we had the next three years together where we continued to build the special relationships you often build in this field. There were a lot of really personal moments. Hank and Bo (Kimble) grew and we kind of shocked the world in the NCAA tournament that 1987-88 season. We built a national spotlight.”

Indeed, Gathers led the nation in scoring and rebounding in 1988-89. And then Kimble led an emotional run to the Elite Eight in 1990, shooting a free throw left-handed to honor Gathers’ memory.

Schaefer attended Bryant’s memorial service by taking a red-eye flight so as not to miss any Bulls’ commitments. Saturday’s game against the Knicks doesn’t allow him to do the same for Gathers, although he grew emotional when asked what the invitation meant to him.

After all, since Schaefer was one of five people who worked on Gathers outside the gym after his collapse, he was named as one of 10 people and three medical practices in a lawsuit. Schaefer knew he did nothing wrong and followed proper emergency protocol by the book, and Gather’s mother, Lucille, ultimately settled the $32.5 million wrongful-death lawsuit for $545,000.

“I’m the one there along with the doctors on the floor trying to help revive and resuscitate him, so you never know how a family is going to react to anybody that is associated with that,” Schaefer said. “But I’ve heard from Hank’s brother, Derrick, occasionally with warmth and affection and magnanimity and grace. That’s really something. After three decades, that Lucille would even remember my name much less think, ‘It would mean a lot to have him here,’ I’m touched beyond words about that.”