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.

NBA Buzz: Summer League ends with mixed reviews

NBA Buzz: Summer League ends with mixed reviews

Anyone who spends eight or nine days in Las Vegas generally has a lot of stories to tell. Some good, some bad, but generally an experience they’ll never forget.

Which is pretty much the case for the Summer League Bulls, who returned to Chicago with a 2-3 record, but a much greater understanding of what it will take to be successful in the NBA.

Rookie point guard Coby White took the wildest rollercoaster ride, shooting just 34 percent from the field and a hard to fathom 3-for-30 from the longer NBA 3-point line. Hey, no one said playing point guard in the pros is easy! Still, White showed noticeable improvement in his decision-making as Summer League wore on, dishing out eight assists in the finale against Orlando. The 19-year-old White said going into the tournament that the biggest challenge he would face is learning how to adjust his pace, and not go 100 miles per hour at all times. And, Bulls’ fans will remember Derrick Rose had similar issues when he played in Summer league back in 2008.

Through his five games in Vegas, White showed better recognition on pick and roll coverage and did a better job of limiting turnovers in the last game he played. The former North Carolina star figures to come off the bench as a rookie and his speed will give the second unit a completely different look. White has the ability to get by an initial defender, forcing help from bigger players in the paint. After a full training camp and preseason schedule, the rookie should have more success kicking out to proven shooters like Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. instead of a group of NBA hopefuls thrown together with almost no practice to develop some chemistry. That in itself will lead to a better assist/turnover ratio than what we saw in Vegas.

Similarly, you can bet White will spend the rest of the summer in the gym working on his 3-point shooting. At almost 6-foot-5, White’s ability to play both guard positions was one of the things that appealed to the Bulls’ front office and his shooting stroke in college suggested he could be effective as a spot up option. As my colleague Mark Strotman wrote, White simply joins a long list of accomplished NBA point guards who struggled to shoot the 3-ball in Summer League. He should be just fine with more reps.

Second-round pick Daniel Gafford earned almost universal praise for his work in Summer League. The former University of Arkansas center averaged almost 14 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots over his 5 games in Vegas, showing a physicality and understanding of the pick-and-roll game that could earn him minutes playing behind Wendell Carter Jr. as a rookie. As Bulls’ Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson noted at the 2019 rookie introductory news conference, Gafford has a unique understanding of who he is as a player and tries to go to his strengths to maximize effectiveness.

What that meant in Vegas was outrunning opposing big men down the court for easy baskets in transition, setting hard screens on pick and roll plays, and rolling decisively to the basket looking for return passes that he could power home at the rim. Sure, it would be great if Gafford could pop out like Al Horford and knock down an 18-foot jumper, but that’s just not his game right now. Gafford has a few low post moves he can go to when needed, but initially he’ll just be asked to play hard, rebound and block shots, and occasionally roll to the hoop for a momentum shifting dunk.

Head coach Jim Boylen will have a number of options at center with Luke Kornet providing 3-point shooting and Markkanen expected to play the 5 spot in certain line-ups. Gafford could wind up playing a lot of games for the Windy City Bulls this season, but the fact the Bulls signed him to a four-year contract suggests they see him as a long-term fit.

As for the rest of the Summer League crew, Chandler Hutchison played better as the tournament went on, showing an aggressive mentality in going strong to the basket. Hutchison told reporters he just recently returned to fullcourt games after missing the second half of his rookie season with a broken foot, so it was understandable he had to work off some rust. Still, his ability to run the court should fit in well with White’s speed and Denzel Valentine’s 3-point shooting on the second unit. Veteran free agent Thaddeus Young is also expected to play with the reserve group to provide some stability.

Two-way wing player Adam Mokoka and Windy City Bulls’ swingman Mychal Mulder looked good at times during the Summer League circuit, and both figure to be on the practice court when training camp opens in late September at the Advocate Center.

Around the Association

In case you missed it, Las Vegas sports books are posting their over/under win totals for the 2019-20 season, with the Bulls checking in at 30.5. I’m sure you all remember I was the guy saying it was a lock they would surpass the 28.5 betting line for last season, so I’m going to stay away from offering any wagering advice this time around!

On paper, the Bulls look good enough to top 30.5, but it’s impossible to predict the kind of injuries that destroyed their season last October. The hope is with a healthy core group and the additions of White, Gafford, Kornet, Young and Tomas Satoransky, the Bulls will be a deeper and much more talented team for the upcoming season.

But then every other lottery team in the East (with the exception of the Hornets and Wizards) also figures to be better, so it’s difficult to project win totals.

That’s why they call it gambling!

Now that the transaction madness has finally slowed down, it appears the NBA will be more wide open than at any time this century. The 2014-15 season began without a clear-cut favorite after LeBron left Miami to go back home to Cleveland, but that’s when the “Splash Brothers” tandem of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, along with Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala quickly established themselves as the league’s new power team. The 2019-20 campaign could feature as many as 10 teams entering training camp with the belief they could win a championship if a few things break their way.

Milwaukee and Philadelphia appear to be the class of the East, with the Celtics and Raptors a couple notches below. The 76ers just handed out another max contract on Monday, this time to All-Star point man Ben Simmons, who still needs to add a reliable jump shot and more consistent free throw shooting to his otherwise impressive skill set. Joel Embiid is one of the best big men in the game, and adding Horford and Josh Richardson gives the Sixers a talented starting line-up, but if the man with the ball in his hands (Simmons) can’t be counted on at crunch-time, can Philadelphia make a serious run at the title? We’ll have to wait until next spring to get the answer to that question.

Out west, the race for conference supremacy figures to include both L.A. teams, Denver, Houston, Utah, Portland and maybe even the Warriors if D’Angelo Russell proves to be a capable replacement for Thompson until the veteran sharp-shooter is ready to return from the ACL injury he suffered in the Finals. The Clippers have the highest over/under total in Vegas at 54.5, with the Lakers next at 51.5.

Doc Rivers will have his best roster yet with L.A.’s “other” team after acquiring both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, two superstar forwards in their prime. The Clippers also re-signed feisty point guard Patrick Beverley and will have one of the league’s best benches, featuring top sixth man Lou Williams, productive big man Montrezl Harrell and forwards Mo Harkless, Wilson Chandler and JaMychal Green. But the Lakers quickly pivoted after losing Leonard to the Clips and signed veterans Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, DeMarcus Cousins, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Quinn Cook, Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels. It will be crazy watching the Staples Center co-tenants battle it out all season long.

Don’t forget Denver finished with the West’s second-best record last season behind the young trio of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, then added Jerami Grant to team with Paul Millsap at power forward. Plus, the Nuggets are looking forward to unveiling 2018 lottery pick Michael Porter Jr., who was supposed to play in Summer League after rehabbing from back surgery, only to suffer a sprained knee.

Houston general manager Daryl Morey made another bold move, sending a pair of future first-round draft picks along with aging point guard Chris Paul to Oklahoma City for Mr. Triple Double, Russell Westbrook. It will be fascinating to see how a pair of ball-dominant, stat-hungry guards like Westbrook and James Harden co-exist, but one thing we know for sure, it won’t be boring! Morey knew the chances of winning a conference title with Paul and Harden had pretty much disappeared after back to back playoff losses to the Warriors, but only time will tell if the team is any better now with Westbrook in the co-star role.

Many NBA analysts believe the Jazz are in position to win the conference title after trading for talented veteran point guard Mike Conley and then signing former Indiana 3-point specialist Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency. Utah now has a starting five of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Conley, Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles, with Ed Davis, Jeff Green, Royce O’Neale, Emmanuel Mudiay and Dante Exum in reserve. Quin Snyder has his most talented team yet in Salt Lake City.

Portland returns the dynamic back-court duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and the Trail Blazers swung a deal with Atlanta to bring in Kent Bazemore to share the small forward spot with Rodney Hood. They also brought in enigmatic center Hassan Whiteside to hold down the post until Jusuf Nurkic returns from the serious leg fracture he suffered in the playoffs, and third-year big Zach Collins looks poised for a breakout season.

So, as the NBA heads into its “quiet season” over the next couple months (with the exception of the upcoming World Cup), basketball fans can look forward to the most compelling conference races we’ve seen in a long time.


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How does Coby White's Summer League compare to past Lottery point guards?

How does Coby White's Summer League compare to past Lottery point guards?

Summer League results are largely irrelevant. There's our disclaimer.

Whether Bulls' first-round draft pick Coby White succeeds in the NBA will have nothing to do with how he performed the last 10 days in Las Vegas. Use this tweet as a daily reminder that Summer League performance doesn't always tell the story.

That being said, it's all we've got to go on right now. But instead of analyzing White's up-and-down Summer League performance, let's compare it to other Lottery point guards in their first Summer League games. We'll begin with White.

Coby White, 2019, Bulls: 15.0 points, 4.8 assists, 33.7% FG, 10.0% 3FG, 3.8 turnovers, 30.8 minutes

White was a mixed bag in Las Vegas, showing the ability to push pace, get to the rim with a lightning-quick first step and knock down some mid-range jumpers. But he was also careless with the ball, made just 3 of 30 3-point attempts (and two of those makes came in a 20-second span) and didn't shoot above 44% in any of the five games he appeared in. He's still quite raw running the point, so the inefficiency was expected. The flashes he showed at times told much more of the story. 

Trae Young, 2018, Hawks: 17.0 points, 6.8 assists, 38.3% FG, 38.7% 3FG, 3.8 turnovers, 25.8 minutes

Many remember Young being abysmal in Salt Lake City to begin his pro career. But he was actually solid in Las Vegas, including a 24-point, 7-triple performance against the Bulls. Young was one of the biggest question marks heading into the draft, with real concerns about how his small frame would withstand the NBA game - but Young is showing all the signs of a future All-Star. In 23 games after last year's All-Star break, Young averaged 24.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 9.2 assists per game.

Collin Sexton, 2018, Cavaliers: 19.6 points, 3.4 assists, 42.9% FG, 23.1% 3FG, 3.3 turnovers, 28.8 minutes

Sexton was also a mixed bag in Vegas. He had a pair of explosive games, like his 25-point outing on 9 of 15 shooting against the Kings and his 27-point effort against the Lakers. But Sexton was also inefficient, didn't show much from beyond the arc (a concern of his heading into the draft) and didn't do much creating for others. He wound up excelling as a rookie, averaging 16.7 points and 3.0 assists for the Cavs. And while it only came on 3.6 attempts per game, his 40.2% from beyond the arc was a major positive after he struggled in Las Vegas.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 2018, Clippers: 19.0 points, 4.0 assists, 45.8% FG, 25.0% 3FG, 2.2 turnovers, 27.8 minutes

Gilgeous-Alexander was one of the more impressive rookies at the Las Vegas Summer League a year ago. He was efficient across the board and, in addition to the above numbers, added 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. In fact, he was the first player in Summer League history to average 19 points, 4 assists and 2 steals. That transitioned to the regular season, where SGA played an important role - albeit a smaller one - for the playoff-bound Clippers. And his 3-point field goal percentage blossomed to 36.7% in the regular season.

Lonzo Ball, 2017, Lakers: 16.3 points, 9.3 assists, 38.2% FG, 23.8% 3FG, 3.8 turnovers, 32.5 minutes

All eyes were on the Big Baller in Summer League, and Ball responded with six really impressive games. His passing acumen was on full display and he was a blur in transition. His defense was as good as anyone he played with or against - he averaged 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game - and, given the hype surrounding him, his summer was a rousing success. The verdict's still out on Ball, but his defense and passing will keep him as a solid NBA contributor the next 10 seasons at the very least.

De’Aaron Fox, 2017, Kings: 11.8 points, 3.0 assists, 44.4% FG% 12.5% 3FG, 2.5 turnovers, 21.3 minutes

Fox looked overwhelmed at times during his Summer League stint. Like White, it took him some time to figure out playing at different speeds and it resulted in some inefficient lines. His best games came early in the summer, going for 18 points in his debut and adding 17 more a few days later. Fox played just 7 minutes in his final Summer League outing, which distorted his per-game numbers quite a bit (he had 0 points and 3 assists in that one). Fox was largely invisible as a rookie but finished third in the Most Improved Player voting as a sophomore. He's the real deal.

Dennis Smith Jr., 2017, Mavericks: 17.3 points, 4.2 assists, 45.7% FG, 34.6% 3FG, 2.8 turnovers, 25.9 minutes

Smith didn't have the buzz around him that Ball and Fox did, but he may have been the most impressive rookie point guard in 2017. He played above the rim, made 3-pointers and looked comfortable in pick-and-roll action. He also added 2.2 steals and got to the free throw line 7.3 times per game. He was named to the All-NBA Summer League First Team, but it didn't really translate to the NBA. Smith has been incredibly inefficient, and the Mavericks dealt him halfway through his sophomore season in the Kristaps Porzingis deal.

Kris Dunn, 2016, Timberwolves: 24.0 points, 3.0 assists, 54.2% FG, 16.7% 3FG, 3.0 turnovers, 33.9 minutes

Jamal Murray, 2016, Nuggets: 19.6 points, 2.4 assists, 42.5% FG, 27.6% 3FG, 2.8 turnovers, 29.5 minutes

D’Angelo Russell, 2015, Nets: 11.8 points, 3.2 assist, 37.7% FG, 11.8% 3FG, 5.2 turnovers, 30.1 minutes

Emmanuel Mudiay, 2015, Nuggets: 12.0 points, 5.8 assists, 38.5% FG, 14.3% 3FG, 5.0 turnovers, 30.4 minutes

Cameron Payne, 2015, Thunder: 18.8 points, 4.0 assists, 43.6% FG, 28.6% 3FG, 2.5 turnovers, 30.0 minutes