Bulls

Bulls survive Clippers' charge, end three-game losing streak

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Bulls survive Clippers' charge, end three-game losing streak

Maybe it was the mask all along.

Derrick Rose had one of his quietest, worst halves before the ditching the mask that covered his recovering fractured orbital bone, helping pull the Bulls from near disaster.

The Bulls survived Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers when Chris Paul’s leaning triple try bounced off the rim, with an 83-80 final at the United Center. Fred Hoiberg’s sigh of relief was written across his face afterward, and the players said he got more intense through the three-game losing streak.

“Huge. We had to get this one,” the usually buttoned-up coach said, admitting the urgency of the moment. “This was a huge one for us after losing three in a row. We needed this win on our home floor. We found a way to win, even though it wasn’t pretty. It was a brawl out there.”

Neither team shot over 36 percent, and each had extended stretches of futility that made it nearly unwatchable. The Clippers shot 34 percent, and the Bulls barely topped that figure at 35.6, as their futility usually takes place at the worst possible time, the fourth quarter.

If not for Rose’s nine points in the period, the Bulls would be in panic mode with a four-game losing streak, their first since December of 2013.

His floater with 45.4 seconds left put the Bulls up six and finished off his 11-point evening.

[MORE BULLS: Rivers says Thibodeau's year away from coaching 'has been good for him']

“It was something I just tried,” Rose said of removing his mask. “The next game it might be on. They told me a couple days ago, I could play without the mask. I went out and forgot it and just said I’m going to leave it off.”

After going scoreless in the first half and looking a bit out of it through three quarters, he turned it up late, and Aaron Brooks made his reappearance in the rotation with 10 points in 20 minutes.

The duo actually finished the fourth quarter together, with Rose playing more off the ball — another change in a season full of anything but continuity for the Bulls.

“I thought Aaron gave us a great burst of energy,” Hoiberg said. “He got into the paint, made plays and hit a 3. With Aaron in there, it would open up the floor.”

Luckily Rose’s counterpart Paul wasn’t having a banner night either, as Paul shot just five for 16 and committed critical errors down the stretch when the Clippers were mounting a comeback.

Pau Gasol took charge, at one point blocking three straight shots inside and even hitting three 3-pointers for the first time in his career, scoring 24 points with six rebounds.

“He was passionate tonight,” Rose said of Gasol. “When you see how hungry he was, you can’t do nothing but give him the ball and see what he’s working with.”

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Jimmy Butler scored 14 with eight assists and five rebounds in a contest no high school basketball coach would ever consider showing his team as a model for how the game is to be played.

The Clippers scored 30 points in the middle two quarters, begging to be blown out, but it was the Bulls who were begging for a competitive game. Not even Blake Griffin’s ejection could make the Bulls take complete control after he whacked Taj Gibson across the head accidentally, resulting a flagrant 2 verdict from the officials.

The Bulls missed nine straight shots in the fourth after leading by 10 while the Clippers suddenly caught fire, as Josh Smith nailed consecutive 3-pointers to tie the game at 66 with 7:19 left.

Then Butler hit one of his four field goals, a long jumper, then took a charge on Lance Stephenson. After Gibson had a follow-up dunk to a Brooks miss, it seemed the Bulls would cruise somewhat to a win.

But nothing was that easy, as the last couple weeks have shown — but it sure feels better with a win, no matter how it was obtained.

On this night, it was survival.

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

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USA TODAY

Fun with tall people: Lauri Markkanen takes photo with Yao Ming and looks short

Lauri Markkanen doesn't often feel short.

The Bulls forward is 7-feet tall, which even in the land of NBA giants makes him one of the tallest players on the court at all times. So when Markkanen stands next to Yao Ming, it changes perspective quite a bit.

Markkanen posted a photo with him and the 7-foot-6 Chinese Hall of Famer. Markkanen looks like a child.

Makes you wonder if Markkanen pulled some "What's the weather like up there?" jokes just because he otherwise never can.

 

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

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USA TODAY

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

Former Miami Heat two-way player Derrick Walton Jr. is reported to be nearing a deal with the Bulls. In an interview with The Athletic, it was stated: "Walton, 23, says he knows where he’ll play next season. An agreement is in place, but his agent, Mark Bartelstein, is requiring him to sit on the news until next week. All Walton can put out publicly is this: 'Long story short, I’m good. I’m going to a great situation. All I can say.' "

And while it is not yet known if the potential contract will be a two-way deal or not, Walton would provide an intriguing lottery ticket for the Bulls. 

The team mostly ignored looking for a backup point guard on the market. There is obviously a belief in the organization that Cameron Payne will have some internal growth, making him the best option. And the trade of Jerian Grant for essentially nothing, shows even more that Payne is there guy. Retaining Ryan Arcidiacono is a nice move considering the hustle that he showed last season at both the G League and NBA level, but it still leaves the Bulls thin in terms of established backup PGs behind Kris Dunn. And that is where Walton comes into play. 

Walton was a four-year player at the University of Michigan, where he played in some big-time games and showed immense leadership potential. But in terms of strictly on the court skills, there is one thing that he does extremely well: space the floor. 

In his four years at Michigan, Walton took a total of 581 3-point attempts, and knocked them down at a 40.1 percent rate. His elite shooting is enough to make him a legitimate rotation player for Fred Hoiberg. And while Payne still may develop into a better player, his outside shooting is his calling card despite never being elite at that skill at the NBA level. And in fact, when you compare he and Walton’s stats from college, the G League and the NBA, it becomes apparent who is the better shooter right now.

3-point percentage at NCAA level: Payne- 35.9 percent, Walton- 40.1 percent
3-point percentage at G League level: Payne- 33.8 percent, Walton- 37.7 percent
3-point percentage at NBA level: Payne- 34 percent, Walton- 41.2 percent

Now obviously, there is a “small sample size alert” for the NBA level, as Walton has only taken 17 3-pointers at the NBA level in his limited time with the Miami Heat. But these numbers show that even dating back to their freshman years of college, Walton has been the more efficient shooter from 3-point range.

Cameron Payne has the edge when it comes to playmaking, and this is based off of the fact that Payne has maintained an assist rate above 30 percent through all of his G League stints, while also having a low turnover rate (9.9 percent). Walton didn’t come close to Payne in terms of G League assist rate, and his 17.9 percent turnover rate at the G League level shows that his decision-making has yet to catch up to his shooting. 

Ultimately, Walton is going to be most effective as an off-ball guard who can make quick decisions, and knockdown the 3-point shot at a high level. Though if Summer League was any indication, his passing out of the pick-and-roll is getting better. And while Payne certainly is a good shooter, his game is much more predicated on having the ball in his hands, and playing in the pick-and-roll. With so many players on the Bulls who can create their own shot, Walton could end up being the cleanest fit with this constantly evolving Bulls roster.