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Bulls take care of business against Magic, await playoff fate in final game

Bulls take care of business against Magic, await playoff fate in final game

No matter the score or how impressive the Bulls' end-to-end 122-75 win was over the Orlando Magic, the only thing it clinched was a better point differential, as they are now through 81 games and needing one more to qualify for the NBA Playoffs.

It certainly looked pretty, as the sight of another game with double-digit 3-point makes as well as shooting over 50 percent was necessary, along with Dwyane Wade playing another 22 minutes to get himself in a rhythm before the playoffs.

If the playoffs happen, because the Miami Heat beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime while the Bulls' game had yet to go final, meaning it could take a win over the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday to clinch a playoff spot.

If there's a position you'd want to be in — as unnecessary as it seems — you'd want to come off a game where six players were in double figures. Assists were tossed around like rice at a wedding as the Bulls looked cohesive for the night, compared to a lethargic showing — something the Bulls are wont to do.

Having 33 assists on 48 field goals is set to be a recipe for success against most teams and the Bulls needed a wire-to-wire win to restore some confidence headed into the regular-season finale Wednesday.

"If we don't win the game, we don't deserve to be in. Simple as that," Wade said. "We took care of business, we beat a team we were supposed to beat here on our home floor, and it's the same thing we're supposed to do on Wednesday."

Robin Lopez led the Bulls with 18 points and Jimmy Butler scored 17 in 31 minutes, in a game that seemed over shortly after 7:15 local time.

"I think the big thing was our energy right out the gate," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "That's something we talk about. Today we got out with the ball and played with pace and our guys were really unselfish with the ball."

Against one of the more youthful and athletic clubs in the league, albeit an underachieving one, the Bulls looked like the young and athletic bunch for the first time in a long time.

It's not to say Wade looked 10 years younger but he's feeling closer and closer to his usual form, while not trying to disrupt the ball movement and spacing style that was established in his absence.

"Tonight was a good game for everyone to be involved and feel good about themselves," Wade said. "We look forward to playing the team again that stole a game from us a couple days ago."

Hoiberg said: "I thought he looked comfortable tonight. His rhythm was better and you could tell his legs were better. He just had to get that first one out of the way."

Getting out of the break early and often, the Bulls made the contest look like target practice, throwing multiple alley-oops, complete with uncontested breakaways and backdoor cuts against a defense that displayed an indifference similar to a team that longs for Wednesday to come and go as quick as possible.

Taking a lead that reached 30 before the half and extended to as much as 47 in the second half, little time, energy and emotion was wasted before the eyes of the important people turned to what was going on in South Beach.

Off and running for the better part of 48 minutes, the Bulls wasted no time, looking nothing like the inconsistent bunch that took turns showing up or falling asleep last week on their east coast swing.

Jerian Grant had a career-high 11 assists in the absence of Rajon Rondo, who is still out with a right wrist sprain — a sprain Hoiberg deemed "significant" in the pregame — and with no real sign of a definitive return.

Grant has averaged 15.6 points, seven assists and four rebounds in three games since being reinserted as starter.

"Jerian has been great," Hoiberg said. "It's obviously huge shoes to fill with Rajon out. Jerian has done a terrific job of going out and playing with confidence. He made the right play and right read."

Making more of an impression for the playoffs than one might've expected — should the Bulls qualify — Grant made the case he should be on the floor no matter who on the roster is available.

"It feels good to go in and play well after being taken out of the rotation, especially these last couple games that we need to win. It means a lot for me," Grant said. "It's one game and we're in."

Just as things have been all season, the answers on the Bulls won't come until the final day of the regular season, it appears, where opportunity or disaster is at their door.

NBA teams ‘impressed’ by Bulls’ front office hires, monitoring Jim Boylen decision

NBA teams ‘impressed’ by Bulls’ front office hires, monitoring Jim Boylen decision

When the NBA went dark on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bulls got busy.

A front office overhaul that was first reported as a possibility during All-Star weekend in Chicago kicked into overdrive during the league’s hiatus with the hiring of Arturas Karnisovas as executive vice president of basketball operations and Marc Eversley as general manager, the firing of Gar Forman and the re-assigning of John Paxson to an advisory role. 

It’s the dawn of a new era in Chicago. Energy is palpable throughout the fanbase. Bulls players have expressed enthusiasm for the direction of the franchise, as well.

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And around the league, competitors have taken note. Take it from NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh, who stopped by the Bulls Talk Podcast recently to discuss the league’s impending restart, and the state of the Bulls.

“I think it’s a brighter future,” Haberstroh said on the team’s front office changes. “I don’t think any NBA team is happy about what [the Bulls] did, because it means that their lives are going to be a lot harder to win a championship. 

“The Bulls have been in a rough spot over the last several years, just trying to rebuild after the Tom Thibodeau era, and never really quite having an identity. And I think with the change, the identity change with Arturas Karnisovas, he’s shown that he is a people person, he’s a gym rat. He hired Marc Eversley who has a really strong reputation around the league.”

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Indeed, the rebuild catalyzed by the Jimmy Butler trade (which yielded Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn) has yet to fully bloom. The Bulls are just 71-151 since the trade, and poised for a fourth consecutive top-10 draft selection after going just 22-43 in an abbreviated 2019-20 season and being left out of the NBA’s 22-team restart in Orlando, Fla. — a season which began with self-imposed playoff expectations.

That has led to widespread speculation on the future of head coach Jim Boylen. Boylen owns a 39-84 record since taking over for Fred Hoiberg 24 games into the 2018-19 season. He signed a three-year extension in May 2019, and assembled his own staff — headlined by Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers — last offseason.

Haberstroh added that those aforementioned competitors are monitoring the Bulls’ coaching situation closely. For now, as NBC Sports Chicago has reported, Karnisovas is empowering Boylen as coach of the team and withholding final judgements until he is able to observe him in the Bulls’ building and establish a relationship with him. Boylen recently participated in a Juneteenth march alongside Wendell Carter Jr. and other Bulls’ staff, and has been active checking in on players, both individually and on team Zoom calls.

“I think the big question that people around the league are wondering is ‘What is going to happen for Jim Boylen?’” Haberstroh continued. “And I think the head coaching position is going to be a canary in the coal mine for how this is going to be run going forward. 

“If Arturas or Marc believe that they need a new voice running the team and they are met with some reservations from either ownership or from elsewhere, do they have the autonomy to make that decision? Or is it going to be a situation where, ‘Hey, we don’t want to pay another head coach, we already have this deal with Jim Boylen, we don’t want to have to pay another coach to be in here.’ I think that’s going to be an indicator of how things are going to be running going forward. So it will be interesting to see. People around the league are very, very impressed (with the hires) that they’ve made. But I do think they want to see how much autonomy, in reality. They can say all they want now in press conferences, but we’ll see when push comes to shove whether they’re going to have full autonomy making decisions about not just the head coach but just everything in the organization.”

“All indications are that they’re going to have that full autonomy. But I think from around the league that is the big question mark, and they’re watching the head coaching position.”

Listen to the full conversation with Haberstroh here or via the embedded player above.

RELATED: The case for Coby White's All-Star potential 

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NBA releases scrimmage schedule for 2019-20 season restart in Orlando

NBA releases scrimmage schedule for 2019-20 season restart in Orlando

Before the NBA officially restarts its season on July 30, all 22 of the invited teams will participate in three inter-squad scrimmages, as a means of final preparation.

The league released each squad's schedule for those scrimmages on Saturday. Scrimmages run from July 22 - 28 and are mostly interconference, presumably to avoid teams getting premature reads on potential early-round playoff opponents:

Not announced is whether or not the games will be televised, or a broadcast schedule.

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And one other matter of note: As Caitlin Cooper pointed out on Twitter, teams will intermingle between hotel locations for the three scrimmage games. Take the Lakers' scrimmage schedule, for example: They face the Mavericks, Magic and Wizards. While the Lakers will stay at Gran Destino Tower during their stay, the Mavericks and Magic will inhabit the Grand Floridian, and the Wizards the Yacht Club.

According to the league's 113-page health and safety guidelines for the bubble, players will be allowed to socialize with players at different hotels starting with "Phase 5," which begins July 22, but any meals shared with a player or staff member from another team must be eaten outside. Before that, players will only be allowed to socialize with teammates or others staying in the same hotel as them.

Teams are set to travel to Orlando on a staggered schedule from July 7 - 9; from there, regular COVID-19 testing and symptom monitoring will go into effect. After a period of quarantine and producing two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart, players and staffers will be allowed to participate in group activities with their teams.

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