Bulls weather storm from Nets, climb back over .500


Bulls weather storm from Nets, climb back over .500

It was a reprieve for 24 minutes, a slight deviation from the dangerous reality the Bulls find themselves in to date.

Then they were snapped back rudely by one of the worst teams in the NBA, a team so nondescript the team’s their starters are a combination of “Who?” and “He’s still in the NBA?”.

It wasn’t decided for sure until the last five minutes, when Doug McDermott hit a 9-1-1 Emergency triple followed by Derrick Rose doing the same thing to give the Bulls a 13-point lead over the Brooklyn Nets with three minutes remaining.

It closed the door on a Nets run and led to an 118-102 win at the United Center, yet another game where the Bulls were staring down the barrel of falling under .500 and this harder-than-it-should’ve-been win put them a half game up on the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot in the East.

Ugly as it may have been, equaled by the amount of “scary”, it’s a win.

“I thought we had good focus early on, defended well,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We lost it for a little but we did get it back.”

Not to be outdone by the schedule, the Nets will make a donation to the Pistons on Saturday night in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

It wasn’t before they put a genuine scare into the Bulls, who might not have won without McDermott’s 25 points in 29 minutes, as he hit five of the Bulls’ 10 triples.

“We needed it big time, we came off a tough loss in D.C.,” McDermott said. “We got off to a good start, had a big lead. I feel real comfortable out there. I got it going early, which always helps.”

Three straight games with 20 or more, his performances are coming at the most critical of times, especially with Pau Gasol out at least for the next game and possibly next two.

“His confidence is at a very high level right now,” Hoiberg said. “He’s finding good shots and taking him. They’re really hugging him at the half court so if he can free himself up in transition, he can get a good shot.”

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It helped build a 24-point lead in the first half, as the Bulls were buoyed by the presence of Taj Gibson, a man who didn’t seem likely to play after pulling his hamstring 24 hours ago in Washington D.C.

“If you can go, then you go,” Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. “If you can’t, you can’t. Taj was like, ‘Yo, I’m going’. You respect him for it.”

Gibson was a gametime decision but played 27 minutes and scored 12 with six rebounds while defending Brook Lopez and keeping him out of comfort zones, along with help from Cristiano Felecio, who played 20 minutes and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Lopez only mustered nine points and three rebounds in 31 minutes. Had he gotten going, it would’ve been an even scarier situation.

“I thought Bobby (Portis) and Cris were key,” Hoiberg said. “I thought our whole bench gave us a lot all night.”

Portis had some miscues but played with extreme energy and scored 12 points with 14 rebounds. Butler scored 22 with seven assists and Rose, who wasn’t aggressive most of the night, had 12 with five assists in 29 minutes.

The Nets made it interesting, with a 37-point third quarter that brought back all the Bulls’ demons—demons that have come to life and are no longer a talking point. Open shots, open layups and more than anything, a new lease on life.

“Obviously we want to have good habits and that third quarter, we can learn from it,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we had pretty good urgency. You give a team rhythm like that, then they get comfortable. Some of the shots they were hitting was tough shots. It was because of us.”

They allowed the Nets to have confidence and it carried through the entire second half. Critical plays from the Bulls were countered by a carefree style, a team with no expectations and nothing to lose.

Point guard Donald Sloan scored 11 in the period, being joined by Bojan Bogdanovic scoring 11 of his 26 as the Nets shot 64 percent for those 12 minutes.

“We won, man. We just wanted to win the quarter,” Butler said. “We’re not supposed to give up that many points in a quarter.”

Meanwhile, that pressure continues to mount on the Bulls and it showed, as they allowed themselves a moment to breathe—with this team, they don’t have that luxury.

Their third-quarter output equaled what they accomplished in 24 minutes and cut it to single digits by the fourth, coming to within five early in the period and hanging around like a nuisance until the Bulls got serious—or the Nets simply ran out of pro talent.

Thaddeus Young had 16 with 14 rebounds, but the Bulls keeping Lopez in check, it led to a win that was a wee bit tougher than it should’ve been.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season


New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction


Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”