Bulls

Bulls withstand late flurry in 11th straight win over Raptors

Bulls withstand late flurry in 11th straight win over Raptors

At some point, it has to become absurd for the Toronto Raptors.

Certainly, they were smarting and angry over dropping a 16-point home fourth-quarter lead to the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night, but they had to be on high alert against a Bulls team they haven't beaten in more than two seasons.

But absurdity rarely has an acceptable explanation, and the Bulls' dominance over their friends from the north qualifies as such. The Bulls made the Raptors say "uncle" shortly after the opening tip for their 11th straight win in the series, a 105-94 decision Wednesday at the United Center in the Bulls' first home game after their disappointing western swing.

In the most recent evidence of mastery prior to Tuesday's game, the Butler did it, as in Jimmy Butler, who poured in 43 in a game that saw the Bulls come back from a 19-point third-quarter deficit, pushing the game into overtime before suffocating and frustrating the Raptors.

Tuesday, Butler didn't have to be Superman in his return from missing four of the last five games with a right heel injury, though he took the extra defensive attention to dish out a career-high 12 assists and scored 19 points, with 15 of those points coming from the free-throw line as he went just 2-for-10 from the field.

"The heel is good, all there is to say," Butler said. "There wasn't much pain at all. Now it's about getting a rhythm and getting back in shape."

As for his third-worst shooting night of the year, Butler said, "When you're shooting 2-for-10, I think you'd better get to the free-throw line. Other than that, everyone has a different way of changing the game. Getting to the free-throw line was the way to win."

The firepower came from the bench as Doug McDermott led the Bulls with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting with five rebounds. The Bulls shot 41 percent from 3, their highest such clip in awhile.

Denzel Valentine hit two triples in the fourth and along with Butler helped withstand a rousing comeback when the Raptors finally woke up after being down 23 in the second half.  Butler hit four free throws in the last two minutes to push the Bulls' lead back to nine when the Raptors cut the lead to 94-89 with 2:31 left.

"We were getting stops, which allowed us to get into transition," said McDermott, who had an inside score and layup when the Raptors started charging midway through the fourth.

"It started with our defense and rebounding. We got out, and we were really unselfish. It was a great win."

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The Raptors cut down on the turnovers in the second half after having 13 in the first, methodically getting back into the game, cutting the lead to 88-80 with six minutes left and shutting off any semblance of a Bulls offense.

The Raptors weren't playing anywhere near their best basketball, but apparently something clicked about the guys who were beating them, as it was anything but the usual suspects for the Bulls doing the damage.

The Raptors shot 50 percent in the second half after shooting 41 percent in the first, hitting just enough triples to make the Bulls pay for their scrambling defense. Kyle Lowry caught fire after scoring five points in the first half, hitting four of those triples and cutting through the teeth of the Bulls' defense and finishing with 22 points in 37 minutes.

His All-Star teammate DeMar DeRozan couldn't shake from his first-half doldrums, missing 14 of his 19 shots and earning an ejection with 25 seconds left with two technical fouls of frustration. Norman Powell and Corey Joseph came off the bench to provide support when the Raptors looked quite lifeless and the Bulls looked well on their way to re-establishing whatever this level of success is against this particular opponent.

In this case, the Bulls were the ones leading by 20 well into the third quarter, courtesy of 12 first-half turnovers that allowed the Bulls to get out and running for the latter part of the half, leading 66-43 with 7:55 left in the third.

"The biggest thing was our energy. We made good, simple basketball plays in the first half," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We had good pace, and it started with our defense. We were really locked in."

Cristiano Feicio (10 points, six rebounds) had his own jam session off the bench, following up misses with thunderous dunks and playing above the rim in a way that likely precipitated the Raptors acquiring Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic earlier in the day for swingman Terrance Ross and a first-round pick.

"Cris was terrific, I thought. He was all over the floor," Hoiberg said. "He was up in his pick-and-roll coverage, we did a good job getting our hands on balls and that's what led to those transition baskets."

But Ibaka wasn't yet in uniform as the trade still has to be cleared through the league and physicals must be taken, so the Bulls took full advantage of the free real estate inside.

Taj Gibson (14 points, four rebounds) had more than his share of dunks on the fast break, many of the aided by the pace-pushing of Rajon Rondo, who had 12 points and hit two triples, the fourth time such an occurrence happened this season.

How bad of a night was it for the Raptors? Isaiah Canaan was about to take a foul with less than six seconds left as the Bulls had one to give before the penalty, and as he was grabbing Joseph, reserve big man Lucas Nogueira gave Canaan too much hip and was called for an illegal screen.

They made the Bulls do a little more than sweat and the Bulls had to earn the victory, but the Bulls are no closer to finding out any true answers before the All-Star break — other than the fact the Raptors have no answer for them.

Otto Porter Jr. suffered an injury setback, where could the Bulls look for wing help?

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USA TODAY

Otto Porter Jr. suffered an injury setback, where could the Bulls look for wing help?

The Bulls are in a dire spot in terms of their wing depth and that was something that was true before Otto Porter Jr. suffered another injury setback

Chandler Hutchison and the then returning from injury-Denzel Valentine served as the Bulls only real small forwards behind Porter on the depth chart, and Bulls head coach Jim Boylen did not make Valentine a significant part of the rotation until early December. Now, with Porter out and Hutchison still out nursing his persistent shoulder injury, the Bulls are starting guard Kris Dunn at the three with Valentine as his backup. 

Starting the 6-foot-3 Dunn at small forward is quite a tough ask for a Bulls team that has struggled heavily rebounding all season long (Bulls currently rank 29th in the league in rebound percentage). So with the 8-17 Bulls looking nothing like the Eastern Conference playoff contender that they expected themselves to be, they will need to string together a sustained stretch of good basketball to prevent themselves from becoming a clear-cut lottery-bound team (yet again).

The Bulls haven't announced any intentions to make a roster move, but with the buyers and sellers starting to become clear, who are some wings that could potentially help the Bulls and are reportedly available?:

Robert Covington 

Robert Covington is the least likely option for the Bulls in terms of available wing help. It was reported by The Ringer's Kevin O' Connor that title-contending NBA teams have been monitoring the Minnesota Timberwolves and Covington, who has long been one of the league's premier 3-and-D forwards. This season Covington is averaging 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 36.9% from 3-point range. Covington is shooting 5.5 attempts per game from 3-point range and is hitting a career-best 90.2% of his free throws. 

Covington has been heavily linked to the Houston Rockets which makes a ton of sense considering that he started his career there and would be able to play a familiar role, acting as a catch-and-shoot specialist next to James Harden. Though Covington makes the most sense on a contending team, he would have value to the Bulls. Covington's contract has two more seasons on it at a reasonable amount (around $11 to $12 million per year) and even once Porter returns, he would be an amazing addition to a Bulls bench that has already been outperforming the starters on a regular basis

Danilo Gallinari 

It was correctly assumed that when the Oklahoma City Thunder made their franchise-changing trades for Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari, they would be open to moving the players for the right trade offer. It has been reported that the Thunder are indeed open to trading Gallinari (and others).

The Bulls aren't in desperation mode, but that is OK in regards to Gallinari, as he is an asset that may be able to be acquired at a reasonable price. The Thunder came into Tuesday with an 11-12 record, good for the No. 7 seed in the West, but they may not care as much about making the postseason considering their long-term goal is to collect as many valuable assets as possible.

The Thunder may not necessarily enter "tank mode" but if the 31-year old Gallinari—who is on an expiring deal—is not a part of their plans for next season or beyond, he could be had for a reasonable price despite currently averaging a solid 18.3 points per game. The Bulls have their own draft picks, plus the Thunder reportedly are open to taking back salary, so any combination of Bulls players could work to get a deal done. 

DeMar DeRozan

Despite being in clear need of help on the wings, DeMar DeRozan doesn't exactly fit this year's Bulls but hey, beggars can't be choosers. The Bulls would be lucky to an All-Star talent to their roster in a buy-low move, and DeRozan potentially presents the opportunity to do just that. 

The four-time All-Star has a 2020 player option, which is likely to be accepted and represents the last year on his deal. Depending on who the Bulls gave up in a potential deal for DeRozan, they would be able to pair his proficiency as a scorer (especially in the pick-and-roll, where he is averaging 0.92 points per possession) with Lauri Markkanen and/or  Zach LaVine's abilities as 3-point shooters. 

The Spurs look to be on the cusp of missing the postseason for the first time since 1997 and could be more open to making an in-season trade than they have in the past. He is by no means a great fit in Chicago but there are a few things he does well that could make a difference. DeRozan's 5.8 free throw attempts per game would lead the Bulls and his 57.1% true shooting would be better than any Chicago wing outside of Valentine. If the Spurs and Bulls both continue to slide in the standings, even starting discussions on such a trade could become more of a reality.

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The wait for Otto Porter Jr. continues after another injury setback

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The wait for Otto Porter Jr. continues after another injury setback

The wait for Otto Porter Jr. continues---and continues to lengthen.

Porter, who has been out since Nov. 6, now will be reassessed in four weeks after visiting Dr. Bob Anderson, a noted foot and ankle specialist, Monday in Green Bay, Wis. In a release, the Bulls said Anderson confirmed Porter’s bone injury in his left foot. The team also said the “healing response (is) consistent with a small fracture that has become more clearly defined with repeated imaging over the last five weeks.”

Porter will remain in his walking boot for now. And the Bulls’ depth at small forward, which also currently features Chandler Hutchison out with a bruised shoulder, will continue to be tested.

Kris Dunn will remain in a starting role until Hutchison returns. Denzel Valentine also has taken advantage of his opportunity created by these injuries.

However, Porter’s absence is significant. He's a reliable two-way player who adds shooting, leadership and versatility at both ends. Though he got off to a slow start this season, he had started to play impactful minutes just before he got injured.

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