Bulls

Derrick Rose to miss showdown with champion Warriors, MVP Curry

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Derrick Rose to miss showdown with champion Warriors, MVP Curry

SAN FRANCISCO — The stage was set perfectly but Derrick Rose’s body wouldn’t cooperate, as his sprained left ankle will prevent him from playing tonight against the undefeated NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

It’ll be the second straight game Rose will miss, as he missed the west-coast swing opener against the Phoenix Suns, but now the target is Tuesday against the Portland Trailblazers.

“Big game tonight. Of course I’d love to play in it but I have to deal with the reality,” Rose said. “I was able to move around a lot more than the previous days after I injured it.”

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Rose didn’t practice Thursday so it looked pretty unlikely beforehand he would play in what looked to be a dream matchup against Stephen Curry, but many held out hope that with backup Aaron Brooks out with a hamstring injury that Rose would give it a go, even at half speed.

“It’s perfect, It’s perfect,” said Rose of the stage and opportunity. “It’s very hard, if it wasn’t this injury if it was something else I would’ve played. But this is slowing me a bit and I want to be right.”

He alluded to his history of playing with injury and how it affected not only his play but his body, most notably in the lockout 2011-12 year where nagging injuries could’ve played a part in his torn ACL in Game 1 of the first-round playoffs, the first of debilitating injuries.

“After today, I have a couple days to move around really test it before getting back on the court. I feel like my body’s a little bit different,” Rose said. “If I’m not close to 100 percent, I overthink a lot and overcompensate on a lot of things. It just comes with my body type.”

“What’s previously happened and dealing with the injury, if I was to play it wouldn’t be the game I’d normally play. It would be half of what I could do on the court and playing against them, that’s not what I want to do.”

Playing against Curry meant Rose would be going through a lot of screens and moving in different directions, leaving that ankle susceptible to being damaged worse than his current day-to-day status.

“Cutting and playing defense,” said Rose when asked the biggest thing to worry about physically. “Even on this trip, we’re playing teams that like to attack and get in the open court and I want to be able to defend in transition and play my game on the offensive end.”

He had high praise for Curry, the league’s MVP and leader in scoring, who appears on a mission to validate last year’s title run with another one, as the Warriors completed a 23-point comeback on the road against the rival L.A. Clippers Thursday night. Curry scored 40.

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“He’s been amazing. He’s playing great basketball,” Rose said. “If anything he pushes not only me and the whole league to work on their game. The way he’s been working out, the way he’s focused and how consistent he’s playing, he’s pushing the whole league.”

For the first time, he admitted to a little frustration considering he played his most complete game of the season against the Indiana Pacers, where his injury occurred midway through the fourth quarter where he took an awkward step on the baseline.

“The frustrating thing about it is the last time I played I had a good game and I build off good games,” said Rose, referring to his 23-point, six-assist showing. “For me to not have the opportunity to play because of an ankle injury, it’s a frustrating thing about it. It’s reality. I have to deal with it and I’ll be back soon.”

Player development still the key in Year 2 of the Bulls rebuild

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USA TODAY

Player development still the key in Year 2 of the Bulls rebuild

In talking with Bulls' fans over the summer and reading posts on social media, it seems like expectations for the 2018-19 season are all over the board.

Some fans think the Bulls will finish at or slightly above the .500 mark and contend for a playoff spot, others are looking for more modest improvement with a win total in the low to mid 30's, while others believe Fred Hoiberg's team will be among the worst in the league.

Reality probably lies in the middle ground. Bulls' General Manager Gar Forman told us on media day the goals will be to win as many games as possible while still focusing on individual player development. The Bulls will again be among the NBA's youngest teams with 9 of their top 11 players under the age of 25. 

Bulls' Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson made it clear at the end of last year's 27-55 campaign that he couldn't endure another season of manipulating the roster and player rotations to improve draft lottery chances, while Hoiberg enters the 4th season of his 5 year contract needing to show improvement to keep his position as head coach. 

Clearly, no one in the front office or coaching staff is talking about tanking with the hopes of landing a top 3 pick in the 2019 draft. The Bulls will play to win this season, but they’ll also have to ride out the normal highs and lows of competing with such a young roster.

So, as a Bulls' fan, what should you be watching for this season to judge how much the team has improved? Here's what I'll be looking for:

1. Will Lauri Markkanen take the next step towards All-Star status?

Losing your best player on the 3rd day of training camp isn't the ideal way to start a season, but the good news is Markkanen should return from his elbow injury around Thanksgiving with plenty of time to re-establish himself as one of the league's rising stars. The 1st team All-Rookie selection put on needed bulk and muscle in the off-season to improve his low post game and he's ready to punish smaller defenders who switch on to him in pick and roll situations. Markkanen has all the tools to become a top 30 player in the league. The question is, how much closer will he come to reaching that status this season?

2. Is Zach LaVine all the way back?

Judging by what we saw during the preseason, LaVine appears to be ready to pick up where he left off during his 3rd year in Minnesota when he was averaging 18.9 points per game and shooting nearly 39% from 3 point range before an ACL injury set him back. LaVine should average 20 points a game or more this season, but how much he improves in other areas of his game (particularly on the defensive end), will be the key to whether the Bulls made the right decision in matching that 4 year, 78 million dollar offer sheet LaVine signed with the Sacramento Kings back in July. If LaVine reclaims his status as one of the league’s most promising wing players, the Bulls will have at least two foundation pieces in place. 

3. Can the backcourt pairing of LaVine and Kris Dunn succeed long term?

The Bulls' young guards didn't get a chance to play many minutes together last season because of LaVine's ACL rehab and Dunn's scary fall after making a breakaway dunk against Golden State. Both players are most comfortable with the ball in their hands, and both showed the ability to make big shots at the end of games. Dunn will need to sacrifice some of his offensive game to get the ball into the hands of the team's best shooters, but he's already one of the better defensive point guards in the league and looks like a potential leader on future Bulls' playoff squads. Developing better chemistry with LaVine is critical in year 2 of the rebuild.

4. Is Wendell Carter Jr. the answer at center?

The Bulls used the 7th pick in last June's draft to grab the 6'10" big man, who played in the considerable shadow of Marvin Bagley during their one season together at Duke. Carter Jr. showed enough during Summer League play and pre-season games to move into the starting line-up ahead of 10 year veteran Robin Lopez, but whether he's ready to stay there is another question. Carter Jr. is an excellent rim protector and also has the lateral quickness to switch out on to smaller perimeter players, but right now he's a reluctant shooter. Given the fact Carter Jr. is only 19, it will be fascinating to track how much he improves throughout his rookie season. Did the Bulls strike gold again with the #7 pick?

5. How does Jabari Parker fit?

More than a few eyebrows were raised around the league when the Bulls decided to sign the Chicago native to a 2 year, 40 million dollar free agent contract. Parker was expecting to move to the small forward spot, but returned to power forward when Markkanen was injured, and then moved to the bench when the coaching staff wasn't happy with how the starting line-up was playing early in the pre-season. Parker could be a valuable weapon as a big-time scorer and facilitator with the 2nd unit, but if he's unhappy with his role or playing time, this season could turn out to be an unhappy homecoming. How Parker adapts to the challenges of establishing his role will determine whether the Bulls exercise the team option on the 2nd year of his contract. 

6. Which other players will be part of the roster when the Bulls are a playoff team again?

Questions remain about a number of the team's young players. Bobby Portis has established himself as a legitimate NBA scorer and team leader; his improved 3 point shooting will be critical to the team's success, whether he starts or comes off the bench. But after failing to reach agreement on a contract extension by the Monday deadline, will Portis be chasing stats as he looks ahead to restricted free agency next summer? Denzel Valentine, Cameron Payne and rookie Chandler Hutchison will all have to make the most of limited minutes, with each player needing to prove to the coaching staff and front office they deserve to be in the rotation long term.

So, don't get caught up in the Bulls chasing some arbitrary win total number. Even though the Eastern Conference is weaker overall than the West, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Indiana, Milwaukee, Washington, Miami and Detroit all appear to be likely playoff teams, barring an injury to a key player. 

Hoiberg's offense will continue to emphasize pace, floor spacing and 3 point shooting which should bring out the best in a young and developing roster. 

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

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USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.