Bulls

Despite tough stretch for Bulls, Mike Dunleavy showing his value

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Despite tough stretch for Bulls, Mike Dunleavy showing his value

The Bulls’ season appears much like pieces to a puzzle one can’t put together until after time has expired, therefore limiting the value of the pieces that would otherwise be magnified.

Players have been shuffled in and out all season long, but the one player Fred Hoiberg has bemoaned not having from the start of this year is Mike Dunleavy, whose injury-induced absence was written off as an opportunity for Doug McDermott to fulfill his potential as a lottery pick from 2014.

Dunleavy seems to settle things on the perimeter, even in the absence of Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose. Hoiberg hasn’t been shy of saying the Bulls had a losing record when Dunleavy was out last year, though it was a much smaller sample size (19 games) than this time around.

“He's just so smart. Even if he's not making shots, he knows where to be,” Hoiberg said. “The fact that you've got to guard him closely, hug him out on the perimeter. A forward with his size, at 6-foot-9, he's such a versatile, smart player. He's one of the smartest guys in the league. When he and Pau (Gasol) were out there, they had a good chemistry together.”

[MORE BULLS: Hoiberg 'hopeful' Derrick Rose plays on two-game Florida trip]

He’s still under a minute restriction as he recovers from back surgery, but his contributions have been tangible, scoring in double figures in three of the last four games, as well as shooting 44 percent from 3 since his return.

“I mean, what’s wrong with — I’m cool with the minutes I’m playing now,” Dunleavy joked. “Honestly. hopefully we’ll continue to build on it, but I’m at a good amount right now where I feel like I can have a good impact on the game. Playing 14, 16, 18 minutes, that’s a little tougher. But where I’m at now is good.”

The Bulls have gone 3-6 since Dunleavy’s return, so it’s not like he’s prevented the slide to the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture — and if they wind up missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, it’ll be much ado about nothing anyways.

But the one thing the Bulls didn’t have on the perimeter was someone dependable and consistent, even if the ceiling isn’t on a star level. Yes, he knows where he’s supposed to be, but he also recognizes when it’s necessary to break things off for a backdoor cut or a flare to the perimeter when things bog down.

McDermott’s play has improved with Dunleavy’s presence, as the two have spent time on the floor together when Hoiberg chooses to go small in the frontcourt.

“Well, I hope it helps. That's what you do as a leader, you want to set a good example,” Dunleavy said. “I know coming up in this league when I was younger, watching guys like Cliff Robinson, Jeff Foster (in Golden State and Indiana), guys like that, just every day were tough, good veterans. You learn a lot from those guys. I certainly did. So hopefully I can set an example and help a few young guys out.”

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The Bulls were scouring the trade market early in the season for a wing with athleticism and more youth while Dunleavy’s status was in doubt, but one doubts they’re unhappy with what he’s providing now.

But one wonders if there’s enough time remaining in the season for this piece to really be effective enough for the Bulls to make a genuine run when the games really count.

“We'll see,” he said. “The good news is we're close in the standings, although we haven't played great, we're still in it. That's the positive of it.”

In some ways he should be a safety blanket for Rose and Butler when they do return, as they know he’s reliable and as evidenced by some of his recent takedowns, unafraid to throw his body in front of people by way of “any means necessary.”

“Mike's got a little nasty streak to him, and that's what makes him a great player,” Hoiberg said. “Rarely do you see when Mike fouls somebody, he's going to make the basket. Some of the other guys, they love to have him because they'll put it in the hoop on them. That's not going to happen with Mike. That ball doesn't go in the basket on a hard foul.”

When asked if he was tough — like James Bond or Arnold Schwarzenegger tough — Dunleavy replied in the fashion that said a lot by not saying a whole lot.

“I'm Chris Rock tough,” he said.

Five observations from Bulls-Sixers: Well, at least the first quarter was good

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USA TODAY

Five observations from Bulls-Sixers: Well, at least the first quarter was good

Here are five observations from the Bulls' season-opener loss to the Sixers on Thursday night.

1. How about that first quarter?

In what could wind up being the most exciting quarter all year, the Bulls began the year with a 41-point explosion. The Bulls shot 63 percent in the quarter, at one point scoring on an absurd 11 consecutive possessions. Bobby Portis scored 13 points and hit all five shots, while Zach LaVine added 15 of his own. The ball was moving, they played quickly and caught Philadelphia out of position at times and took care of the ball. The fun times didn't last, but it wound up being the highest scoring first quarter in a Bulls season opener. It was fun. The other three quarters? Well, the first quarter was fun.

2. The defense is as bad as we thought it was

Granted, Kris Dunn is far and away the Bulls' best defender and was out while attending the birth of his baby boy. But this was still about as bad a defensive performance as the Bulls could have had, even against an offensive juggernaut like the Sixers. Communication was off almost from the start, and they always looked two steps behind. The Sixers got just about anything they wanted in transition, meaning it was a moot point that they struggled from beyond the arc. From Jabari Parker to Zach LaVine, it wasn't pretty. They're going to struggle all year long. Dunn isn't going to make enough of a difference. Shoutout to Wendell Carter's block on Ben Simmons, the lone defensive highlight of the night

3. Bobby Portis' bet is off to a good start

Portis was guilty of an ugly defensive performance, as Dario Saric posted a monster line by out-hustling his counterpart much of the night. But offensively Portis continues to shine after a great preseason. Portis, now officially in a contract year, went for 20 points and 10 rebounds and added a steal, a block and three 3-pointers in 29 minutes. Without Lauri Markkanen he's the Bulls' No. 2 scorer behind LaVine. We'll add her, too, that LaVine continued to look smooth on offense. He had 29 points on 19 shots and had seven of the Bulls' 12 free throw attempts.

4. The backup point guard job is up for grabs

Cam Payne's leash is incredibly long. He's the best option for now once Kris Dunn eventually returns, but it's probably time for Ryan Arcidiacono and Tyler Ulis to get a look. Payne finished 0-for-4 with five assists and a turnover in 22 minutes. No one was expecting Payne to match Ben Simmons stat for stat (Simmons went for his third career-triple double in four games against the Bulls). But the ball routinely stopped when it got into Payne's hands, and he didn't seem to know where to go once he pushed in transition. His speed is a positive, but once he gets to his spot he struggled to make the right play. And he's a clear negative defensively. Arcidiacono and Ulis aren't exactly Gary Payton, but they deserve looks at some point in the near future. Arcidiacono had 8 points, 4 rebounds and 8 assists in 28 minutes. That came against Philly's second unit, but he was decidely better.

5. Jabari Parker will want a do-over

Friday feels like forever ago. For all Portis did well to close the preseason, it was gone on Thursday. Parker's final line is a bit misleading because of the points he scored when the game was well out of reach. The truth was Parker's shot selection early was awful, and his defense was a real liability. It was the "cons" side of his scouting report played out on the court. There's still hope he can improve, of course, and Hoiberg will need to find the right combinations to make him successful. But we can probably rule out him at small forward if he's having trouble staying in front of power forwards.

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

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USA TODAY

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.

Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.”

The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.

“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”

Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne.

He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.

“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”

After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.

The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.

“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”