Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler return but Bulls come out flat against Suns

Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler return but Bulls come out flat against Suns

PHOENIX — Dwyane Wade had a wry smile as he mishandled a dribble on the baseline, an unforced turnover that often leads to nothing.

But the Phoenix Suns were off and running in the blink of the eye, with P.J. Tucker getting it ahead to Eric Bledsoe who Euro-stepped into the lane for a layup and foul on Jerian Grant.

No time to complain, half-step or even smile at yourself in disbelief as the Suns have one advantage, especially at home.

Run you out of the building.

Wade and Jimmy Butler's return was necessary but it wasn't fruitful as the Bulls dropped one to the Western Conference basement-dwelling Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena, 115-97 Friday night.

"Awful, awful," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They out-competed us in every category tonight: rebounding, loose balls, transition. Tells you all you need to know."

Butler returned from a three-game absence due to a right heel contusion and scored 20 in 30 minutes. Wade getting back from that illness that made its way through the league and the team last month served him well as he played with fresh legs and scored 18.

But both came away with injuries as Wade had his wrist wrapped up after a hard second half spill and Butler took a shot to the knee from Bledsoe in the fourth quarter.

He tried to stay in but a few minutes later the game was out of hand as the Bulls couldn't cut into a double-digit deficit in the fourth, perhaps their worst end to end effort in quite awhile.

"I'm just hoping this pain goes away. Sometimes the game goes, you gotta use that foot," Butler said. "Nothing major (knee). It's all good. I'll be fine."

But when asked would he play Sunday, Butler seemed to put his availability into question, saying, "That's a good question. That's a very good question."

Having Butler back aided in terms of shot creation, as he had little trouble getting his own despite clearly looking less than his usual self. He started the second half just one of six and finished going six of 16 from the field, with the Bulls unable to get any offensive traction with just 43 percent from the field and hitting five of 19 triples.

Even though the offense was a big enough problem for Hoiberg to harp on, the defense was inexcusable as they didn't get back — the first tenet of defense.

[PREVIEW: A day in the life of the Windy City Bulls]

"That's all we talked about and we said don't be surprised," Hoiberg said.

Apparently, they looked shocked the Suns came out and ran.

"It didn't get better," Butler said. "We didn't get back. They got a lot of easy ones and it's tough when you gotta take the ball out of the net every time. They get their confidence, they get rolling."

Notably, it was the Suns' backcourt that gave the Bulls the flu, as the Bulls had to know containing Bledsoe and Devin Booker was the biggest key to picking up their third win in five games on the West Coast swing.

Bledsoe lived in the paint all night on his way to 23 and the sharpshooting Booker scored 27 easy points. The Suns shot nearly 50 percent and turned it over just eight times.

Facing the best team at getting out for quick scores gave them a nice primer on the Suns' attack — although the Suns are nowhere near as sophisticated or good as the Warriors.

But they ran the Bulls up and down in the second quarter to take a 13-point lead. They had trouble tracking the dangerous Booker and too many times the Bulls blew defensive assignments inside to allow easy baskets.

"If you don't know what you do well how do you win consistently? In a game like today when you look at it statistically, everything we gave up is how we lose games," Wade said. "We turned the ball over a lot, gave them a lot of transition points and didn't have a lot of ball movement. Those things and losing the rebounding war, those are the things that give you a chance to win most nights."

But it wasn't just Bledsoe breaking the Bulls down but also Brandon Knight off the bench and bruiser Alan Williams bumping and knocking bodies around for a double-double off the bench after former Bull Tyson Chandler went out in the second quarter with an injury.

This was supposed to be a game the Bulls could pick up as the topsy-turvy East isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Instead, they laid an egg — just the momentum they want to carry into Minneapolis Sunday afternoon.

Bulls' defense is trending upward, leads NBA in forcing turnovers, steals

USA Today

Bulls' defense is trending upward, leads NBA in forcing turnovers, steals

Just over midway through the third quarter Wednesday night, Kris Dunn cleanly picked Derrick Rose’s pocket for a steal.

“I love getting steals. That’s been my game since high school. That’s what I do. I take pride in that,” Dunn said following Thursday’s practice at Advocate Center. “I think my teammates know, the coaches know, the other teams know defense is what I do. And I try to inspire that in others.”

With 17 Pistons’ turnovers, the Bulls have now forced 15 or more turnovers in all 15 games this season.

The last time they did this---in 1980---nobody on the current roster was born. Jim Boylen was in high school in Grand Rapids, Mich. No NBA team has opened a season in similar fashion since the 76ers did in 2004, per Elias Sports Bureau.

The Bulls lead the NBA in overall steals and rank second behind Friday’s opponent, the Heat, in steals per game. Dunn ranks third behind league leader Jimmy Butler, in town Friday, and Ben Simmons with 2.13 steals per game.

The Bulls also lead the NBA in forced turnovers per game at 18.8 and points off turnovers.

“I think our defense is built to force turnovers, the system that we run,” Dunn said. “We’re blitzing guys, trying to get the ball out of their hands. You have to make them make a read. Our defense is built so that after we blitz, we have a triangle (of defenders) behind. If they make a mistake in the read, it often leads to a turnover. We have a lot of good defenders on this team who can create turnovers.”

Shaq Harrison’s emergency starter status now that both Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison are on the shelf aids in this department. He led the NBA in steals-per-minute last season and posted three versus the Pistons. Hutchison is doubtful for Friday’s game against the Heat.

“I’ve been doing that my whole life,” Harrison said of getting steals. “Every coach I’ve played for has been a defensive-minded coach and wants me to get into people. It’s been embedded into my mind to get steals and deflections and pick guys up to play hard 100 percent of the time.

“I think defense and that mentality is 90 percent toughness and heart and then 10 percent skill. Anybody can do it at this level if you truly put your mind to it.”

Despite their penchant for steals and forcing turnovers, the Bulls rank 14th in defensive rating. That’s middle-of-the-pack stuff, although it’s trending upward over the last five games. And it’s reflective of their poor defensive rebounding, occasionally poor defensive transition and inability to limit dribble penetration.

In detailing his defensive philosophy, coach Jim Boylen cited those three areas as need for improvement. That’s borne out in the Bulls allowing too many shots at the rim. What’s wild is they lead the league in offensive attempts within 5 feet but also allow the second-most in the league.

“We do not teach to steal the ball. I’m not a big out-of-position-to-steal-the-ball guy,” Boylen said. “What we have coached hard---and I guess well at times---is hand position, body position and doing your work early. I think that has put us in position sometimes to knock some balls loose or pick a couple off. But I’m not big on getting out of position to try to get a steal. It’s not who I am. It’s not who we want to be.”

Dunn said he sees “no downside” to the Bulls’ defensive’ scheme as long as it’s played with energy and communication. The Bulls have had trouble making quick and proper rotations if they don’t force a turnover, although that area too has improved over the last eight games.

The Bulls rank ninth in defensive rating over their last eight games.

“I give our guys credit,” Boylen said. “They’ve really bought into what our defense looks like now. Early, we struggled to get to the corner, to adjust and shift. I think there’s a familiarity now. There’s a learning curve in every defensive situation. I also think there’s defensive chemistry. And I think we can still grow.

“My assistant coaches have done a great job of sticking to what we believe in. We’ve coached basically the same thing since Day One. I feel we have a foundation. We need to be more consistent and play better. But we’re coaching to a system.”

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Luol Deng is honored in win over Pistons


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Luol Deng is honored in win over Pistons

On this edition of Bulls Outsiders, Matt Peck, John Sabine and David Watson react to the Bulls 109-89 win over the Pistons.

1:00 - Reaction to the win over Detroit

3:25 - Viewer comment on Bulls still having hope in the Eastern Conference

4:30 - Did Lauri Markkanen finally break out of his slump?

6:30 - Viewer comment on Zach LaVine and if he still fits

8:15 - Shaq Harrison balls out starting at SF

9:30 - Big Dave does Shaq highlites

11:50 - Viewer comment on James Harden or Luka Doncic?

13:30 - Viewer question on who has bigger hands- Will Perdue or Kendall Gill?

15:15 - Bulls honor Luol Deng and 2009 Bulls team

18:05 - Viewer comment on greater Bull- Joakim Noah or Deng?

21:00 - Viewer comment on Otto Porter Jr.’s return

23:30 - Reacting to Derrick Rose’s comments about load management

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

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