Bulls

Dwyane Wade saves Bulls from disastrous loss, scores 31 in win over Kings

Dwyane Wade saves Bulls from disastrous loss, scores 31 in win over Kings

A sleepless night for Dwyane Wade, courtesy of Trevor Ariza stripping him of the ball and chance to be the hero in Houston two nights ago led him to a second chance three nights later.

A second chance, it should be noted, that didn’t seem likely considering a half hour before Wade had his moment in “the moment” as the Chicago Bulls held a 27-point lead over the Sacramento Kings in the third quarter.

But unlike last Friday night, Wade did more than rise to the occasion and bring the Bulls back to .500 with a 112-107 win at Golden 1 Center, as he literally saved the Bulls from a soul-crushing disaster that could’ve very well derailed the baby steps they’ve made in recent days.

“It was in my mind. The guys knew it, everyone knew it,” Wade said. “I kept telling them, if I’m in a position tonight, I’m redeeming myself. It’s uncharacteristic for me to get stripped twice like that. I wanted that game-winner in Houston and they hit the ball away, so I couldn’t sleep very well the last couple of days.”

After DeMarcus Cousins couldn’t complete a 3-point play that would’ve given the Kings their first lead of the game, Wade snatched the rebound and trudged upcourt for some personal redemption as Matt Barnes stood in his way this time instead of Ariza.

So he walked Barnes down to the right wing and nailed a pull-up jumper with 13 seconds left to put the Bulls up two. Then he added some extra flavor to the finish as the Kings had a shot to send the Bulls reeling with a three-pointer, as he darted into the passing lane for a pass intended for Cousins, finishing it off with a two-handed dunk with 10 seconds left.

Not bad for a guy who was being taunted by the crowd as “too old” while he took his rest in the first quarter.

“You wish I was on your team,” Wade shot back.

It was redemption of a different kind as Wade was bailed out by the officials in their earlier meeting on a similar play when he missed a dunk in the closing seconds but Cousins was called for a controversial foul when Cousins’ hand barely grazed Wade’s back.

He left no doubt this time, completing a 31-point performance where he was arguably his most efficient of the season, making 12 of 18 shots to go along with six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a game-saving steal.

Finding gold early against Arron Afflalo, Wade got easy scores on the block early which enabled him to get into a rhythm and produce his fifth 30-point performance this season.

“Dwyane’s been in this position a lot through the course of his career,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “One of the reasons he’ll be in the Hall of Fame one day is because of his ability to close games and play clutch, not be afraid of the big moment.”

“He made an unbelievable shot and followed it up with a great steal.”

It seemed unlikely the Bulls would need Wade to dust off his cape when they led by 27 with 4:13 in the third when Jerian Grant hit a three and it seemed the Bulls’ biggest problem was figuring out how to divvy up minutes between Grant (13 points, 4-5 shooting) and Michael Carter-Williams, who scored 21 with four assists and six rebounds in another start as the Bulls were without Jimmy Butler (right heel contusion).

“Michael was great all night, he really set the tone for us offensively,” Hoiberg said. “He got us out playing with pace.”

Wade didn’t feel uncomfortable taking on the extra workload with Butler out but he knew he had to be more economical with his usage.

“The guys look for me to score more, coach calls a lot of plays for me,” Wade said. “So I kind of take the Jimmy role from that standpoint, and obviously that’s what I’m used to. I’ve just got to do it in 30 minutes and not 38. But it’s a comfortable game for me, and it’s coming in early and playmaking.”

The Bulls’ ball movement was crisp early even before taking the 82-55 lead, as they assisted on their first 14 field goals, playing solid defense on the Kings and frustrating the All-Star Cousins, who torched the Bulls for 40 at the United Center.

Taj Gibson took the assignment of guarding Cousins and bothered him all night, not allowing the big man to get a rhythm and creating an atmosphere of frustration—although Cousins’ blowup toward the end of the third seemed to ignite the Kings later.

Cousins, who was ejected with one second half as he could no longer keep it together, finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five assists but only made five of 16 shots from the field.

From a gameplan execution standpoint, it looked similar to the Bulls’ win in Oklahoma City last week when they led nearly wire to wire, as they were finding Robin Lopez (17 points) and Taj Gibson (13 points) inside for scores against a lagging defense.

Perhaps ignited by a skirmish at the end of the quarter involving Gibson, Rajon Rondo and associate coach Jim Boylen with Cousins and Matt Barnes where it looked like Cousins shoved Boylen, they found new life and had the Bulls seeing double.

Ty Lawson scored a quick 10 in the first several minutes of the quarter, then back-to-back triples from the two Kings combatants, Barnes and Cousins, cut the lead to 107-105 with 56 seconds left.

They gave up six triples in the fourth quarter after allowing just five in the first three quarters, as Lawson scored 22 off the bench and Barnes 19.

“I think the big thing is continuing to play the right way,” Hoiberg said. “Early in the game we had been moving the ball, I think it got stuck a little bit in the second half when they got on that run. You have to realize what made successful, how you got that big lead.”

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Panic didn’t necessarily set in, although one can imagine if the feeling of “here we go again” was setting in for the Bulls.

“I was like, ‘Yes!’ I wanted to redeem myself. I wanted the ball,” Wade said.

For a long while, it looked as if Butler’s prudence was the right decision.

Then it looked like they needed to send in the bat signal for their All-Star.

They did, but Wade happened to be the one to answer.

Finding homes for Thad Young, Denzel Valentine if Bulls' season goes south

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USA Today

Finding homes for Thad Young, Denzel Valentine if Bulls' season goes south

The NBA’s Feb. 6 trade deadline is fast approaching, and the Bulls have decisions to make.

Their quandary isn’t an enviable one. With just over half of their games played, the Bulls have underwhelmed relative to preseason expectations in almost every phase. Yet, somehow, at 16-28, the playoffs are not yet an impossibility — even if the team’s current 1-17 record against teams with above-.500 records makes it seem so.

Thus, the Bulls aren’t likely headed for a big splash at the deadline. They simply aren’t yet competitive enough to risk parting with potentially valuable draft capital in pursuit of ‘one last piece’ to make a playoff push, but they’re also not quite out of it enough to sell off portions of their core, especially given how much the organization has recently invested in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any movement at all. 

Based on how each of their seasons have played out so far, it’s fair to wonder about Thad Young and Denzel Valentine’s long-term fits with the Bulls. Young was brought in on a three year, $41 million deal in the offseason for his veteran leadership and two-way versatility, but through 43 games, he’s averaging the second-lowest minutes total of his career (22.3) and shooting more than eight points below his career field goal percentage (41.7%). Valentine started the year out of the rotation after missing all of 2018-19 with an ankle injury, then re-entered for about a month with Chandler Hutchison sidelined, but has logged three DNP-CDs in a row. He hasn’t played more than three minutes in a game since Jan. 2. 

To be clear: This is no Dewayne Dedmon scenario. Young and Valentine have remained professional through the ups and downs and no trade requests have been publicly filed (though Young has spoken about his desire for more playing time). But both also might benefit from a change of scenery and certainly have the potential to help a contender if the Bulls' season goes south.

The Clippers, as an example, have been repeatedly linked to Young, and a framework built around Moe Harkless makes as much sense as any hypothetical deal out there. Even with Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell in tow, recent reporting from Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report indicates the Clips might be on the hunt for a defensive-minded big to add to their rotation that wouldn’t sacrifice their offensive versatility. Understandable with the Lakers (with LeBron James and Anthony Davis), Nuggets (Nikola Jokic) and Jazz (Rudy Gobert) surrounding them atop the West.

(via TradeNBA)

If one or two second rounders, or a project like Jerome Robinson, in place of that first is more amicable, so be it. Harkless is a tough, switchable, solid-rebounding wing that would help the Bulls on both ends of the floor — especially if the team continues its recent endeavor into small-ball. Plus, he’s on an expiring deal. 

The two guaranteed years remaining on Young’s current contract might be a hurdle for the Bulls to clear, but if the playoff dreams melt away, it could ratchet up the motivation to move him for both sides. Young has been inconsistent this season, but perhaps a jolt of energy in a winning situation with more talent around him would be just what the doctor ordered. He certainly profiles as exactly what the Clippers could be reportedly seeking in a deal.

The Nuggets, Celtics and Miami Heat could make sense as candidates for Young’s services, too, all being contenders with need on the interior. But marrying salaries and value becomes tricky with them.

Valentine’s value league-wide is tougher to gauge, given his sporadic playing time with the Bulls. But with him set to enter restricted free agency this summer, it would behoove the Bulls to avoid potentially losing him — a former lottery pick — for nothing if his days of consistent playing time are done. 

Teams short bench scoring such as the Rockets or 76ers make a modicum of sense, and Valentines $3.3 million salary is simple enough to match:

(The Rockets could absorb Valentine’s salary using a trade exception created when they traded Brandon Knight to the Cavaliers last February)

Bring back Tyson Chandler! The second round pick would be the real haul, but if this move was made in contingency with a Young deal, Chandler slides nicely into a mentoring role for Carter and Daniel Gafford.

Not the most exciting swap (Bolden and Milton are also projects), but perhaps the Sixers (35.3% from three as a team, 17th in NBA) could use Valentine’s shotmaking (39.2% from three this season) and playmaking off the bench. Philadelphia ranks 27th in the league in bench scoring, getting only 29 points per game from their reserves. The Rockets bench is dead last with 26 points per contest.

The Bulls have eight games remaining before the deadline, beginning with the Bucks tomorrow. Three of those are against winning teams (Bucks, Pacers, Raptors), with two others (Spurs, Nets) against technically sub-.500 squads with the ability to play above that level on a given night.

That stretch is sure to, once and for all, instruct us on what to expect from this season. If it’s an unfavorable one, transactions on the fringes of the roster may begin.

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Zach LaVine continues All-Star push with historic outing against Cavaliers

Zach LaVine continues All-Star push with historic outing against Cavaliers

Forget statement games, Zach LaVine is having a statement month. 

In 10 January games, the Bulls’ 6-foot-6 messiah is the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA, averaging 30.6 points on 50% shooting (22.8 attempts). 

To borrow a word from Jim Boylen, his latest installment — 42 points on 19-for-31 shooting in a game the Bulls clawed back from down 19 in the second half to topple the Cavaliers 118-116 — was “herculean.”

“If that's not an all-star performance I don't know what is,” Boylen said. “He’s been a monster, man. He’s been a monster.”

To LaVine, there isn’t much supernatural about these types of nights; he’s been preaching his confidence and readiness to carry this team since day one. LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter, and on a night he conceded his legs were a tad worn, he attempted only six 3-pointers, instead finding most of his offense in the midrange and at the rim.

“Make or break time, we're not gonna get back in the game by just playing nicely. So I'm gonna attack their body, try to make them make a call. Had some tough finishes, made some tough shots, but I take that upon myself,” LaVine said. 

“Just playing the right way,” he added of his recent torrid streak. “I expect to. I put the work in for it.”

But All-Star berths and widespread acclaim aren’t dolled out based on individual point totals, alone, regardless of how effortless LaVine’s prolificity looks at times. And LaVine knows that. Casting the 42 points aside, he also finished the night with a team-high six rebounds, five steals and three assists. He was all-encompassing. Michael Jordan is the only player in Bulls history to post a line with those minimums in a game.

His contributions to a tightly clamped Bulls defense in the fourth were note-worthy for a player that's often advertised his motivation to grow as a two-way, all-around player. And most importantly, the game ended in victory.

“He [LaVine] wants to win. And he knows in order to win you gotta do multiple things in this league and I feel like he did that tonight,” Kris Dunn said. “He was guarding today, scoring the ball, getting rebounds, getting guys involved. We need that from him.”

LaVine lauded the Bulls’ new-look closing lineup of he, Dunn, Tomas Satoransky, Chandler Hutchison and Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls ventured to switch pick-and-rolls with that lineup late, as opposed to their usual blitzing, and outscored the Cavaliers 31-14 in the final period while forcing 10 turnovers.

“We made a lot of defensive stops, we got in transition. Chandler [Hutchison] came in and made some really big plays. Kris Dunn on the defensive end was incredible,” LaVine said. “And that helped me even recently get in some passing lanes. We put it together in the fourth.”

Tonight marked LaVine’s third 40-point game of the season and tenth straight with more than 20. His 31 field goal attempts were a season-high, three more than he hoisted in his record smashing 49-point night in Charlotte. Night in, night out, the on-court production and responsibility acceptance is there. But behind the scenes, he’s ever-improving, as well.

“He's been talking in the huddles, he's been chattering, he's been locked in,” Boylen said. “He's bouncing back from maybe a poor moment or a bad stretch. He's bouncing back now, he's not playing backward at all. And that's what the great ones do.”

“I stepped into this year from the get-go using my voice more, and you know, I've never been a real vocal person but you know, when I say something I think my voice carries weight,” LaVine added.

LaVine isn’t getting ahead of himself. He called this win — however exhilarating — an “ugly” one and lamented the familiar lackluster play that dug the Bulls their 18-point halftime deficit to begin with. Miracle comebacks shouldn't be necessary to beat a now 12-30 Cavaliers team on their last game of a six-game road trip.

Still, the statements are piling up. If his overall outing wasn’t enough, LaVine offered another one to the United Center crowd after his final bucket of the evening, an and-one finish through Collin Sexton with 16 seconds remaining to put him over 40 points and the Bulls ahead by four.

What did he say?

“You want the explicit version or the PG-13?” LaVine said with a chuckle. “This my stuff.” 

Continuing to stuff stat sheets, as he has been, is going to make All-Star jurors’ lives that much more difficult.

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