Entering Year 15, Bulls' Pau Gasol conscience of his minutes


Entering Year 15, Bulls' Pau Gasol conscience of his minutes

 By Jeff Hamilton

WINNIPEG - Pau Gasol has learned a thing or two over his 14 years of service in the NBA.

And now, as he gets ready to play his 15th season as a pivotal member of the new-look Bulls lineup, he understands the time he spends on the court is just as important as the time he’s left off it.

“I’m focused (on that),” said the seven-foot Gasol following a 114-105 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday in a rare preseason game at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man. “(Monitoring my time) is important, I just want to try and prevent things from occurring as far as fatigue levels and potential injuries.

“It’s my fifteenth year of my career and as much as I played in the summer I just need to be conscientious; to play 30-40 minutes (a game) it’s not wise to do that.”

[MORE: Bulls improve to 2-1 with preseason win over Timberwolves]

Gasol didn’t hit 40 on Saturday — he didn’t even come close to 30 minutes. Sitting out the first two preseason games earlier in the week in order to protect — you guessed it — his body, Gasol played just 15:34 in the winning effort.

But when he was on, he was his usual threat. His 2-for-5 from the field won’t exactly jump off the stats page but his mere presence was enough to dictate the play; often he was double-teamed, freeing up his teammates for open shots.

“It felt good to play some minutes and get up and down the court,” said Gasol, who averaged more than 34 minutes per game last year. “Just to get in to my rhythm, get up my conditioning and get a feel with what we’re doing now with a new system and new coaching staff. So just enough so I don’t get burned out during the year and I stay as fresh as possible.”

Gasol’s ability to stay fresh won’t just land on his shoulders, but also from head coach Fred Hoiberg, who in his first year as bench boss for the Bulls will already have his hands full this season trying to fight off questions about the give-a-care meter from star point-guard Derrick Rose and whether Gasol and Joakim Noah can play together and still cause fits for opposing defenses.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Ask Hoiberg, however, and out comes a pretty easy solution.

“The big thing is we’ve got a lot of guys we can throw in there,” said Hoiberg. “Bobby Portis, for a rookie, has been terrific so far; Cameron Bairstow gave us great minutes I thought as well. Obviously when Joakim (Noah) and Taj (Gibson) get healthy; we can play Doug (McDermott) in some 4 (position), and Nikola (Mirotic).

“We got a lot of bodies so the big thing I want from Pau is to feel good and be fresh at the end of the year, hopefully when you’re playing your best basketball.”

And the Bulls best basketball is when Gasol is on the court.

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

We all know what Zach LaVine is capable of doing on the offensive side of things. But what about his defense?

It's no secret that LaVine has had his fair share of struggles on defense, but Kris Dunn thinks highly of his 23-year-old teammate and what his potential is at the other end.

"On the defensive end I just told him, 'You're as fast as me. You're more athletic than me. There's no way you shouldn't be a good defender in this league. You could be one of those guys who could be dynamic in the passing lanes because you're so athletic and fast.'" Dunn said of LaVine. "And personally, I like to score. If you get in a passing lane, that's a dunk for yourself and because you've got so much bounce that's when you get the crowd on their feet — maybe do a windmill, a 360, something.

"But I think he's been going a good job on the defensive end. It's not going to be easy. We all got to learn and I think we're all trying."

Improving his defense would obviously be a big step forward for LaVine (and the Bulls), and he knows it. 

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” LaVine said when assessing his preseason. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

LaVine and the Bulls travel to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Thursday night in their season opener. You can watch Bulls Pre- and Postgame Live on NBC Sports Chicago before and after the game for highlights and analysis.

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

In a five-game span Wendell Carter Jr. saw preseason action against Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Myles Turner. The 19-year-old rookie had his share of expected ups and downs but performed well enough that Fred Hoiberg officially announced him a starter for the team’s season opener tomorrow night.

His reward for all that hard work? A matchup against All-Pro center Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’ll be an eye-opening experience for the Duke product, who just a year ago was readying himself for his first season of college basketball and a season-opening matchup against Elon. It’s safe to assume Embiid will pose a few more problems than did Phoenix center Tyler Seibring.

“Joel Embiid was one of my role models growing up,” Embiid said before practice Wednesday. “He was someone I always wanted to pattern my game after. Just to go up against him is a remarkable feeling. He’s a very physical player. He’s a very talented player. I’m going to be able to stack up and see what all I need to work on to last in this league.”

While it’s no easy task against a talent like Embiid, who was named All-NBA Second Team last season, Carter’s most important job will be staying out of foul trouble. Carter piggy-backed an impressive Summer League with a preseason that included averages of 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.1 minutes. But those numbers also included 7.7 fouls per 48 minutes. He racked up 17 fouls in five games, and had at least three in each.

Embiid only went to the line five times in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Celtics, but that was primarily against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Al Horford. Embiid won’t face as much resistance against Carter, putting the pressure on the rookie to stay on the floor.

“He’s going to have to navigate that without using his hands,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to be all five aware. It’s just not a one-man problem with Embiid. We have to have great awareness of him and try and mix up coverages and hopefully make him take tough shots, knowing that he’s going to hit some of those. You just can’t get deflated when he does.’’

The decision was a mere formality – Bobby Portis will start at power forward – after the frontcourt combination played considerably better in the Bulls’ final two preseason games. Though Jabari Parker was initially slotted in at power forward following Lauri Markkanen’s elbow sprain, Portis’ impressive preseason forced Hoiberg’s hand. Portis averaged 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field in just 22.4 minutes.

“It’s all about combinations out there and we felt like Bobby gave us a great start with the way he was playing,” Hoiberg said. “And then we kind of changed things up with that second unit and put the ball in Jabari’s hands, so it was more that in trying to get guys out there with the right combinations.”

Lopez may have an expanded role if Carter gets into foul trouble early, while Parker will be the facilitator on a second unit that doesn’t have much in the way of a point guard. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the frontcourt will play out once Markkanen returns in roughly a month; if Portis and Carter continue playing well, Hoiberg could opt to keep them together on the second unit and put Lopez back in the starting lineup.

But for at least Opening Night – the Bulls also get Andre Drummond and the Pistons on Saturday – it’ll be the seventh overall pick getting his NBA feet wet with a matchup against arguably the best center in basketball. But’s it a role he’s earned, and on a Bulls defense looking for any sort of improvement, Carter is the player who can anchor it.

“His defense is always going to be important for us. He’s the guy that’s the anchor in that starting unit at the rim,” Hoiberg said, “and he’s done a really solid job of making perimeter guys taking contested shots when he gets switched off, or staying vertical at the rim and trying to make a big finish over the top of him, so yeah, again it’s a great challenge, great opportunity for Wendell.”