Bulls

In first game of post-deadline era, Bulls come up with comeback overtime win over Suns

In first game of post-deadline era, Bulls come up with comeback overtime win over Suns

The post-deadline era has begun for the Bulls, with the directives clear on developing their young players and seeing what can be done in the last third of the season.

And while their youth sparked them early, it was the headliners who stepped up late in their 128-121 overtime win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at the United Center, as the team was clearly adjusting to life without Taj Gibson, who was traded Thursday.

Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade each had sluggish starts, to say the least. Each looked like he was going through an island-like malaise through the better part of three quarters before waking up.

Butler finally ignored the snooze button at the most opportune time, nearly winning the game in regulation with a tying triple, then a fadeaway 15-footer over Eric Bledsoe to cap off a late comeback that saw the Bulls rebound from an eight-point deficit with a few minutes left in the fourth.

"That's what great players do," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They step up when you need them the most. Jimmy obviously had a tough night shooting the ball (early). ... What he's been doing all year, taking over the game in the fourth, and tonight was no different."

Then Wade, in one of his few post-halftime mistakes, controversially fouled Suns sharpshooter Devin Booker on a triple with 1.5 seconds left, but Booker missed the last of the three free throws to send the game into overtime.

"I think it was good defense," said Butler before giving a nod to his controversial whistle that went his way a week ago. "We don't wanna go back too far, but a foul's a foul."

Wade and Butler continued the assault into the extra session, with Wade rising for a late flush over Suns center Alex Len and raising his arms in celebration — having put together a 23-point performance after a scoreless first half.

"That dunk he had was unbelievable," Hoiberg said. "I should give him another week off."

In the early stages, Butler wasn't as futile as Wade, but he wasn't much better, scoring just eight before the fourth but being more aggressive and assertive with his moments and jump shots, finishing with 22 to go along with nine assists and four steals.

"Just keep shooting the ball and eventually it'll go in," Butler said. "And they did. Coaches put the ball in my hands, I kept taking the same shots, making the same plays. Then they went in."

The Suns led most of the way, mostly due to their team-wide speed and athleticism, getting out on the break the way they did in the first meeting two weeks ago. Booker scored 27, while Bledsoe, TJ Warren and Marquese Chriss each scored 17. Bledsoe added 10 assists and seven rebounds in 40 minutes.

They dominated the fast-break department at a 27-16 clip, and the Bulls actually countered with 3-point shooting, hitting 12 triples and shooting 46 percent from 3.

Nikola Mirotic was 4-for-7 from deep on the way to a 20-point night, while Denzel Valentine put together his best showing as a pro with 15 points, all coming on five made 3s.

Three straight triples from Valentine pulled the Bulls to within one late in the third quarter. The shots were decisive and confident — perhaps as he knew he wouldn't be removed for anyone at the first mistake.

"I like it, take the shots when you're open. Sometimes when you're not open, still shoot it and we know to get back," Butler said.

There were plenty of mishaps and things to complain about as the Bulls hit a new wave, but at least it started with some positive vibes after a day of uncertainty and confusion.

Why NBA role players could see on-court benefit from bubble environment

Why NBA role players could see on-court benefit from bubble environment

Kenny "The Jet" Smith never made an All-Star team across his 10-year NBA career. Nor earned an All-NBA selection.

But he did display a knack for stepping up when the spotlight shone the brightest. His two rings with the Houston Rockets evidence that. In the two postseasons that yielded those championships, Smith started all 45 games for Houston and averaged 30 minutes, 10.8 points and 4.3 assists per game while canning 44.4% of his attempts from 3.

The 2019-20 NBA playoffs will be unlike any the league has seen before. Over the next three days, 22 teams will make their way to Orlando, Fla. to tie a bow on an eight-game conclusion to the regular season and a 16-team playoff in a bubble environment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Throw home court advantage out the window. All games will take place on a neutral court, and without fans.

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Who could such an environment benefit the most? Smith broke down his thoughts on the latest episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast, hosted by Jason Goff:

“I don’t know if it’ll affect the (quality of the) product,” Smith said of the unprecedented bubble atmosphere. “Like, they’re the best 350 players in the world. But there are levels inside of the 350. Players who are marginal inside of the best 350 in the world are going to play better. Because guys don’t play as well on the road as some play at home. There is no home. There is no road. Every game’s a home game, every game feels like a practice setting.

“The superstars have taken over a lot on road games. There is that. So now, I think you’re going to be like, ‘Man, I did not know such and such was so good,’ because he’s going to have a comfort level that he’s never had before. It’s going to feel like every game feels like an intense practice — more than an NBA game, but a super intense practice, which they’re accustomed to and they’re comfortable in that environment.”

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Of course, there will be other factors in play, as well. Though the NBA baked a three-week ramp-up period and scrimmage schedule into its restart plan to reacclimate players, the league’s four-month hiatus will have impacted each player differently depending on the resources at their disposal from their respective homes. With social distancing a priority, and gyms and practice facilities shuttered, think of the training differences between players living in big-city high-rises compared to sprawling suburban residences, plus the salary gap — and thus, the resource gap — that exists between older and younger players. Also looming will be the still-present dangers of COVID-19, which trump any purely basketball-related consideration.

Still, Smith’s theory is an interesting one. Long has the hypothesis of role players performing better at home than on the road in the postseason persisted. Perhaps the Orlando bubble will mark a definitive test of that.

RELATED: NBA season restart 2020: Schedule for 8-game seeding round for every team 

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Kenny Smith launches virtual basketball camp featuring NBA and WNBA stars

Kenny Smith launches virtual basketball camp featuring NBA and WNBA stars

Two-time NBA champion and TNT analyst Kenny Smith is launching Jet Academy, a virtual basketball camp staffed by the highest-level hoopers in the world to help boys and girls train their game while maintaining social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was sitting at home and social distancing and quarantine, and my kids typically go to basketball camps,” Smith told Jason Goff on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast. “They can’t go to camps anymore, I can’t do my basketball camp in North Carolina, I had 700 kids. And I just noticed it was a need in the world that was going on, and I said I’m going to create — and I created — the first virtual basketball camp for kids and adults and anybody who plays the game, virtually. And you can do it from anywhere, any time, on any device, with anyone.”

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As for the instructors? Kemba Walker, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Victor Oladipo, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Trae Young will all lead or co-lead training sessions. Those seven players account for 35 All-Star appearances and two MVP awards. 

Smith was clear that his intention isn’t to replace traditional trainers, but he believes those that have achieved greatness at the highest level will have special perspective to offer.

“I was talking to Kemba, I was like, ‘OK, Kemba, so this is what we need to do in the camp’ and he’s like, ‘OK, what are the drills you want to do?’” Smith said on the podcast. “I said, ‘No, no, no. Trae, Kemba, I want you to do the drills that you do to get ready. I want to see how you got your jumper like that. That’s what I would want to see. ‘Kemba, show me the pullback.’ He said, ‘Alright, I’ll show you the pullback.’ I said, ‘No, but then you gotta tell us why you use it and when you use it.’ That’s what a trainer at times can’t give you.”

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The camp tips off July 20 and will feature live, daily, two-hour video sessions with instructors that campers can follow along with remotely. Campers will also be able to text questions to instructors, upload video of them training for response within 48 hours, and view sessions on-demand. Smith stressed the importance of that interaction towards developing one’s game. 

Listen to the rest of Smith and Goff’s conversation, which touches on the litany of considerations facing the NBA as it embarks on its bubble experiment in Orlando, here or via the embedded player above.

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