Bulls

Five takeaways from the Bulls' preseason comeback win over the Pelicans

Five takeaways from the Bulls' preseason comeback win over the Pelicans

The Bulls started slow but finished red-hot in their 113-109 victory over the Pelicans. It was an impressive way to open the preseason the slate on what expects to be a rebuilding year for a team littered with youth.

The Bulls will be right back at it tomorrow night against the Mavericks on NBC Sports Chicago, but before we get to that here are five takeaways from game No. 1.

1. The defense is going to struggle

This probably isn’t a news flash for anyone, but the Bulls defense is going to be very poor in 2017-18. The Pelicans scored 46 points on 70 percent shooting in the first quarter, getting every outside look they wanted and getting to the hole at will to draw fouls. True, the Pellies only shot 47 percent from the game and committed 16 turnovers, but there wasn't a lot to like on that end of the floor.

Of those few positives were Justin Holiday on the perimeter, Nikola Mirotic on the low block throwing his new body around, and Jerian Grant. Losing an All-NBA defender in Jimmy Butler was bound to hurt the Bulls' defense (that finished sixth in efficiency a year ago) but it might be worse than initially thought. Some of it is a product of putting more shooters on the floor; some of it is just not enough athleticism.

2. The Bulls are going to shoot a lot of 3-pointers

Preseason basketball is always a little more scattered than what regular season offensive sets look like. That being said, it’s clear the Bulls want to shoot 3-pointers early and often. With the Three Alphas and their ugly percentages gone, Fred Hoiberg can put lineups on the floor with four 3-point shooters. The Bulls shot a whopping 35 3-pointers in the win, with nine different players hoisting triples; to put that in perspective, last year they attempted 22.3 3-pointers per game.

They made 16 of those, which is certainly a positive sign, and got promising performances from deep from Denzel Valentine (4-for-7), Nikola Mirotic (3-for-8), Paul Zipser (2-for-3) and Jerian Grant (2-for-2). They did all that without Lauri Markkanen (and Zach LaVine), meaning even more 3-pointers could be on the way once he, and even Quincy Pondexter, returns.

3. Jerian Grant looks more comfortable than Kris Dunn

Jerian Grant said during the first week of training camp he was excited to have his first legitimate chance at earning a starting spot in the NBA. The deck is stacked against him given that his competition, Kris Dunn, was part of the Jimmy Butler trade that the Bulls need to have something to show for. But through one week (and now one game) it’s apparent Grant has the upper hand.

Grant finished with 11 points and nine assists, hit a pair of 3-pointers, grabbed a steal and finished an outstanding three-point play in the third quarter. He was a team-best +15 and had just one turnover in 20 minutes. Dunn, on the other hand, made a few careless turnovers (three in 22 minutes) and struggled defensively until late in the game in essentially mop-up time. His basketball savvy is apparent, and he has the size to compete, but he still hasn’t put it all together. He had 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting thanks to a late surge, and he added three assists. Dunn will start Wednesday against the Mavericks, but for now Grant looks like the answer at the point.

4. Justin Holiday is going to have take on a larger role than expected

At least until Zach LaVine returns, the best wing on the Bulls roster is Justin Holiday. Paul Zipser is going to contribute, and Antonio Blakeney has some solid potential. But it's Holiday that gives the Bulls their best two-way wing in a league where that's essential, tanking rebuilding or not. Holiday looked the part in his first game back with the Bulls, scoring 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting, grabbing a game-high three steals and contributing elsewhere with three rebounds and four assists. Holiday is just a career 40 percent shooter, and he's averaging less than a free throw per game 203 career appearances. If he can improve on some of that efficiency in a larger role, it'd go a long way for the Bulls. Someone has to score, and someone has to guard the NBA's top wings. Holiday could do both.

5. Cris Felicio looks like he has improved once again

When's the last time you watched Cris Felicio play and he didn't look better than the previous outing? Good luck trying to figure that one out. Big Cris, fresh off signing a four-year, $32 million deal, scored a team-high 15 poiints, grabbed five rebounds and handed out two assists. He was 6-fot-8 from the field and made all three free throws. He cleaned up the glass, showed soft hands on pick and rolls and even knocked down a 15-footer late in a close game. His pick-and-roll defense was solid and he did as a good a job as could have been expected against a talented Pelicans frontcourt.

Robin Lopez still has the reins on the starting job, but it's probably in the Bulls' favor to find as many minutes for Felicio as possible. This may be getting a little too excited, but the Bulls may have found something for the future in Big Cris.

'He wants to be great': Zach LaVine showcases all-around game vs. Cavaliers

'He wants to be great': Zach LaVine showcases all-around game vs. Cavaliers

Entering play, it had all the makings of a dismal affair. Bulls-Cavaliers. One a bottom-feeder in the Eastern Conference; the other an underachieving squad enduring an injury influenza. 

By game's end, it was anything but. Thank you, Zach LaVine. 

LaVine authored another chapter in what has become a sensational season Saturday night, tallying 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists on 16-for-30 shooting (3-for-5 on 3-pointers) en route to a 118-106 Bulls victory.

"All-Star performance," head coach Jim Boylen said after the game. "I thought he was just unbelievable. Driving it, shooting it, creating. He got backdoor cuts, he got it in all different ways."

This was LaVine's fourth 40-point game of the season (tied for third in the NBA), and with it, he is now averaging 30 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists on 48.4/37/81.4 shooting splits in the month of January. If you're not satisfied with that 14-game sample size: Since his record-smashing explosion against Charlotte on Nov. 23 (32 games) that stat line reads 28.2 points (tied for fifth in the NBA), 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists on 46.1/40.6/83.

Those numbers are phenomenal — especially on supserstar volume — and are made even more impressive by the Bulls' offensive struggles around him. Tonight, in spite of 19 points, six assists and 8-for-11 shooting from Tomas Satoransky and spot buckets all around, the Bulls scored at a rate of just 77.8 points per 100 possessions with LaVine off the floor. With him on: 128.4. 

That differential should knock you out of your chair, and that off-rating is actually improved from the team's 66.3 mark without LaVine in Friday's 99-81 loss to Sacramento. LaVine logged 39 minutes against the Cavaliers after saying he was "prepared" for any amount of increase in playing time just one night prior. 

"He was frustrated after last night, our team was frustrated, and I thought he responded, and I think that's what good players do," Boylen said.

LaVine's aforementioned 13 3-pointer outburst against the Hornets came one night after being yanked from a blowout loss to the Heat for what Boylen called "three egregious defensive errors." In Cleveland, he nearly amassed his first career triple double the night after — arguably — the Bulls' most lackluster offensive performance of the season.

"We didn’t come out to play the right way [against Sacramento], I just wanted to come out more aggressive," LaVine said. "Different mentality, the whole team, we were upset about the loss, and I took it upon myself to come out there and just be aggressive."

Asked if he was cognizant of his progress towards a triple double, LaVine said he discovered too late.

"I ain’t have one before," he said. "Literally, like, two minutes to go I was like alright maybe I should get a couple assists. But the game got out of hand, so I’ll get one eventually."

But even without that milestone, the improvements to LaVine's all-around game are notable. Since Wendell Carter Jr. went down with a high ankle sprain on Jan. 6, LaVine is the Bulls' leading rebounder, averaging six boards per game. Against Cleveland, he amassed five of his eight assists in the third quarter as the Cavaliers threw some aggressive defensive looks at him — including being guarded by Tristan Thompson on multiple occasions. He didn't just facilitate, he adjusted in the flow of the game.

"Third quarter they switched up their defense and I felt like I had to be a little more of a facilitator, there was a lot of attention," LaVine said. "I try to address the game the way they’re playing me but still keep my aggressiveness scoring the ball cause I know that breaks down defenses."

So, for now, the Bulls stay afloat. Wiping out the Cavaliers is no hefty feat, especially for a team that maintains playoff aspirations. But it's a nice response to the Sacramento dud, and LaVine's night gives him another notch in both his All-Star and general supserstar cases.

"He wants to be great," Boylen said.

He could very well be on his way.

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Bulls observations: Zach LaVine steals the show in runaway win over Cavaliers

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USA Today

Bulls observations: Zach LaVine steals the show in runaway win over Cavaliers

The Bulls got back in the win column with a 118-106 road victory over the Cavaliers, and Zach LaVine is ridiculous. Here's some observations:

Zach LaVine did it again

Whatever happens over the rest of this Bulls season, don’t put it at the feet of Zach LaVine. If you take one thing away from this one, make it that.

LaVine was simply tremendous tonight. He finished with a cool 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 39 minutes of play, and shot 16-for-30 from the field (5-for-12 from three; 7-for-8 from the free throw line). After the Bulls fell to the Kings on Friday, LaVine said he was fully prepared for any amount of advanced opportunity that might come his way. He proved that tonight. The Cavaliers threw the kitchen sink (and Tristan Thompson, for a couple possessions) at him, and it didn't matter.

"Just playing the game the way it should be," LaVine said of his performance. "Third quarter they switched up their defense and I felt like I had to be a little more of a facilitator, there was a lot of attention.

"I try to address the game the way they’re playing me but still keep my aggressiveness scoring the ball cause I know that breaks down defenses."

LaVine entered the fourth quarter with 39 points, nine rebounds and eight assists but was unable to clinch his first career triple double. He did make a modicum of history, though: 

Yeah, getting those last two assists would have been a cool milestone. But Bulls fans will take the sublime scoring performance — and victory — and run with it. LaVine’s fourth 40-point outing of the season doesn’t hurt his All-Star chances, either.

"I ain’t have one before," LaVine said when asked if he was aware of how close he was to a triple double. "Literally like two minutes to go I was like alright maybe I should get a couple assists, but the game got out of hand. I’ll get one eventually."

A bunch of good things happened in the third quarter

I’ve harped on it more than a few times this season, but the Bulls are not a good third quarter team. Their 27th-ranked -8.3 third quarter net rating proves it.

Tonight was different. The Bulls pounded the Cavaliers 40-19 in the third period, extending a two-point halftime lead to 23 entering the fourth.

To put it simply: Everything went right. The Bulls turned eight Cavaliers turnovers into 13 points, shot 16-for-21 (76.2%) from the field, 3-for-5 from three and slung 10 assists in those 12 minutes, alone. And though LaVine carried the load in the first half, the Bulls got 28 points in the third from the non-LaVine contingent of the team — a positive development.

"We’ve struggled in the third [quarter] as you all know. I was happy with the way we played in the third, I thought the ball moved, I thought we made good decisions, we finished plays," coach Jim Boylen said.

Notably, Tomas Satoransky finished the night with a fully-stuffed stat line of 19 points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals on 8-for-11 shooting. The Bulls’ second-scorer problem is still a pressing one, but we’ll put it aside for another night. 

Let’s have fun with this one

This win doesn’t assuage most any of the darkest clouds hanging over the Bulls. The Cavaliers are a disastrous team — rated in the bottom eight of the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, and with the league’s highest turnover rate (Cleveland committed 21 cough-ups tonight). And yet, they shot 50% from the floor, 43.3% from the 3-point line and both outrebounded and out-assisted the Bulls. 

But given the mounting adversity facing this team, this game is one fans can afford to have some fun with. The Zach LaVine Show marches on, and will continue to be worth watching.

"I said before the game that our team was frustrated after last night’s game [against Sacramento] and I thought we responded. And I’m really happy for that," Boylen said. "We felt we left some stuff on the table and that we could’ve played better, and we talked about that and we moved on."

Next stop: the UC for the Spurs on Monday.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.