Four observations from Bulls' preseason win over the Cavaliers

Four observations from Bulls' preseason win over the Cavaliers

A few observations from the Bulls’ 118-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night at the United Center.

Turnovers, turnovers and more turnovers: It’s become a mantra for the preseason so far, as the Bulls can’t seem to help themselves at giving the ball away to the other team. A 22-turnover performance against a Cavaliers team that won’t be anywhere near the squad the Bulls will see when they meet up in the regular season. Starting with Rajon Rondo, who had six turnovers after having five in each of his first two preseason games.

It was a big factor, along with general lethargy that contributed to a 14-point lead for the Cavaliers in the first half.

“It was ugly. It was ugly,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We were trying to play like the Harlem Globetrotters out there. Between the legs, behind the back, looking the other way before making the pass.  Eleven assists, 16 turnovers in the first half.”

Most of them were unforced, not caused by any pressure defensively. Being an ongoing theme, one wonders if the Bulls will just flip the switch when the regular season begins, but given the margin for error the Bulls have, it could be alarming.

“I’m the point guard so it starts with myself,” Rondo said. “I have to do a better job of taking care of the ball. I think we tried to make the home run play. Or the pass that weren’t there.”

Rondo got it going in the third quarter when the Bulls woke up, hitting both of his triples on the way to a 20-point, six-assist and six-rebound performance. Hoiberg called his 10-point third quarter Rondo’s best of the preseason.

“One thing I don’t wanna take away is his basketball instincts,” Hoiberg said. “He made a couple great passes to the corner and he made them at the right time. Sometimes he holds it  a split second too long. Or he doesn’t hit the open man. It’s not just him, we had several guys doing it tonight.”

So…the balancing act continues.

Who are these guys?

The Cavaliers were without most of their top players. Well, all of their top players, as nine members didn’t make the trip to Chicago, staying home after a preseason game in Cleveland Thursday night.

No LeBron, no Kyrie, no Kevin Love, not even a guy like Iman Shumpert made the trip, which in essence makes it hard for the Bulls to evaluate themselves against actual NBA competition.

Jordan McRae, Kay Felder, Jonathan Holmes and John Holland, not exactly household names, took it to a Bulls team that was only without Jimmy Butler for most of the night, as the Bulls didn’t take a lead until it was 79-77 in the third quarter.

Whether it was the opponent or the grueling days of practice, only the Bulls know.

And in a copycat move that isn’t quite copycat, the Bulls are leaving at least Butler, Dwyane Wade, Rondo, and Taj Gibson back from Milwaukee for their preseason game tomorrow night.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

We know this guy:

It’s getting harder and harder for the Bulls to ignore Taj Gibson’s play, especially with the starting lineup. Gibson put together another double-double in 20 effective minutes, scoring 18 with 11 rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot.
With Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis again being ineffective in their time, specifically Mirotic, one wonders if the Bulls will have an issue on their hands in a couple weeks when the regular season begins.

Mirotic is the best fit in theory; in application, Gibson is the better player who adds a dimension of defense to the first group, setting clean screens for Rondo and Dwyane Wade and rolling hard to the basket.

He plays with an awareness on both ends and his consistency of playing alongside the other veterans cannot be overlooked.

More Zip:

One player who has shown he can play, at least in the preseason, is rookie second-round pick Paul Zipser. In 25 minutes, Zipser scored 18 points with five rebounds, including a pair of 3-pointers as the Bulls shot 41 percent and hit nine overall. He scored on cuts to the basket, hit a pull-up jumper with a hand in his face and came from the weakside to block a shot in transition.

“He does a little bit of everything for you,” Hoiberg said. “He has toughness and plays with a swagger. He has versatility. He made good, simple plays. He’s going to have a chance.”

Zipser will start Saturday night in Milwaukee with many of the veterans staying back or making the drive up at some point to show support. But with so much uncertainty, Hoiberg could be keying in on the guys who are making the “good, simple plays”.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Special guest 5-time NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway


Bulls Talk Podcast: Special guest 5-time NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Jason Goff is joined by Chicago native and former NBA star Tim Hardaway

1:10       On how a Chicago kid went to play college basketball in Texas

6:15       On growing up a Bulls fan

9:20       What did Chicago basketball make Tim?

16:30    On starting his NBA career in Golden State

22:30    On the 90’s dynasty era Bulls and what he appreciated about them

25:25    Which players did he enjoy playing against the most

26:50    On today’s game and the point guard position

29:15    On the influence of analytics on today’s NBA

34:15    On balancing what a player’s skills are vs what the system wants

38:00    On Zach LaVine and his ceiling as a player

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast


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What to watch for: Bulls look to extend two-game win streak with Warriors in town

What to watch for: Bulls look to extend two-game win streak with Warriors in town

The Bulls get a shot at revenge against the lowly Warriors Friday night in Chicago. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Warriors’ last five (1-4)

  • Dec. 4 — L at Hornets: 106-91

  • Dec. 2 — L at Atlanta: 104-79

  • Dec. 1 — L at Magic: 100-96

  • Nov. 29 — L at Heat: 122-105

  • Nov. 27 — W vs. Bulls: 104-90

One storyline for each team

After defeating the Bulls 104-90 in San Francisco on Nov. 27, the Warriors embarked on a five-game road trip that has featured visits to Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, and now Chicago. Their first four stops ended in losses of varying severity to competition of varying quality (though mostly subpar). Tonight, they cap that swing with their fifth game in eight nights against the Bulls. D’Angelo Russell is back — he returned in their last game against the Hornets and dropped 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting — but that’s about all Golden State has going for them right now.

This goes without saying, but the Bulls need to pounce on this game — an eminently winnable one — especially with a road-and-home back-to-back against the Heat and Raptors looming early next week. In each of the two games of their current win streak (against the Kings and Grizzlies) they’ve gotten out to commanding first-half leads, then allowed their opponent to claw their way back late in the game. Their offensive execution down the stretch of the last two has been sublime (thanks, Zach LaVine), but substantive progress would mean a comfortable win, at home, tonight — especially having already lost to this Warriors team this season.

In the event that this game isn't comfortable (which feels more likely), look out for another Zach LaVine takeover. He's averaging an NBA-leading 10.3 points per game in fourth quarters since Nov. 23 (Charlotte game), shooting 54.3% from the field (5.8 attempts) and 68.8% from three (2.7 attempts). Him catching fire isn't something you want to miss.

Player to watch: D’Angelo Russell

Russell presents a challenge unlike any the Bulls faced when they played this team a little over a week ago. He's a crafty ball-handler, and can pull and drain from long-range from any spot, at any time and under any amount of durress. When he plays, the ball is in his hands a staggering amount — per Cleaning the Glass, his 34.8% usage rate is in the 98th percentile of ball-handlers in the league.

The Bulls have the personnel to hone in and give him fits, between Tomas Satoransky and Kris Dunn — if their length and activity can get Russell out of rhythm, the rest of the Warriors mistfit-laden roster will have to beat them. Granted, Golden State has done it before, and in convincing fashion for that matter. But the Bulls hope two straight encouraging performances in a row are an indication of things to come. This is also a great game to monitor how the Bulls defend Russell's pick-and-roll; he's currently averaging 3.3 turnovers per game.

Final point: Russell's misadventures on the defensive side of the ball are well-documented, so look for LaVine and Satoransky to attempt to feast on that end, as well. The Bulls mustered only 90 points against the Warriors 27th-rated defense on Nov. 27, but LaVine and Satoransky were lone bright spots, accounting for 45 combined points and seven threes.

Matchup to watch: The paint

One of the smudges on the Bulls' 106-99 win over the Grizzlies on Wendesday was the performance of Jonas Valanciunas, who totaled 32 points and 13 rebounds in his first game back from illness. He was absolutely bruising, and the Grizzlies racked up 52 points in the paint (compared to the Bulls' 32). That number is well above the Bulls' season average of 49.9 points allowed in the paint per game, which ranks 23rd in the NBA.

That figure might surprise some, given that the team anchors its defense with a versatile and heady center in Wendell Carter Jr. and a jumpy shot-blocking backup in Daniel Gafford. Jim Boylen has pointed to isolated blocks from Gafford and Carter, as well as 'our guys competed'-isms when asked about their struggles in that department. The Warriors have a roster stilted towards bigs and interior forwards, and notched 52 points in the paint in their last matchup with the Bulls, behind solid performances from Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman and Marquese Chriss. Thad Young missing tonight's game with a personal issue won't help here.

Further, these aren't your mother's Warriors. They're not a prolific shooting team and don't have the same plethora of perimeter shot-creators they once did. They're going to try to out-muscle the Bulls tonight, as they did on Nov. 27, and it's worth monitoring how much resistance the hosts put up.

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Bad news on the Otto Porter Jr. front today: The Bulls starting small forward and most solid wing defender suffered another setback, as a repeat MRI revealed a continued bone edema (i.e. swelling). He’ll be re-evaluated in another two weeks. Chandler Hutchison is still working out and running — and getting better each day, according to Boylen — but there’s still no precise timetable on his return.

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