Bulls

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 defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”