Fred Hoiberg: Bulls' win over Thunder 'really shows the guys care'


Fred Hoiberg: Bulls' win over Thunder 'really shows the guys care'

The timing couldn't have been worse.

Two days after posting their worst defensive performance since before the Tom Thibodeau era, Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls welcomed an Oklahoma City Thunder team also looking to bounce back to the United Center. That would be the same Thunder team with two of the league's top scorers and the second most efficient offense in the NBA, a far more dangerous opponent than the Hornets squad that had miraculously dropped 130 points on them Tuesday night.

Tuesday's woes carried over early on. The Thunder opened the contest 8-for-10 and appeared well on their way to a 30-point quarter, something that happened in all four stanzas against the Hornets. The energy that Jimmy Butler promised would be on display after the lackluster performance in Charlotte was non-existent, as the offense settled for jumpers, missing nine of their 13 attempts.

But Oklahoma City's nine-point lead wouldn't last. And after the Bulls' 104-98 victory over Kevin Durant and the Thunder, it's as if that first six-minute stretch never happened. For whatever reason Hoiberg's group flipped a switch, limiting Oklahoma City to 40 percent shooting the rest of the night and showing that promised energy on their way to a third straight home win to begin the year.

[MORE: Thunder still 'figuring it out' under Donovan]

"It showed that those guys care. It’s a bunch of competitive guys in that locker room that all, I think, felt a little embarrassed probably with the way the last game went," Hoiberg said after the game.

Tuesday's contest was of course an outlier - the Bulls hadn't allowed that many points since March 2010 - but it also wasn't indicative of how Hoiberg's group had played up until that point. Though the preseason talk of Hoiberg implementing a run-and-gun offensive philosophy dominated headlines, this was largely the same Bulls group that ranked among the NBA's elite defensively. Tom Thibodeau or no Tom Thibodeau, the talent was still there for the Bulls to defend well.

It also came as no surprise that the two players leading the charge were the players largely responsible for creating the Bulls' defensive identity. Joakim Noah showed as much energy and bounce as he has all season, logging a game-high +16 in 12 minutes off the bench. The Bulls went from trailing 17-13 to leading 41-34 in his first stretch, and the Bulls closed the half holding the Thunder to three points in the final two minutes after Noah checked back in.

"He was awesome just getting after it," Hoiberg said of Noah, who finished with four points, seven rebounds, four assists and a block. "Jo’s out there making plays, he’s a great defender, he’s a rock down there, he’s so emotional. He just puts out the overall energy."

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Noah got the ball rolling in the first half, while Jimmy Butler took care of the rest.

Though Durant finished with 33 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter that allowed the Thunder to tie the game late, he needed 29 shots to get there. Butler hounded the 2014 MVP relentlessly, setting the tone in the opening quarter in which he picked up two fouls. That aggressiveness didn't cease when Butler returned early in the second quarter, with Hoiberg rolling the dice that the man who made the promise for energy would do it without fouling.

He did. Butler forced Durant to shoot over his out-stretched arm, with a hand in his face coming off every down screen. Durant hit his fair share, as the league's best scoring forward is prone to do, but missed two of his last three as the Bulls ended the game on a 10-4 run.

"(Durant) is something else and Jimmy did, I thought, as good a job as you could do to get a body on him, make him take tough shots," Hoiberg said. "He’s just one of those guys that’s a special, special talent."

Thursday could have gone just like Tuesday did. After all, if Jeremy Lamb and Al Jefferson gave the Bulls trouble, no one would have blamed them if Durant and Russell Westbrook did, too. But Westbrook was limited, by his standards, to 20 points and 10 assists, Durant shot under 50 percent for the first time since opening night against the Spurs, and Serge Ibaka had just six points after halftime. Though it's still a work in progress for Hoiberg's group, Thursday was a promise kept to show fight and energy on the defensive end against a team that rarely finds itself outplayed.

"The way our guys defended and battled and stuck with the game plan even though (Oklahoma City) hit some shots early on in the contest," Hoiberg said, "I thought was huge."

Jersey from LeBron James' first-ever SI cover sells for over $180K


Jersey from LeBron James' first-ever SI cover sells for over $180K

LeBron James is arguably the second-greatest basketball player of all time, with a claim to being the true GOAT depending on who you talk to. But one thing we can all agree on, with James entering his 17th season in the NBA, is that we don't know how much longer we will get to see him grace the NBA hardwood. With the final stages of James' illustrious NBA career in sight, fans have started to buy up all of the LBJ merchandise they can find and as of Sunday night, one of the rarest pieces of James memorabilia is off of the market. 

The St. Vincent-St. Mary's Irish jersey that James wore on his first-ever Sports Illustrated cover went for a whopping $187,500 in a Goldin Auctions event. The SI cover that James wore the jersey on in 2002 featured the title "The Chosen One", detailing how NBA franchises were already lining up for their shot at drafting James despite him just being a high school junior at the time. 

The $187,500 paid for the jersey is (somewhat shockingly) more than the amount paid for Michael Jordan's final Bulls regular season jersey, which sold for $173,240 back in 2015, then the highest price paid for a Jordan collectible ever at any auction

Only time will tell if another piece of James (or Jordan) memorabilia will eclipse the $200k mark but with a decent chunk of James' career still left, one would think that is a strong possibility.

Though Goldin Auctions founder Ken Goldin was off a bit, projecting that the jersey would sell for somewhere in the ballpark of $300k or more, the now-legendary jersey still ended up breaking the record for the highest price paid for a LeBron James jersey. 

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Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

Even with unproven wing depth, Bulls will monitor Otto Porter Jr.'s workload

As the Bulls played out the string last season, fielding glorified G League lineups, meaningful days still existed.

April 3 was one of them.

Not only did the Bulls scratch out a fun, one-point road victory over the Wizards, executive vice president John Paxson, coach Jim Boylen and general manager Gar Forman met with Otto Porter Jr. and his longtime strength coach from his alma mater of Georgetown.

That meeting mapped out Porter’s offseason plan and began the strong communication that continued Friday when Boylen and Porter met to discuss the organization’s approach for a proper workload for the crucial veteran. Following Sunday’s practice at the Advocate Center, Boylen for the first time publicly disclosed the Bulls’ plan to play Porter in the neighborhood of 30 minutes and approach back-to-back games on a case-by-case basis.

“We will manage him appropriately,” Boylen said. “He will not play over 30 minutes in anything we do to get going here. We’ll manage him on the off days in a real respectful way. Obviously, he’s a big piece. He’s our starting 3, a big wing. And we need him.”

The Bulls have a set of back-to-back games in this first week of the regular season, with their home opener against the defending NBA champion Raptors coming Saturday following a game at the Grizzlies Friday.

“We’ll see how he feels,” Boylen said. “It might be a situation where we manage him the first night in order to play him the second night. Or manage him the first night and the second night he feels maybe a night he doesn’t play. But we have a plan. It’s rough because it’s depending on how he feels.”

Right now, Porter feels good.

“Preseason has been great, making sure my body is healthy, making sure I get my reps in, making sure as a team we’re ready to go,” Porter said following practice. “I’ll hold it down for us until we get Chandler (Hutchison) back. That’s going to be always my job.

“But we got a lot of guards that can play the three too. We got a lot of guys that can play multiple positions. If somebody goes down, the next man always got to step up and replace – not replace but do more – and I feel like everybody is going to do more.”

Hutchison has yet to play with a hamstring injury. Shaq Harrison missed all five preseason games but is available for Wednesday’s opener in Charlotte, N.C.

Boylen said there are many options to keep Porter fresh even with Hutchison injured and Denzel Valentine currently out of the rotation, including Harrison or Tomas Satoransky at backup small forward and three-guard lineups. The Bulls also utilize big lineups with Thad Young at small forward.

“You’ve seen what we’ve done. We’ve had Coby (White), Arch (Ryan Arcidiacono) and (Kris) Dunn out there together. Playing small and fast is good. You can also put ‘Sato’ out there with that group,” Boylen said. “There may be opportunities where we go big depending on the situation of the game. We’ve practiced those lineups and scenarios.”

Porter played a huge role in the Bulls’ brief surge last February after arriving from the Wizards in a trade. He has battled nagging injuries in the past, including knee, shoulder and neck issues. Porter also underwent minor surgery on his left leg that knocked him out of the April 2018 playoffs to address a blood buildup around a contusion.

“Every season, there are ups and downs and teams go through it,” Porter said. “Right now, it’s a matter of depth and we want to start out fresh. You start out fresh, you’re already ahead of the game.”

Porter is encouraged by the Bulls’ offense during the preseason, including an increased emphasis on 3-point attempts.

“Right now, we might not be shooting a high percentage. But in the regular season, that number is definitely going to increase drastically because we’re practicing hard, making our open shots and just getting open looks,” Porter said. “We know what this offense can do for us.”