Bulls

Fred Hoiberg tossed as Bulls blow 19-point lead in loss to Clippers

Fred Hoiberg tossed as Bulls blow 19-point lead in loss to Clippers

LOS ANGELES — It was a battle of validation at Staples Center, as the Los Angeles Clippers sought to fight against the narrative that time has passed them by while the Bulls were out to prove they were as good as their record suggests and that this pattern is sustainable.

Dwyane Wade’s shooting was somewhat sustainable, as the Bulls jumped out to a 19-point lead but the Clippers roared back on the second night of a back-to-back to pull away late with a 102-95 win that the Bulls and maybe even Fred Hoiberg will kick themselves over.

“This is a great team that’s playing the best basketball in the league. We fought them and gave ourselves a chance,” Hoiberg said.

Jimmy Butler bodied up on Blake Griffin with 20.8 seconds left to force an awkward jumper at the top of the key but Griffin seemed to flail his legs to earn the attention of the officials to force a foul call.

The ensuing free throws made it a four-point game, and after the Bulls failed to convert on the next possession, Hoiberg was so incensed with the call he was ejected for the first time in his career as a coach — although he barely raised his voice.

[RELATED: Bulls shocked at Fred Hoiberg ejection]

It completed a night that began promising but ended terribly as Griffin scored 26 points with 13 rebounds and five assists while Chris Paul scored 19 with eight assists.

The fourth quarter was disastrous, as the Clippers played like a team that’s been together for years and the Bulls played like a jumbled bunch with little direction. The effort was present, but the execution was lacking.

“We had a lot of fight, we didn’t give up,” Butler said. “The Clippers are playing extremely well right now. I liked the way we played. I don’t like the outcome but we can’t win them all.”

They resorted to way too many 3-pointers when things got tight and for some reason, Hoiberg stuck with the struggling Bobby Portis for the entire fourth quarter.

Mareese Speights lit up Portis and the Bulls for 16 points, including 11 in the fourth in what became a game of chicken between coaches Hoiberg and Doc Rivers. Robin Lopez had been having a good night, keeping DeAndre Jordan off the glass while scoring 10 points with six rebounds, but when Rivers turned to Speights, Hoiberg wanted to match Speights’ perimeter mobility.

“With them spacing the floor, having Taj guard Griffin, we felt we needed a guy that could close to Speights and we felt Bobby was that guy,” said Hoiberg, a man seemingly with not a lot of options at that point anyways.

The Bulls shot just four for 18 in the final 12 minutes, as their efficiency essentially dropped in every quarter after the hot start. Shooting two for 11 from three compounded matters, especially with no Jordan in the game to protect the rim.

Had they gone to the basket a little more, one wonders if Rivers would’ve been forced to pull Speights.

“I thought we had some good looks, they were taking the paint away,” Hoiberg said. “But I thought we had some good ones we didn’t knock down.”

Wade hit five triples to score 28 and Butler worked himself into a game at the foul line despite shooting five for 18, and scored 22 points. Rajon Rondo returned from a two-game absence to score nine with 10 rebounds and eight assists in 35 minutes.

“He was in a great rhythm, hit his first couple, especially for a guy who’s not a shooter,” said Hoiberg of Wade. “Dwyane did that tonight, kept himself in a good rhythm.”

Wade wasn’t impressed with the first half lead, especially against a Clippers bunch that knows how to read a game and methodically claw themselves back into it. Wade’s triple at 7:18 left in the second gave the Bulls a 45-26 lead that quickly evaporated before halftime.

“In the NBA, leads are whatever,” Wade said. “I’m not all about the 20-point lead in the first half, especially on the road. A team is going to come back and the game is going to turn in their favor at some point.”

The Bulls’ bench was a problem yet again, as Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, Isaiah Canaan and Jerian Grant couldn’t muster much of anything offensively, and couldn’t help the Bulls hold onto a slim lead.

The one time Portis hit a triple after a wild scrum, he euphorically jumped around in joy.

The next time down, Speights calmly knocked down a triple to negate Portis’ one positive contribution.

It wasn’t like the Clippers’ improved bench had their way with the Bulls, as Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and others matched the Bulls’ futility — except for Speights’ 16 points.

And then Crawford, the former Bull who played with Hoiberg on some forgettable Bulls teams in the early part of the millennium, essentially put the game out of reach with a triple to make it 92-87 with 3:14 left.

A reverse layup later helped create a little more distance as the Bulls’ futility prevented them from capitalizing on a hot start, as they dropped the third game in their circus trip — and lost a little composure along the way.

NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Top of the 2020 NBA Draft still a mystery

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USA TODAY

NBA Mock Draft 4.0: Top of the 2020 NBA Draft still a mystery

One thing we know for sure about the 2020 NBA Draft: no team executives will be losing sleep on the eve of the lottery hoping to land the first or second pick like a year ago when the top prizes where generational power forward Zion Williamson and point guard extraordinaire Ja Morant.

Matter of fact, teams might prefer not to land one of the top three picks so they can pay less guaranteed money to a player who may not have a huge impact,

As we get closer to the start of conference tournaments around the country, no player has really distinguished himself as the clear cut No. 1 choice. Georgia’s Anthony Edwards gets credit for being available to play all season, but his poor shooting percentages from the field and the 3-point line for a bad college team hardly scream top overall pick.

Injuries and eligibility questions have kept a few of the top prospects off the court, so NBA executives will put more emphasis than ever on the information they gather during the draft combine and individual workouts.

Here’s a snapshot at where things stand in late February with our fourth mock draft.

Bulls rule out Wendell Carter Jr., Chandler Hutchison and more vs. Hornets

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USA Today

Bulls rule out Wendell Carter Jr., Chandler Hutchison and more vs. Hornets

The Bulls' injury housekeeping continues.

After Wednesday afternoon practice, Jim Boylen ruled out Otto Porter Jr. (foot), Wendell Carter Jr. (ankle), Chandler Hutchison (shoulder) and Denzel Valentine (hamstring) for Thursday night's matchup with the Charlotte Hornets.

Porter (full) and Carter (limited) both participated in practice. Carter had repeatedly expressed a desire to return in the Bulls' first game out of the break, but it appears he's not quite there yet.

While Boylen said he hasn't decided on starters for the Hornets game yet, he made a point to add that Daniel Gafford has "got his legs back" and that his rim protection will be much-needed to remedy the team's precipitous defensive slide — in five games since Kris Dunn went down with an MCL sprain, they're dead last in the NBA in defensive rating (123.2).

Hutchison had filled in nicely for Dunn over the five games leading up to the All-Star break, but something evidently re-flared up in the shoulder that caused him to miss 17 games between November and January of this season. With 19 appearances in a row dating back to Jan. 6, Hutchison was one game away from matching his career high for consecutive games played. Alas.

"We have struggled with new guys playing and some of our experienced guys not out there. So, we will just keep hammering away at it," Boylen said of the team's recent defensive woes. "I think we all know our system is solid and been productive, but personnel is a big part of that. So, we'll just keep working on our guys in that system and keep trying to perfect it."

This news dump comes on the heels of a report from the Bulls this morning that extended Dunn's reevaluation timeline to four-to-six weeks after an MRI and reexamination on his right knee on Feb. 14. The Bulls get the benefit of three straight under-.500 opponents (Hornets, Suns, Wizards) out of the break, but if guys don't start getting back soon, matters could devolve.

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