Bulls

Game 3 winner could take all

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Game 3 winner could take all

As much as I was shocked by the way the Bulls played in Game 2, I will no longer be shocked if they end up losing this series to Philadelphia based on that performance.

But, I'm not predicting doom here. In fact, on paper I still believe the Bulls should beat the Sixers easily without Derrick Rose. The Bulls are one of the best 'bounce back' teams in the league as evidenced by their streak of 86 games - which was more than a year - without losing two in a row. Tuesday's loss was psychological more than physical. It translated to bad basketball, but I'm more concerned about the root of it than the outcome.

I can talk forever about the X's and O's and what the Bulls need to do to correct their missteps from Game 2. It's a long list. They need to force the Sixers into a halfcourt game, take away the transition buckets, play help defense on Jrue Holliday and for Pete's sake rebound the ball.

Find the open man on offense. Even though, the Sixers did a good job of taking away the Bulls pick and roll, there were times Taj Gibson was open. John Lucas III just didn't see him and settled for jumpers. In fact, the Bulls did a lot of settling on offense, shooting ill-advised shots and going one-on-one.

Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng need to step up and be leaders of this team, picking up the scoring slack.

Etcetera, etcetera...

It doesn't take a basketball expert to point out what the Bulls need to do on the floor as coach Tom Thibodeau declared on Thursday.

"There's no great scoop in reporting that the Bulls need to get back to defense and rebounding," said Thibodeau. "That's the whole key."

No, the scoop is the Bulls haven't showed the mental toughness they need to proceed without Derrick Rose. For all of their talk about having more than enough to win without Rose, it looks like the Bulls need to convince themselves of that rather than selling us on the idea.

They need to take a page of out Evan Turner's book. Turner made himself public enemy number one in Chicago when he made some pre-series comments about preferring to play the Bulls over the Miami Heat. He was booed mercilessly by the United Center crowd, but it didn't bother him.

In fact, Turner's been getting stronger at every turn, blocking out the negative fan reaction as well as he's been blocking Bulls players from scoring. Even his coach admires the kid's attitude.

"Evan feels like he's the best player in the gym," said Doug Collins. "I love that. I know he made some ill-timed comments. He was booed every time he touched the ball. A lot of guys would cower from that. Evan rises to the challenge. I'm not a big guy in doing a lot of talking, but I like the way he's playing."

Wells Fargo arena is going to be filled with hostile fans taunting the Bulls. How will they respond? Will they rise to the challenge?

At Thursday's Bulls practice, Luol Deng said: "I know everyone cares. We have a team of fighters we have to fight our way out." Did he sound convincing? Is it all just rhetoric? Does Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Rip Hamilton think they are the best players in the gym? If they do, the Bulls have a shot at winning this.

Deng went on to say, "We've been through it before. We've been through tougher things that this."

No you haven't. You haven't been through anything tougher than trying to win an NBA championship without your star. Your MVP.

It is gut check time. Only it's going to have to start between the ears and hopefully that will translate to what the Bulls do on the court.

Game 3 will be the defining moment of this series. Will Philadelphia be stopped in its tracks or will the Sixers deliver the knock-out blow?

Denzel Valentine will undergo surgery on left ankle, will miss 4-6 months

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine will undergo surgery on left ankle, will miss 4-6 months

Denzel Valentine was originally expected to miss one to two weeks after suffering a sprained ankle on the second day of training camp. One setback led to another, and on Monday the Bulls announced that the third year guard will undergo surgical reconstruction on that left ankle. He'll miss four to six months, the team announced, effectively ending his season.

The surgery stems from what the team is calling "ongoing ankle instability." Valentine was evaluated by Dr. Bob Anderson, a foot and ankle specialist in Green Bay, Wis., and will undergo surgery next week. The team said in a press release that Valentine is expected to make a full recovery and will not have any limitations in the offseason or the following training camp.

That is, if he can remain healthy. Valentine's ankle has given him trouble ever since the Bulls made him the 14th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. As a rookie he missed a large portion of the season with two separate sprained ankles, and he had surgery on that ankle the following offseason.

When Valentine suffered the initial sprain on Sept. 28, there was belief that he could potentially return for the season opener on Oct. 17. That never happened, and a few days later a scan revealed a bone bruise in the ankle that shut him down indefinitely. Valentine only got as far as straight-line running in his rehabilitation.

The Bulls picked up his fourth-year team option on Oct. 30, so he's still part of the Bulls' plans for 2019-20. But at this point it remains to be seen if he can be a contributor. Though he shot well from beyond the arc last season, Valentine hasn't been able to replicate the playmaking skills he showed at Michigan State and has struggled defensively. Valentine just turned 25 and will have missed more than a year of game action when he returns to training camp next September.

Since Valentine hasn't played this season the Bulls' rotation shouldn't look all that different going forward. Ryan Arcidiacono will continue to log major minutes, moving to the second unit when Kris Dunn (knee) returns to the lineup. Past that, Chandler Hutchison may find himself a bigger role on the second unit without Valentine's floor spacing. Rawle Alkins, a G-Leaguer for Windy City who is practicing with the Bulls on Monday and Tuesday, could potentially see minutes depending on how he plays in Hoffman Estates and how long Dunn is out.

Bulls notebook: Lauri Markkanen participates in non-contact portion of practice

Bulls notebook: Lauri Markkanen participates in non-contact portion of practice

Lauri Markkanen's timeline back from his elbow sprain remains the same, but he took the next step toward getting back on the court by participating in the non-contact portion of practice on Monday.

Markkanen was seen getting shots up with the team as Monday's practice began. This comes after Markkanen shed the brace he wore for the first month after suffering the injury

"We’re excited to have him out there," Fred Hoiberg said. "We’ll see how he responds and if we can up his activity level after that."

Friday marked the seven-week point since Markkanen initially suffered the elbow injury on Sept. 28. His initial timeframe, 6 to 8 weeks, was bumped up to 8 to 10 weeks, so the second year forward appears to be on track to debut sometime in early December.

Whenever he does return - Bobby Portis, Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine are still much farther away - he'll help a Bulls team in desparate need of his scoring, playmaking and athleticism. The 4-13 Bulls have lost four straight by a combined 93 points and Zach LaVine is battling an illness (but said he'll play Wednesday against Phoenix).

"I think a lot about that," Hoiberg said when asked about how Markkanen will be implemented into the offense. "I thought a lot about it in the offseason. He’s such a versatile player and with the added strength and added size, it’s something I think you can do a lot more of.

Last year, (opponents) switched a lot. We ran a lot of high-low type actions. Hopefully, we’ll be more effective this year with (Markkanen's) added size and bulk."

Markkanen's return will help a Bulls offense currently ranked 29th in efficiency. He'll also help LaVine, who after a red-hot start has seen his efficiency plummet to the tune of 36 percent from the field and 24 percent from deep the last eight games.

"I see him working out, running and getting his shots in. Hopefully his elbow’s feeling a lot better," LaVine said. "He’s one of the main key pieces in this organization. He’s such a sensational player on the offensive end and it helps out defensively as well. I can’t wait to have him back."

NOTES

G-League wing Rawle Alkins will practice the next two days with the Bulls but won't stay with the team when they're back in action Wednesday against the Suns.

Alkins, an Arizona sophomore who went undrafted in 2018, is averaging 12.9 points and 5.2 rebounds with the Windy City Bulls. Last week he scored 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting and eight rebounds in a win over the Grand Rapids Drive. For now he'll give the NBA Bulls a much-needed extra body in practice.

"He’s a good defender, a tough kid. We’re excited to have him here, help us out with practice," Hoiberg said.

Alkins likely won't see any time in the NBA this season - the Bulls are as shorthanded as they're going to be all year and he still hasn't been called up - but he's a nice developmental piece at a low cost.

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For one night in the Hoiberg household, Fred wasn't basketball's biggest name.

His son, Jack, scored his first two collegiate points in Michigan State's 101-33 victory over Tennessee State on Sunday night.

Jack, a walk-on for the Spartans, connected on both free throw attempts in the final seconds that put the Spartans over the century mark.

Fred messaged his son after the game congratulating him and also said that, depsite the score, the free throws couldn't have been easy.

"To shoot a free throw for that 100th point, it’s not easy," Fred said. "I remember the first time I had that opportunity here. It was free tacos for everybody if I made that. Thankfully, I made it. So for him to step up and knock that down, it was fun to see. You want to see your kids happy and having fun. That’s what I saw."