Bulls

Game 3 winner could take all

751480.png

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?

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.