Bulls

Gasol plays vs. Kings as Bulls' starters together for first time all season

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Gasol plays vs. Kings as Bulls' starters together for first time all season

Pau Gasol will return to the Bulls lineup Monday night after missing four games with swelling in his right knee.

In the morning, Gasol was termed a game-time decision by Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, being officially listed as “questionable” on the Bulls’ injury report.

“Pau’s good to go,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got a plan to control his minutes, we’ll see how he responds to it. Everybody’s comfortable having him back out there.”

It flowed with what he said in the morning’s shootaround.

“He got a really good workout in yesterday, played some live two-on-two,” Hoiberg said. “And he responded well, didn’t have any swelling or pain in his knee. So we’ll make a decision on tonight and see how he responded to shootaround.”

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For the first time this season, the Bulls have a somewhat-desired starting five on the floor together, as Hoiberg planned to have Nikola Mirotic as starting power forward, but Taj Gibson fits better in most combinations. With Mike Dunleavy missing time early in the season, then Jimmy Butler going out right before the All-Star break, it’s been a revolving door of starters — and in Game 69, the Bulls are somewhat close to full strength, as Joakim Noah is out for the season.

“It’s a good feeling to have your guys back and have options,” Hoiberg said. “We still have a couple of them with plans in place with their minutes. To have Pau back out there, he’s had a lot of energy the last few days, he’s chomping at the bit to get back on the floor. And obviously we flow better with him out there.”

Considering the Kings’ main threat is center DeMarcus Cousins, they’ll need all hands on deck to contain the most versatile big in the game. Cousins put up 24 points and 20 rebounds against the New York Knicks on Sunday night.

“He can shoot the 3. He has a great crossover dribble. He’s a good passer, excellent rebounder and unbelievable size and mobility,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a very tough cover for anybody one-on-one.”

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Even with Gasol back, Cristiano Felicio will see more time in prime time. He made his first start Saturday night and was more than competent against Jazz center Rudy Gobert, being active enough on both ends to prevent Gobert from dominating early and helping set a tone as the Bulls led wire to wire for their second straight win.

Cousins, though, is a different animal.

“The big thing for Cris is just getting the experience,” Hoiberg said. “Getting out there in the starting lineup, and he showed no fear. He stepped out and hit a jump shot, he had a great drive to the rim in the second half. People see potential in Cris with the way he moves, his defensive abilities because of his feet. He has good instincts.

“I think with Pau out the lineup, we needed somebody with size to give us good minutes and Cris gave us critical time on the floor in the last two games.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

David Haugh, Jordan Cornette, Shae Peppler join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Mark Schanowski joins SportsTalk Live to discuss Kris Dunn’s sprained MCL, Fred Hoiberg’s tough luck and Zach LaVine postgame criticisms of the coaching. Plus they’ll discuss another 0-3 team- LeBron’s Lakers.

20:00 – The panel discusses Mitchell Trubisky’s performance vs. the Patriots. Jordan makes the case that the media is giving the former No. 2 pick a pass.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

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USA TODAY

Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

Through the opening week of the NBA season, Hornets' All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and former Bull Niko Mirotic share the league scoring lead, averaging 33 points per game.

Bulls' fans have seen these hot stretches from Niko before, and chances are he'll start moving down to the mid to high-teens before long. But Walker is a big-time scorer who's quietly emerged as one of the most consistently productive point guards in a league loaded with stars at that position. He's averaged over 20 points and 5 assists in each of the last three seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team twice.

Last season, Walker lit up the Bulls for 47 points in an overtime loss at the United Center in November, making some of the most difficult shots you can imagine to keep his team in the game. He seems to be as this best when facing the Bulls and you can bet Fred Hoiberg and his staff will pull out all the stops to try to slow him down, especially with defensive ace Kris Dunn out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained left MCL in his season debut on Monday.

The Hornets made some personnel changes since last season. The one-year experiment with Dwight Howard at center is over. Howard put up solid numbers for Charlotte a year ago, but didn't make much difference in the win-loss column, so he's moved on to Washington in his NBA odyssey. Cody Zeller is now the starting center, backed up by Bismack Biyombo and former Benet Academy and University of Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky.

Charlotte tried to improve the athleticism on their roster by selecting Malik Monk and Miles Bridges in the first rounds of the last two drafts. Monk is getting more playing time this season, averaging 13.5 points in the Hornets' first four games. Bridges is averaging just under 16 minutes a game as a backup to starting forwards Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. Just like he did at Michigan State, Bridges is providing those highlight reel putback dunks, but it remains to be seen whether he'll develop a consistent enough outside shot to be a quality starter in the NBA.

The well-traveled Jeremy Lamb is now starting in the backcourt with Walker, and the Hornets brought in long-time Spurs' point guard Tony Parker to add some much needed experience and veteran savvy off the bench. Given the current state of the Eastern Conference (post-LeBron), it's not out of the question for this group to contend for one of the final playoff spots.

Here's what the Bulls need to do for a shot at their first win of the season. This also applies to the rematch in Charlotte on Friday.

1. CORRAL KEMBA. For whatever reason, seeing that Bulls' logo turns Walker into an almost unstoppable scoring machine. Walker is adept at working off his big men, either in straight pick and rolls or cutting through the post on give-and-go plays. He's one of the league's most creative scorers, and doesn't require much room to get his shot off. The Bulls' bigs will have to provide help on Walker whenever he comes off screens to keep him from taking over the game.

2. PUT THE BALL IN ZACH'S HANDS. Whether he's playing shooting guard or point guard, Zach LaVine needs to be the primary facilitator with Dunn sidelined. LaVine scored 34 points against Dallas Monday night on just 15 shots, which led to him questioning some of the offensive sets that were run in the 2nd half. LaVine told reporters on Tuesday that he smoothed things over with his head coach, explaining his comments were the result of the frustration he was feeling after a third-straight loss to open the season. Still, LaVine is on a major hot streak, joining Bulls' all-time greats Michael Jordan and Bob Love as the only players to start the year with three straight games scoring at least 30 points. The Bulls will need to ride that hot hand for as far as LaVine can carry them.

3. DEFEND THE 3-POINT LINE. You knew I would eventually get to this, right? Dallas made 15 of 47 3-point attempts on Monday after the Pistons knocked down 18 of 40 in a two-point win last Saturday. The Hornets have all kinds of capable 3-point shooters in Walker, Lamb, Monk, Batum and Williams (they're shooting .397 as a team on 3's), so guarding the arc will be crucial for the Bulls to have a chance at their first win.

Don’t forget you can catch Wednesday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and the new MyTeams by NBC sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 pm when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Kelly Crull join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Neil Funk and Stacey King have the play-by-play call at 7 pm, then stay tuned after the final buzzer for Bulls Postgame Live and the always entertaining Bulls Outsiders.