Hamilton, Deng game-time decisions as Bulls try to bounce back Saturday


Hamilton, Deng game-time decisions as Bulls try to bounce back Saturday

DEERFIELD, ILL. After tearing his left plantar fascia in a Dec. 1 win over the 76ers, Bulls starting shooting guard Rip Hamilton could return to the teams lineup in Saturday nights home game against the Wizards, the organization that drafted him out of college. Both Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and Hamilton himself said it would be a game-time decision.

Today was the first day I really went through the whole practice, getting up and down, and running. It wasnt easy; it was tough, just for the simple fact of getting back into things. But I was able to cut and try to get to different spots on the floor, so it felt pretty good, Hamilton said after Friday afternoons practice at the Berto Center. Its looking real good. Were going to see how my body responds in the morning and then, me and Thibs are going to talk.

Just putting weight on my foot again, cutting, stopping and going. I do a whole lot of stopping and cutting when coming off screens, so just more about putting weight on the floor with somebody on me, he continued, explaining how he could be limited when he returns to the court. Well try some type of heel lift, to lift my heels up a little bit, so I dont put so much pressure on the back of my heel.

It was uncomfortable when I hurt it. I feel it some, so any benefit I can get, Im going to try to go with.

Thibodeau chimed in: Rip was really good today. He did the whole practice well, so well see how hes feeling tomorrow.

Obviously health is important, wed like to have everyone back and when hes been healthy, hes played very well for us, so hopefully hell be back soon, the coach added. Tomorrow, as long as he doesnt have any problems, which I cant foresee he hasnt for the past couple of days then hell be a go and how much he plays, well see when he gets out there.

Hes done quite a bit over the last week and we did some scrimmaging today. He was fine. Hes got it ramped up pretty good and the next day, there hasnt been any problems, so thats encouraging. But well see and again, in practice, you try to simulate game-like conditions as much as you can, but its never quite like a game, so the intensity of a game is unique and well see how he responds to that.

Also a game-time decision against Washington is the Bulls other starting wing, Luol Deng, who suffered a sprained right ankle in the teams Christmas Day loss to the Rockets at the United Center.

He didnt do a whole lot today during practice, but hes much improved, Thibodeau said about Deng, who also injured his left shoulder in last Fridays overtime road win in New York. Well see tomorrow where hes at.

Hamilton understands that when he returns, hell likely play limited minutes initially, especially with the solid play of understudy Marco Belinelli during his absence, which is presently just shy of the four-week prognosis given when he first injured his foot.

I havent got a whole lot of practice time. Today was the first day I practiced, so its going to take time. I know for a fact that Thibs doesnt want to just put me out there and say, All right, play 30 minutes a game. He wants to gradually see how I respond with limited minutes at first and see how that goes, he acknowledged. Its been hard not being able to get out there and help your team win. I thought it was good, just for the simple fact that a guy like Marco, who wasnt playing a whole lot and now has an opportunity to go out there and play, and show what he can do. So I just think it was one of those things where it was tough because you want to be out there and you want to help your teammates win.

With Belinelli playing the way that hes playing, hopefully he can continue to play that way. It gives us another weapon. Thats what were going to need from him. I dont expect anything different when I come back. I dont want him to put the same amount of pressure and Im going to put the same pressure on him to play the same exact way because were going to need him, he continued. I think he can play alongside Belinelli. Hes smart. In Detroit, I played the three some we went small and hes smart. Hes a guy that really knows how to play and hopefully can continue to play that way.

Thibodeau, who claimed he hadnt decided whether or not Hamilton would immediately start upon his return, added: The thing is, they have great versatility, so I can play Marco and Rip together, probably Rip and Jimmy together, Lu can play with everybody, so we have great versatility in our wings. So, I cant foresee a problem there.

Hamilton also elaborated on his recovery process from the injury, explaining that hes done, Everything from ice, electronic muscle stimulation, swimming pool, calf raises, massages. Weve been doing everything really. Different types of tape jobs on it to try to get the swelling out. Theres still swelling there, but I think that with me playing or trying to get out there, the swelling will eventually go away, but weve been doing everything to eventually get back.

My job is to try to get the guys going, on offense and on defense. Try to get guys easy baskets, get Booz easy baskets and Jo, so its just something where I try to make the game easy for everybody. Once the game is easy for everybody, good things can happen, he continued when asked how he expects to impact the Bulls, who are currently in the midst of a two-game losing streak. The last two games were rough; they were tough. We thought that we could play a lot better. I think that we could still grow. The team has responded well.

His coach also took a big-picture view, while simultaneously focusing on the task at hand.

The big thing is not to look at the group of games, just get ready for Washington, to concentrate on our improvement. Weve had a couple bad games and we have to bounce back, and we have to understand what it takes to win and if were doing the right things, the results will take care of themselves, he explained.

Weve had a lot of slippage, not only on defense, but our offense, as well. Its been more of a low-energy type game and for us, thats not good. We need high energy on offense, we need high energy on defense. When we do that, were usually pretty good. But I think when we start taking short cuts, youre not doing the right things. You usually get what you deserve in this league. I dont think we were playing hard enough and we have to correct that.

Thibodeau didnt bemoan a missed opportunity to get back on the winning track Wednesday, when the Bulls game at Indiana was postponed by the league due to weather conditions in Indianapolis: We were there, so its very unusual to have a game postponed, but the league does a great job with that, so they didnt want to jeopardize anyones safety. So, they made the right decision, I think.

As for Saturdays matchup, the ever-prepared coach isnt overlooking the lowly Wizards, as he complimented their entire roster in typical fashion.

Well, theyre good. Their thing is theyve been hit hard with injury. Theyre usually in every game, Thibodeau deadpanned. Their bigs up front: Nene is a tough matchup, Emeka Okafor has been a very good player in the league for a long time. Jordan Crawford, very good. Shelvin Mack is a good player. John Walls been out; thats hurt them. Bradley Beal is a very good young player.

This is a team, theyre going to play. Youve got to be ready for them. Nene wasnt playing at the beginning of the season, so that hurt them some, but theyre tough. Theyve got guys who can crack you off the dribble, theyve got bigs inside who can do damage. Kevin Seraphins a very good player coming in off the bench, so weve got to be ready.

Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls


Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

After years of being handcuffed by the ill-fated Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trade that cost the Nets’ franchise several prime lottery picks, Brooklyn is starting to come out of the abyss under energetic young coach Kenny Atkinson.

The Nets’ front office was able to absorb the contracts of veteran players like DeMarre Carroll, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur for draft considerations, while also picking up former #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell by taking on the massive contract of Timofey Mozgov from the Lakers. In addition, they also traded veterans Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic for 1st rounders that became starters Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

Under Atkinson’s direction, the Nets have bought into a culture of hard work and unselfish play. They improved from 20 to 28 wins a year ago, and are currently within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the East.

LeVert is currently sidelined after dislocating his right ankle in a scary fall in early November, but he should return at some point this season. At the time of his injury, LeVert was leading the Nets in scoring at 18.4 points per game while shooting nearly 48% from the field, looking like a candidate for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. In his absence, the Nets have gone with a share the wealth approach, with Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all scoring in double figures.

Dinwiddie is the name that should be familiar to Bulls’ fans. He was with the team during training camp in 2016, but let go when the Bulls acquired Michael Carter-Williams in a deal with Milwaukee. Since that time, Dinwiddie has fully recovered from an ACL injury he suffered in college and emerged as a top candidate for the NBA’s 6th man award, averaging 17.2 points and 5 assists per game while shooting almost 48% from the field. Hindsight is always 20-20, but Dinwiddie would certainly look good in the Bulls’ backcourt right now.

Still, the most exciting thing for Nets’ fans right now is the team’s salary cap situation. Thanks to all the moves made by General Manager Sean Marks, Brooklyn could have the ability to offer 2 max contracts in 2019 free agency. Whether Marks will be able to get a meeting with any of the big names like Durant, Leonard, Irving, Butler and Thompson is still to be determined, but at least there’s finally some hope for a turnaround in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have sunk to 7-24  and have been the league’s least efficient offensive team since Jim Boylen took over as head coach. Boylen wants his shorthanded team to play at a more deliberate tempo in direct contrast to the current pace-and-space trend that’s taken over the league. With leading scorer Zach LaVine out because of injury and Jabari Parker inactive while the front office tries to work out a trade, the Bulls are painfully short on offensive options and need to rely on an improved defense to stay competitive in games.

Like Brooklyn, the Bulls figure to have cap space this summer to pursue free agents, but they’ll need to show improvement and stability over the final 51 games to make their sales pitch effective.

As for Wednesday’s game, here’s what the Bulls need to do to have a chance for a home court win.

1.   FAST BREAK POINTS.  We know Boylen wants to put the brakes on the Bulls’ transition game, but the Nets come to town after hosting the Lakers Tuesday night which means there could be a few players on the court with tired legs. When the Bulls force a turnover, they need to look for an easy scoring opportunity before the defense sets up. Oklahoma City had a 27-9 advantage in fast break points on Monday.

2.   MARKKANEN IN THE POST.  The 7 foot forward was extremely effective in the 2nd half of the come-from-behind win in San Antonio by isolating against smaller defenders for drives and step-back jumpers. Markkanen will have a height advantage against Brooklyn’s smaller frontcourt, and he should be able to shoot over the top of Hollis-Jefferson, another former Arizona Wildcat.

3.   SHUT DOWN SPENCER.  Dinwiddie has been in celebration mode this week after signing a brand new 3 year, 34 million dollar contract extension. Still, Dinwiddie gets pretty serious in talking about the 2 NBA teams that gave up on him (Pistons and Bulls) knowing that all he needed was time to fully recover from a serious knee injury. The 25 year old guard has been providing instant offense off the bench for Brooklyn, and you can bet he’ll have the green light when he enters the game at the United Center.

We hope you’ll join Kendall Gill, Kelly Crull and me for Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 Wednesday on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. After the game goes final, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for Jim Boylen’s media session and player reaction from the locker room on Bulls Postgame Live, followed by Bulls Outsiders.

Justin Holiday broke a Bulls franchise record, and now he is adding on to his lead


Justin Holiday broke a Bulls franchise record, and now he is adding on to his lead

Justin Holiday has been the model of consistency since playing for the Bulls. He has shot at least 35 percent from 3-point range in every Bulls season he has been a part of. But this year—partly through necessity and partly due to the stylistic shifts in the sport—Holiday has taken his floor-spacing to the extreme end of the spectrum, taking 55 percent of shots from 3-point range this season.  And the combination of his increased volume and trademark accuracy has resulted in one very impressive streak.

As of December 18, Justin Holiday has made at least one 3-pointer in 42 straight games.

The streak started on March 21, 2018 and is still ongoing, with Holiday's last game with a made 3-pointer coming in the Bulls loss to Oklahoma City on Monday.

Holiday is averaging 12 PPG this season and is shooting 38 percent from the 3-point line. His over 7 attempts per game from 3-point range keeps defenses honest, and Jim Boylen has started to use Holiday more in actions to free up Lauri Markkanen and/or Wendell Carter for open shots.

The streak will have a chance to continue when the Bulls take on the Brooklyn Nets tonight—with Bulls Pregame Live on NBC Sports Chicago at 6:30 p.m. CST—but it will be tough as the Nets are the best in the league at limiting their opponent's 3-point attempts, holding their foes to just under 27 attempts per game from 3-point range.

Holiday's excellent year shooting the ball is all the more impressive when you realize it comes on a team that is in the bottom 10 in 3-point attempts, 3-point makes and 3-point percentage. 

At 42 straight games with a 3-pointer, Holiday is already 11 games ahead of Kirk Hinrich, who previously held the Bulls' record for consecutive games with a 3-point shot made (at 31 straight games).

With the Bulls playing Holiday 35 minutes a night (10th in the league) and currently dealing with an injury to their leading scorer, Holiday could see this streak last a very long time.