Bulls

Hoiberg challenges fading Bulls to 'find ourselves' during break

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Hoiberg challenges fading Bulls to 'find ourselves' during break

The Bulls' problems began rather quietly.

Following a season-best six-game win streak that had vaulted them just 2 1/2 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls traveled to Atlanta on Jan. 8 and were demolished in a 120-105 loss. Not much cause for concern, facing a quality opponent on the road after playing five of six at home, more problems crept up in losses to Washington and Milwaukee. The Bulls then needed a Jordan-esque performance from Jimmy Butler to beat the 4-36 Sixers, when a sense of trouble began.

Road wins against Detroit and Cleveland quieted critics temporarily, but Wednesday night's loss — again to Atlanta — produced what Derrick Rose admitted was the low point for the Bulls in this roller coaster of a season; a roller coaster featuring far more downs than ups of late, as the Bulls have now lost 13 of 18 games and are teetering near .500 for the first time since early November.

Head coach Fred Hoiberg, who admitted the first game back home after a lengthy road trip is "the hardest game you're going to play all year," wouldn't make excuses for his team after a 113-90 loss, the seventh straight game an opponent has topped the century mark. A difficult game, but for the Bulls it might have also been the most important to date.

Struggles during an odd road trip that had them in Los Angeles for four days, playing an always-difficult Denver game followed by four games in four different time zones in a six-day span might have been expected. Especially while dealing with injuries to three key players, including their All-Star shooting guard the final two-and-a-half games.

But Wednesday night was a chance for the Bulls earn a victory over an opponent with a winning record for the first time since Jan. 25, win at the United Center for the first time since Jan. 15 and snap a three-game losing streak. Doing so would have given the Bulls a glimmer of momentum heading into a period where they won't play again for eight days.

[MORE BULLS: Disastrous third quarter dooms Bulls in fourth straight loss]

Instead, as Hoiberg remarked, the Bulls got satisfied with a break in sight and, as many teams are guilty of doing, looked ahead to the hiatus.

"It’s almost when the tough times hit our guys we're satisfied with, ‘Oh well, we’ve got the break coming up,'" Hoiberg said after the loss. "And as a team we’ve got to find ourselves. I challenged them to whatever they’ve got to do over the break, look themselves in the mirror, find a way to get committed to this thing and go on a run. And that’s all we can do right now, is look forward."

Looking forward, the Bulls are still dealing with real injury concerns. Butler will miss the next three to four weeks, Nikola Mirotic is only just standing upright after an appendectomy, and Joakim Noah likely has played his final game with the Bulls. Even Taj Gibson got banged up Wednesday night.

But Rose is playing the best basketball of his post-ACL-tear career, his 6-for-18 shooting performance against the Hawks notwithstanding. Pau Gasol, 35, was named to his second straight All-Star Game in place of the injured Butler, and he went for 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in Wednesday's loss, his 12th double-double with five or more assists; that trails only Draymond Green (16) and Russell Westbrook (13).

E'Twaun Moore is putting up career-best numbers in an extended role the past two weeks, Doug McDermott is shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc — he scored 17 points against the Hawks — and Mike Dunleavy is rounding into form after offseason back surgery. In other words, as Gibson described it:

"We have more than enough to win. We used to win games with less than this," said the power forward, who himself has averaged 9.0 points and 8.1 rebounds since Jan. 1. "It’s our mental. It’s extremely frustrating, and it hurts my heart.

"I can't seem to put a finger on it. It's frustrating. I try to tell guys, we’ve got to get back to playing for each other. Leave your heart out there and leave it on the line."

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Gasol echoed the sentiments of his coach, saying the All-Star break will give the Bulls a chance to recharge and figure out how they're going to play better basketball. Since Jan. 8, the Bulls have had the fifth least efficient offense and ninth worst defense. That's combined for a net rating of minus-7.3 points per 100 possessions; that mark is fourth worst in the NBA, behind only the Suns, Lakers and Nets, who are a combined 39-128 this season.

"I think we can be a lot better than what we are, and hopefully this break helps us understand where we are, reflect on what we can do better, what it means to — from an individual standpoint — change for us to perform at a better level and win games.

"Understanding that we’ve gone through a difficult stretch, but at the same time there’s 30 games left and we can make a really good push and a really good run. And that’s what we’re going to do. That’s my mindset."

The issue for the Bulls, however, is that the road doesn't get any easier. On their losing skid they've played seven teams with below-.500 records. They'll begin the second half of the season in Cleveland, playing a Cavs team that has won eight of 10 since Tyronn Lue's head coaching debut. The following night they host the Raptors, arguably the East's hottest team.

Now just one game in front of the ninth-seeded Pistons, the Bulls will use the All-Star break to rest bumps and bruises, reduce the timetables of those still injured and figure out how they'll dictate the rest of a season that appears to be fading fast.

"The biggest thing is we have to get back to playing winning basketball. It has to be a sacrifice. You have to give everything you can to help this team win," Hoiberg said. "All the little things. That's what it's about right now."

Michael Porter Jr.: 'I'm the perfect fit for today's NBA game'

Michael Porter Jr.: 'I'm the perfect fit for today's NBA game'

Michael Porter Jr. grabbed some attention when he remarked that he was "perfect fit for today's NBA game" during an appearance on The Will Cain Show.

The interview went a long way towards showing off the uber-confident nature of Porter, who has consistently talked about being the best player in his class throughout the draft process. Porter also remarked that he was "an immediate impact guy," and that he "doesn't want it to take long to be one of the best players in the NBA."

His hubris has been intruiging considering the mystery surrounding the prospect.

During the interview Porter added that he would be open to doing more workouts for NBA front offices ahead of Thursday's NBA Draft. The only workout he has completed so far was his pro day workout in Chicago, and multiple reports have cited that Porter did look good shooting, though he was in an isolated setting with no defenders.

The one thing Porter has not done much throughout the process is talk about his weaknesses, which is somewhat concerning seeing as he has much to improve on. The general consensus is that a healthy Porter can get buckets at will. But if he can improve his ball-handling, rebounding and passing skills, he will be much more than a go-to scorer. Tightening his ball-handling skills is likely the key, as the ability to grab the rebound and push in transition would be a huge boon for Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg's offense.

The biggest question when it comes to Porter on the Bulls is can he fit with Lauri Markkanen? Despite receiving many favorable Kevin Durant and Paul George comparisons leading up to the draft, there is a rising sentiment that his best position in the NBA may be the power forward spot. It is not yet known if he has the foot speed to stay in front of quicker wings in today's NBA. But at six-feet-ten-inches, it is easy to imagine him having a huge advantage against slower power forwards rather than wings. While Markkanen is not currently built to be a full-time center, playing him at the five with Porter at the four would present Hoiberg with a potentially devastating closing lineup.

Versatility is the name of the game in today's league, and Michael Porter Jr. may be the key to unlocking the full potential of Hoiberg's pace-and-space attack. 

Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls

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USA TODAY

Paul Zipser says he is unlikely to return to Bulls

Just two years after being drafted in the second round, Paul Zipser told German media that he doesn’t see the Bulls wanting him next season.

The Bulls have until mid-July to pick up Zipser's option.

"I would not be surprised if they no longer want me.” Zipser said in German and translated via Google Translate

“Actually, I'm pretty sure I will not play in Chicago soon.”

Last month, Zipser had surgery on his fractured left foot, in his native country of Germany, which grew speculation the Bulls wouldn’t pick up his player option for next season. Zipser said the surgery "went perfectly."

Zipser showed some flashes of potential in his rookie season, averaging 5.5 per game and 2.8 rebounds in 44 games. But this past season, he played more games, but injuries derailed him from improving his overall production. He finished with four points and 2.4 rebounds in 54 games, including 12 starts.

Zipser explained that things changed from his first year to his second year.

“They were very varied," Zipser said. "The first year was just going very well. I fought my way into the team from the beginning and showed how I can help the team. The Bulls just needed someone like me. That's why it worked so well. We benefited from each other - that's why we were successful.”

“That was very different. It was not right from the beginning, and I was already struggling with my injury. It was not quite clear what it is. If you have pain in your foot, you automatically go down a bit with intensity. You just do not want to hurt yourself and be completely out. It was then difficult for me to keep my head in the sport - I did not manage that well. Nevertheless, the injury should not be an excuse.”

Nothing is official yet, but it sounds like Zipser might not dress up in a Bulls uniform next year.