Bulls

James proves he can contribute to Bulls

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James proves he can contribute to Bulls

In just 17 minutes against one of the best defensive teams in the league and on a national stage, 10-year guard Mike James proved to himself what hes believed all along. Even with just being in the D-League this time last week, he is still capable of contributing to an NBA team.

Being in the D-League, it was tough for me because Ive always believed Im an NBA basketball player, still, but if thats what I had to do to prove myself, I had to put my pride to the side and humble myself, said James. Its just the passion and the love of the game of basketball took more control than focusing on where I was.

James scored 8 points to go along with 4 assists before fouling out with the Bulls up 87-78 with 41 seconds remaining.

While the numbers dont justify his impact, his floater with 5:47 remaining in the second quarter -- while the Bulls were down 31-26 and searching for a spark -- helped key a 20-4 run to close the half that gave Chicago a 44-35 lead going into the third.

His defense also helped slow Rajon Rondo down in the first half as the Celtics point guard went to the post a few times against C.J. Watson and John Lucas, but would find a tougher time jostling for position down low against the bigger body of James.

Mike is tough. Hes a pro and he came in just ready and we didnt miss a beat, said Deng. A lot of teams, having someone whos gone and his first game back, the rhythm would be messed up a little bit but hes been going in early and learning the plays.

After just under two minutes in the third, James would be called on in the fourth with the Bulls up 66-63 with under 10 minutes remaining and the Celtics gaining momentum, he would respond by scoring 6 points and 3 assists while Watson and Lucas cheered.

James was originally signed because Derrick Rose was dealing with a turf toe injury and Watson was still recovering from a left elbow injury. With Rose is out again, James is third on the point guard depth chart with Watson and Lucas healthy, but his mentality is one Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau talks about routinely.

You have to be professional, you have to be ready. One thing I always say is it always is better to be ready than to get ready, said James. Mentally, I approach every game the same way. Whether I get a DNP or I dont. Im constantly always visualizing the game in my mind. I always prepare by who Im playing against and so if Im not playing, I sit and I try to be the best teammates and cheer my teammates on. If I play, mentally, Im already into the game and Im in tuned to it.

For someone who works as hard as James has been to gain a permanent spot on an NBA roster, again, his teammates are happy to have him back and his attitude and work ethic has served as a constant reminder on what it means to be a professional.

We told him when he came back, we were all happy to see him back, said Luol Deng. This is a guy thats been going in early, getting to know the plays, working out, getting in shape and when hes not out there working, hes getting into the gym early. For the whole team, seeing something like this is great. It keeps you focused on what our goal is.

While his status with the team isnt guaranteed -- signed to a 10-day contract on Tuesday -- James has made good each time hes seen action.

Dealing with the uncertainty of even seeing action and being closer to a return to the D-League than he is with a permanent location for the remainder of the season, James devotion to his religion and his readiness have kept him prepared for anything that may come.

I always believe in my heart Im exactly where Im supposed to be whether its good or bad, says James. Gods faith is in my life and wherever Im at is where Im meant to be at the time. I appreciate and I take advantage of the opportunities.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”