Jimmy Butler, Bulls wax Thunder to begin extended road trip

Jimmy Butler, Bulls wax Thunder to begin extended road trip

OKLAHOMA CITY—Dwyane Wade twisted and spun and turned poor Anthony Morrow into a confusing, dizzying sap, unleashing a soft baseline fadeaway that danced around the rim while he faded near the Bulls’ bench.

As it nestled into the rim, Wade turned to a seated Rajon Rondo and slapped him in the chest, apparently so impressed with himself that even Wade could show Rondo some love to start the Bulls’ critical road trip.

There was plenty of love in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, and plenty of energy—both from the Chicago Bulls as they put together their most comprehensive effort in quite awhile, pounding the Oklahoma City Thunder 128-100 on Wednesday night.

For all the talk about the road presenting an opportunity for the Bulls to bond more and heal some wounds that were opened or at least revealed to the public in the last week or so, a good old-fashioned butt-kicking has a way of making people seem to like each other a little more.

“It was one of our better games from start to finish,” Wade said. “It was a good way to start this trip off.”

The Bulls started their first long western swing with a big win over Portland and that confidence carried through as the Bulls went 4-2 in November, creating a sense of optimism they’ve been unable to fulfill in the time since.

Wednesday harkened back to the days where the Bulls were thought to be good, and interesting. Now, at least they’re interesting and on this night, they were very good, jumping out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter.

Next to a short stint between the end of the first and start of the second where the Thunder took a slim lead while the Bulls struggled to score, they quickly gathered themselves to dominate throughout—a rarity in recent time.

“I thought we did a great job of following the game plan and getting back and loading in transition,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

And with the Oklahoma City Thunder having very little snap to their punches—unless you count Russell Westbrook punching a Jimmy Butler breakaway layup into the third row—the Bulls had a pretty easy and efficient time against the Thunder.

Shooting 60 percent through three quarters and 61 percent overall, the Bulls didn’t even need to hit triples but played with the desired pace and unselfishness Hoiberg dreams about.

“From the second quarter on I thought we were really good as far as our pace,” Hoiberg said. “We had 28 fast break points, getting the ball up the court and sharing it again.”

Wade had seven assists to go along with his seven rebounds and 18 points in 24 minutes while Rondo had six assists in 16 minutes. Butler, who could barely move in their first meeting as he was in the early stages of an illness, made up for it with 28 points in 30 minutes, hitting 11 of 17 shots and adding five assists with four rebounds.

Jerian Grant was off to a good start, scoring nine and hitting his first four shots from the field, taking turns with other perimeter defenders in guarding the unguardable Westbrook.

“I don’t ever think Westbrook is going to be tired. That guy, he’s not human,” Hoiberg said. “It doesn’t even look like he sweats when he’s out there on the floor. He’s a machine.”

Butler took the bulk of the assignment, and Westbrook shot 10 of 23 for 28 points, eight assists and five rebounds in 29 minutes but didn’t make a truly impactful play when it counted.

“You have to challenge every shot he puts up,” Butler said. “He can go downhill at the basket, he can make the outside shot. You just have to try your best to make everything tougher.”

The Thunder were held to 36 percent shooting and kept bricking triples, shooting 8-for-35. Although the Thunder seemed to be teetering well into the first two quarters, on the second night of a back to back, the Bulls only held an eight-point lead going into halftime.

Then Wade took over in the third with scoring and playing, with some nice look-away passes for assists while he couldn’t get it going early, then once he did, carried the Bulls offense. 

They stretched their lead to 21 at 76-55 midway through and cruised through the rest of the night.

He allowed Butler to rest a little on offense while Westbrook, the high-usage counterpart, was burning oil trying to keep the Thunder in the game. He had 27 by the end of the third but his team was awful shooting-wise and couldn’t get anything going.

It was just what the Bulls needed at just the right time.

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is fed up with being underestimated and he’s going to do something about it. The Bulls guard has been having a strong pre-season so far but is looking to improve his skills as a two-way player.

“I’m just tired of people talking shit about my defense,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that on the defensive end.”

“I’m taking more pride in it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll show. I’ll make sure of that.”

If you think LaVine sounds confident, he has good reason to be. Last season LaVine was one of only ten players to average at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, making him stand out as an elite player in the company of MVPs and All-Stars. LaVine’s personal triumphs, however, were overshadowed by the Bulls abysmal 22-60 record last season.

So far, this preseason LaVine has been looking better on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game through three preseason games. Any improvements on defense will greatly help LaVine’s All-Star case.

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3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.