Bulls

Lucas III, short-handed Bulls survive lowly Wizards

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Lucas III, short-handed Bulls survive lowly Wizards

The bruised and battered Bulls (10-2) had little reason for optimism heading into Wednesday nights affair, except for the facts that their pride was at stake and they were facing the lowly Wizards (1-9). Led by emergency starter John Lucas III, Chicago made a defensive stand to hold off the visitors, 78-64.

I knew it was going to be a grind-it-out game. It was our third in a row and were hopeful that we can hang our hat on our defense when were not shooting well, said Thibodeau. The defense was, I thought, pretty good. The rebounding was terrific and I thought that was the difference in the game. Theres a lot of fight in our team.

Down both their superstar starting point guardDerrick Roses sprained-toe injury, suffered during the previous evenings win at Minnesotaand his usual backup, C.J. Watson, third-stringer Lucas (25 points, 11-for-28 shooting, eight assists) was the subject of much scrutiny leading up to Wednesdays contest. But the diminutive, yet experienced floor general proved early on that he had the chops to fill in as an emergency starterat least against the lowly Wizards, scoring six first-quarter points and dishing out six assists in a less-than-bashful outing.

I just wanted to go out there and step in, and control the team like Derrick would do and C.J. C.J. went down, I had to come in and get the Bench Mob going. Then, Derrick went down, I had to come in and do what I had to do. My teammates, theyre the best. They had a lot of confidence in me, coaches had a lot of confidence in me and I just had to go out there and perform, said Lucas, who played more than 45 minutes in the contest. I didnt know until I was driving to the arena that Rose wasnt going to play, so it caught me off guard. But youve always got to be prepared, always got to stay focused. I came in the game with the same mindset.

Even without Rose, one thing that remained consistent about the Bulls was their top-notch defense and it held the youthful, trigger-happy visitots to 35-percent shooting in the opening period. Although the home team didnt exactly light it up from the field themselves, a more disciplined style of play led to a 17-15 advantage after a quarter of play.

Washington was sparked by the play of backup guard Jordan Crawford (14 points), center JaVale McGee (10 points, 14 rebounds), who played his high school hoops in Chicago, and point guard John Wall (11 points, eight assists)Wall caught his counterpart, Lucas, with a monster, left-handed fast-break dunk, as the Bulls point guard tried to draw a charge late in the halfin the second quarter, showing fight that reflected their individual talent. However, the continued strong play of Lucas, who played the entire first half, and the scoring and rebounding efforts of Luol Deng (12 points, 15 rebounds) boosted the hosts lead to double digits.

Its a good feeling, but I know that it doesnt stop here, said Lucas. I just want to go out there and play, play in the game. Coach Thibs was just telling me, Just stay aggressive. Dont back off, dont stop shooting. If Im open, shoot it and I felt like I was shooting too much, and then he got on me for not shooting when I was open

Everybodyall 13 of uswe all stepped up tonight, he continued. John Wall and all of them, theyre great players, but when you go against D-Rose in practice, nothing surprises you that steps in front of you, I dont care who it is. Im just happy that Im part of this team and I get to play against him every day in practicealso C.J., whos a terrific playerand it makes me a better player.

Added Thibodeau: Hes not going to leave many bullets in the gun, thats for sure. I give him a lot of credit. He stayed ready. That was a tough game.

Well, actually, I was mad early because off on the pick-and-roll and he was wide-open, and he wasnt shooting and you cant play like that. If youre open, youve got to shoot, he continued. Once he hit a couple, then it changed things. It opened up things a little bit.

Help from the second unit in the form of Taj Gibsons (nine points, six rebounds, two blocked shots) always-energetic play, Kyle Korvers (14 points, six rebounds, four assists) outside marksmanship and Omer Asiks (eight points, 14 rebounds, five blocked shots) interior presenceone of the deepest teams in the league, the Bulls depth was truly being tested on this nightmaintained the winning margin. At the intermission, Chicago was in front by the score of 45-37.

After the break, the United Center guests charged back, apparently finally realizing how short-handed the Bulls were on the evening, and seized the lead midway through the games third frame. The suddenly-unselfish Wizards shared the ball and played to their strengths, led by the explosive Walls penetration and distribution abilities, and their size, length and athleticism on the inside.

It didnt help matters for the Bulls that Joakim Noah was ailing, suffering a first-half strain in his left thumb, but they plodded on, featuring Deng as the go-to scorer on offense and using swingman Ronnie Brewer at the point to spell Lucas. Receiving scoring from a surprising source in Asik, the home team took back the lead and headed into the final stanza with a 57-53 winning margin.

Buoyed by their defense, the Bulls controlled the games tempo in the fourth quarter, limiting impatient Washington to tough shots and using their inexperience against the visitors. At various junctures, Lucas, Deng, Korver, Gibson and Asik all stepped up for the hostsonce again, Noah, limited by the aforementioned injury on this evening, and Boozer were ineffective and pulled by Thibodeau for the defensive-minded duo of Gibson and Asikhelping to keep a comfortable cushion and then watched their lead balloon.

Omer and Taj, when they shut the lane down, its hard to get anything inside on them.

Youre just going with how the matchups are going, how the game was going. We had a six-point lead, so you know you pretty much can have lockdown defense with those guys on the floor, and I thought we could win it with our defense, Thibodeau explained. Were in the midst of a lot of games in a short amount of time, so you just have to go with the guys who have some energy. We need those guys. Carlos and Jo are a huge part of our team. On a lot of nights, they carry us.

In some ways, its good because their minutes arent piling up and we feel the strength of our club is the depth up front, and theyre all different, so depending on what you need, you can go to whatever the skill set youre looking for. If you need more defense, you go one way. If you need more scoring, you go another way. You need playmaking, you can go another way. Theres a lot of versatility, so we want to take advantage of that.

Lucas, despite cramping up late, continued to fire away with accuracy, Korver made timely long bombs, Asik and Gibson were active on the interior and Deng was his usual steady self down the stretch, as the Bulls sealed the hard-fought win. Thibodeau recognized he had the game in hand in the waning moments and inserted fan favorite

Brian Scalabrine, rookie swingman Jimmy Butler and even the newly-acquired Mike James.

Am I winded? I have a newfound respect for D-Rose and all the players who play 45, 48 minutes a game. But you have to grind it out, said Lucas, who played 45 minutes in the contest. Anything for this team. I would stay out there, even though I was cramping up. Thats how much I love this team. Id throw my body on the line anytime for them, he went on.

What to watch for: Bulls hit the road to take on Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat

What to watch for: Bulls hit the road to take on Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat

The Bulls visit Miami to take on the 16-6 Heat in the wake of a disappointing loss to the Warriors in Chicago on Friday. The game tips off at 5 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago – until then, here's what to watch for:

Heat’s last five (4-1)

  • Dec. 6 — W vs. Wizards: 112-103

  • Dec. 4 — L at Celtics: 112-93

  • Dec. 3 — W at Raptors: 121-110

  • Dec. 1 — W at Nets: 109-106

  • Nov. 29 — W vs. Warriors: 122-105

Storyline(s) for each team

At 16-6, the Heat enter tonight the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and one of the league’s best teams — explosive offensively (second in the NBA in eFG%, per Cleaning the Glass), yet defensively-oriented (top 10 in defensive rating, eFG% against, turnover rate and defensive rebounding rate). Two things that should especially worry the Bulls: This game is in Miami and the Heat are coming off a day of rest after beating the Wizards 112-103 on Friday. The Heat are 9-0 at home this season and four of their six losses have come on the second night of back-to-backs. With fresh legs and their home crowd behind them, they’ll be tough to beat.

The Bulls, for their part, are coming off a momentum-crushing loss to the 5-19 Golden State Warriors on their home floor Friday, and on the first night of a road-and-home back-to-back — they’ll face the Raptors at the United Center on Monday. Both teams have already blown the Bulls out early in the season — the Heat 116-108 (it wasn’t that close) on Nov. 22, the Raptors 108-84 on Oct. 26. Since the start of last season, the Bulls are 7-48 against teams with winning records. To put it diplomatically, the next two nights will be an uphill battle.

Player to watch: Jimmy Butler

It’s the easy answer, but it’s also the right one. The Heat employ a dynamic cast of characters around Butler, but he’s the lifeblood of this team. The offense runs through him, the defense feeds off him (along with, of course, legitimate DPOY candidate Bam Adebayo as the anchor) and you can bet he’ll get up to face his former team. As Miami’s role players have endured up-and-down stretches, here are Butler’s numbers in his last eight games (i.e. since Nov. 22):

Per game: 22.8 points, 7 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 47.3% shooting (14 attempts), 9.5 FTA

And against the Bulls in his career:

Per game: 29 points, 5.3 assists, 5 rebounds, 3.7 steals, 48.1% shooting (18 attempts), 11.7 FTA

Even in a game the Bulls could find themselves overmatched in, perhaps we’ll get a fun Butler-Zach LaVine matchup this time around. Since being traded for each other after the 2016-17 season, the two have had some battles — before the Nov. 22 no-contest (LaVine, remember, was pulled by Jim Boylen early in the first quarter and only tallied 16 points in a blowout), they were each averaging over 30 points per game when facing each other.

LaVine bounced back from that aforementioned pseudo-benching with a 49-point, 13 3-pointer outing in Charlotte; maybe another historic performance is in store after an underwhelming fourth-quarter showing on Friday against Golden State.

Matchup to watch: 3-point shooting

Miami is a heat-check factory. Their movement-based offense is effective at creating a plethora of open long-range looks per game and even though some of their ancillary weapons can be streaky, there’s so many of them that you can bet at least one will burn you on a given night.

For evidence, look no further than that Nov. 22 matchup. Before most Bulls fans had scanned their tickets and found their seats, the Heat ran out to a 15-0 lead in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the game, buoyed by four early 3-pointers (three from Kendrick Nunn, one from Duncan Robinson). Per Cleaning the Glass, the Heat take 36% of their field goals from 3-point range (13th in the NBA) and make 39.2% of those looks (3rd in the NBA). They have five rotation players shooting over 38% on threes, and only one of those is on fewer than 3.9 attempts per (Meyers Leonard, shooting 53.8% on 1.8 attempts). Robinson, notably, is hitting 42.8% of his 3-pointers on 6.6 attempts per game.

The Bulls were 10-for-30 (33.3%) from 3-point range in their last game against the Heat, but four of those came in the final 2:15 of the game in a too-little-too-late comeback bid. They’re feast-or-famine in this department, but will need to keep this matchup close to have a chance tonight. 

Injury/miscellaneous updates

Nothing new here as far as the Bulls are concerned, barring a surprise injury or Chandler Hutchison status upgrade. Boylen has indicated he’s progressing, but hasn’t offered a concrete timetable for return, as of yet. Thad Young rejoins the team tonight.

The Heat will be without Goran Dragic (16 points, seven assists, 3-for-5 from three on Nov. 22), who is currently dealing with a groin issue. Justise Winslow and Adebayo are both currently listed as questionable.

Winslow missed time earlier in the season with a concussion, then returned for five games, but missed Friday’s game with a lower back strain. Adebayo hasn't missed a game since 2018; losing him would severely impact Miami's defensive versatility and rebounding. He had 16 points and 14 rebounds in these teams' first matchup.

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Bulls' guard Tomas Satoransky and his never-ending pursuit of perfection

Tomas Satoransky is a perfectionist and a pleaser.

This can be a positive thing. It also can be negative.

“Everyone who is close to me will tell you that I’m hardest on myself. I always expect to play the best,” Satoransky said in an interview. “I always expect to be perfect, which isn’t always the best but in the long term it has always worked out for me.”

That’s because perfection is an unattainable quest. But Satoransky keeps working towards the unachievable goal. So he’s driven, which is good, but sometimes self-destructive, which isn’t.

Early on, as Satoransky slowly adjusted to a new city, new coach, new teammates and new system, the process didn’t go smoothly.

“I didn’t feel down. I felt frustrated and anxious to do better, anxious to help the team as much as he can,” coach Jim Boylen said when asked if he sensed frustration from Satoransky. “He really struggles when he lets the team down. That’s just basketball. You’re not going to play perfect all the time. He takes it to heart. I’ve spoken to him about it. I don’t need him to beat himself up. Just continue to grow and learn how we’re going to play and get used to guys. It does take some time to get a feel for each other.”

And it’s happening. Satoransky has posted nine straight games with at least five assists, the second-longest stretch of his young career. Coincidentally, his assist totals began to rise the more he looked for his shot.

“I think there’s a point where you make other people better, which he tries to do, and a point where you have to play your game. I think he’s starting to figure that out,” Boylen said. “I think he’s starting to understand where his spots are and how he makes people better but also doesn’t lose the positive things he can do individually.”

The selflessness of Satoransky is something that gets mentioned often by others when they’re asked about him. He’s someone who takes the time to read a situation before asserting himself, always trying to make the right play.

This dynamic was exacerbated by Satoransky not only joining a new team but doing so after playing a leading role for his Czech Republic national team at the FIBA World Cup this offseason.

“I think I’m very adaptable. But I won’t aggressively adapt. I’ll try to see what it is---new coaches, new offense---before asserting myself,” Satoransky said. “I knew I had to be patient, especially with a new team, new role. I’m also coming from a very different situation in the World Cup. And I’m trying to fit in and make my teammates feel the best and most comfortable around me. But I’m trying to be more aggressive because it opens up more space.

“I feel we’re more and more on the same page now.”

Satoransky’s averages of 9.6 points, 5.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 27.1 minutes are eerily similar to those he posted last season with the Wizards, his breakout season. In 80 games, including 54 starts for the injured John Wall, he averaged 8.9 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds also in 27.1 minutes.

He’s shooting 39.7 percent on 3 3-point attempts per game---again very similar to last season’s 39.5 percent on 2 3-point attempts per game.

“I tell him he has to take his shots. He’s a threat,” Zach LaVine said. “He can shoot and create for others. Once he gets in the lane, he’s crafty. He isn’t just a spot-up 3-point shooter.”

Satoransky is in the first year of a three-year, $30 million deal that is only partially guaranteed in the final season. He said he is enjoying Chicago and playing for the Bulls.

“Everyone cares. We get along well,” Satoransky said. “This is my second NBA locker room, but I think this is one of the best groups I’ve had.”

Now, he just wants to improve the won-lost record to something closer to perfection.

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