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.

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.”