Bulls

Mirotic responds to chiding from teammates in Bulls rout

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Mirotic responds to chiding from teammates in Bulls rout

BROOKLYN -- Being a brainless player can be a compliment or put-down depending on its context, considering it keeps some players glued to the bench when coaches can’t trust their instincts.

For Nikola Mirotic, he’s being urged to turn the brain off and just play, receiving some extra prodding from the man who’ll likely benefit from his mere presence on the floor, Derrick Rose.

“I hate when he hesitates. Hate when he hesitates,” Rose repeated for emphasis after the Bulls’ blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets, where they clinched homecourt advantage for the first-round series that starts this weekend.

Mirotic found himself open on a few occasions and didn’t feel comfortable letting loose early. Perhaps the thought of being unselfish was in his head but when the decision was made to flip the switch to “off”, that’s when
Mirotic got off and earned the admiration of a 50-50 crowd at Barclays Center Monday night.

“In the first half, they (teammates) were telling me, ‘Niko, don’t think, just shoot the ball. You’re wide open. Don’t pump fake’,” Mirotic said.

[MORE: Sharing is caring as the Bulls dismantle Nets in Brooklyn]

He was. The Nets defense couldn’t keep up with the Bulls’ ball movement and while trying to keep a handle on the Bulls’ guard penetration, left a gaping hole on the perimeter in the form of Mirotic.

“Gotta shoot. Gotta shoot,” Rose said. “That’s the way the offense is, If you’re open three times, if the game is telling you to shoot, we’re not gonna get mad. Shoot the ball.”

The game dictated that shots were given to Mirotic and finally, he accepted the challenge in the third quarter, hitting three straight to finish the period—only missing a corner triple at the buzzer.

“They’re right. I just need to shoot because when I think, I miss the shot,” Mirotic said. “So when I don’t think, I make the shot. I made the first one, the second one and there you go, keep shooting.”

Mirotic led the Bulls with 26 on the evening, hitting six of his eight field goals from long range. Considering he came from overseas with such a well-earned reputation as a shooter, hitting 31 percent from three seems a little puzzling on its face.

But he had the ability to create more overseas, and now he’s just getting used to recognizing when he’s open on the catch, and just letting it fly. Chances are, he’s heard you yelling at your screen when he hesitates in such matters.

“The shots were more handoffs, and like catch and shoot,” Mirotic said. “The movement sometimes being gone, so they’re not easy shots. But when you start making shots I’m making, they start learning me, start to play better defense on me. It’s not easy.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Nikola Mirotic jersey here]

After having the freedom to create when Rose was out with injury, he’ll have fewer of those opportunities en masse—but with Rose on the floor, they open things up for each other. Rose found driving lanes that hadn’t been available in the past two games, which he’s attributed to playing more with Mirotic.

“I want to play with him a little bit more,” Rose said. “But the people I’ve been playng with, Taj (Gibson) Pau (Gasol), (Joakim Noah), I think we’ve done a great job. With Niko on the floor it’s another dimension, the way he spaces the floor. “

And now as the league has started to zero in on what Mirotic likes to do, he’ll have to ramp up the intensity for the upcoming postseason—while turning down the volume in his head.

“It’s normal, a really big adjustment. A lot of ups and downs,” said Mirotic of his fluctuating confidence. “I’m working hard the last part of the season. I’m working hard to prepare myself for the playoffs. Sometimes I play more, sometimes I play less. The chance is here so you have to play your part.”

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.