Bulls

NBA arenas dark on opening night, basketball still shines

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NBA arenas dark on opening night, basketball still shines

I should be in Dallas right now, perhaps wrapping up a post-shootaround lunch at Mexican restaurant El Fenix, not far from the American Airlines Center, before heading back to my hotel prior to tonight's Bulls' regular-season opener against the defending champion Mavericks.

Instead, I'm in good old Hyde Park, biding my time by texting, calling and emailing folks around the league, and perusing the World Wide Web for tidbits of NBA-related information--from the significant (such as union president Derek Fisher's latest letter to his constituents, defending himself against accusations of striking side deals with league commissioner David Stern) to the irrelevant (Nets power forward Kris Humphries was actually surprised to learn his marriage to Kim Kardashian was on the rocks?)--as the four-month-long NBA lockout continues.

Not exactly what I signed up for.

But as depressing as the league's labor impasse might be, I can't complain, especially when comparing my situation to the legions of team employees, fans and yes, even players suffering during this work stoppage. At least from a local standpoint, things don't look quite as grim.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, the Bulls are one of the more stable franchises during the lockout, as workers and basketball-operations staff alike remain employed--Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, a longtime assistant, fought for his staff in preparation for this very situation.

While they can't work with, let alone communicate with players, an extended offseason of analysis will ensure they're prepared when play finally resumes--and while there are great expectations for the team to pursue an upgrade at shooting guard or even explore the rash and ridiculous possibility of cutting ties with Carlos Boozer under the reported amnesty clause in the new CBA (not happening), after a 62-win season, there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

Still, although the Bulls might be a squad to benefit from a shortened season--due to their combination of relative youth (even if Kurt Thomas, who turned 39 last month, returns), roster stability, chemistry and low-maintenance players with strong work ethics--just last week, it appeared as if they'd be getting back to business sooner than later.

Tuesday? We can only speculate, but the forecast again looks more cloudy than sunny.

So, rather than sinking further into a lockout malaise, the time has come to focus on other hoops pursuits. Unlike many of my other NBA-reporter colleagues, I can't claim experience in covering other sports (I'd like to think of myself as pretty knowledgeable when it comes to football, but in reality, I'm probably only an expert when it comes to my Philadelphia Eagles, who I fully expect to continue their recent pattern and thump the Bears come next Monday night, even if it means I'll need a police escort home from a local bar) and fortunately, I won't have to do so.

As somebody who's covered more than my fair share of high school and college basketball, I certainly don't mind jumping back into that scene. But while I've kept abreast of even minute details since I've started covering the Bulls on a full-time basis, I've spent the past month or so--since it became clear that I wouldn't be making the daily trek to the Berto Center for training camp--getting re-acclimated to those levels of basketball, particularly high school.

With so many local college programs in the area and several ballyhooed prep prospects to go around, there's plenty to observe and write about, without having to board a plane.

As much as I'll miss long lines at airports, early-morning flights and commuting to Deerfield from the South Side--in all seriousness, I do lament the absence of press-room meals, at least in certain cities--watching the likes of Simeon and elite recruit Jabari Parker, a Northwestern team that looks poised to end its NCAA Tournament drought (if not this season, then when?) and players poised for a breakout year, such as DePaul sophomore forward Cleveland Melvin or Curie High School sophomore big man Cliff Alexander, should make up for the lack of professional basketball being played.

At least until the lockout ends. Then, starving for hoops played at the highest level in the world, I'll take it all back.

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

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USA Today

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

The shots are starting to fall for Coby White. In seven February games, the Bulls freshly-turned 20-year-old is averaging 17.7 points, 4.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 35.7% from 3-point range (eight attempts per). That’s good news for the Bulls. 

And better is that’s not all that’s going right for White. Yes, consecutive career-high 33-point games — something no rookie reserve has ever done — on cumulative 55% field goal shooting (12-for-22 from deep) will grab eyes, especially on the heels of a frigid stretch between the beginning of February and the All-Star break. But after Sunday’s losing-streak-snapping 126-117 win over Washington, Bulls coach Jim Boylen peeled back the layers of White’s growth.

“I think he's been aggressive in transition, I think his finishing has been terrific, he's had the ball up and out, he's got it out of his stomach, something he's working on,” Boylen said. “I think his work pre-practice, post-practice is paying off.”

And of White’s defense: “We make a defensive (film) edit on Coby after every game. And him and I watch it together… (Early in the season) he had, of his 14 plays on the tape, you know, seven of them were good and seven of them were bad. Now it's like 10 are good and four are bad. He's climbing in that way.

“What he's finding out is: If you get into the game defensively and you follow your assignment and all that, good things happen for you at the other end. It just does. And I think he's locked in that way.”

White’s restricted area finishing has steadily improved over the season (59.3% in February) — he’s getting to the rim and finishing through contact better than ever before (White’s seven free throw attempts versus the Wizards ties a season-high). In transition, he’s a blur running off live rebounds and steals, which could prove a boon for a Bulls team that lives in the fastbreak. His decision-making and ability to change speeds in the halfcourt stand out. Defensively, though not yet perfect, he’s staying more and more connected off-ball, rotating sharply and hunting loose ball recoveries.

If the jumpers are falling, gravy. But the game slowing down for White, and his confidence growing as a result, should excite the Bulls and their fans the most. White, for his part, has learned over the course of a curious rookie campaign to control what he can control.

“It feels good,” White said of his recent red-hot shooting. “But I think now I look at the game differently than I did at the beginning of the year. Now, I just look at the games like I'm gonna go in and play hard on both ends of the court, that's all I'm gonna do. And then control what I can control — I can't control whether I miss or make shots, so. I'm just going out there and playing hard.”

That comes from Boylen, who White lauded for pushing him to continue improving, especially defensively.

“Coach Boylen was preaching to me, you gotta play defense you gotta play defense, so I took it as a challenge. And I feel like I'm continuing to get better at it. I still can get better at it,” White said. “But he pushes me, he pushes me to be a good player, so I can't knock him for that and that's the type of coach I want.”

None of the above (nor Boylen’s unconditional trust in White) has culminated in his first career start, despite clamoring from some media and fans. But perhaps that’s OK. Boylen has often preached White’s increasing comfortability leading the Bulls’ second unit — even injury-ravaged — and that comfort is starting to show up on the floor and in the stat sheet. It speaks to the labeless approach the Bulls have taken to White’s development.

“We got a second group that's playing pretty good again, and we're also melding Coby into that first group at times in the game,” Boylen said when asked if starting White could be a possibility. “So, coming off two 33-point games, I don't know if it makes sense to [start him].”

To that point: White is still getting his fair share of minutes — he played 34 tonight and is averaging 30.6 in February — and a healthy amount of time on the floor staggered alongside Zach LaVine and Tomas Satoransky. White has also played valuable minutes down the stretch of games recently and his usage rate is up to 24.1% over his last seven games. Opportunity comes in many forms.

“I feel like I'm in a good position,” White said. “This year for me wasn't about starting, it wasn't about being this being that, it was just about me getting better over the season. That's the main thing in this league, you just keep getting better. You don't want to be a guy that just stays the same the whole time.”

White certainly hasn't. The overarching point is that nights like tonight (and Saturday against Phoenix) further emphasize how crucial his continued progression will be down the 25-game stretch of this ill-fated Bulls season — whatever form it takes. Talk of a playoff push has noticeably tempered around the United and Advocate Centers, but White’s been the center of plenty of conversations.

“You see how explosive he is,” said LaVine, who’s been highly complimentary of White all year. “Trying to figure out some nicknames for him. Either like propane or gasoline or something like that. His scoring is special. He can do it in a variety of ways. He's finding his rhythm. Kid's good. He's real good.”

If we land on a pseudonym by mid-April, it’d be a welcome sign.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders Podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson and Allana Tachauer discuss Coby White becoming the first Bulls rookie since Michael Jordan to score 30+ points in back-to-back games; LaVine breaking the Bulls record for threes made in a single season; and Dwyane Wade's role in Derrick Jones Jr.'s controversial dunk contest victory.

0:40 - Allana's back and the Bulls losing streak is over

1:10 - White drops 33 points in second straight game

5:30 - Tomas Satoransky records team-high 13 assists

6:45 - Zach LaVine breaks Bulls single-season three-point record

8:35 - Bradley Beal scores 53 points and doesn't get victory

9:45 - Have injuries kept Bulls from reaching their full potential?

11:10 - Should Daniel Gafford start over Wendell Carter Jr.?

14:00 - Pros and cons of playing White and LaVine together

18:25 - Is LaVine in the Bulls long-term future?

20:50 - Injured Bulls look like boy band

22:45 - Did Wade rig dunk contest for Jones Jr.?

25:50 - Does Coby need to start?

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.