Bulls

NBA-best Bulls rebound with easy win over league-worst Bobcats

738066.png

NBA-best Bulls rebound with easy win over league-worst Bobcats

CHARLOTTEIn a matchup of the leagues best and worst teams this season, the Bulls outclassed the lowly Bobcats from start to finish Thursday night at Time Warner Cable Arena, blowing out historically awful Charlotte, 100-68.

Propelled by Rip Hamilton tying his season high in scoring, the Bulls bounced back from a surprising defeat in their previous outing to hand the Bobcats their 18th consecutive loss, even without the services of All-Stars Derrick Rose and Luol Deng for the second consecutive game.

The visitors didnt immediately jump on their inferior hosts, as one might expect after Mondays disappointing home loss to Washington. Young Bobcats (7-54) like emerging big man Byron Mullens, athletic swingman Gerald Henderson Jr. (13 points) and rookie point guard Kemba Walker (team-high 16 points, five assists) each made an early impact; in fact, the trio scored all of the home teams points in the opening period.

But while the Bulls (47-15) eventually clamped down on the defensive end, offense was never a problem, as starting post players Carlos Boozer (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists) and Joakim Noah (12 points, five rebounds) got off to quick starts, much of which was due to the playmaking of wings Hamilton (22 points on 9-for-13 shooting, 4-for-5 from three-point range, six assists) and Ronnie Brewer. The latter was also a force as a scorer, showing off his versatility in leading the Bulls to a 34-20 lead through a quarter of play.

The Bench Mob maintained the Bulls substantial edge in the second stanza, as the big-man tandem of Taj Gibson (nine points, 12 rebounds) and Omer Asik (nine points, 15 rebounds) dominated the interior, while rookie Jimmy Butler was an active presence in a rare early stint for the short-handed squad.

John Lucas III (12 points), thrust into a backup role in Roses absence and utilized earlier than usual due to fill-in starter C.J. Watsons early foul trouble, was also effective, while sharpshooter Kyle Korver kept the Bobcats defense honest. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau rode his reserves until the intermission and the guests went into halftime holding a 52-37 advantage.

Hamilton resumed his offensive exploits immediately after the break, with a focus on his torrid outside marksmanshiphe knocked down his first four attempts from beyond the three-point arcin another of his recent returns to his former All-Star form. Meanwhile, Boozer and Watson were also productive for the visitors, who extended their lead to over 20 points.

Chicagos balanced play and stifling defensive effort frustrated the young hosts, who seemingly couldnt catch a break and just couldnt get the ball to bounce their way, let alone get defensive stops consistently, hit open jumpers, finish around the basket or control the backboards. However, perhaps the Bulls starters got bored, as Charlotte mounted a late-period run to narrow the gap to 77-59 heading into the final stanza.

The entire fourth quarter was extended garbage tome, as the Bulls reserves got a chance for more action than usual, though that didnt improve the lot of the woeful Bobcats. The visitors lead ballooned to more than 30 points against their helpless hosts, giving the likes of Asik, Lucas and Gibson the opportunity to work on their games.

By the end, the only drama for the sparse crowd was whether fan favorite Brian Scalabrine would see any playing time, which he did, to the enjoyment of the dwindling number of fans in attendance. With the expected blowout victory in hand, the Bulls could now fully turn their focus to Thursdays showdown with the rival Heat in Miami.

Daniel Gafford won't rest on laurels stemming from breakout performance

Daniel Gafford won't rest on laurels stemming from breakout performance

Daniel Gafford’s phone blew up Monday night with congratulatory well wishes following his 21-point performance in his first game of meaningful NBA minutes.

But the Bulls’ rookie acted more like somebody focused on his next opportunity than addicted to social media or electronic devices.

“I put it on ‘Do Not Disturb’ because I was trying to get sleep at the same time,” Gafford said following Tuesday’s practice at Advocate Center. “I was real sore from the game because I’ve been traveling a lot. I wanted to make sure I got the rest I needed for practice today.”

Gafford’s travel has been of the G League variety — bus rides, not five-star accommodations. More performances like his outing against the Bucks, though, and Gafford’s G League assignments may be over.

“What would help me is just try to remain consistent. I did that game, but I’ve got to be ready for the next,” Gafford said. “Enjoy it until midnight and then get ready for the next game the next day.”

The longer Gafford talked, the more his basketball IQ and willingness to learn and be coached came out.

On setting good screens: “Fighting through that fatigue, it was just a mental thing. Just making sure I got contact on the screens because the coaches were telling me they were trying to slip up under my screen because I wasn’t really setting them. So I had to make sure I hit guys when I was coming up to set screens to get bottom hip so I could make sure I was getting guys open because that can help them. But at the same time it can help me as well.

On feedback from coaches: “Mostly it was just on the pick-and-roll with opposing teams. Just making sure I be up at the level to where guards don’t get downhill as much. Just make sure I’m up to where I can help our guards get back from where they’re setting screens. And be better on defensive rebounding.”

On feedback from teammates: “They were just talking about my dunks, really, pretty much. They were patting me on the back, telling me, ‘Good job' and telling me whenever I get my chance again, come out and do the same thing.’”

Ah, yes, those dunks. What did the United Center rims do to Gafford anyway? The six rim-rattling slams he threw down on the night were enough for him to field a question as to his favorite.

“Oh, the one-hand lob that I caught,” Gafford said. “I didn’t think I was going to catch that. I thought it was going to get some of the rim and come out. But it went down for me and I appreciate it for that.”

Gafford said his wrist “feels good” after all that rim wrecking because he’s “used to it.”

And somewhere, fellow Arkansas product Bobby Portis is smiling. Not only was there a #freeDanielGafford movement on Twitter, a la #freeBobbyPortis from Portis’ rookie season with the Bulls, but Gafford also dropped a third-person reference. Portis used to do that, too.

“Go out there and play Daniel Gafford basketball,” Gafford said, when asked for his mindset.

Coach Jim Boylen said Gafford plays “with a pure heart.” With 20-20 machine Andre Drummond in town with the Pistons Wednesday, expect Gafford to get more rotational minutes.

And as for that “Do Not Disturb” sign on his phone, it worked.

“I slept good,” Gafford said.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com

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.

What is going on with Lauri Markkanen?

lauri_thumb.jpg
USA Today

What is going on with Lauri Markkanen?

That is the question being asked around league circles as we approach the one month mark of the regular season. With the All-Star game being played in Chicago in February, the hope was Markkanen would take a big jump in his 3rd NBA season, and represent the home city in the showcase event.

Instead, the 22-year-old Finn is struggling through one of the worst shooting slumps of his young career through the first 14 games. Markkanen opened the season with a bang, scoring 35 points and pulling down 17 rebounds in the opener at Charlotte. But since that night, he’s only shot over 50% from the field in one other game and is sitting at 36.2% for the season, far off his career average of 42.6%. He’s been even worse from 3-point range shooting 26.8%, compared to his career norm of 35.2%.

And, it’s not like the Bulls haven’t been trying to get him going. In Monday’s loss to Milwaukee, Markkanen missed all four of his attempts from beyond the arc, most of them wide open looks.

Markkanen is making just over 25% of his wide open 3-point looks, which is classified by the NBA as a shot attempt with no defender within 6-feet. In case you were wondering, he made 43% of his wide open 3’s last season and 45% as a rookie.

Markkanen insists his confidence hasn’t wavered. “Shooters, all the players go through slumps” Markkanen told reporters in the post-game locker room Monday night. “Everybody’s broken through it at some point. When I’m staying confident, believing every shot’s going in, I know it’s going to turn around.”

But it’s not just the long range misses that have the Bulls concerned. Markkanen’s shooting woes seem to be affecting his all-around game, like this sequence against the Bucks late in the first half on Monday.

Markkanen had to deal with the length of Giannis Antetokounmpo on the first attempt, and in his anxiety to make good on the second try, he misses the dunk, something we’ve seen on a handful of occasions in recent games.

Even though Markkanen insists his shooting slump hasn’t affected his overall game, he’s also been less active on the defensive end, being overpowered inside and slow to help on drives to the basket.

It’s one thing for Giannis to score inside on Markkanen, it’s quite another to see Nets’ rookie Nicolas Claxton go strong to the basket for the and-one.

So, what can Markkanen do to shake the slump? Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen has often mentioned his third year forward seems to get energized by working hard on the defensive glass. Markkanen is more than capable of grabbing a rebound and taking it end to the end as he did on this play against the Nets last Saturday.

Markkanen has well above average ballhandling skills for a 7-footer, which makes him a dangerous weapon in transition. On this next play, he turns defense into offense at the expense of the reigning league MVP.

Watching plays like that, it’s pretty clear Markkanen’s issues aren’t physical. Boylen mentioned last week that Markkanen had been playing through a strained oblique, but Markkanen insisted it wasn’t an issue and felt fine physically.

Assuming Markkanen is healthy, his career numbers will tell you this shooting slump shouldn’t last much longer. Confidence is a funny thing for athletes, but the best thing Markkanen can do right now is stay aggressive on the offensive end and look for opportunities to get to the basket and draw fouls for some easy points.

Markkanen’s teammates have voiced their strong support for the young forward in recent days and you can count on them trying to set up him for more open looks.

After all, even though a remake of the Michael Jordan “Space Jam” movie is due out next year with LeBron James in the starring role, it’s not like the Monstars have stolen Markkanen’s ability to play basketball.

Markkanen summed up the state of his game very simply Monday night. “It’s not going to be like this forever. I don’t know what else to say.”

Everyone associated with the Bulls’ organization is counting on Markkanen to bust out of his slump with a series of big games very soon. 

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com

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.