Bulls

NBA Buzz: The indecipher-a-Bulls

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NBA Buzz: The indecipher-a-Bulls

If you're feeling frustrated by the Bulls' maddening inconsistency this season, just think about how John Paxson, Gar Forman, Fred Hoiberg and the assistant coaches are feeling. They're watching the same games we are.

The Bulls currently own an 8-0 record against Top 6 squads San Antonio, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Toronto and the L.A. Clippers, but they've lost at home to under .500 Minnesota, Charlotte, Phoenix, Brooklyn and a Washington team playing without three injured starters. 

I know a lot of Bulls fans would like to see the front office make a series of trades before the Feb. 18 deadline and start over, but the reality is staying the course is probably the best strategy right now.

Pau Gasol has come to symbolize the fans' frustration, with his offensive production counterbalanced by an often-times indifferent approach on the defensive end. Young forwards Niko Mirotic, Tony Snell and Doug McDermott have failed to take advantage of additional playing time and a more patient approach from the coaches.

And, then there's Derrick Rose, who's played much better since abandoning the protective facemask in December, but still ranks near the bottom of the league in most of the advanced metrics for the season.

So, what should the front office do? Because of Joakim Noah's season-ending shoulder injury, the Bulls lost the extra big they could have used in a deal for an upgrade at the small forward spot like a Trevor Ariza, Rudy Gay or Tyreke Evans. Don't kid yourself, despite all of Noah's contributions to the organization, on and off the court, he was the most tradeable player on the roster.

[MORE: Bulls stun Cavaliers, spoil Tyronn Lue's NBA coaching debut]

Now, when the front office looks across the Eastern Conference landscape, which team is significantly better than the Bulls. Cleveland? Sure, but they're dealing with internal issues and might be looking to change the locker room dynamic with a trade of their own. Toronto? The Bulls are 2-0 against the Raptors. Atlanta? Yes, the Hawks have been a tough match-up for the Bulls over the last two years, but does that roster intimidate anyone. Miami? The Heat's veteran roster looks good on paper, but they're dealing with a mid-season injury crisis, and you never know how healthy Dwyane Wade will be by the time the playoffs roll around.

So, if you're in Paxson's or Forman's position, why blow up the roster now when the Bulls are still a Top 4 team in the East? The front office always planned to make changes this summer, when Gasol and Noah are likely to leave as free agents, and the Bulls could have a pair of first round draft picks, and potentially close to $20 million in cap room to look for immediate help in free agency.

And, for those advocating trading Taj Gibson for a better small forward, remember if both Gasol and Noah leave at the end of the season, trading Gibson would leave the Bulls with only Bobby Portis and Mirotic as returning big men next season (along with end of the bench guys Cameron Bairstow and Cristiano Felicio). Plus, Gibson is an underrated player on this team, doing the physical work on the defensive end and on the boards that would be very difficult to replace. And, he's signed for next season at a manageable salary.

My advice? Buckle up and enjoy the ride. Rose is putting up solid stats since Christmas Day, finally pushing the ball with the pace that Hoiberg is looking for. Jimmy Butler is an All-Star, and one of the best two-way wing players in the league. And, even though Gasol can drive you crazy with his approach to pick/roll defense, he's still one of the top offensive big men around. If the Bulls can get consistent production from Mirotic and Portis in the second half of the season (I know that's asking a lot), they still might be the second best team in the East behind Cleveland.

And, rest assured the front office knows the roster needs a lot of work to get Hoiberg the type of players he needs for his system. That heavy lifting will come this summer.

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ALL-STAR RESERVES

The NBA will announce the reserves for the Feb. 14 All-Star game in Toronto during a special pre-game show on TNT this Thursday.

Here are the players I would select, starting with the East. Coaches are required to vote for three frontcourt players, two guards and two wild card picks. My East frontcourt reserves would be Pistons center Andre Drummond, Heat power forward Chris Bosh and Hawks forward Paul Millsap. Butler and Washington point guard John Wall are the backcourt choices, with Boston's Isiah Thomas and Toronto's DeMar DeRozan as the wild card picks. DeRozan gets the last spot by virtue of his nearly 23 PPG scoring average and the fact the game is in Toronto, so why not give the Raptors two All-Stars.

Those who just missed the cut in the East: Pau Gasol, Kevin Love, Reggie Jackson, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Nik Vucevic, Kemba Walker and Hassan Whiteside.

For the West, I'd take Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors do-everything forward Draymond Green and Chicago native Anthony Davis in the frontcourt, with Houston's James Harden and Golden State's Klay Thompson at the guard spots, and Portland's Damian Lillard and Clippers' point guard Chris Paul as the two wild card selections.

Honorable mention in the West goes to Blake Griffin (missed too many games because of injury), DeAndre Jordan, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, Marc Gasol, C.J. McCollum and Andrew Wiggins.

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AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

Now, that LeBron James has succeeded in undermining head coach David Blatt to the point general manager David Griffin had to fire him (see the revealing inside story of James' efforts from Yahoo sports Adrian Wojnarowski), maybe it's time for James to put on his GM hat and start working on the roster.

The Cavs own the best record in the East, but not all is well in Cleveland. Love has dropped back to the third banana role with the return of Kyrie Irving, and apparently he's not too happy about it, even with new coach Tyronn Lue's assurances that he'll get Love more touches in his offensive scheme.

Love was awful in the Cavs blowout loss to Golden State last week, scoring just three points on 1-5 shooting from the field, and the Warriors attacked him on pick and roll plays throughout the game.

Afterwards, James called out the entire team, "We've got some inexperienced guys that haven't played enough meaningful basketball games where they can fall back on. When it gets a little tough sometimes, it's not like they can kind of fall back on previous experiences to try and help them get through it."

Love then fired back with an obvious shot at James: "We have a lot of things to get better at. That's going to take a lot of guys looking themselves in the mirror and it all starts with our leader over there and dwindles on down."

Remember last summer when James went to Los Angeles to re-recruit Love to sign with Cleveland before he entered the free agent market? And then early this season, James said the Cavs' offense would run through Love in an obvious attempt to keep his sensitive, stat-happy teammate happy.

Say what you want about James, his only goal right now is to add to his total of NBA championships, and if Love doesn't want to fit in with the program, James might go to the front office and suggest a trade might be in the team's best interests. Cleveland made two significant in-season deals to jump-start their second half run to the Finals, and if James has concluded the Cavs can't beat the Warriors or Spurs as currently constructed, anything is possible.

After all, we know who's actually calling the shots in Cleveland.

When is the league's competition committee going to change the rule that allows teams to foul poor free throw shooters intentionally? Detroit's Andre Drummond set an NBA record by missing 23 free throws in the Pistons' win over Houston last week. Rockets' interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff had his player foul Drummond five times in the span of nine seconds in the third quarter to put Detroit into the bonus, and the strategy worked temporarily as Houston took the lead thanks to all of Drummond's misses. But Detroit eventually pulled away and won the game, 123-114.

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Afterwards, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy was incredulous, "That's the game the league wants, so that's what fans get to watch." Drummond wound up shooting 13 of 36 from the free throw line, and sat out the final five and a half minutes.

Of course, Houston is very familiar with the hack-a-bad free throw shooter strategy since opposing teams routinely send Dwight Howard and Clint Capela to the line. The Clippers endure it almost nightly with DeAndre Jordan. Heck, the Bulls even tried it against Indiana big man Ian Mahinmi last month.

The larger issue involves how the strategy affects the paying customers. No one wants to watch bad free throw shooters go to the line over and over again and slow the pace of the game to a crawl. Coaches around the league detest the strategy, but they'll still employ it to help their team make up a deficit.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has already said he won't act unilaterally to change the strategy, but there are two easily enforceable options to fix it. The NBA could go to the college rule where an intentional foul means two free throws and possession, or they could implement a rule where the team that's received an intentional foul can choose between shooting the two free throws or maintaining possession with a reset 24 second clock. Either idea would end the boring, time-consuming hack-a-bad free throw shooter immediately, while still allowing teams to extend close games late by fouling while making a legitimate play on the ball.

Back to that Houston-Detroit game, did you catch James Harden's stat line from that game? Harden's became the first player to have at least 33 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists in a game since Wilt Chamberlain had 53 points, 32 rebounds and 14 assists for Philadelphia against the Lakers on March 18, 1968, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

And, congratulations to former Bulls' center Tyson Chandler, a player I always enjoyed covering during his time in Chicago. Chandler pulled down 27 rebounds in the Suns' upset win over Atlanta on Saturday, tying the previous franchise record held by Paul Silas. Charles Barkley is next on the list with 26.

Earlier in the column, I mentioned the possibility of the Bulls owning 21st round draft picks this summer. The second one would come from Sacramento, by virtue of the Luol Deng trade with Cleveland in January of 2014, if the Kings fall outside the Top 10 picks.

Right now, Sacramento is playing its best basketball in years, led by the unlikely combo of mercurial talents Cousins and Rondo. Cousins, in particular, has been dominant, collecting over 30 points and 10 rebounds in eight of his last 11 games, including a career-high 48 point explosion in the Kings' win over Indiana on Saturday.

Any chance of Sacramento trading Cousins is gone now that he's established himself as the league's best center. If George Karl has any more issues with Cousins going forward, you can bet General Manager Vlade Divac will choose Boogie, and let Karl quit if he’s not happy.

The Kings had won five straight games heading into the new week to take over the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, which means they would have to convey the No. 15 pick to the Bulls. A lot could change between now and mid-April, but barring an injury to Cousins, Sacramento looks like the team to beat for that last playoff spot. The Bulls will take on Cousins and the Kings in Sacramento on Feb. 3.

(Video courtesy of NBA.com)

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STATS OF THE WEEK

Here's more of the outstanding work by Comcast SportsNet's stats whiz, Chris Kamka.

Kobe Bryant has played in a regular season game against:

- Robert Parish (born 8/30/1953)

- Rashad Vaughn (born 8/16/1996)

The youngest player in NBA this season (Devin Booker) has not yet played against Kobe. He was born four days before Kobe Bryant's 11/3/1996 NBA Debut.

Oldest Bulls players with 30+ point game

35 years, 196 days:  Pau Gasol 1/18/2016 at DET

35 years, 165 days: Pau Gasol 12/18/2015 vs DET

35 years, 117 days: Michael Jordan 6/14/1998 at UTAH (playoffs; Jordan's last game with Bulls)

The Bulls' 1-20 shooting from three-point range against Golden State was their worst (minimum 15 attempts) since Nov. 9, 2004 (1-21).

Steph Curry is well on his way to a second straight MVP award.

- 18 times this season a player has made 8+ threes in a game.  Warriors have 10 of them (eight for Stephen Curry, two for Klay Thompson)

- From 1985-86 to present, nobody has more games with 8+ threes than Stephen Curry (18).  J.R. Smith is next with 14.

- This season Curry has 20 games with at least five three pointers made.  He has NO games this season with zero three pointers made.

- Curry has made at least one three pointer in 113 consecutive regular season games (last time without one: Nov. 11, 2014 vs Spurs). Including playoffs, his streak is at 134 games (hit a three in all 21 playoff games last season).

Highest Road PPG - last 20 seasons

33.8 — Kobe Bryant (2005-06)

33.4 — Stephen Curry (2015-16)

32.7 — Allen Iverson (2005-06)

32.0 — Kevin Durant (2013-14)

31.8 — LeBron James (2005-06)

31.5 — LeBron James (2008-09)

31.2 — Michael Jordan (1996-97)

31.2 — Tracy McGrady (2002-03)

31.0 — LeBron James (2009-10)

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WARRIORS PURSUIT OF 72 WINS

Bulls fans had a chance to watch the juggernaut that is the Warriors last week at the United Center. It seemed like Golden State's players were pumped up by seeing the 72 wins designation on the Bulls' 1995-96 championship banner hanging from the rafters, because they played an almost flawless game, including 38 assists on their 50 made field goals. After watching their demolitions of the Bulls and Cavs, it's hard not to like their chances of getting to 72 wins this season. And, Golden State catches a small break for Monday's showdown against San Antonio, with the Spurs deciding to rest Tim Duncan.

With all that said, I'm bumping their chances to 50 percent, up from 40 percent just a week ago.

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KERR STILL HAS THE MAGIC TOUCH FROM 3 POINT RANGE

Former Bulls' guard and 1997 Finals hero Steve Kerr finally made his return to the bench last week after a long rehab dealing with complications from offseason back surgery.

And, while running the Warriors' shootaround the morning of their game in Cleveland, Kerr made a 3 pointer that even Steph Curry would have a tough time matching.

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QUOTES OF THE WEEK

James following the Cavs' 132-98 humiliation at the hands of Golden State: "Against the top teams, you want to play well, and we haven't done that. We're 0-3," James said of Cleveland's record against Golden State and San Antonio. "Tonight was an example of how far we have to go to win a championship."

Butler following the Bulls' 125-94 blowout at the hands of Golden State: "We're too worried about offense too much at times. We don't play defense, we don't rebound, we don't get back. It's not the bigs, it's on everybody. When we're not guarding, we're not a very good team."

Maybe the NBA should just cancel the finals and award the title to the Western Conference champion.

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

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NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago launches new show Bulls Outsiders

Chicago, IL (October 15, 2018) – NBC Sports Chicago – THE Home of the #AuthenticFan – has announced it will launch Bulls Outsiders, a brand new, live, multi-platform, fan-interactive Bulls program that will provide a fresh take on that evening’s game and much more from three non-conventional sports show hosts.  Bulls Outsiders will make its network debut after the Bulls 2018-19 road/season opener this Thursday, October 18 (approx. 10:00 PM CT) immediately following Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois on NBC Sports Chicago+, via live stream to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive, and -- on Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago). NOTE: Bulls Outsiders will also re-air on the main NBC Sports Chicago channel on this night at 11:00 PM; the majority of airings will also air live on the main channel location.

Hosted by three, die-hard Bulls enthusiasts – Matt Peck (@Bulls_Peck), David Watson (@bawlsports), and John Sabine (@jsabine214) – Bulls Outsiders will provide viewers with the hottest takes, insightful analysis, and spirited commentary from the fans' perspective. This new half-hour program will immediately follow the network’s dedicated, season-long presentation of Bulls Postgame Live for all 82 Bulls games this season.  

In addition to the lively post-game discussion with the show’s hosts, Bulls Outsiders will also emphasize heavy viewer interaction via fan engagement on a number of the network’s social media platforms including Twitter (@NBCSBulls; fans urged to utilize the Twitter hashtag #BullsOutsiders in their posts) and Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago), which will enable Bulls fans to directly interact with the show’s hosts via comments and questions pertaining to that particular evening’s game, the key topics presented to them that night, or anything else they want to discuss from a league-wide NBA perspective. 

“Our primary goal at NBC Sports Chicago is to super serve our fans and with the introduction of Bulls Outsiders to our multi-platform programming line-up, we are able to continue that mission with a fresh and fun new program that not only speaks to Bulls fans, but one that directly involves them in the dialogue,” said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. 

In preparation for the hiring of the program’s three primary hosts, NBC Sports Chicago reached out to a number of notable local (and vocal) die-hard Bulls fans who stood out among the vast Bulls social media community. Candidates who responded back with interest were simply asked to shoot a one-minute video on their phone and offer up their take on Chicago native/Simeon Career Academy H.S. grad Jabari Parker joining the Bulls via free agency.  From there, the initial two dozen candidates were narrowed down to eight, who were then all brought in for in-studio auditions. Following the lengthy on-camera process, Cross, along with Bulls content producer Kevin Anderson, finalized their decision and welcomed Peck, Watson, and Sabine to the NBC Sports Chicago family.  

“It was an intricate process in choosing our hosts, but there’s no doubt Matt, David, and John have a great chemistry and solid individual strengths,” added Cross. “I’m also excited about how Bulls Outsiders will take fan interactivity to a brand new level and I couldn’t be more pleased that we will be able to deliver this show to the passionate and undeniably-dedicated Bulls fan base.”

Please note the following Bulls Outsiders host bios:

Matt Peck - Podcast host/writer for ‘Locked On Bulls’

Age: 31

Hometown: Glen Ellyn, IL

Favorite Bull of all time: “MJ, obviously…but Rodman is a very close second.” 

Favorite Current Bull: Lauri Markkanen 

Favorite Bulls moments: 

1st place – “1997 NBA Finals Game 1. MJ hits the game-winner at the buzzer after Karl Malone misses 2 FTs...Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays."

2nd place – “2011 Eastern Conference Finals Game 1…Bulls blow out the ‘Heatles.’ Taj destroys Dwyane Wade's soul. And has a FILTHY put back dunk late with the route on. The Madhouse goes insane. We all leave that night thinking we were about to win the title.” 

David Watson - Bulls writer/podcast host for BawlSports.com

Age: 39

Hometown: Chicago, IL                            

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: Michael Jordan

Favorite current Bulls player: Lauri Markkanen

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan Flu Game in ‘97…Noah dunk on Paul Pierce in ’09 first round Game 6 Triple OT…oh, and that Pippen dunk on Ewing in the ’94 playoffs.”

John Sabine - Actor, copywriter, and improviser…he has performed with The Second City IO and The Improvised Shakespeare Company.

Age: 34

Hometown: Originally from Dallas, TX…has lived in Chicago for the last 11 years

Favorite Bulls player of all-time: “Pippen or Rodman, it's probably Rodman. Is it weird it's Rodman?”

Favorite current Bulls player: “Lauri Markkanen, but really Bobby Portis. I want to be friends with Bobby Portis.” 

Favorite Bulls moment: “Jordan's return from baseball. As a kid I couldn't understand, I said "wait ...he just decided to not play and now he decided to play, but like he has a new number and he's still awesome...what?!’ or…either 2013 Round 1 Game 4 against the Nets 3OT, Nate Robinson. It was a Marvel Movie.” 

REMINDER: NBC Sports Chicago will carry the 2018-19 Bulls HOME OPENER on Saturday, October 20 (Bulls Pregame Live presented by Coors Light at 6:00 PM; Bulls vs. Pistons tip-off at 7:00 PM; Bulls Postgame Live presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois at approx. 9:30 PM, which will immediately be followed by Bulls Outsiders at approx. 10:00 PM).

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Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Re-focused Zach LaVine primed to bounce back: ‘I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for’

Healthy in October for the first time in three seasons, Zach LaVine entered training camp as the $78 million man looking to justify one of the summer’s largest deals that many criticized.

And just a few days into camp, the spotlight homed in on him further when the Bulls lost Lauri Markkanen to an elbow injury.

LaVine responded to both challenges, putting together a preseason performance that not even the most optimistic expectations could have included.

In just 22.3 minutes he averaged 17.8 points on 52 percent shooting, made 44 percent of his triples and got to the free throw line a team best 4.8 times per game. In short, he looked much more like the potential franchise-building piece the Bulls believed they were acquiring 19 months ago.

“I’m my hardest critic, so there’s nothing on the outside that I haven’t told myself of where I want to be at. You want to tell the doubters on the outside I told you so, but it’s mostly coming from a place where I want to prove to myself what all this hard work is for.’’

The fifth-year shooting guard was fluid, attacked in a variety of ways and looked like part of the offense, something that at times was non-existent during last year’s injury-riddled comeback season. Taking shots in rhythm, attacking the rim instead of settling for contested jumpers, running the floor. LaVine looked a lot like the player who shot 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from deep before the ACL injury in 2017.

“I think I found a good rhythm and then just keep that going into the regular season. I think last year still, I was trying to catch my rhythm with the games I played,” LaVine said Monday at the Advocate Center. “I’d play two good games and two bad games. I felt like that up and down was a little bit with the consistency of not playing. Now that I’m back fully I think that’s where I should be.”

The offensive uptick is a sight for sore eyes, especially with Markkanen on the mend. But where LaVine can quiet his harshest critics – including himself – is on the defensive end.

It’s just a five-game sample size, but LaVine’s individual defensive rating of 97.3 was better than the team’s overall 100.2 rating. A year ago, LaVine’s defensive rating was 113.9, the worst on the team, and worse than the team’s overall 110.4 mark. They’re baby steps, but steps nonetheless for a player who knows what the book says about him on that end of the floor.

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” he said. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

The preseason is one hurdle cleared, but they get much taller and difficult to get over when Thursday and the Philadelphia 76ers come around. No matter who starts in the frontcourt – Fred Hoiberg isn’t ready to announce Bobby Portis and Wendell Carter Jr. yet – or if the Bulls get good Jabari Parker instead of preseason Jabari Parker, all eyes will be on LaVine.

It’s the contract. It’s being the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butle trade. It’s how well he played before the injury and how dominant he looked in the preseason. He’s off to a good start and knows now is this time to build on it.

“There are a lot of things you want to reach and get better at every year, and I put a lot of work into this offseason,” he said. “I have a lot of things to prove and want to get better at, and yeah, I feel like it’s just motivation for yourself when you want to accomplish things.’’