No clear options for Fred Hoiberg at point guard

No clear options for Fred Hoiberg at point guard

Rajon Rondo’s shrieking, distinctive voice could be heard through the Advocate Center before the Bulls practiced Saturday afternoon but because his distinctive game won’t be available, Fred Hoiberg is faced with his first big playoff test as coach.

The Bulls still go into Sunday evening’s Game 4 with an opportunity to put the Celtics in a precarious position but you’d be hard-pressed to find many who believe the Bulls actually have the advantage in this series.

It's easy to forget the Bulls have a 2-1 lead, but it looked like they forgot it themselves in their 104-87 Game 3 loss Friday night.

“I feel we have a really good team,” Jimmy Butler said before practice. “I’m taking our chances over theirs. I don’t care how many games. We just have to get to four. We don’t care who counts us out. We really don’t care who wants us to win.”

With no legit point guard, Hoiberg not only has to counter Brad Stevens’ fruitful move in going small but also has to find someone credible to get the Bulls into their offense as Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams took turns being overwhelmed in trying to fill Rondo’s shoes.

One has to wonder if Hoiberg will go with a big lineup on the perimeter to counter the Celtics, as the Bulls’ best stretch was in the second quarter when Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Paul Zipser bothered the Celtics with their size and length. He wouldn’t rule it out but in true Hoiberg fashion, wasn’t about to tip his hand.

“Yeah, we’ll look at everything. That lineup was out there on the floor even though we didn’t start that way,” Hoiberg said. “That is a lineup that will obviously play together at some point in the game, but again looking back at the course of the year and going back and watching film, when Jerian was our starter we did have some very good minutes out there.”

The advantage would be forcing Thomas to guard a much bigger player and if he winds up on Butler or Wade, it could truly compromise a Celtics defense that wreaked terror on the Bulls Friday night.

It could certainly facilitate ball movement, but not the pace Hoiberg so desires as Butler and Wade playing point means the Bulls will play a slow-down game—along with the fact that chasing Thomas around on the other end for long stretches will cause issues.

“The biggest thing we were doing yesterday was taking the ball out of the net, and that just kills any opportunity you have for pace,” Hoiberg said. “Again, too much ball holding as was evident by our assist numbers. I mean 14 for the game, and we were single digits for most of it. So we’ve got to get the ball moving better.”

In theory, Hoiberg would want to keep Grant or Carter-Williams in there, but the duo combined for seven turnovers and just three assists while being hounded by Avery Bradley. In a season full of changes and tinkering it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hoiberg make a change in the first five.

But it’s hard to see a clear option that would satisfy every objective going into Game 4.

“That first quarter, we got down 20 right away and obviously we have to do a lot to prevent that from happening,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to get through practice today and then make our final decision on the lineup for tomorrow.”

Grant said after the film session and before practice that he hadn’t heard anything about being pulled from the starting lineup, but admitted the obvious: That his performance didn’t do much in the way of inspiration, despite his experience in starting 28 games this season.

“I got to take care of the ball,” Grant said. “I had some careless turnovers, I have to push the pace …didn’t play with a whole lot of energy band so I feel that starts with me.”

Grant shot 42 percent from 3-point range in his starts and has decent size in terms of his matchup with Thomas. Carter-Williams had some decent moments against Thomas defensively but provided nothing on offense, and given the fragility of both, one wonders if Hoiberg will give either one more chance before the series goes back to Boston Wednesday.

Nerves were clearly a problem for both, which can be rectified with a more open playbook or just the familiarity of a second game at the United Center. If it’s not nerves, then it means neither are options moving forward and the organization has a problem on its hands, beyond this series, beyond this season.

“We’re confident in Jerian,” Hoiberg said. “His teammates are confident in him, so it’s just about going out there and having something positive happen out of the gate. That always helps. Again, we’ll see how things go today, and make a final decision.”

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine let it be known the moment the NBA announced the All-Star game was coming to Chicago in 2020 that he would love to represent the Bulls in the Sunday night main event.

LaVine’s chances looked pretty slim when both he and the team got out of the gates slowly this season. LaVine averaged 20.2 points as the Bulls finished October with a 1-4 record, and he shot just 42.6% from the field in a 5-10 November.

But since that time, LaVine has picked up his offensive output, averaging 25.1 points in December and 30 points so far in January. He’s also had two of the best fourth-quarter performances of the season, carrying the Bulls to come-from-behind wins at Charlotte and vs. Cleveland at the United Center last Saturday.

In that road game against the Hornets, LaVine scored a career-high 49 points, making 13 of his 17 attempts from 3-point range, including the game-winner at the buzzer. LaVine finished one shy of the NBA record of 14 3-point makes, set by Klay Thompson against the Bulls last season.

Against the Cavaliers, LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the 4th quarter to help the home team erase a 15-point deficit heading into the final 12 minutes. Plus, he outdueled All-Star reserve candidate Bradley Beal earlier this month, outscoring the Wizards’ guard 30-23 in a 115-106 Bulls win.

LaVine faces a lot of competition for the four reserve spots that are potentially available for guards (three frontcourt, two backcourt, and two wild card players will be selected by conference coaches), and it could come down to whether the coaches put more emphasis on win-loss record or individual statistics. 

If Atlanta’s Trae Young and Boston’s Kemba Walker get the starting spots, LaVine will be competing with the likes of Beal, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Detroit’s Derrick Rose, Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon for anywhere between two and four spots, depending on how the wild card selections fall.

Given the recent history of coaches’ votes, you can expect Simmons and Lowry to get the nod for the two reserve backcourt spots, with LaVine and Beal the top candidates for one or both wild card selections. Plus, there’s always the chance NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have to replace one of the 12 Eastern Conference All-Stars because of injury, with LaVine the likely top choice to represent the home city.

Zach has told reporters he’s more likely to do the Slam Dunk contest Saturday night if he’s selected for the Eastern Conference squad, so a lot could be riding on the announcement of All-Star reserves on January 30th.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?


Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?

The NBA All-Star Game voting is almost up and the biggest question is if Zach Lavine make the cut. Jason Goff is joined by Will Perdue, and Kendall Gill as they give their official East and West All-Stars for this season.

(2:05) - If Zach Lavine makes the ASG, who doesn't go?

(3:54) - Eastern Conference selections

(8:12) - Debate on if Trae Young should go to the ASG

(13:48) - Does the League have influence on who makes the ASG?

(15:38) - Should Lavine use Dunk Contest as leverage for the ASG?

(18:23) - How Chicago will react to having All-Star Weekend

(19:15) - Chance that Derrick Rose will make the ASG

(20:51) - Western Conference selections

(22:26) - Fan voting needs to be gone

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Bulls Talk Podcast


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.