Bulls

Nuggets run Bulls out of the building, end four-game win streak

Nuggets run Bulls out of the building, end four-game win streak

It got ugly and it got ugly in a hurry as Fred Hoiberg was ready to initial for a timeout before Jamal Murray's triple found an easy home in the bottom of the net after a Bulls turnover.

The onslaught happened quick for the Denver Nuggets and the Bulls were unable to counter with a reasonable response as their defense failed them miserably in the second half of their 125-107 loss—the first sign of serious defensive slippage since the trade of Taj Gibson as their season-high four-game winning streak was snapped.

And to make matters all the more optimistic, the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers are the next two opponents to grace the United Center floor.

Jimmy Butler going three for 13 in 35 minutes definitely shouldn't be ignored, as was the Bulls inability to muster second-half offense after leading by three, but the Nuggets ran the Bulls ragged with ball movement and open threes all night.

"I haven't been in rhythm for awhile now," Butler said. "It's okay. We gotta a few more games, I'll find a rhythm and make some shots. I'm not worried about it, we got another one on Thursday."

Nikola Jokic dominated the stat sheet and the game with 19 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in a showing that had the versatile center operating as a hub, creating open shots for Danilo Gallinari (22 points) and Wilson Chandler (20 points), among others.

"They do a good job of shooting and cutting around Jokic," Hoiberg said. "Some of the 3's were contested but I agree we did not run them off the line."

And when he received too much room on the perimeter from Robin Lopez or Cristiano Felicio, he unleashed one of his three triples as the Nuggets hit 13 of them, many during the decisive third and fourth quarter run when they pulled away.

Shooting 56 percent from the field and 43 from 3, the Nuggets made easy work of the Bulls once they figured out the Bulls' early defense, putting up 103 points in the final three quarters.

"We stopped getting stops, it was either a layup or a 3," said Rajon Rondo. "We gotta run them off the line. They get paid a lot of money to shoot the ball. Those guys, we knew going into the game what the scouting report was. We didn't stick to the plan."

A 9-0 run gave the Nuggets an eight-point lead in the final minute of the third quarter led by Jokic, as all five Nuggets starters were in double figures and they were shooting well over 50 percent, quickly erasing a 68-60 Bulls lead.

The Bulls' defense was little more than indifferent in the middle two quarters, giving up 69 points. And the Nuggets' onslaught stretched to start the fourth as they took a 96-83 lead in the first 90 seconds, with their ball movement creating open shots on the perimeter.

"Our movement was terrific in the first half, we were getting the ball up the floor," Hoiberg said. "We lost all that. The shots we missed deflated us."

Hoiberg said the Bulls' slagging offense led to a porous effort on the defensive end, which is an easy way to lose against the third-best scoring offense in the NBA (110.8 points per game).

"It's easily correctable. Just guard," Butler said. "Take your matchups as if it's just you and them. If you get beat, the help is gotta be there. If we guard, we're okay."

The Bulls were surviving early with the play of Rondo, who scored 19. Dwyane Wade scored 19 but nine came in the fourth when the Nuggets all but ended things in the first few minutes of the period.

"I thought Rondo was great for us," Hoiberg said. "When he's in the game our pace just goes up a notch. He's getting guys shots, he's throwing the ball down the floor."

The Bulls' early offense was at a crawl until Rondo started running the show, as the speed quotient increased ten-fold in the first half. He hadn't been that aggressive in weeks and it was necessary with Butler having a slow start and Cameron Payne being eased into running the offense.

"Just the pick and roll. I was trying to get into the paint," Rondo said. "Our bigs did a great job setting screens for me and I was able to get into the paint to make plays for myself or my teammates."

The balance between development and winning games is certainly met at the intersection of Rondo and Payne, with Rondo being a good option for helping the Bulls maintain their playoff standing.

Payne looked unsure during his time in the first half and missed his first seven shots from the field in his home debut, only making a triple after the game had been decided.

The speed and athleticism of the Nuggets confused the Bulls throughout, as one has no idea if this is the Bulls team that will be seen for the rest of season or if this was a telling and alarming blip on the radar.

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is fed up with being underestimated and he’s going to do something about it. The Bulls guard has been having a strong pre-season so far but is looking to improve his skills as a two-way player.

“I’m just tired of people talking shit about my defense,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that on the defensive end.”

“I’m taking more pride in it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll show. I’ll make sure of that.”

If you think LaVine sounds confident, he has good reason to be. Last season LaVine was one of only ten players to average at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, making him stand out as an elite player in the company of MVPs and All-Stars. LaVine’s personal triumphs, however, were overshadowed by the Bulls abysmal 22-60 record last season.

So far, this preseason LaVine has been looking better on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game through three preseason games. Any improvements on defense will greatly help LaVine’s All-Star case.

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3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.