Bulls

Passive Bulls letting aggressive Bucks strike first and hardest

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Passive Bulls letting aggressive Bucks strike first and hardest

Perhaps the flukish way the Bulls lost Game 4 wasn’t enough to motivate them to approaching Game 5 with the appropriate focus and downright fear the playoffs require.

Pau Gasol has said, very softly and quietly the past few days, that the Bucks’ aggressiveness put the Bulls on their heels very early in games, and it prevents the Bulls from being assertive.

The Bucks weren’t intimidated by the atmosphere or what was at stake if they lost, perhaps sensing the Bulls were waiting or a bit unsure of themselves. It was the Bulls’ worst nightmare, falling behind 9-0 and never regaining control.

“They have been more effective, more successful starting off games,” Gasol said. “They got off to a 9-0 lead early and we didn’t want that to happen. We spoke about it. We tried to do it differently. But they made shots, we didn’t.”

[MORE BULLS: Bulls still can't close out Bucks at home]

Gasol wasn’t just speaking out of turn because he finally had a game worthy of sitting on the podium; it’s been a common refrain through the series, as the Bucks’ length, energy and quickness leaves the Bulls being passive, waiting to see what they’ll try next before issuing a response.

“We didn’t play enough with that sense of urgency and desire that you need to do to close out a team when you have them in that position,” Gasol said. “We have to do better. Not think about losing then having Game 7 at home. It would be a terrible mistake.”

They’ve let the Bucks do more than hang around; they feel like they’re the better team, which we all know isn’t true. But they’re clearly taking the initiative and earning the Bulls’ respect with every blocked shot and contested dribble.

One can almost say they’ve taken a piece of the Bulls’ DNA and made it their own. They defend like madmen, hit the glass and play opportunistic basketball for 48 minutes.

[MORE BULLS: Carter-Williams steals the spotlight from Rose, Bulls]

“They’re a talented team and they do a lot of things right, defense is one of them,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said of the Bulls. “You look at their length, they know how to use it. They understand big game situations. For us, we’re going through the process of learning. You look at our length, we’re learning how to use that. We’re learning how to play the right way. There’s no better team to learn that from, to go against. They play hard for 48 minutes.”

Make no mistake, it isn’t cause for panic but certainly the Bucks should have their attention. The Bulls are still up 3-2, although if Khris Middleton’s wing jumper hits net at the end of regulation in Game 3 that number could be reversed.

“They’re doing what they’re doing,” said forward Mike Dunleavy, the only starter who went scoreless on either side in Game 5. “I wouldn’t say they’ve changed much. Everybody makes adjustments from game to game but if we continue to move the ball, we’ll get good shots. If we don’t get into our offense quick enough, it’ll be a struggle."

These past two games could merely be a series of unrelated events that caused this bump in the road—a bump that seems like a mountain compared to the mammoth series that seems ahead against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In Game 4, they turned the ball over so much, it was the third-highest mark in the past 25 years. Anomaly, right?

In Game 5, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose combined to shoot 10 for 41, a staggering statistic considering in a given night, usually one of them plays well enough to lift the tides of the rest of the roster.

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But nobody else was hitting shots either, thus creating a lack of confidence in ball movement, giving way to a painful fourth quarter where they tried plugging a round peg into a square hole—exactly what the Bucks want, slowing the game to a crawl and daring the Bulls to win by tough shots against a tough, aggressive defense.

“Yeah, there’s playing against some of our weaknesses,” Dunleavy said. “They’re taking advantage of things we don’t do too well.”

Add to that, Michael Carter-Williams broke out of his slump to get the better of Rose on the offensive end. Another rare occurrence, right? Perhaps, except one more rare occurrence will lead to a seventh game where a madhouse will turn into a mausoleum, potentially.

“I sure hope not,” said Dunleavy when asked if his team has lost confidence. “We have a lot of respect for them. They could’ve won Game 3. We’re fully aware of how good a team they are.”

Now they’re being tested after being pushed, unexpectedly. And they’ve created a monster, fully capable of pressing them further.

“It’s a chance for this team to grow, individually and collectively, and see what we’re made of,” Gasol said.

Indeed. See you Thursday.

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

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USA TODAY

Bulls turn to Cam Payne as they take on Sixers

PHILADELPHIA -- The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.

Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.”

The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.

“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”

Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne.

He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.

“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”

After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.

The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.

“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”   

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.
 
Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.” 
 
The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.
 
Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.
 
“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”
 
Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne. 
 
He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.
 
“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”
 
After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.
 
The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.
 
“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”