Bulls

Pau Gasol not forcing the offense against Bucks' double teams

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Pau Gasol not forcing the offense against Bucks' double teams

The ball softly left the sure hands of Pau Gasol, falling off the rim before the Spaniard tipped once and tipped again as the ball finally reached its destination in Game 2 against the Bucks, followed by Gasol yelling in relief and satisfaction.

But like everything else with Gasol in this series, there was a drawback—his final tip was waved off because of a loose ball foul he wasn’t involved in, negating his basket and the frustrating energy he used to score.

Gasol has been public enemy No. 1 on Jason Kidd’s defensive scheme, running double-teams so fast and furious at Gasol that he probably sees them in his sleep.

But despite shooting just 31 percent through the first two games this series, he hasn’t lashed out in frustration or tried to force his own offense. Whether it’s John Henson or Zaza Pachulia or the long-armed Giannis Antetokounmpo running at him, facing single-coverage hasn’t happened at all this series.

“The double teams, if they continue, so be it,” Gasol said. “I'm not worried about making the right play and being unselfish. If they're doubling me, there's a guy who's gonna be wide open with a better shot than I would. I'm prepared if that stops.”

They’ve made the decision that Gasol will not be the one to beat them, and even though they’ve given Derrick Rose more attention when he has the ball, they haven’t lightened up on Gasol, perhaps the greatest sign of respect. He’s used to getting doubled-up on, but it’s usually after getting off with a few easy scores and a defense adjusting to stop him.

“I just attract two defenders, which I like to do anyways,” Gasol said. “For the most part that takes sometimes you get going and score a few buckets then they make adjustments but it's been continuous and automatic since the start of the series. If that continues, I'll continue to make the right play. Even though I haven't been in a very good rhythm, somebody else will get a good shot and that's good offense.”

[PLAYOFFS: Mirotic ruled out for Game 3, could miss Game 4 with injury]

While the Bulls are up 2-0 and poised to take a real stronghold on the series if they can weather the emotions and energy of the Bucks tomorrow night, they haven’t been a fluid offensive group, heavily dependent on Rose and Jimmy Butler.

Rose, a player who’s never been afraid to attack double teams and force up a few shots at times, admires Gasol’s patience.

““It says a lot about his character as far as he’ll do anything to win,” Rose said. “He knows that they’re coming right away, he’s not complaining about shots, he’s not worrying about playing so many minutes. He just wants to win the game, so it rubs off on everyone. You’ve got a player like that, that’s giving himself up the way he does it shows a lot.’’

The Bulls often speak about what “the game gives you”—which sure sounds like a “Thibs-ism” or Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich saying to “play the right way”. Either way, Gasol makes it a habit of having his unselfishness lead by example.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

“It’s great having him,” Rose said. “With the way that they’re double-teaming him, they’re not even allowing him to get a good shot off. They’re coming right away, so it’s easy basketball. Two swings to an open shot, that’s the easies shot that you can get when they’re double-teaming like that.’’

They shot just 38 percent in Game 2, and one can expect the screws will be tightened even more with Nikola Mirotic out. Gasol may have to be more aggressive—and Tom Thibodeau will probably have to put Gasol in situations where he’s on the move and can score before the double teams come.

“If I can, yeah. If I can, if I get opportunities I'll be more aggressive,” Gasol said. “I'm not discontent with my level of aggressiveness, I just try to make the right play. See if I can make a couple more shots and see if I can be good.”

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.