Bulls

Poise the word as Bulls pull out win over Thunder

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Poise the word as Bulls pull out win over Thunder

Observations from the Bulls’ win over the Oklahoma City Thunder

Pau Gasol: Gasol’s methodical return to form after a grueling summer continued against OKC’s plethora of bigs, who were essentially powerless to stop him. The Bulls used him to facilitate offense from the block and elbows and he delivered to the tune of a season-high six assists (matched twice this year). His alley-oop to Jimmy Butler got Butler going after missing his first four shots. He scored 21 and grabbed 13 rebounds, played forceful on the interior and was the anchor inside, especially with Joakim Noah out with his shoulder injury. In December, Gasol is averaging 19.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.6 rebounds

Consistency: It’s that ever-elusive quality about this team, one that’s run away from the Bulls since the start of this season. But jumping out to an 11-0 start showed the Bulls en masse were serious about things, shocking the home crowd who were ready for a party.

And after the late second-quarter lull pulled the Thunder to within two at the half, the Bulls jumped out to an 8-0 run at the start of the third, re-establishing tempo and control.

[MORE BULLS: Bulls quiet Thunder with impressive wire-to-wire victory]

Derrick Rose scored three of the four baskets in that span, all in attack mode, sensing the momentum was in danger in a hostile environment. He was in foul trouble early and eventually fouled out with 25 seconds left. But his 30 minutes on the court was full of impact, even though he was in danger of going assist-less until he found Doug McDermott for a crucial triple during a late run.

Keeping the “others” in check: The duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is unstoppable and was that way on Friday, combining to score 55 of the 96 Thunder points. Usually that spells victory since the Thunder has so many other options to score, with Serge Ibaka, Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter, to name a few.

Kanter had a monster game, especially on the glass with 13 boards to go with his 14 points but Ibaka, Waiters and the rest of the supporting cast suffered.

But the Bulls’ defense held the Thunder to just 38.5 percent shooting, allowing only Durant (11-21) to have a plus-.500 night from the field, as even he went 1-6 from 3-point range.

They forced the manic Westbrook into six turnovers, as he missed six of his seven triples on the way to hitting just nine of his 23 shots.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

It won’t show up as a defensive masterpiece, but Rose, Butler and the rest of the Bulls returned to their defensive roots to large measure to put up one of their best showings on that end of the season, considering the competition.

Poise: There was slippage, and there were instances where it looked like the Bulls would let the Thunder back in the game, especially late. But the group that seemed to be splitting at the seams with the events of the last week or so banded together to get stops.

Durant, Westbrook and Anthony Morrow got going, with Morrow hitting a pair of triples to send Chesapeake Energy Arena into a frenzy when a 16-point lead was cut to eight with 4:47 left.

But Butler attacked the rim to get to the line and the Bulls restored order against a desperate comeback.

The bottom line: Whenever you think you’ve got the Bulls pegged in one direction or the other, they rewrite the story…and considering the circumstances, one would say the result was quite predictable.

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

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USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.