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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.

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

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USA TODAY

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

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USA TODAY

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

Monday's deadline came and went with expected results: Bobby Portis and the Bulls being unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Some 19 hours later all parties involved said the right things, that they value one another and hope to be working together long-term.

But all that will be shelved until July 1, when Portis enters restricted free agency at this coming season's end. The two sides found themselves in position to wait out on an extension.

For Portis, he's improved his game each of his first three seasons in the league posted per-36 numbers on par with some of the game's best big men. Expected to start while Lauri Markkanen recovers from a sprained elbow - and then act as the team's Sixth Man after that - Portis is in line to post career numbers once again.

For the Bulls, nearly all their front office decisions the past three seasons have been with an eye toward the 2019 offseason and having as much cap space as possible. Waiting on a Portis contract allows them to see if any of the top free agents in the class are interested in Chicago, while also having the ability to match any deal Portis gets on the open market.

It's similar to how the Bulls played out the rookie scale contracts of both Jimmy Butler and Zach LaVine.

John Paxson spoke during Tuesday's practice at the Advocate Center and reiterated how much the Bulls value Portis and the work he's put in since they drafted him 22nd overall in 2015.

Portis also spoke with reporters after practice. And what would normally be considered posturing from any other player, Portis' blue-collar mentality was present in his comments.

"I couldn’t see myself in no other jersey. Obviously, I got Bulls DNA," he said. "Me and the city have a love connection somewhere. At the same time, I just enjoy playing for the Bulls.

"I play this game because I love it. Obviously, you want to make as much money as possible to help your family. But I started playing basketball because it’s fun to me and I loved it. I still have that same passion, that same heart every night I go out there."

Still, the opportunity will be there for Portis to make himself significant money in the coming six months. After averaging a modest 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in Year 3, Portis will be called upon to shoulder a scoring load in the absence of Markkanen. And with Jabari Parker's Bulls career off to a shaky start, Portis will be the go-to guy on the second unit once Markkanen is back in the lineup.

"Bobby is a guy that is very confident in himself. He’s confident in his ability. That’s what we love about him," Fred Hoiberg said. "And like I said, he’s going to go out there and play the same way every time he steps on the floor, whether it’s practice, whether it’s a pick-up game in the summer or once we get started on Thursday. He’s a warrior, and he’s just going to go out there and play the right way with great effort.’’

The Bulls will need that with the start of the regular season just two days away. They open on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went 30-11 at home last season.

Portis will play a significant role in slowing down one of the NBA's best frontcourts. Whether or not this is his last season doing so in Chicago, he knows what the Bulls think of him and won't let the impending negotiations distract him.

"I know how much I’m valued. They tell me a lot. Give it all I got. Kind of the leader of the bunch. Blue-collar worker," he said. "Everybody respects me because I come in every day with a chip on my shoulder, try to push my guys to get better each day. That makes me go."