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Punchless Bulls can't break Hawks' spell as winning streak ends

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Punchless Bulls can't break Hawks' spell as winning streak ends

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks have arguably been the most disappointing team in the NBA, but for whatever reason they have cast a spell over these Bulls.

Three games, three double-digit losses they’ve dealt the Bulls this season, and their 103-88 win Friday at Philips Arena broke a three-way tie for fifth place in the East, as the Bulls entered the evening percentage points ahead of the Hawks. But their usual bugaboo appeared, as it usually does in this matchup.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg warned his team of the Hawks’ trapping and aggressive defense, as the Bulls played hot potato in the first two matchups. It led to 21 turnovers this time, a familiar number and a big no-no considering all the impact players the Bulls were without.

“With the amount of games coming our way, everybody’s one or two games out of a seed, we’re jockeying for position,” Taj Gibson said. “We dropped the ball tonight.”

Derrick Rose was out for the second straight game with hamstring tendinitis, and Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic were already out, with their returns still sometime away.

Doug McDermott scored 20 points, continuing his strong play, and Pau Gasol scored 16 points with 17 rebounds, but the Bulls were downright ineffective offensively, shooting 36 percent as only the first quarter featured a period in which the Bulls shot better than 40 percent.

“Right from the beginning they out-muscled us,” Hoiberg said. “I don’t get it. Three games we made a lot of progress but took a step back today. That’s all we talked about for two days was taking care of the ball. You don’t give yourself a chance to win. Too careless.”

[MORE BULLS: Catch a full replay of the Bulls' loss to the Hawks]

Luckily for the Bulls early, the Hawks were just as anemic offensively and twice as stubborn — an attribute they could afford to have given they weren’t without their main weapons.

“The problem was we were 1-for-10 (from 3-point range) in that stretch, they were 2-for-20,” Hoiberg noted. “We came back, we had a wide open shot to cut it to five at the end of the third quarter. We didn’t make it. It’s all about, they were the aggressors tonight.”

Though the final score was lopsided, it was more a byproduct of the Hawks pulling away late in the fourth quarter than the Bulls getting blown out of the building — but to be fair, the Bulls never made the Hawks do much more than sweat in the fourth.

“We didn’t get off to a good start with a lot of energy,” McDermott said. “They scored 27 off (turnovers), that’s the game right there.”

Bobby Portis’ jumper pulled the Bulls to within nine with 9:48 left, but that was about it as the Hawks overcame their 2-for-20 start from behind the 3-point line to dispose of the Bulls and their three-game winning streak.

“They were getting their hands on the ball, they were tougher with the ball,” Hoiberg said, as the Hawks only had 11 turnovers.

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The Bulls out-rebounded the Hawks, 49-48, but the key rebounds and possessions that could’ve swung precious momentum went the Hawks’ way.

“I feel we have a strong shot right now, we’re playing on a short deck,” said Gibson, who scored 11 with seven rebounds. “That’s another team we’re jockeying for playoff position with. We understand it’s a letdown tonight, it’s another one tomorrow. Once we play tomorrow, we move forward.”

Jeff Teague scored 19 with nine assists, while Al Horford scored 18 and Kent Bazemore scored 17 with seven rebounds — the biggest culprit of the Hawks’ terrible shooting, going 1-for-8 from 3.

While the win against Washington was an affair in which everyone could say they made positive contributions, the same couldn’t be said Friday night, as only McDermott and Gasol were in double figures until midway through the fourth quarter — and the high-scoring Bulls had just 76 points.

Ugly early, the Hawks took a 15-point lead before the Bulls went on a 15-7 run to close the first half.

Shooting wasn’t either team’s forte, but the Bulls’ margin for error left winning to be an impossible option as they scramble back home hoping this isn’t a first-round playoff matchup.

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

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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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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.