Rock bottom: Bulls submit in blowout loss to Magic


Rock bottom: Bulls submit in blowout loss to Magic

ORLANDO—Jimmy Butler sat with a towel draped around his face, as Pau Gasol muttered something unintelligible as the Bulls came out of a timeout.

Derrick Rose sat with a cold stare, alongside Taj Gibson, whose facial expressions drifted from anger to fury to resignation by the time 40 minutes had passed.

It didn’t take that long for the principle characters to see it wasn’t their night, hasn’t been their week, month or quarter.

The Orlando Magic was merely the latest team to feast on a Bulls team that looks like a dead carcass, a squad that can’t wait to get to April 14, when it’s time to clean out their lockers.

Beaten down, beaten up, fragile and frail, the Bulls look to have nothing left to give this season, as they fell behind by as much as 29 to a Magic team that came in losers of six in a row but left victors in a 111-89 drubbing Saturday night at Amway Center.

It left the question for Fred Hoiberg to answer afterwards, as he had to respond to the notion if his team has quit.

“I sure hope not,” the exasperated Bulls coach said. “Obviously, what I’m saying right now, the message isn’t getting across. We’re going to sit in a room and hopefully get it figured out tomorrow.”

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The Bulls easily submitted, as has been their pattern, and there just appeared to be a lack of passion from the jump. Honest questions need to be asked and answered, and Butler didn’t disagree with the thought some confrontation is necessary.

“Maybe it’s more a generalization instead of me to you. I don’t know. Do we have sensitive guys? I guess we’re gonna find out come tomorrow,” Butler said. “We’ll find out if somebody has a problem with somebody or they don’t like the way somebody is doing something. Now is the time to speak up on it. We’ve been talking about it all year long. We don’t have much confrontation, maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s a bad thing. I hope things get changed because we all want to be in the playoffs.”

Without Victor Oladipo, without Nikola Vucevic, the Magic left Dewayne Dedmon—a prime candidate for everybody’s favorite game “Who he play for?” and made everyone wearing red know his name.

He feasted on the Bulls’ frontline, scoring a career-high 18 points with a career-high 13 rebounds—with the former statistic being achieved with four minutes remaining in the first half.

“Just a lack of competitiveness; All we talked about is getting off to a good start tonight, giving ourselves a chance,” Hoiberg said. “We win games, more often than not, when we win the first quarter. They came out and scored 36 on us in the first 12 minutes.”

The only Bull who appeared to be bringing it was Gibson, who made his first eight field goals, schooling young and gifted forward Aaron Gordon while trying his best to keep the Bulls engaged and motivated.

But apparently the Magic onslaught was too much for the Bulls to resist—as was the case on a back-to-back set against another lottery-bound franchise, the New York Knicks.

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“Is the answer in the room? Hell, we all we got, it better be in this room,” Butler said. “And it better carry from this locker room to on the court. That’s the only way to get this fixed, nobody’s gonna play basketball for us.”

The Magic shot 70 percent early in the first and didn’t look back, as Rose and Butler each uncharacteristically missed pairs of free throws in the first half while the game was out of hand.

“It’s a lot. It’s not one thing here or there,” said forward Mike Dunleavy. “It’s not the offense or defense, it’s both. It’s a lot of stuff. To say one thing we’re not doing right and it’ll solve everything, that’s just not the case. It’s a bunch of stuff we’re struggling with. Effort, execution, discipline, continuity, you can go through the whole thing.”

Rose struggled with Elfrid Payton, who played maestro with 15 points and 10 assists in 30 minutes, as the Magic didn’t play terribly well, leaving an opening in the third quarter to cut the lead to nine.

But the Bulls weren’t up to task, shooting just 41 percent from the field and allowing 58 points in the paint to a team that didn’t have an active paint presence.

And even though the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons looked to be in a charitable mood Saturday, being on the way to losses that could’ve given the Bulls a little bit of life, the Bulls had other plans.

No resurrection on this Saturday or Sunday, or maybe any day this season.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction


Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks


Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”