Rose, Bulls continuing to show solid effort under Fred Hoiberg


Rose, Bulls continuing to show solid effort under Fred Hoiberg

The process of learning the concepts and terminology behind Fred Hoiberg's up-tempo offense will be ongoing, something the first year head coach understands.

But regardless of scheme, terminology or personnel, there's no substitute or excuse for a veteran team like the Bulls not to show effort each time they step on the court.

And for the few bumps in the road the Bulls have had early in the season, none of those have stemmed from a lack of effort, Hoiberg said Thanksgiving Day at the Advocate Center.

The head coach singled out the Bulls' last six games as a barometer. Since going scoreless in overtime against the Timberwolves at home on Nov. 7, the Bulls have won five of their last six, with three of those victories coming on the road. The Bulls returned home from their West Coast trip that included stops in Phoenix, Golden State and Portland, and will head out tomorrow for a Friday showdown in Indiana, with an ongoing sense of confidence after taking two of three.

"The biggest thing is the effort. I think the consistent thing, especially these last six, the only loss coming at GOlden State and we had a chance at the end of that one. So the effort's been terrific, and if we can keep that going we're going to have a chance most nights," Hoiberg said.

"To get two out of 3 on that trip was very important I felt. With that Phoenix win, that's another team that had won several in a row, very powerful, explosive backcourt. That's what we played on this trip; you had three of the top backcourts in the league with Pheonix (Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe), Golden State (Steph Curry and Klay Thompson) and Portland (Damian Lilard and C.J. McCollum) and to get two out of those three was big for us. Just got to keep our focus."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Earning two wins out west was made more impressive in that they played two of those games without Derrick Rose, who returned Tuesday after missing a pair with an ankle sprain. Rose wasted no time making his presence felt, scoring 17 points, handing out six assists and limiting counterpart Damian Lillard to 4-for-22 shooting as the Bulls picked up a 93-88 win.

It was yet another solid effort from the Bulls defense - the Blazers shot 35 percent from the field and committed 14 turnovers - that has been perhaps better than expected in Hoiberg's early tenure. Entering Thanksgiving Day, the Bulls ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, second in opponent field-goal percentage and were allowing a league-best 1.07 points per shot. It's a stark contrast from the offense, which ranks 20th in effective field goal percentage and 26th in efficiency.

Those offensive lulls have put the Bulls in difficult positions attempting to put teams away. Tuesday night the Bulls led by 13 early in the fourth quarter before missing 10 straight shots, a scoreless drought more than 5 minutes that allowed the Blazers to eventually tie the game. Rose, who shot 2-for-6 in the fourth quarter, put the onus on himself 

"Only thing you can do is just learn from your experiences, learn from the previous game. (Tuesday) we had a lead numerous times," Rose said. "I think it's on me where I have to put guys in the right position when we go up big leads to do something positive for the team instead of letting go of the ropes."

They'll next chance Friday against the Pacers, a team they fended off two weeks ago at the United Center thanks to Jimmy Butler's defensive heroics on Paul George. It pits two of the top three teams in the East against each other, and features a Pacers team that has won three straight, and nine of 11 since an 0-3 start. And as much as Hoiberg has liked his team's effort of late, he knows they'll need to continue it on the road to pick up win No. 10.

"It's a team that's playing with a ton of confidence right now," Hoiberg said. "We're going to have to come out with great effort if we want to have a chance at the end."

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

We all know what Zach LaVine is capable of doing on the offensive side of things. But what about his defense?

It's no secret that LaVine has had his fair share of struggles on defense, but Kris Dunn thinks highly of his 23-year-old teammate and what his potential is at the other end.

"On the defensive end I just told him, 'You're as fast as me. You're more athletic than me. There's no way you shouldn't be a good defender in this league. You could be one of those guys who could be dynamic in the passing lanes because you're so athletic and fast.'" Dunn said of LaVine. "And personally, I like to score. If you get in a passing lane, that's a dunk for yourself and because you've got so much bounce that's when you get the crowd on their feet — maybe do a windmill, a 360, something.

"But I think he's been going a good job on the defensive end. It's not going to be easy. We all got to learn and I think we're all trying."

Improving his defense would obviously be a big step forward for LaVine (and the Bulls), and he knows it. 

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” LaVine said when assessing his preseason. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

LaVine and the Bulls travel to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Thursday night in their season opener. You can watch Bulls Pre- and Postgame Live on NBC Sports Chicago before and after the game for highlights and analysis.

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

In a five-game span Wendell Carter Jr. saw preseason action against Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Myles Turner. The 19-year-old rookie had his share of expected ups and downs but performed well enough that Fred Hoiberg officially announced him a starter for the team’s season opener tomorrow night.

His reward for all that hard work? A matchup against All-Pro center Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’ll be an eye-opening experience for the Duke product, who just a year ago was readying himself for his first season of college basketball and a season-opening matchup against Elon. It’s safe to assume Embiid will pose a few more problems than did Phoenix center Tyler Seibring.

“Joel Embiid was one of my role models growing up,” Embiid said before practice Wednesday. “He was someone I always wanted to pattern my game after. Just to go up against him is a remarkable feeling. He’s a very physical player. He’s a very talented player. I’m going to be able to stack up and see what all I need to work on to last in this league.”

While it’s no easy task against a talent like Embiid, who was named All-NBA Second Team last season, Carter’s most important job will be staying out of foul trouble. Carter piggy-backed an impressive Summer League with a preseason that included averages of 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.1 minutes. But those numbers also included 7.7 fouls per 48 minutes. He racked up 17 fouls in five games, and had at least three in each.

Embiid only went to the line five times in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Celtics, but that was primarily against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Al Horford. Embiid won’t face as much resistance against Carter, putting the pressure on the rookie to stay on the floor.

“He’s going to have to navigate that without using his hands,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to be all five aware. It’s just not a one-man problem with Embiid. We have to have great awareness of him and try and mix up coverages and hopefully make him take tough shots, knowing that he’s going to hit some of those. You just can’t get deflated when he does.’’

The decision was a mere formality – Bobby Portis will start at power forward – after the frontcourt combination played considerably better in the Bulls’ final two preseason games. Though Jabari Parker was initially slotted in at power forward following Lauri Markkanen’s elbow sprain, Portis’ impressive preseason forced Hoiberg’s hand. Portis averaged 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field in just 22.4 minutes.

“It’s all about combinations out there and we felt like Bobby gave us a great start with the way he was playing,” Hoiberg said. “And then we kind of changed things up with that second unit and put the ball in Jabari’s hands, so it was more that in trying to get guys out there with the right combinations.”

Lopez may have an expanded role if Carter gets into foul trouble early, while Parker will be the facilitator on a second unit that doesn’t have much in the way of a point guard. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the frontcourt will play out once Markkanen returns in roughly a month; if Portis and Carter continue playing well, Hoiberg could opt to keep them together on the second unit and put Lopez back in the starting lineup.

But for at least Opening Night – the Bulls also get Andre Drummond and the Pistons on Saturday – it’ll be the seventh overall pick getting his NBA feet wet with a matchup against arguably the best center in basketball. But’s it a role he’s earned, and on a Bulls defense looking for any sort of improvement, Carter is the player who can anchor it.

“His defense is always going to be important for us. He’s the guy that’s the anchor in that starting unit at the rim,” Hoiberg said, “and he’s done a really solid job of making perimeter guys taking contested shots when he gets switched off, or staying vertical at the rim and trying to make a big finish over the top of him, so yeah, again it’s a great challenge, great opportunity for Wendell.”