Bulls

Rose, Butler lead Bulls to first blood over game Bucks

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Rose, Butler lead Bulls to first blood over game Bucks

If the Bulls expected to win their playoff opener by way of mere presence against the green Milwaukee Bucks, they were dead wrong.

Good thing they shot well enough to overcome what appeared to be their own opening night jitters, methodically pulling away from the young team in the second half to take a 1-0 lead with a 103-91 win at the United Center Saturday night.

The shots made came from the guards, as playoff games are usually won by the creators, and Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Aaron Brooks did the heavy lifting.

Butler scored 25 with six assists in 35 minutes while Rose, who left to a standing ovation with 23 points and seven assists in 27 efficient, electric and exciting minutes—and unlike his last playoff game, he walked off under his own power as opposed to being helped off by the training staff, the biggest win of all.

“He and Jimmy got off to a great start,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It was good to have Derrick out there. It’s been a long process for him and obviously he makes our team a lot different.”

[MORE BULLS: GM Gar Forman addresses minutes restrictions]

Rose hit Mike Dunleavy and Butler for pull-away baskets after the fourth started off with a bit of a lull, opening a door for the Bucks to possibly steal Game 1. But with his playmaking and savvy, he shut it down after doing what he does best right after halftime.

He scored 11 in the third quarter, including 3-straight three-pointers, to give the Bulls some breathing room after the Bucks kept it close for the first 30 minutes or so.

“Attack and see what they’re giving me,” Rose said. “There’s a lot of space out there and I’m just running around freely.”

And he’ll need Butler to alleviate some of the attention on the perimeter, as he keeps noting he doesn’t see double teams as much—a direct correlation to Butler being a threat—but with the Bucks having so many young, athletic wings, Butler had to score in different ways.

“Get out on transition to where they can’t use their length to block shots,” Butler said. “They don’t know what (we)’re going to do, and (we’re) just running. When we’re moving like that, everyone is going to get open shots.”

The Bucks trailed by three in the first few minutes of the third, in nearly prime position to steal one on the road before it was snatched away.

“We were in a good seat. We had some great opportunities to start the fourth, too,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “There were some stretches where we thought we could get the lead down to steal one.”

The Bucks didn’t buckle or run away and hide under the specter of the postseason, playing loose and free, making up for their mistakes with exuberance and excitement, forcing 10 first half turnovers to keep themselves within striking distance.

Michael Carter-Williams went head up with Rose for parts of the night, and Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ sweet-shooting two-guard, scored 18 in 35 minutes. But the Bucks couldn’t continue hitting shots after the first half, going just 15 for 43 (35 percent), unable to keep up with the surging Bulls.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Derrick Rose jersey]

Kidd, a young coach but wise in the way of reading the game’s rhythms, knew the Bucks’ energy and execution wasn’t going to last long, repeatedly calling the Bucks’ 51 first-half points, kick-started by a first quarter where his team shot 13 for 22 from the field, “fool’s gold”.

“We’re not an offensive team,” Kidd said. “That set the tone in a bad way for us, giving up 60 points. We rely on our defense and we fell in a trap of scoring in the first quarter. We thought we could outscore Chicago with our offense and not play defense.”

Thibodeau’s Rubik’s cube was in full effect, as two of his prime performers who weren’t at his disposal last playoff but had become a downright necessity for the season to date didn’t have banner nights, in
Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic. Gasol struggled to find his rhythm in the set offense and shot just five for 17 on the evening but still grabbed 13 rebounds to go with his 10 points and added four assists.

As for Mirotic, Thibodeau didn’t go to the rookie much, probably because Taj Gibson was better suited for matching up against the Bucks’ bigs, having his moments before exiting late in the second half with a right knee strain.

Brooks helped keep the Bulls afloat with 10 points in his first eight minutes after Rose had a slow start, and his leaning, bank-stealing 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter gave the Bulls a 30-29 lead.

Thibodeau will find plenty of correctable errors in the film, play and box score, like the Bulls’ 19 turnovers that gave the Bucks 25 points. But getting one up on the left side of the ledger was all that mattered.

First blood.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

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

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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.”