Shorthanded Bulls thumped by Wolves to end road trip

Shorthanded Bulls thumped by Wolves to end road trip

MINNEAPOLIS— Perhaps it was the early afternoon start, or the change in time zones from a long flight from Phoenix the day before.

Or maybe it was Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade being inactive with injuries.

Or maybe it was the last game of a long road trip and the Bulls just wanted to go home after two weeks in foreign places.

If one looks hard enough, any reason could be found for the Bulls' lifeless showing against the one team the organization didn't want to be anything but lively against, Tom Thibodeau's Minnesota Timberwolves in a 117-89 thrashing at Target Center Sunday afternoon as the Bulls finished their six-game trip with a 2-4 record.

On one hand, it probably would've been hard for the now-Sainted Thibodeau to coax something from the band of misfit toys the Bulls started, with Doug McDermott and Michael Carter-Williams taking Butler and Wade's place in the first five.

But then again, seeing more lethargy for an extended amount of time isn't going to excite anyone, as the Bulls fell behind by 26 in the first half.

Instead, it incited Fred Hoiberg, the mild-mannered coach who took three timeouts in a disastrous first 10 minutes, the last of which took place when the Bulls were down 31-12 with 2:40 left.

"Start hitting somebody. Get physical. They outhorsed us inside," Hoiberg said. "We're not very good taking the ball out of the net. We were turning the ball over, led to easy baskets. A lack of rebounding, a lack of physicality cost us early."

Young, athletic and likely highly motivated from their coach wanting to send another resounding message to his previous employer, the Wolves ran out at the Bulls from the jump—following the blueprint set forth by the Phoenix Suns.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins looked like they were on pogo sticks compared to the ground-bound Bulls—quick feet with quick and long hands that of course, gave the Bulls issues.

Never mind Zach LaVine, perhaps their most athletic player, is out for the season with a torn ACL.

It would've been worse, as Towns scored 22 with seven rebounds and four assists and Wiggins scored 27 with six rebounds and four assists. Ricky Rubio controlled the tempo, hitting the open men against a scrambling defense for 17 points, 11 assists and six rebounds.

"I thought the start was important," Thibodeau said. "This game we sustained our effort better, so it was good."

With four minutes left in the first half, the Bulls committed their 10th turnover and were well under 40 percent, essentially handing the Timberwolves the shovel to dig their own holes.

McDermott shot six of 15 for 16 points and Bobby Portis played 31 minutes and tied a season high with 16 points and six rebounds.

"We don’t really play to our strengths sometimes," said Taj Gibson, who only played 17 minutes. "Sometimes we rush, turn the ball over. Sometimes we gotta play to the strong suits and play a little smarter. Especially when you don't touch the ball sometimes, guys tend to do a little too much and guys get turnovers. And it happens."

And without Wade and Butler, they didn't have the horses to remotely challenge or scare a Timberwolves team that's suffered its share of growing pains this season. They exploited every mismatch and shot 64 percent in the first quarter and 57 percent for the first half.

[MORE: Dwyane Wade sends out support for Charles Oakley]

Missed easy opportunities like 3-on-1 breaks turning into a break for other team or blowing uncontested dunks, as was the case for Cristiano Felicio in the third quarter as the usually dependable backup center missed an easy flush when the ball caromed off the rim.

If there was a bright spot, perhaps it was Portis awaking from a slumber, but it often rang hollow as the Bulls continue to search for that ever-elusive consistency that seems like a mirage at this point—only succeeding at giving their former coach more satisfaction in the form of an easygoing blowout.

"I've been around so there's a lot of those (former) teams and it's always hard when you've been through things with people so I really root for that team and those guys," Thibodeau said.

His affection was certainly on display when leaving his regulars in late to keep the score as disproportionate as possible, but to the victors go the spoils.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls only score 73 points in loss to Charlotte


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls only score 73 points in loss to Charlotte

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson react to the Bulls 83-73 loss to the Hornets.

0:30 - Will Perdue makes a cameo to start the show

1:00 - On only scoring 73 points

4:55 - Is this loss worse than the Celtics loss last season?

6:30 - Viewer comments on the loss and shooting too many threes

8:00 - Discussion on Thad Young minutes vs Lauri Markkanen minutes

12:10 - Viewer comment asking what would the Outsiders say if head coach

15:05 - Viewer comment on Tomas Satoransky

17:20 - Viewer trade idea for Terrance Ross

20:25 - Viewer comment on Coby White struggling

21:25 - Viewer comment on Kris Dunn starting

23:50 - Our ideas for other ‘theme’ nights for Bulls games

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders


Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Is the Bulls' defensive philosophy hurting their rebounding?

Jim Boylen opened his press conference with a silver lining.

"If there's a positive in this difficult loss, it's in the past when we haven't been able to put the ball in the basket... We haven't guarded well," Boylen said. "I thought our defense was terrific tonight. I thought it kept us in the game, it gave us a chance."

There's some validity to that. Friday night, the Bulls allowed their adversary, the Charlotte Hornets, only 83 points. The Hornets shot 38% from the floor, 19.4% from 3-point range (31 attempts) and turned the ball over 21 times. On most nights, holding an opponent to those numbers is a recipe for success — even if the paltriness of said numbers was as much a result of the Hornets' sloppy play as anything.

Not in this one. The offense will shoulder most of the blame there: The Bulls shot only 30% from the field (they're the only team that's shot 30% or less from the field in a game this season, and they've done it twice) and 20.6% from 3-point range. According to Boylen, they shot 44% at the rim. Crucially, they were also outrebounded by Charlotte 60-45 — a disparity aided by the Bulls missing a whopping 63 field goals on the night. 

"They were crashing a lot of guys," Lauri Markkanen said. "We need to do a better job of boxing out. I feel like we did a good job defensively, but we just need to get the first rebound and limit their second-chance points."

The Hornets entered the night ranked 27th in rebound rate — which measures the percentage of missed shots a team is able to pull in — the Bulls 29th. For Charlotte, P.J. Washington (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Cody Zeller (11 points, 10 rebounds) both logged double-doubles, and Bismack Biyombo (12 points, nine rebounds) came close. As a team, they converted 11 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points. 

"They had 11 offensive rebounds. It seemed like they had more," Boylen, aptly, said. "Those plays are back-breakers."

Especially true in such a drudgy game. The Hornets led 44-40 at the halftime break, then 59-50 entering the fourth after outscoring the Bulls 15-10 in the third quarter. It was a game from a different era.

Thad Young rejected the notion that the Bulls were outmatched physically or undersized, relative to the Hornets.

"I think that's about us just going out there and making sure we get the ball, and us gang-rebounding," he said of the disparity on the boards.

Young cited the team's defensive philosophy — specifically, their strategy of blitzing and aggressively hedging in pick-and-roll coverage — as one factor in their inconsistency in this area. Bringing bigs up and away from the basket on those actions can often leave them out of position when the other team's eventual shot is put up (and off) the rim. 

"The way our defense is it kinda crossmatches us a little bit, because the big is generally trying to stop the guard from driving. Then when they hit the big, he's in the trail position, so their big has inside position on us, and then you have a big on the baseline or you have a cutter going baseline," Young said. "So it kinda puts us in a situation where we have to figure out who's gonna be in to get the rebounds and usually, the guys that's in there to get the rebounds are guards. Because they're sagging in on the weak-side or they're helping trying to get the big into position where he can rebound the basketball."

Wendell Carter Jr. had 11 boards on the night, but the Bulls' next-leading rebounder was Zach LaVine, with eight. Then Young with five.

But Young declined to label it a systemic issue, or even a communication one. 

"It's just something that kinda happens in the flow of the game," Young said. "Some games are gonna be different than others. Some games we're gonna be able to get our bigs back, and some games we're gonna depend on our guards to come in and rebound."

It seems that this is happening often, as of late. The Bulls have been outrebounded in 19 of their 27 games this season — they're 4-15 in said contests.

Of course, making shots would help, as well. Between the two teams, there were 112 missed field goals tonight. That's a lot of chances for rebounds, and the Hornets converted more than the Bulls tonight.

"Imma be honest with you, I don't really see too much they were doing [defensively]. We were just missing shots," Young said. "I had three for sure that just went in and came out, and a couple other guys had some so. I think it was just one of those nights."

It certainly was. Now, on to the next — Saturday night, when they fearsome Clippers come to town.

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