Bulls

Shorthanded Bulls top Kings behind E'Twaun Moore's career night

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Shorthanded Bulls top Kings behind E'Twaun Moore's career night

SACRAMENTO--You know the drill: Bulls team appears on brink of destruction, before someone rises up to save them from themselves, at least for a night.

With the stars aligned, and one missing, the Bulls emerged with an emotional 107-102 win over the Sacramento Kings, as the savior was the position that had done so more than a few times this season, although not the player.

In a building the Bulls are playing in for the last time as the Kings are moving downtown next season, they got a little mouthwash from the last three visits, all embarrassing defeats.

They didn’t collapse, although they nearly let go of the rope and gave the Kings multiple chances at sending the game into overtime, before DeMarcus Cousins missed multiple inside shots and then when given another chance, missed two free throws that could’ve cut the lead to one, spoiling an otherwise stellar night.

But for the Bulls, desperation called for them to take a star performance wherever they could get it.

“It feels great to get that one, to find a way, we had a couple big defensive possessions down the stretch,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We played with a toughness all night.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The Bulls shooting guard leading them in scoring wasn’t their leading scorer, as he was on the bench for the night as a cheerleader with knee tendinitis. But E’Twaun Moore had all the responsibilities of Jimmy Butler, as he was depended on to guard Rudy Gay, a man who was six inches and at least thirty pounds heavier than he.

But he wouldn’t allow Gay to bully him, and found himself wide open for triples when the Kings tried to overload on Derrick Rose or Pau Gasol or were flat-out undisciplined.

Moore hit 9 of 16 for a career-high 24 points, five rebounds and four assists in 37 minutes, including four triples.

“I knew our team needed a spark and it was an important game,” Moore said. “That’s what I tried to come out with a lot of energy and just try to provide that spark for us.”

But even he wasn’t immune from a couple plays that could’ve turned the game in the other direction, fouling Marco Belinelli on a 3-point make, and missing two free throws after Cousins blew an inside opportunity.

Rose played under control with 21, nine assists and six rebounds in 35 minutes, facilitating early and getting more aggressive late, hitting a couple floaters to keep the Kings at bay and the last runner extending the lead to 101-92 with 2:30 remaining.

The Bulls had 26 assists on their 40 baskets, as the ball movement was as good as it’s been through this recent struggling stretch, as Rose was at the head.

“Derrick’s thrust was really good. A lot of our success came from him,” Hoiberg said.

Rose found himself with the ball in his hands more without an extra playmaker on the floor, and looked natural in the role, despite his seven turnovers.

“It comes with it, turnovers and all that,” said Rose, noting he played two quarters straight without rest. “The turnovers were devastating and hurt us but I’m going to learn from my mistakes and protect the ball a little more.”

[RELATED: Gasol discusses how Bulls need to deal with communication issues]

And when the Bulls couldn’t keep a hobbled but determined Cousins away from the rim, Moore and Rose were the ones tasked with settling things down—especially after Cousins’ drive and devastating dunk on Gasol and Taj Gibson with 1:35 left to cut the lead to 103-98.

“Every game is different, I try to read the game,” Rose said. “If I get my shots here and there, I’ll take it. I try not to mess with the game. We went up, they came back. My job is to read the game.”

Moore started off things with 13 in the first as Rose noted the Kings were laying off him, giving his team confidence when the Bulls were clearly looking for a reason, and some of the much-maligned role players actually followed suit.

“I knew it was important to start the game off well,” Moore said.

“They didn’t know until he hit him with three 3-pointers in the first, then they had to wake up and get him off the line,” Rose said.

After all, role players have to be stars some nights or at least have those moments. Doug McDermott actually called for the ball at the top of the key, definitively stepping into a triple with the Bulls’ lead at a ginger 83-80 margin. It was followed by an Aaron Brooks triple and then suddenly, McDermott swooped in for a two-handed dunk after his own 3-point miss.

The 3-point makes reversed a recent trend where the Bulls have been anemic beyond the arc, as they hit 11 and actually took a 13-point lead before the Kings came roaring back.

Although it seemed like they would fold, they kept it together long enough to pull off a win, giving themselves a little life in the middle of this road trip.

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.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

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