Bulls

Sunday's Game Will Decide Bulls' Playoff Fate

145865.jpg

Sunday's Game Will Decide Bulls' Playoff Fate

Monday, Apr.5, 2010
4:50 P.M.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

So, what do you think? Will the Bulls make the playoffs for a 2nd straight season? Please post your comments in the section below.

Give the players and coaching staff a lot of credit for not giving up in the wake of all the injuries and the frustration of a ten-game losing streak. Things looked pretty bleak with a 31-37 record, and Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Derrick Rose all trying to return from injuries. But since that time, the Bulls have gone 6-2, and they're now just one game behind Toronto for the final playoff spot in the East. The Raptors have already clinched the season series against the Bulls, which means they'll get the playoff spot if the two teams wind up with the same record. So, that puts everything on Sunday's match-up in Toronto. The Bulls MUST win that game to have any chance to get back to the post-season.

Toronto has been a tough team for the Bulls to handle in recent seasons. Not only do they have one of the best power forwards in the game in free-agent-to-be Chris Bosh, but point guard Jose Calderon has hurt the Bulls in the past, and Toronto also has a couple of big men who can nail the 3 point shot in Andrea Bargnani and Hedo Turkoglu. They've been able to spread the Bulls' defense and find open shooters to knock down the 3. Even rookie shooting guard DeMar DeRozan has hurt the Bulls this season with his ability to penetrate and finish at the rim. Toronto may be a .500 team that's struggled against some inferior teams, but they've played like world beaters against the Bulls. The Raptors have some tough games coming up, including a match-up with Cleveland Tuesday night, but the Bulls have an even harder schedule over the final 9 days of the regular season, so it figures to come down to which team wins the showdown in Toronto on Sunday.
NOAH AND DENG SURPRISINGLY SHARP IN RETURN

No one really knew what to expect from Noah and Deng after their extended absence from game competition, but they've made a huge difference in the Bulls' play over the last few games. Noah is back in the starting line-up, playing big minutes, and he put up a double-double in the win over Charlotte on Saturday. Deng was knocking down jumpers in his return against Washington last Friday, and he moved back into the starting line-up against Charlotte, clinching the victory with a late steal and lay-up. The Bulls probably would have beaten Phoenix last week if Deng had been able to play. Their lack of size allowed Jason Richardson and Grant Hill to score easily against smaller defenders, and the Suns got several key offensive rebounds with the game on the line in the 4th quarter. Now, with Noah and Deng back, the Bulls can put a legitimate NBA line-up on the floor at all times, and they can even go big with Brad Miller at center and Noah at the power forward. It's amazing what having a mostly healthy roster has meant to the Bulls confidence level and body language in recent games. There's no doubt in my mind the Bulls would be competing for the 5th or 6th spot in the East if not for the rash of injuries that led to all those losses in March.

GIBSON NOW A PART OF BULLS CORE FOR THE FUTURE

And let's not forget about Taj Gibson, who's emerged as one of the steals of last summer's draft. Gibson posted double-doubles in each of the Bulls' wins over the weekend, and the coaching staff now has enough confidence in him to run post-up plays, especially in the early going. Not much was expected of Gibson when the Bulls drafted him with the 26th overall pick in round one, but he's been a consistent contributor from day one, and ran with the starting position after Tyrus Thomas broke his arm 5 games into the season. LeBron James specifically mentioned Gibson when he was asked about the Bulls roster last month, and he gave the rookie a post-game hug following a narrow Cleveland win at the United Center. Now, I'm not saying Taj Gibson will be a big factor in LeBron's free agent decision this summer, but the King knows the Bulls have a talented, young roster that's ready to win with the addition of the right free agent. If you put LeBron or Dwyane Wade on a Bulls' team with Rose, Noah, Deng, Gibson and Kirk HInrich, they're instantly a contender to win the NBA title. The upcoming free agent class is loaded with All-Star caliber power forwards like Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer and David Lee, but given Gibson's emergence as a quality starter, look for the Bulls to go hard after LeBron and D-Wade first, before moving on to the power forward group. They might even see if Atlanta's Joe Johnson would be willing to come for less than a max offer and see if they can add another free agent at a lower price. If the Bulls are able to trade Hinrich sometime around the NBA draft, they might even be able to free up enough cap room to extend offers to both Johnson and Lee. It's all pretty fluid right now, with the teams with cap room trying to work through all kinds of potential scenarios for what might happen when the clock strikes midnight on June 30thJuly 1st.

But don't give up on the possibility of the Bulls landing either LeBron or D-Wade. You can bet the Bulls' front office will be in there making a serious pitch, and Wade's desire to be with his two children who are living with their mother in the Chicago area might also play into his free agent decision. Wade and his estranged wife are currently going through a messy divorce, with Wade now filing for custody of his children. Who knows if the circumstances in his personal life might lead him to decide a return to Chicago is in his best interests. It's just one more factor to watch as we close in on the long-awaited free agent chase of 2010.

I'll see you from the United Center Tuesday during the 6:30 edition of SportsNite as we get ready for the Bulls-Bucks game. Milwaukee suffered a devastating injury over the weekend with the loss of starting center Andrew Bogut. Bogut was playing the best basketball of his young career, and the Bucks just aren't the same team without him. If you saw the fall Saturday night, it was one of the scariest injuries we've seen in awhile. Bogut broke his right hand, and also dislocated his right elbow. Hopefully, he can make a complete recovery and get back to playing basketball next season. But don't count the Bucks out just yet. Scott Skiles is one of the best coaches in the league, and he'll find a way to come up with the right line-up combinations to give his team a chance to win. The Bulls better be ready for a battle Tuesday night.

Take a deep breath: The injured, rebuilding Bulls are exactly where they’re supposed to be

freddy-h-and-zach.jpg
USA TODAY

Take a deep breath: The injured, rebuilding Bulls are exactly where they’re supposed to be

There wasn’t a snowball’s chance that Saturday night was going to be anything other than abysmal. Already shorthanded, the Bulls were without leading scorer Zach LaVine on the second night of a back-to-back facing the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors. Even without Kawhi Leonard and on its own tail end of a back-to-back, Toronto’s roster made the end result feel inevitable. And it was.

The Bulls offense was invisible without LaVine, tallying just 55 points through three quarters and finishing with 22 turnovers and 21 assists. They shot 35 percent from the field while the Raptors scored at will; the 122-83 loss was the fourth worst home loss in Bulls history, and the Raptors largest road win in their history. It was even uglier than the final score.

In a vacuum the Bulls are 4-13, the fourth worst record in the NBA, with the league’s third worst offense and seventh worst defense. The season is exactly one month old and the Bulls already have two four-game losing streaks, another three-game skid and only wins against four sub-.500 teams with a combined record of 16-45. Its best win came against a 7-8 Hornets team that was finishing a four-game-in-six-nights road trip. “Let’s go Raptors” chants breaking out at home while trailing by 38 is probably a new low in a season that’s quickly getting away from the Bulls.

"We have to find a way to stick together through this tough stretch that we've had, and we've got to find a way to build on the good things that we do and start to limit the bad stretches that we have, which are way too many right now," Hoiberg said. "Got to find a way."

It’s been ugly. But in context, the 4-13 Bulls are playing exactly like a team that a) is missing three of its top players, including its best, and b) is in Year 2 of a bare bones rebuild. The Bulls are one year removed from a 27-win season, the franchise’s worst in 14 years. They’re the youngest team in the NBA and on Saturday night played seven players with three years of NBA experience or less.

VP John Paxson told reporters after last season that the tanking Bulls “don’t ever want to be in this position again.” It was an uplifting quote at the time, a sign that Year 2 of the rebuild wouldn’t be as bumpy as Year 1. The reality was that, even when healthy, this rebuild is barely in the simmering stages of fully cooking.

Perhaps Paxson meant he didn’t want to be playing Cris Felicio 30 minutes a night and be actively benching healthy veterans (to the point that the NBA stepped in). But it certainly didn’t mean more wins than losses. Trying to win is different than expecting to win. Las Vegas projected a healthy Bulls team to win 28.5 games for a reason, even in a weak Eastern Conference.

The 2018-19 season’s most important goal was assessing five players: To that point, Zach LaVine is averaging 25 points per game and outplaying the contract some believed he didn’t deserve. Wendell Carter Jr. is on pace to be the first rookie since Joel Embiid to average 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. The other three – Markkanen, Dunn and Portis – are on the shelf and may not be fully up and running until late December or early January.

Only the Denver Nuggets have had more games missed to injury than the Bulls. Denver knew Isaiah Thomas would miss time when they signed him in July as he rehabbed from hip surgery and that rookie Michael Porter Jr. would miss time with a back injury. The Bulls’ four injuries were sprung on them after media day and training camp began.

The result is them changing lineups, rotations, responsibilities and roles on the absolute fly. Cameron Payne hadn’t played significant minutes in 10 days and had 4 points in 22 minutes as a starter on Saturday. Robin Lopez and Felicio remain in a coin flip each night for backup duties behind Carter.

The truth is it’s really not important from a long-term perspective, which is entirely what the Bulls are focused on. Maybe Justin Holiday plays well enough to be traded. That isn’t going to move the needle on the rebuild. Don’t focus on the micro during a macro rebuild.

Markkanen’s magical rookie season, Carter’s impressive start and LaVine hitting everything in sight seems to have increased team expectations. The reality is the roster is still far from competing, even when healthy. The core pieces appear to be there. They’re also 23, 21 and 19 years old.

Rebuilds take time.

The goals will change when Hoiberg’s coaching with a full deck. LaVine and Markkanen must develop a two-man game on the perimeter that punishes defense with a pick-your-poison effect. Dunn and Carter’s pick-and-roll progression will be something to watch, as will Dunn’s perimeter shooting. Bobby Portis is playing for millions of dollars, either on the open market or in Chicago.

The rest is fluff. They’re supposed to look bad right now. The roster wasn’t exactly built to withstand injuries to three major contributors. How many in the league are?

That’s not to say there haven’t been negatives. Jabari Parker has been a bust. There’s no denying the Bulls swung and missed on paying the Chicago native $20 million only to take low-percentage shots, jog back on defense and own up to very little of either. Cameron Payne had an opportunity to showcase his ability as a former Lottery pick and cement his status as the backup behind Dunn. It didn’t happen. Chandler Hutchison to this point has been underwhelming, but like the core pieces he should have a larger role when the calendar flips to 2019.

They’ll have another Lottery pick in a draft class that looks absolutely star-studded. Maybe it won’t be Zion Williamson. But after drafting Markkanen and Carter seventh overall in consecutive drafts, there’s optimism they can find another gem regardless of where they draft. They’ll also have a boatload of money in free agency. Maybe it won’t be Kevin Durant. But Chicago looks liked a much more desired destination than it did 12 months ago.

It certainly can be frustrating to watch given the future seems so far away. But this is what the front office signed up for. The time to evaluate the roster – and even Hoiberg – won’t come for another few months. If you’re truly upset with how the Bulls are playing down three of their top players, you’ve either wagered on them to win 29 games or are Jabari Parker’s agent.

For now, it’s about withstanding the lows and searching for the progression that ultimately will lead to the highs.  Take a deep breath, Bulls fans: the rebuild is where it’s supposed to be.

Lauri, Kris and Bobby are on his way to begin the next chapter.

Justin Holiday continues to string together solid efforts amid tough Bulls losses

holiday.jpg
USA TODAY

Justin Holiday continues to string together solid efforts amid tough Bulls losses

The Bulls came out on fire against the Bucks, putting up 40 points in an explosive first quarter. Unfortunately they followed that up by scoring 41 points in the second half. But the offense of Jabari Parker and Justin Holiday was pretty much the only thing working for Chicago on Friday night.


Holiday’s effectiveness as an aggressive, dependable floor-spacer continues to showcase what makes him such a valuable NBA player. Unfortunately, that value has been mostly squandered on a Bulls team that lacks a diverse offensive attack.

Holiday contributed 9 points on 3-3 shooting from the 3-point line in the first quarter. He kept this momentum rolling in the second, and ended up not missing a single shot in the first half. Holiday ended the first half 6-6 from the 3-point line but went on to only score once more in the second half. He ended the game with 20 points, the second-leading scorer on the night for Chicago.


On a night where Zach LaVine was clearly gassed from the burden of carrying the offense all season (6-20 from the field), only Parker could provide a solid secondary option. Parker’s effectiveness also tapered off dramatically in the second half, as he stopped taking 3-pointers and didn’t get to the free throw line at all. Early season struggles were to be expected from Parker, as he is on a new team with a roster full of young players. But his shot selection is what has been so frustrating to watch. 

Results do not have to be immediate, but seeing as Parker is taking a greater percentage of his shots from long 2-point range than last season, it is clear he hasn’t fully bought in to the idea of getting all the way to the basket or shooting the 3-pointer without hesitation. And that is why players like Holiday—one of Hoiberg’s loyal soldiers from his first year as Bulls coach—are so crucial.

It is clear that Hoiberg’s preferred playing style has stuck with Holiday and hopefully, that it can rub off on the other players.

We have discussed before how his 3-point attempt rate (72 percent) is the perfect indicator of how often he is hunting the 3-point shot. But the problem is that this current Bulls roster needs more players who create 3-point looks for others, rather than knock them down.

Heading into Friday night’s game, Holiday had been assisted on 72 percent of his 2-point shots and 95 percent of his 3-point shots. This season, he has been assisted on 57 percent of his 2-point shots and 90 percent of his 3-point shots. This is an alarming sign for the Holiday, as he has never been a player known for creating his own shot and the decline in assisted baskets means he is being forced outside of his comfort zone on offense.

It is no coincidence that Holiday’s 3-point percentage in November (35 percent) is lower than his 3-point percentage in October (40 percent). He played 34 minutes per game in October before that number got increased to 37 minutes per game in November. Holiday has been in the top 10 in minutes all year and there is no end in sight for his tremendous minutes load with the Bulls being so thin on the wing.

The 2019 NBA offseason for Chicago will likely be about finding players they can comfortably play at the small forward spot. But Bulls fans should appreciate Holiday’s play while he’s here, as he has been one of the team’s more consistent players. Holiday has done a decent amount of leading by example—especially when it comes to playing the way Hoiberg wants to—and continues to show why he can continue to be a valuable piece on this Bulls team.