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Their own worst enemy: Bulls stunned by Nets

Their own worst enemy: Bulls stunned by Nets

BROOKLYN—The Chicago Bulls' biggest enemy isn't the schedule, the Milwaukee Bucks or Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat.

It's what they see when they look in the mirror.

With a chance to put themselves in a spot to clinch a playoff spot against a Brooklyn Nets team with nothing to play for, they came up short as they've done so many times this season when opportunity was at their fingertips.

When Jimmy Butler's corner jumper came up long with five seconds left, it not only prevented them from getting back to the precious .500 mark, it also put them in a perilous spot of losing control of a playoff spot, falling 107-106 to the talent-deficient but game Nets squad in Dwyane Wade's return from an elbow injury.

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie was cut in Bulls' training camp came back to bite his former team, scoring the final seven points of the game to put the Bulls away in the Nets' final home game of the season.

"Is it deflating? No, because we're still in it man," said Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 33 points, including going five for five from the 3-point line. "All we gotta do is win, and we're right there. But we've got to figure out a way to pull these games out in the end, get stops in the end, score some baskets in the end. We should be OK.''

Dinwiddie scored 19 points in 27 minutes off the bench, taking advantage of an opportunity he wasn't given in Chicago. Hitting a triple to tie the game was a result of yet another defensive breakdown where the Bulls didn't rotate and didn't seem to communicate, a seasonlong issue.

"You can't have that breakdown," Hoiberg said. "We had one switch and didn't run him off the line."

Wade fouled Dinwiddie the next time down on what appeared to be more miscommunication on a pick and roll, resulting in two free throws with 13 seconds left.

"One thing we were doing with Brook (Lopez) in the post, he would dribble and we would double and rotate," said Wade, who scored 14 points with seven rebounds but had five turnovers in 25 minutes. "We didn't rotate quick enough, Spence hit a 3. The other pick and roll, he kind of got an open lane to the basket, I don't think I fouled him."

Nevertheless, it put the Bulls in another weird spot—a spot they seem to be mighty comfortable at through 80 games.

Whether it's a loss to the Knicks or the 76ers at home, they can point to a bevy of games, recent and long ago, as to why they're battling to hold onto a playoff spot that isn't yet guaranteed.

What's more telling, they squandered a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and the Nets pounced.

"They're a good team," Butler said. "They've been playing as well as anybody to tell you the truth. They've got guys that play incredibly hard."

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson kept attacking the Bulls, scoring the bulk of his 19 points and 12 rebounds in that final stretch that saw the Bulls curl under pressure they created.

Caris LeVert, a rookie who shoots 32 percent from 3-point land on the year, got hot late, hitting four of seven from long range and scored 19.

The Bulls played the percentages and got burned as the Nets shot just 32 percent from three but made big ones.

"We had a couple key turnovers in that stretch that got them out in transition," Hoiberg said. "Turnovers were obviously an issue for us all game long. We had a 2-on-1 break and couldn't take advantage of it."

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The third quarter saw the best of the Bulls as they scored 37 points on 68 percent shooting, fueled by the one player whose internal alarm clock knew it was a mid-afternoon game in Butler.

If not for a puzzling midseason stretch where Butler looked mentally and physically fatigued, he could do some serious campaigning to be on the bottom half of the MVP ballot.

He'll have to settle for dragging this inconsistent bunch to the postseason, if the Bulls can take care of business at home for the last two regular season games. 

The effect of missing Rajon Rondo can't be overstated, considering they looked lost with disjointed without a true point guard on the floor. Jerian Grant got into the lane a couple times for scores before heating up in the third quarter, while Michael Carter-Williams just had a miserable night off the bench.

Still, neither was the playmaker that Rondo is, and one player who depends on Rondo felt the aftershocks in Nikola Mirotic.

Mirotic missed all of his six shots and didn't score until hitting a free throw in the first minute of the third, being replaced by Bobby Portis and watching the Bulls immediately go on a run when he sat.

Still, Mirotic was on the floor late and the Bulls again came up short in a game they had no business sweating in.

Now, they must sweat out the final five days of the regular season, and only have themselves to blame for the perspiration.

"Mentality is we have two must-win games where we have to have great focus and energy," Hoiberg said. "The mentality is we have to win both."

And with their recent history as a guide, they can't be counted on to beat sub-.500 teams, at home or abroad.

Why NBA role players could see on-court benefit from bubble environment

Why NBA role players could see on-court benefit from bubble environment

Kenny "The Jet" Smith never made an All-Star team across his 10-year NBA career. Nor earned an All-NBA selection.

But he did display a knack for stepping up when the spotlight shone the brightest. His two rings with the Houston Rockets evidence that. In the two postseasons that yielded those championships, Smith started all 45 games for Houston and averaged 30 minutes, 10.8 points and 4.3 assists per game while canning 44.4% of his attempts from 3.

The 2019-20 NBA playoffs will be unlike any the league has seen before. Over the next three days, 22 teams will make their way to Orlando, Fla. to tie a bow on an eight-game conclusion to the regular season and a 16-team playoff in a bubble environment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Throw home court advantage out the window. All games will take place on a neutral court, and without fans.

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Who could such an environment benefit the most? Smith broke down his thoughts on the latest episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast, hosted by Jason Goff:

“I don’t know if it’ll affect the (quality of the) product,” Smith said of the unprecedented bubble atmosphere. “Like, they’re the best 350 players in the world. But there are levels inside of the 350. Players who are marginal inside of the best 350 in the world are going to play better. Because guys don’t play as well on the road as some play at home. There is no home. There is no road. Every game’s a home game, every game feels like a practice setting.

“The superstars have taken over a lot on road games. There is that. So now, I think you’re going to be like, ‘Man, I did not know such and such was so good,’ because he’s going to have a comfort level that he’s never had before. It’s going to feel like every game feels like an intense practice — more than an NBA game, but a super intense practice, which they’re accustomed to and they’re comfortable in that environment.”

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Of course, there will be other factors in play, as well. Though the NBA baked a three-week ramp-up period and scrimmage schedule into its restart plan to reacclimate players, the league’s four-month hiatus will have impacted each player differently depending on the resources at their disposal from their respective homes. With social distancing a priority, and gyms and practice facilities shuttered, think of the training differences between players living in big-city high-rises compared to sprawling suburban residences, plus the salary gap — and thus, the resource gap — that exists between older and younger players. Also looming will be the still-present dangers of COVID-19, which trump any purely basketball-related consideration.

Still, Smith’s theory is an interesting one. Long has the hypothesis of role players performing better at home than on the road in the postseason persisted. Perhaps the Orlando bubble will mark a definitive test of that.

RELATED: NBA season restart 2020: Schedule for 8-game seeding round for every team 

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Kenny Smith launches virtual basketball camp featuring NBA and WNBA stars

Kenny Smith launches virtual basketball camp featuring NBA and WNBA stars

Two-time NBA champion and TNT analyst Kenny Smith is launching Jet Academy, a virtual basketball camp staffed by the highest-level hoopers in the world to help boys and girls train their game while maintaining social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was sitting at home and social distancing and quarantine, and my kids typically go to basketball camps,” Smith told Jason Goff on the latest Bulls Talk Podcast. “They can’t go to camps anymore, I can’t do my basketball camp in North Carolina, I had 700 kids. And I just noticed it was a need in the world that was going on, and I said I’m going to create — and I created — the first virtual basketball camp for kids and adults and anybody who plays the game, virtually. And you can do it from anywhere, any time, on any device, with anyone.”

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As for the instructors? Kemba Walker, Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Victor Oladipo, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Trae Young will all lead or co-lead training sessions. Those seven players account for 35 All-Star appearances and two MVP awards. 

Smith was clear that his intention isn’t to replace traditional trainers, but he believes those that have achieved greatness at the highest level will have special perspective to offer.

“I was talking to Kemba, I was like, ‘OK, Kemba, so this is what we need to do in the camp’ and he’s like, ‘OK, what are the drills you want to do?’” Smith said on the podcast. “I said, ‘No, no, no. Trae, Kemba, I want you to do the drills that you do to get ready. I want to see how you got your jumper like that. That’s what I would want to see. ‘Kemba, show me the pullback.’ He said, ‘Alright, I’ll show you the pullback.’ I said, ‘No, but then you gotta tell us why you use it and when you use it.’ That’s what a trainer at times can’t give you.”

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The camp tips off July 20 and will feature live, daily, two-hour video sessions with instructors that campers can follow along with remotely. Campers will also be able to text questions to instructors, upload video of them training for response within 48 hours, and view sessions on-demand. Smith stressed the importance of that interaction towards developing one’s game. 

Listen to the rest of Smith and Goff’s conversation, which touches on the litany of considerations facing the NBA as it embarks on its bubble experiment in Orlando, here or via the embedded player above.

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