Bulls

Toothless, lifeless Bulls dominated by Pacers

Toothless, lifeless Bulls dominated by Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS — The Bulls had the look of confusion on defense, again.

They failed to get back after misses and allowed wide-open 3-point shots, again.

Too many times they tried getting in the passing lane and compromised their defense for guard penetration or easy opportunities, again.

So it should be no surprise, again, to see the Bulls lose their third straight game, this time at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, a team they beat at home one week ago by a decisive margin.

The payback was served cold at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a 111-94 Pacers win, making it three straight defeats for the Bulls, bringing them back to a .500 mark after they were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA with a 3-0 mark.

Not even Paul George’s ejection late in the third quarter would be nearly enough to spark a team playing in quicksand on the second day of a back-to-back, coming off the heels of Friday’s emotion-filled loss to the New York Knicks.

“I thought tonight we looked like a tired basketball team right out of the gate,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They opened up with a 16-point lead and that’s a tough hole to dig yourself out of.”

George lightly booted a ball into the stands after being called for a foul against Jimmy Butler near the basket stanchion. The ball found its way to the face of an unsuspecting fan with less than two minutes left in the third quarter with George immediately walking over to the fan to apologize. The two hugged and exchanged pleasantries but the damage was done as the officials sent George to the locker room with two technical fouls.

[RELATED: All-Star Paul George ejected against Bulls for kicking ball and hitting fan]

Before that even took place, Saturday looked like an instant replay of Friday in terms of the slow start. The turnovers piled up along with the defensive miscues that are either gameplan mistakes or a matter of effort, although it’s probably more of the former than latter.

Switching on defense seems to throw them out of whack, leading to too many opportunities for other teams to exploit. The Pacers racked up 31 points and had a 17-point lead as they shot 58 percent.

“I think we do. Some guys switch who aren’t supposed to switch,” Butler said. “That’s not in the gameplan, I can tell you that. I know who’s supposed to switching and who’s not supposed to be switching.”

A bigger issue has been the lack of execution on offense, which could possibly lead to the ineffectiveness on the other end. In the first three games, the Bulls jumped on their opponents early. Now, the tables have turned and it puts the responsibility squarely on the starters.

“We do have to play better, start better,” said Dwyane Wade, who missed his first eight shots after a 35-point night Friday. “The starters have to do a better job, the onus is on us individually. Once you get down like that versus teams in this league, it’s hard. You give guys confidence and it’s a wrap.”

Wade finished with four points in 21 minutes. Butler and Bobby Portis scored 16 each, although Portis’ production came essentially in garbage time.

Butler believes he has to take more of an aggressive role to prevent the Bulls from taking the first punch. He had his hands full with George, who made all four of his shots in the first for 10 points — most of them in transition.

“It comes to me leading the charge when it comes to coming out with the right energy, making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on both ends,” Butler said. “I can’t come out lackadaisical.

“I don’t think I’ve started out as aggressive as I should. I should be the most aggressive one coming out the gate. That’s what I was the first two games.”

The damage was done with the Bulls playing catch up the rest of the way, not making the Pacers sweat even when George was tossed after scoring 13. And the player who took his place on the floor continued having a banner night. CJ Miles hit a couple more triples before the end of the quarter, and hit a couple more for good measure, giving himself 20 points on the night.

Second-year center Myles Turner scored 16 and former Bull Aaron Brooks scored 10 off the bench.

“It starts with turning the ball over,” Hoiberg said. “It’s going out there and imposing your will as that ball is thrown up for the opening tip and we’re obviously capable of doing it.”

Jeff Teague had a miserable night when the two met a week ago, and he made up for it in spades, dominating his matchup with Rajon Rondo. Teague helped control the pace, as the Pacers hit 11 triples and shot over 50 percent for the entire night.

The ball movement wasn’t as prevalent as even Friday night against the Knicks, as the turnovers kept coming from everywhere and the smoothness with which the Bulls played has disappeared.

“It’s kind of what happens when you get down, it’s a will game that we play,” Wade said. “It’s the nature of us, to will it. When you’re moving the ball it becomes contagious and when you’re down early on, you wanna make the play instead of trusting the game. We’re all guilty of that, not just this team but other teams I’ve been on. The ball stops. The blueprint’s there, we just gotta get to it.”

In the first 10 minutes of the game, the Bulls committed seven turnovers and were never really competitive throughout, missing on defensive gambles and showing very little in the way of actual fundamentals.

If last Saturday was the best played game of the Fred Hoiberg era, chalk this one up amongst the look of last season as the Bulls go back to the drawing board, back at .500.

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

The Bulls gave Jabari Parker a two-year, $40 million deal for good reason.

One, the Bulls had the salary cap space to get the deal done and had just about filled out their roster. The money wasn't going to be used elsewhere. Also, the second year of the deal is a team option which gives the Bulls some security should Parker not be able to stay healthy or play up to the standards such a salary commands.

Parker was given that money for multiple reasons. One of those reasons was not for his defense.

But, according to Parker, no one gets paid for their defense.

Speaking on 670 The Score on Wednesday, Parker was asked about whether he felt he had the ability and effort to defend in the NBA, something he hasn't done particularly well in four seasons.

"I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense," Parker said. "There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

"If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them."

Parker's right in one sense, that players are usually paid for their offensive output. There are also more tangible, easily read statistics on the offensive end than there are defensively. Heck, the Bulls gave $80 million to Zach LaVine and he was the team's worst defender last season.

But then again, defense matters. A whole lot, especially at a time when offenses are better than ever (thus making defenders more valuable). The final four teams in last year's playoffs were ranked 1st, 6th, 9th and LeBron James (29th) in defensive efficiency.

A day after Parker's comments the Celtics gave Marcus Smart a four-year, $52 million contract. He's a career 37 percent shooter and has made 29 percenet of his 3-pointers in four seasons.

So while Parker, a below-average defender, might not be entirely accurate, at least he's owning who he is. And if he scores like he did in Year 3, averaging 20 points before re-tearing his ACL, no one will care how he defends.

Kawhi Leonard joins Raptors in the East; it could be good news for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Kawhi Leonard joins Raptors in the East; it could be good news for the Bulls

The best player in basketball left the Eastern Conference two weeks ago when LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Now another top-10 player in the league is on the move, as the Spurs dealt All-Pro Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan.

The Raptors, in essence, are going for it. General manager Masai Ujiri made a calculated decision that his current core - or more accurately, his top combination of Kyle Lowry and DeRozan - couldn't get over the hump. They've bowed out to LeBron James and the Cavs each of the last three years (including two sweeps) and, despite James moving to the West, now face legitimate tests in Boston and Philadelphia.

That's why Ujiri was willing to move DeRozan, the face of the franchise who had been with the team since he was drafted there in 2009, for a shot to get over the hump in the East. As talented as the four-time All-Star DeRozan is, he can't match what Leonard brings to the table on both sides of the ball. They also added wing Danny Green in the trade, making them a better team in the short-term.

That's where the Bulls come in.

Both Leonard and Green have one year remaining on their contracts. It's been well-documented that Leonard wants to play in his hometown of Los Angeles, meaning there's a better-than-not chance he plays just one season with the Raptors. Of course we saw what happened with Paul George and the Thunder, so never say never. It just appears likely at this point. Also, Green was more a function of making the dollars and cents work out in the deal; the 31-year-old probably isn't part of Toronto's long-term plans.

In other words, this could be Toronto's last shot. DeRozan had three years left on his contract, and Jakob Poeltl (also part of the deal) is entering the third year of his rookie contract. If the Raptors don't win in 2018 and Leonard bolts for the Lakers or Clippers, Toronto is looking at tearing it all down and entering, more or less, a rebuild phase. Both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka will be on the final years of their contracts, and the team might be willing to build around young role players in Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright and Norman Powell.

That's certainly a team the Bulls could move past in the following two seasons. With a young core that includes Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Kris Dunn and Jabari Parker - plus next year's first-round pick - the Bulls will be trending upward as the Raptors attempt to pick up the pieces on a potentially failed dice roll on Leonard. Had the Raptors run it back with DeRozan they'd at least have their core in tact through 2020 (and DeRozan has a player option for 2021).

So while the Raptors were going to be ahead of the Bulls in the standings regardless this year, their window to compete in the long-term closed by swapping DeRozan for Leonard. That's good news for the Bulls in the coming years.