Steve Kerr stays positive, keeps perspective with new Warriors' challenge

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USA TODAY

Steve Kerr stays positive, keeps perspective with new Warriors' challenge

Kevin Durant chose to leave for the Nets in free agency. Klay Thompson faced rehabilitation after tearing his left ACL during Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Yes, Steve Kerr knew this Warriors season would be different.

But nobody knew that Steph Curry would break his left hand and be sidelined until likely after the All-Star break at the earliest. Nobody knew D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors’ prized offseason acquisition, would miss nine games with a sprained right thumb.

But just as he kept perspective and an even keel throughout the Warriors’ dynasty, which produced three championships and five straight trips to the NBA Finals, the ever-grounded Kerr is doing the same with a team that lugs a league-worst 4-19 mark into Friday’s meeting with the Bulls.

“I’m enjoying coaching the young guys and going through the details of what they need to learn and helping them develop,” Kerr said in an interview following Thursday’s practice at University of Illinois Chicago. “I basically survived my whole career. I was never really in a position where I felt like, ‘OK, I’ve made it.’ From year to year, it was just survival. So I can relate to a lot of these young guys and I can relate a lot of experiences to them. That’s a satisfying process when you see them do well.”

That said, Kerr is a competitor. There’s a broken clipboard and some bloody towels from last Wednesday’s home victory over the Bulls to prove it.

So the teaching element may be rewarding. The losing?

“It sucks. It sucks,” Kerr said, repeating himself for emphasis. “We’re 1-8 in close games. That’s part of having a young team, learning how to close games. That part of it is a struggle.

“You want your players to feel rewarded when they play well. We had a stretch of two weeks where we played well every night and we had one win to show for it. And that was Chicago. It’s frustrating to walk in the locker room and see guys with their heads down because you know how hard they’re working and how much they want it.”

Kerr experienced a dynasty as a player with the Bulls and as a coach with the Warriors. Invariably throughout last season, he’d remind anyone willing to listen to savor how special those times are.

Does he think people listened?

“No,” he said, laughing. “It’s human nature to think we’re going to win it again and we’re going to keep going forever. Life changes quickly.

“I talked not only to the media and our fans but to our team. Last year there were several times when I said, ‘This is going to be our best chance to win a championship.’ We’ve got an incredible opportunity that may never come up again. That’s something that’s important for everybody to realize---fans, management, players. It is lightning in a bottle. You can do everything perfectly and you still may not get to where you think you might be.”

The Warriors’ dynasty may be over. But with Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green still under contract, an attractive young piece in Russell and a huge trade exception from the Andre Iguodala deal, the Warriors are solidly positioned for the future.

And if this season produces a lottery pick, well, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Until then, Kerr keeps coaching and teaching. Thursday’s film session and practice stretched to the 2 1/2-hour mark.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys. Draymond has been fantastic, basically helping coach the team and talking guys through different situations. They’ve been thrown in the fire every day. It’s not easy. But they’re doing a good job,” Kerr said. “We have to figure it out as a staff: How much do you throw at them? Too much information sometimes can be a bad thing. And so we have to find the balance. We also can’t not give them the information that they need. It’s just maybe doing it sequentially and maybe finding the right order and plugging holes as you go.

“The NBA game is so different. These days, players come in at such a young age. There’s just an awful lot of fundamental stuff you have to break down on a daily basis as a young team. That’s the biggest difference for us as a staff between having a young team and having vets. It’s a different daily routine for sure.”

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What to watch for when the Bulls face off with the league-worst Golden State Warriors

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USA Today

What to watch for when the Bulls face off with the league-worst Golden State Warriors

Wednesday night, the Bulls will look to give the city of Chicago something to be thankful for when they take on the listless Warriors in San Francisco. The game tips at 9:30 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here’s what to watch for:

A get-right game

Is it an exaggeration to call this game — only the Bulls’ 19th of the regular season, against the consensus worst team in the league — a must-win? Somehow, it doesn’t feel like it.

The Bulls need to win this game and, frankly, they need to win it handily. These Warriors are five-time repeat NBA Finalists only in name — Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala are departed for other teams and *deep inhale* Steph Curry (hand), Klay Thompson (knee), D’Angelo Russell (thumb) and Kevon Looney (hamstring) are all currently out with injuries of varying severity.

That leaves a team of scrappy youngsters and select journeymen (for a reason) in Alec Burks, Willie Cauley-Stein, Glen Robinson III and co. As a group, they’ve shown flashes. But ultimately, this is a team that’s lost 15 of their first 18 games and ranks dead last in the league in Net Rating (they’re 24th in offense and 30th in defense). 

And despite the early-season mayhem swirling around Chicago with more ferocity than the prevailing westerlies off Lake Michigan: The Bulls are only one game out of the eighth seed in the woeful Eastern Conference and are staring down a five-game stretch against opponents with a combined 24-62 record. Granted, one of those is against a Portland team that just torched them at the United Center, but the point stands. 

This has to be a win. It just has to be. But, as of this writing, that is certainly not guaranteed.

Silver linings to be wary of

Regardless of all that’s gone wrong for Golden State this season, it’s worth briefly examining a few Warriors playing well. If the Bulls defense continues to both defend ball-handlers aggressively off screens and scramble in their rotations on the back-end, these are the guys that could hurt them:

  • Glenn Robinson III: currently authoring a career year, averaging 12 points and 4.9 rebounds per game on 49.1% shooting (41.8% from three). He’s been prolific from the left wing behind the arc and certain midrange pockets. Beware of him attacking clumsy closeouts, a la Carmelo Anthony on Monday.

  • Ky Bowman: a revelation for the Dubs on a two-way contract at the start of the season. He’ll shoulder the load at point guard with Curry and Russell both out — he played 39 minutes in their matchup with Oklahoma City on Monday. Bowman is a capable shooter, pesky defensively, but the Bulls hope he doesn’t have the vision or savvy to pick them apart they way Damian Lillard and other accomplished point guards have, of late.

  • Eric Paschall: somehow, a dark-horse Rookie of the Year candidate and another second-round gem for the Warriors. He’s second on the team in scoring (excluding Curry, who has only played four games) and is an absolute bruiser. He’s only a 23.3% three-point shooter, but his physicality makes him a tough matchup on both ends for Lauri Markkanen.

And really, that’s about it. If the Bulls make a star out of any of the other role players on this misfit roster, you’ll be the first to hear. 

Staying aggressive — offensively and on the boards — an imperative

The Bulls’ starting backcourt got off to a fast start in the first quarter against Portland on Monday, and looked crisp in doing so. Tomas Satoransky pushed pace, sank floaters and dotted assists, and Zach LaVine was crafty both in passing lanes on defense and slinking around screens off-ball on the offensive end.

I’d love to see the Bulls work the Satoransky-LaVine combo in more sets like this:

 

When he’s right, LaVine is a deadly spot-up shooter and this movement like this provides a different type of look for an offense prone to stagnation. And the Bulls didn't bring in Satoransky to be the 10th highest used guy on the team. The Warriors are undersized, undermanned and under-talented on the perimeter — get them in rotation and on their heels, and the shots will flow. The key is to make sure that urgency doesn't wane as the game drags on.

The Bulls were also absolutely decimated on the glass (55-37) Monday against one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA in Portland. The Warriors rank in the bottom third of the league in Reb% and DReb% (along with the Bulls), as well. If the Bulls can flip that script tonight, it means they’re finishing off defensive possessions, which they should be able to do consistently against — again, on paper — an inferior opponent. 

But if the 2019 Bulls have proven anything, it’s that games are not played on paper, and anything can happen. Absolutely anything.

Injury updates

After being active but not starting for the past two games, Chandler Hutchison will rejoin the starting lineup tonight:


Hutchison said before the Portland game that Boylen was waiting to give him extended run until he saw full-contact action. Per the Bulls, Ryan Arcidiacono will be a game-time decision.

For the Warriors, Draymond Green has been upgraded to probable.

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Lauri Markkanen hopes 3-game trip can help turn around his lost season

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USA Today

Lauri Markkanen hopes 3-game trip can help turn around his lost season

They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Finland, but Lauri Markkanen calls turkey “good” even while acknowledging it’s “a little different.”

And if this seems superfluous, well, it’s better than the third-year player yet again answering questions about his lack of impact in what was billed to be a breakout season.

Too often, Markkanen is relegated to being solely a stationary 3-point shooter. Too often, Markkanen is missing the open shots he does get.

When Markkanen finally posts a potential turn-the-corner game, as he did in scoring 24 points on 7-for-14 shooting on Nov. 20 versus the Pistons, he follows it by averaging 7.3 points over the next three games on unsightly 25 percent shooting.

Through 18 games, Markkanen is averaging 13.6 points — a whopping 5.1 less than last season — on career low 35.6 percent shooting, including 28.3 percent from 3-point range. His rebounding average is a career low. His turnovers average is a career high.

“I’ve had difficult times my first two years as well, so I wouldn’t say it’s my first one,” Markkanen said following Tuesday’s practice. “But you always come through these. I’m staying positive about it, staying confident, keep working and take what the defense gives me. Get to my spots. That’s pretty much what you can do.

“It’s a lot of mental stuff. When I say I keep working, it’s not just on the court. Obviously, you do off the court stuff too. Think the game and get better that way. You can’t put your head down and give up.  You just keep working and better times are ahead.”

But are they? The Bulls rarely, if ever, post up Markkanen anymore. During Monday’s home loss to the Trail Blazers, he rolled to the basket once, collected a pass — and kicked it out for a 3-point attempt from someone else.

“You’re really trying to get me to say something?” Markkanen said, smiling, when asked about whether he needs to talk to Jim Boylen about how he’s being used. “Me and Coach talk all the time. We have a good relationship. I feel like I can say whatever I need to say. We’ve had multiple conversations so it’s not about that.”

Truth is, Markkanen isn’t a boat rocker. He’s a team-first, people pleaser. So even if he’s frustrated by how he’s being utilized, he would never say it or show it.

“It’s a different role, kind of playing a different way of basketball right now,” Markkanen said of the Bulls’ five-out, equal-opportunity offense. “So it’s just something we have to get used to and hopefully we can figure it out.”

None of this is meant to fully absolve Markkanen. He has missed multiple completely open looks. The coaching staff has repeatedly reminded him of the need to run the floor hard to get easy baskets — or draw fouls — in transition.

But Markkanen’s usage rate is 21.5, lower than even his rookie season and down a full three plays from last season.

“What I think he needs to do is continue to work and stay positive,” Boylen said. “Continue to take his open looks. Continue to recognize when he’s open, when he can drive it, when he can playmake and when he can create. Rebound the ball at a high level; he’s a heck of a defensive rebounder. And just keep growing in the system.

“We’ve added some things for him. Because we’ve added them doesn’t mean that he’s going to score off of them. He’s going to make decisions out of them. He broke out against Detroit and he’ll break out again and hopefully we can sustain it for him and with him. And he can sustain it for us and with us.”

The Bulls left following practice for a three-game trip that begins Wednesday in San Francisco against the Warriors. Injuries have decimated the five-time defending Western Conference champion Warriors, who are a league-worst 3-15. Their minus-10 point differential is tied with the Hawks for the league’s worst.

“I have not studied the Warriors yet. I’ve been worried about us,” Boylen said. “I’ve seen them on TV on NBA (League) Pass. They play very hard. They’re very physical from what I saw. They’ve got a young team that they’re developing.”

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