Brooklyn Nets

Bulls observations: Kyrie Irving goes supernova as Nets thump Bulls

Bulls observations: Kyrie Irving goes supernova as Nets thump Bulls

The defense cracked and Kyrie Irving dropped a 50-burger in the Bulls' 133-118 loss to the Nets. Some observations:

Kris Dunn goes down

It took just 13 seconds of this one for the injury bug to bite the Bulls again. Off a Joe Harris charge on the Nets’ first possession of the game, Kris Dunn got his knee trapped under a falling Thad Young and appeared to hyperextend it. Dunn was down on the floor in extreme pain for a few real-time minutes before gingerly limping off the floor.

“It sucks man,” Zach LaVine said after the game. “I always say the worst thing in sports is injuries. He plays through a lot. We already know his background, how tough-minded he is. It sucks seeing anybody get injured, but especially a good friend and someone who has been with me throughout the NBA so far."

Chandler Hutchison replaced Dunn with the starters and finished the night with 22 minutes. On the season, the Bulls’ defensive rating is 103.6 with Dunn on the court and 106.6 with him off, the equivalent of the disparity between the second- and seventh-best defensive ratings in the NBA. Tonight, that dropoff felt more severe. 

Kyrie Irving played a pristine basketball game

Being guarded primarily by Hutchison and Ryan Arcidiacono, Irving positively popped off in this one. He didn’t miss a shot in the first half, going 10-for-10 from the field and 3-for-3 from 3-point range, en route to a cool 27 points. He scored five of those in the last five ticks of the second quarter:

Irving missed his first shot of the game a minute-and-a-half into the third. Then, he topped his first half point total in the latter one, scoring 28 on 9-for-13 between the third and fourth quarters. He finished the night with 54 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds, just three points off his career high. His 82.6% shooting from the field (19-for-23) represents the best field goal percentage in a 50-point game since Michael Jordan scored 52 on 24-for-29 (82.8%) in 1998. His 54 points is the highest individual output by a Bulls opponent this season. Ridiculous.

"He made 3s, contested 3s. That got him going,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “Early, I thought we needed to pick him up higher. We didn’t. He got into a groove. And sometimes it’s hard to break a guy out of a groove.”

Former Bulls great Spencer Dinwiddie chipped in 20 and seven assists, too, shooting 4-for-7 from 3. Without hardly seeing the floor, Dunn really made his case for MVP of the Bulls tonight. 

Feast or famine: The Bulls’ defense story

Dunn’s absence — combined with the Bulls already being without three of their better defensive players in Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Daniel Gafford — proved even more costly than Irving and Dinwiddie’s statlines, alone.

As a team, the Nets shot 62.5% from the floor and 48.4% (15-for-31) from 3-point range. That percentage from the field is the highest by any Bulls opponent this year, as are the 50 field goals the Nets canned and 133 points they scored.

Still, the Bulls clawed their way back into the game for a stretch towards the end of the third quarter. They won the third period 39-30 and trailed by just seven entering the fourth, after being down by as many as 21 in the second period. Coincidentally, the Bulls scored 13 points off nine Nets turnovers in the third, and had 19 points off 18 turnovers total entering the fourth.

It illustrates a point made by our fearless leader Kevin Anderson perfectly:

In the fourth, the Nets committed just two coughups and pulled away again. When the turnovers aren't there, the Bulls' defense struggles. This is canon. Though the Bulls rated seventh in defensive rating and first in opponent turnovers per game (18) entering play, they allow the eighth-highest opponent field goal percentage in the league (46.7%). That's a tad ominous, and where there's smoke, there's usually fire.

Zach LaVine keeps plugging

It was a relatively quiet night for LaVine, but he got his. He finished the night with 22 points on 8-for-17 shooting and 8 assists — his 17th game in a row with 20 or more points scored. 

LaVine is the first Bull since Michael Jordan to rip a streak of at least 17 games with 20 or more points scored. He wraps a statistically memorable January with a so-so performance in one of the tougher Bulls’ loss of the season (on the heels of a tougher one in Indiana).

Worse, this one was to a team the Bulls should theoretically be competing with for the eighth seed in the East in the Nets. The Bulls have continued to tout the playoffs as an objective, but with each passing day, that goal feels more and more unattainable.

Next up: The Raptors in Toronto.

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Many NBA players starting to change their jersey number in honor of Kobe Bryant

Many NBA players starting to change their jersey number in honor of Kobe Bryant

The extremely tragic death of nine people on January 26, including Gigi Bryant and her father, NBA legend Kobe Bryant, rocked the NBA community this week. It is a tough pill to swallow for everyone worldwide that the 41-year old Bryant is no longer with us and there has been an outpouring of heartfelt tributes to Kobe and Gigi Bryant, as well as the seven other victims involved in the crash.

NBA players continue to find unique ways to honor the legacy of Bryant, and the latest is players discussing changing their jersey numbers in honor of the all-time great, starting with Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross and Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, both who wore No. 8.

On top of the usual affection that players league-wide have for Bryant, the ones that grew up in California watching Bryant develop into a Hall of Famer in real-time have taken the tragedy especially hard. Ross is from Long Beach, CA, while Dinwiddie grew up in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, CA. Ross and Dinwiddie are among the initial players to officially change their jersey number in honor of Bryant but the list of names figures to grow.

Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell, a San Diego-native, wore a "Kobe & Gigi" hoodie on his way to Tuesday's matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. Powell, who wears No. 24, also announced that he would be in favor of changing his jersey number as well.

It will be interesting to see how many players follow this trend but it is also important to note that every person grieves in their own way.

Many players will likely keep their jersey numbers as a means of honoring Bryant's legacy. But no matter what manner players choose to honor the legacy of Bryant, it has been beautiful to see the support for him, Gigi, and all of the families of those involved in Sunday's tragic event.

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3 observations: Bulls-Nets

3 observations: Bulls-Nets

The Bulls fell to the Brooklyn Nets 117-111 at the United Center on Saturday night. Here are three observations from the tough loss:

The Bulls finally play a bit of "big boy basketball"

Bulls color commentator Stacey King loves to refer to physical plays on the court as "big boy basketball", and the Bulls definitely played big boy basketball on Saturday night despite the final score. The Bulls outrebounded the Nets 56-40, and this included an impressive +12 margin on the offensive glass. But that wasn't where the Bulls' physicality stopped in this one. 

With the perimeter shots not falling, the Bulls finally committed to driving hard to the basket, racking up a whopping 41 free throws, including 12 from Zach LaVine alone.

Despite all the offensive boards, the Bulls ended up getting destroyed in the points in the paint category, and this why we added the caveat "a bit" of big boy basketball. The Bulls were outscored by 20 in points in the paint and a big part of it was this system, which appears to have the Bulls big men kicking the ball out to the perimeter, regardless of how many defenders are actually in front of them in the paint. 

The Bulls' newfound love of the 3-point shot is great, though a few years late to the party, it definitely makes sense for the Bulls to play this very modern and aggressive style. But when that "modern and aggressive style" forces your bigs to become tentative on offense, bad things can happen.

And being outscored by 20 in paint points while having a +12 advantage in offensive boards definitely qualifies as a bad thing.

Wendell Carter continues to show growth

This one might as well be a permanent observation, as Carter impresses every time he steps on the court or speaks to the struggles of this team. Carter collected another double-double, notching 18 points ad 14 rebounds. And the most encouraging thing from Carter's scoring output was that 8 of his 18 points were from a season-high 8 trips to the free throw line.

It would be great if we could see Carter empowered a little bit more from the elbows and in the post, as his passing prowess isn't shown off often, but tonight's two assists were a small window into what he can do as a passer. 

Carter shooting 3-pointers — which was very much a reality during his time at Duke — seems like a decades-old memory, and whether by choice or the coaches' system, he is not taking them. But his offense has taken a big step forward this season because so far, he is converting over 60% of his baskets after shooting 48.5% from the field last year. 

If the Bulls start to empower Carter a bit more, giving him offensive possessions to use — and maybe even a spot on the "Leadership Committee" — then we could see things turn around for this team sooner than later. 

Zach LaVine puts up a big-time scoring effort

The Bulls accomplished a few great things offensively and pretty much all of those great things were a result of Zach LaVine going supernova.

LaVine scored 23 of his 36 points in the second half, including going 9-for-10 from the charity stripe down the stretch. LaVine shot 45.8% from the field and despite having 1 assist and 3 turnovers, his decision making was solid throughout.

He did not collect a steal for the first time in six games and his 3-point shooting left a bit to be desired (3-for-10) but overall it was a great performance from LaVine, who finally put together the type of explosive scoring performance that Bulls Nation was expecting from him at the start of the 2019-20 season.

Bulls defense shows a collapse of epic proportions

The Bulls defense was OK in spurts but if we are going to be absolutely honest, the wheels fell off hard in this one.

In certain possessions, especially late in the game against Spencer Dinwiddie, the Bulls went to switching the pick-and-roll rather than their normal semi-trapping system. This did not work extremely well, as Dinwiddie — who has never been known as a high-volume free throw guy — ended up getting 15 free throw attempts knocking down 14 of them. 

And on top of Dinwiddie, the Bulls allowed six different Nets players to score in double figures, and this was on a night where Kyrie Irving's absence was supposed to make it very possible to shut Brooklyn down.

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