K.C. Johnson

Two-man game: LaVine, Markkanen finally roll together in Bulls victory

Two-man game: LaVine, Markkanen finally roll together in Bulls victory

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The reserves helped turn an early 11-point deficit into a 16-point lead before halftime.

Coach Jim Boylen said the box score represented his vision for how he wants his Bulls to play — going 10-deep and with contributions from everybody.

But the NBA is about teams’ best players playing their best. And for the first time this season, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen each scored at least 20 points in the same game.

Is it any wonder the Bulls snapped a three-game skid with a 113-106 victory over the Kings to cap a 1-2 trip?

“It’s long overdue,” LaVine said of Markkanen posting his third 20-point game this season. “We’ve been looking for it. We’ve been encouraging him. He had a great game. He needs to play like that all the time. He’s capable of it.”

Markkanen tied his season high with four 3-pointers and sank four critical free throws late as part of his 20 points to go along with seven rebounds.

“That’s a big game for him. We were looking for him,” LaVine said. “I think me and him started doing some more two-man game stuff, even if we had to break a little bit of offense up. Two-man game with me and him is deadly because if they’re helping off me, they’re going to leave a great shooter open. I’m excited.”

Markkanen agreed he and LaVine ran more pick-and-rolls together. LaVine finished with 28 points and for the second straight game attempted at least 10 free throws. Both players shot better than 50 percent.

“Zach has been doing his part,” Markkanen said of joining LaVine in the 20-point club. “We talked about playing our game and we ended up being in a couple pick-and-rolls more than we’ve been this year. We talked about it before the game. We’ve kind of gotten away from that.

“I don’t want to be one who just shoots 3s. That’s what I’ve kind of been. I’ve been trying to find my spots and it’s been a lot of 3s. I’m glad I got to the rim a couple times.”

The contributions of the reserves can’t be ignored. Coby White, Thad Young, Ryan Arcidiacono, Denzel Valentine and Daniel Gafford all finished with positive plus-minus designations, while, in a rarity for a victory, all five starters finished with minus designations.

“If you look at the box score, that’s how we envisioned this group of guys to look — contributions from everybody,” Boylen said. “A real solid game from Zach. A real solid game from Lauri. A double-double from Wendell [Carter]. Sato [Tomas Satoransky] gets 14 [points] and 5 [assists]. That’s what we hope it can be. And we hope it can be that more consistently.”

But at the end of the day, the Bulls will only go as far as LaVine and Markkanen take them. They’re the most important players. That’s just how the NBA works.

“When he gets on a roll, they have to guard the whole floor,” LaVine said of Markkanen. “He shouldn’t be in this slump for that long. We need to help him get out of it. I don’t think we’ve done a good job of that. We had to do a little more two-man game and find him early. Once he made his first two, he looked like the old Lauri. Hopefully it’s wheels up from there.”

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Jim Boylen reflects on his first calendar year as Bulls head coach

Jim Boylen reflects on his first calendar year as Bulls head coach

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of Jim Boylen succeeding Fred Hoiberg as Bulls coach.

“I don’t know if it feels like a year. It’s been such an intensive, 58-game game situation [last season] and then the busy summer. The season starts and you’re kind of in the thick of it,” Boylen said. “All I can say is I’m really enjoying it. I like this group of guys. I like the way we work. I like the way we practice. And I just really feel comfortable coaching these guys.”

Following Monday’s 113-106 victory over the Kings, which capped a 1-2 trip, the Bulls are 24-55 under Boylen.

Deep in a rebuild, they have posted one month of .500 basketball, going 5-5 last February. They have defeated five teams with winning records, none this season.

At 7-14, the Bulls are in the conversation for the league’s most disappointing team. Following a strong offseason in which the Bulls acquired targeted players and were widely praised by pundits, they landed in some prognosticators’ playoff picks.

Instead, Lauri Markkanen has looked like a shell of the breakout player many expected him to be, Zach LaVine posts advanced metrics that don’t always impact winning and a lack of wing depth has been exposed following injuries to Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison.

“My message is we have a young, competitive team that is working and learning,” Boylen said, when asked what he’d say to fans. “I understand your frustration with not winning more. But this is a team that is improving and trying and caring.”

Boylen has talked about establishing a style of play at both ends and has met management’s expectations regarding accountability and a direct, honest teaching component when dealing with players.

But it hasn’t yet translated to wins, although perhaps Monday’s solid road victory and upcoming home games against the lowly Grizzlies and Warriors can change matters.

The Bulls sank 16 of 37 3-pointers and scored 23 points off 18 Kings turnovers, posting nine steals. It’s amazing what happens to Boylen’s systems, which have consistently produced turnovers and open shots, when shots go in.

This season was supposed to be different because Boylen had a full training camp to implement his preferred philosophies. He didn’t have this opportunity when he took over for Hoiberg.

Boylen also added assistant coaching hires Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers to help impact the offense and defense, respectively. And while management had final say and the task of executing free agency, Boylen had input on offseason acquisitions Thad Young, Tomas Satoransky and Luke Kornet.

"[Expletive], yeah, it’s a growing process," LaVine said of Boylen's first year on the job. "We’re just taking it one day at a time. I’m just glad to get back on that winning streak. We need to start getting it going before it gets too late."

Asked if this season feels different than last, when the Bulls fielded a glorified G League team down the stretch because of injuries and players getting shut down, Boylen said it does “for a lot of reasons.”

“I have a relationship now as a head coach with the group, through a training camp and the first 20 games. Last year, I went from an assistant coach to the head coach. It’s a different vibe, a different feel,” he said. “I’m really enjoying it. I love the teaching part. I love the competitive part.  And I got a really good group of guys.

“Are we frustrated that our record’s not better? Of course we are. But I gauge it on these guys are working and caring. That’s what we have to do to break out.”

Could Monday be the start?

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There's no timetable for return of Otto Porter Jr., Chandler Hutchison

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USA Today

There's no timetable for return of Otto Porter Jr., Chandler Hutchison

SACRAMENTO, Calif. --- Even before injuries to Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, wing depth loomed as an issue for the Bulls.

Hutchison was coming off a rookie season shortened by injury. Porter has battled nagging injuries throughout his career. And Denzel Valentine was coming off missing an entire season to reconstructive ankle surgery.

On Tuesday, the Bulls fly back to Chicago following their three-game trip with Porter and Hutchison still out and Valentine not playing much although recently in the rotation. Coach Jim Boylen mostly has relied on a three-guard lineup featuring Kris Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono and Coby White. Both Shaquille Harrison and Dunn have started at small forward on this trip.

"It is frustrating. I try not to look at those things like it’s my frustration. I feel bad for the guy," Boylen said. "Obviously, the team needs (Porter). But I feel bad for him. I think he’s frustrated. It wears on him. He’s a competitive guy. He’s a winning player. So it’s very difficult for him."

Porter, in his first comments to reporters in a while, agreed.

"It’s definitely tough watching the guys go through that," Porter said of the team's 6-14 start. "I just try to remain positive. I still try to be a leader to them in the locker room, what I see out there when I’m watching, what we can do better. I’m always going to be voicing my opinion on what we should do or just adjustments out there on the court."

Boylen said Porter and Hutchison will be re-evaluated this week in Chicago. Porter has played just nine games this season because of a soft tissue injury to his left foot. Hutchison is on his third injury this season, a sprained right shoulder.

Originally, the Bulls listed Porter's injury as a sprained left foot. But a second MRI exam on Nov. 19 revealed bone bruising which the team disclosed in a release and Porter cited it as a bone bruise in his remarks to reporters.

"It takes time. Every day it gets a little better. Baby steps," Porter said. "You can reaggravate it absolutely. And that’s what we’re trying to monitor to make sure that these days that I do activities, the next day it’s not overaggravated or swells back up. We’re definitely watching it close."

Porter said he has been able to do some elliptical work and lift weights with some spot set shooting.

"I have no idea about coming back sooner or later.," Porter said. "The new MRI I’m supposed to be taking is just supposed to see how far along I’ve come. It will eliminate any other things that might’ve happened as far as like tissue and stuff like that. Looking forward to it."

Just like Boylen is looking forward to Porter's return, whenever it happens.

"We miss his calm, veteran demeanor," Boylen said. "I said this last year and this year too: He settles us down a bit, maybe at times we need that. He makes timely shots. He’s one of our better shooters. And he has positional size, which is a huge part of that big wing position. We miss those things. He has done a terrific job of trying to help the younger guys and stay connected even though he has been hurt. It’s difficult. But he has a veteran voice. He’s one of our captains. And he’s doing a good job of that."

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