Bulls

Hamilton excited about postponed return to native region

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Hamilton excited about postponed return to native region

PHILADELPHIA The last time the Bulls were in the City of Brotherly Love, their player with the closest ties to the region, veteran shooting guard Rip Hamilton, was unavailable to play against the 76ers. In fact, going back to their previous outing, a win at Washington in the second game of a season-long nine-game road trip, Hamilton was absent and wouldnt see game action until after the All-Star break.

This time around, Hamilton, a native of nearby Coatesville, Pa., is once again healthy and the fully-intact Bulls are on a mission for revenge after a uncharacteristically lackluster defeat in that February game. For the veteran shooting guard, Sundays contest is even more significant because for the first time since his former team, the Pistons, were a postseason participant, his loved ones will get to see him on a serious contender.

I was highly disappointed last time, not getting the opportunity to play here. I always get excited about coming back home and playing in front of my friends and family, Hamilton, who insisted that he grew up a Bulls, not Sixers fan, said before the Bulls Sunday-morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center. Its always exciting to be back and playing at a high level. My family appreciates it. Theyre my supporters, regardless of what the situation is. They want to come and support me and its a great opportunity for them to come out and do it.

Its a reunion for Hamilton in another way, as well. As a young player with the Wizards, he was coached by current Philadelphia and former Chicago head coach Doug Collins. Needless to say, the 13-year veteran isnt surprised by his former mentors success with the Sixers.

Doug does a great job. Dougs a great coach I had him when I was in Washington so he does an excellent job of getting those guys ready and getting them prepared. Anytime hes coaching a team, good things can happen, Hamilton explained. I think what Doug does is he teaches kids how to play the right way. When I was in Washington, he showed me a couple tricks and showed me how to play the game, so for any young kid, hes tough, hes hard, but he respects the game and always brings the best out of you.

The feeling is mutual. Collins, a former broadcaster between coaching stints, went into great detail when breaking down Hamiltons game.

If Rip is healthy, hes got great speed off the ball. He probably uses screens, reads screens as well as anybody in the NBA. You can post him up a little bit. The Bulls are actually posting him if you get him in a favorable matchup. Were expecting him to probably try to post up against Jodie Meeks to start the game tonight, but where Rip has really improved, I think, through his championship days in Detroit, is when he comes off those screens, hes become a much better passer.

"If that big guy helps up, he does a much better job of finding that big guy rolling to the basket and hes very, very good in the open court. Good defender, so he has a very good all-around game and his maturity as a veteran, he said. Hes been there. I think the Pistons went to six straight conference finals and were in the NBA Finals twice and won it once, so he brings a very experienced guy, who under pressure is a really good player. Hes won a national championship, hes won an NBA championship, so Rip is a champion and you put that on your team. Now, you have Korver coming off your bench and you have those kind of guys who can really shoot the ball. They have the ability to go small if they want to. They can move Lu to the four and cause problems, so they have a lot of versatility. Pax and Gar have done a really good job with their team.

The one thing with Rip, he was as always, I thought, as well-conditioned a player as anyone in the NBA. He can run all day and to me, when you can do that, you can wear people down. I played the two-guard position and I talked to Rip about playing that position and understanding what teams are doing against you, how are they playing you, reading the defense and I used to always tell him, Dont fight pressure with pressure; go away from pressure, so if theyre doing something, go away from that; dont try to fight them with that, Collins added. Im really proud of Rip. I know hes from Coatesville and very proud of being from this area, and Im sure hes going to want to come out tonight and play great in front of his family and a lot of friends.

The Bulls offense goes as Zach LaVine goes, and right now Zach LaVine is tired

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The Bulls offense goes as Zach LaVine goes, and right now Zach LaVine is tired

He’s far too competitive a player and far too patient a teammate to use it as any sort of excuse, but if the past six games are any indication it’s not something he had to admit to be seen: Zach LaVine is tired.

The Bulls shooting guard had another high-volume performance in their Monday night loss to the Dallas Mavericks. And in another 41 minutes LaVine once again struggled with his shot and made a handful of careless turnovers that doomed a Bulls offense that’s asking as much as they can from him.

Facing a Mavericks team ranked 24th in defensive efficiency and missing perhaps its best perimeter defender in Wesley Matthews, LaVine shot 8 of 23 and missed all six 3-point attempts, finishing with 26 points and the seven turnovers. With his most recent inefficient outing, LaVine is now shooting 44.8 percent from the field.

“I’m tired, I’m alright. Doing everything I can,” he said. “I’m making mistakes, missing shots that are real easy. Didn’t hit any threes today. I’ve got easy things I can do better at. I always ask more of myself but I’m doing everything I can.”

LaVine’s streak of scoring 20 or more points reached 14 games, the second longest Bulls streak behind Michael Jordan, but it came in far different fashion from earlier in the season. LaVine, clearly the focal point of a Mavericks defense that rushed him, blitzed him and pushed him out on the perimeter whenever possible, missed his first five shots, threw up two uncharacteristic air balls and was just 2 of 14 outside the painted area.

True, he went to the free throw line 11 more times and made 10 to help offset the ugly shooting. But it wasn’t enough on a Bulls team that simply can’t find a consistent second scorer and seems to feed off both LaVine’s prowess and his struggles. The Bulls struggled on Monday as LaVine did, shooting below 40 percent, making just eight 3-pointers and finishing with more turnovers (17) than assists (16).

It was yet another performance to add to a troubling trend for both LaVine and the Bulls. In his last six games LaVine is shooting 50 for 134 (37.3 percent) and that includes a 13-for-25 outing against the Knicks. Take out that performance and he’s shooting 33 percent. He also has 27 turnovers and 27 assists and is shooting 25.6 percent from beyond the arc.

The Bulls, not coincidentally, haven’t fared much better. They ranked 16th in the NBA in offensive efficiency through eight games (108.3), but since the Golden State debacle have plummeted to 29th (100.3), and their last three games have come against bottom-six defenses (New Orleans, 25th; Cleveland, 29th; Dallas, 24th). The Bulls are 2-4 during this stretch, winning games in which LaVine shot well in New York and the one-point win over a 1-10 Cavaliers team.

Though LaVine has had eight- and seven-turnover nights during the stretch, he also had two combined turnovers in 77 minutes against the Pelicans and Cavaliers. LaVine needs to shoot through his slump because the Bulls offense requires it, but he’s also making the right play more often than not. He had three first-quarter assists on Monday when the Bulls offense looked its sharpest.

“I give Zach a lot of credit for as much volume as he has on the offensive end right now, as much as we’re playing through him, he is growing on making the simple play and getting better with that. It needs to continue. He needs to make the right play.”

It’s a tall order to ask of him. Off nights from LaVine, and even slumps like the one he’s in now, would be fine if issue if Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis or any combination of the three were available. But he’s averaging more than 40 minutes per game in that stretch and continues to rank among the NBA’s highest usage rates.

Regression from his early-season performances when he shot 51 percent from the field in eight games to begin the year was expected. That early stretch was a healthy, rested LaVine, not an aberration. What we’re in the middle of is a tired LaVine taking on a ridiculous burden for an offense that needs all of him every night. When he doesn’t perform, so too does a Bulls offense that got 6 of 17 shooting from Jabari Parker and seven points from Wendell Carter Jr.

Reinforcements are still weeks away. For now, LaVine will need to pick and choose his spots, make the right play and yet still find a way to score near 30 points each night. It’s a lot to ask, but he’s ready for the challenge.

“It’s a tough situation,” LaVine said of the defensive attention he’s receiving, “but I still have to be aggressive. It’s more me figuring out when’s the right time to attack and when’s the right time to just get off the ball.”

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: The Blackhawks losing streak extends to 8

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: The Blackhawks losing streak extends to 8

The Blackhawks losing streak extended to eight games with an overtime loss in Carolina, but there were some signs of improvement with the team. Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss Jeremy Colliton going to the “nuclear option,” pairing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the same line. It seemed to work, but how did the other lines fare?

Plus, how close are we to seeing some calls made to Rockford and how important are the next two “winnable” games?

0:45 - Mindset of the team after their 8th straight loss

2:00 - Opposition getting quality chances against hawks goalies

4:00 - Toews and Kane playing on the same line

5:00 - Nick Schmaltz needs to take more shots

5:45 - Colliton's lines during overtime

8:00 - DeBrincat playing on a line with Kampf and Kahun

9:45 - Debrincat with more goals than Kane or Roenick through 100 career games

11:45 -  How close are the Blackhawks to making some callups from Rockford to give the team a boost?

14:00 - Hawks get a chance against 2 other struggling teams in Blues and Knights

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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