Brooklyn Nets

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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3 things to look for: Bulls-Nets

3 things to look for: Bulls-Nets

Saturday's Bulls-Nets matchup is a game between two teams looking to get out of the cellar of the Eastern Conference. After a big offseason of change for both squads, neither expected to be coming into tonight with sub-.500 records. There is plenty of intrigue in this matchup, as this will mark the first time Bulls assistant coach Chris Fleming gets to faceoff against his former team. Here are three things to look for in tonight's Bulls-Nets matchup:

Can the Bulls take advantage of the Kyrie-less Nets?

The Bulls have had some solid luck in terms of matchups early in the season, avoiding several stars but still being unable to take advantage.

The Nets will be without superstar point guard Kyrie Irving on Saturday night, opening the door for the Bulls to pick up a much-needed win. Brooklyn's offensive rating is a whopping 10.4 points per possession worse when Irving is off the floor.

This team is still explosive on offense and capable of putting up points in a hurry because just like the Bulls, they "coach to the math."

Even without Irving, the Bulls will need to keep the Nets guards at bay, primarily Spencer Dinwiddie, who is averaging 17.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game. And in the case of Dinwiddie specifically, he may have a little extra motivation on Saturday night...

Spencer Dinwiddie "Revenge Game"?

When you think of "revenge game" possibilities against the Bulls, Spencer Dinwiddie is probably not the first name that comes to mind, but indeed, Dinwiddie played for the Bulls G League affiliate (Windy City Bulls) in the 2016-17 season.

Dinwiddie averaged 19.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 8.1 assists per game over 9 games with Windy City, the Brooklyn Nets called him up to the NBA (as he was not a two-way contract player with the Bulls) and the rest is history. What is intriguing about the whole situation is that the Bulls were quite point guard-needy at the time, deciding to go with Jerian Grant, Cam Payne, and Isaiah Canaan as their backups to then starter Rajon Rondo. He may not think about it often but Dinwiddie definitely remembers that while having the closest possible look at him with their G League team, the Bulls went on and let another team pick him up.

The Nets' belief in Dinwiddie has paid off tremendously. He is not the most explosive finisher by any means but he has the craft and guile to pull off a variety of impressive scoop shots, and he understands how and when to change speeds in order to put pressure on the defense.

At this point in the season, he is still mired in a shooting slump, hitting a paltry 29.3% of his 3-point shots. If the Bulls don't want to be the team that helps Dinwiddie break out his shooting slump, then they will need to be diligent in their perimeter closeouts.

The ultimate matchup of defense-first vs. offense-first philosophies 

The Bulls brought in assistant coaches Roy Rogers and Chris Fleming to help Jim Boylen run a more effective system in 2019-20 and so far the results have been encouraging, if not wholly successful, depending on who you talk to. The Bulls are indeed getting up more 3-point shots, taking dramatically fewer midrange shots, and avoiding post-ups, but they are still 28th in the league in offensive rating. Make no mistake though, Jim Boylen is and always will be a defense-first coach and thusly is pleased with the Bulls 14th-ranked defense (106.2 points allowed per 100 possessions).

Chicago's defense has been elite at forcing the opposition into mistakes. They lead the league in opponent's turnovers, forcing the opposition into a whopping 19.6 turnovers per game.

Their aggressive style of play has gotten them into trouble sometimes, like when Wendell Carter Jr. fouled out in 20 minutes in Thursday's loss to the Bucks. The fact that the Bulls managed to keep things tight down the stretch without Carter in Milwaukee was impressive but not something they want to make a habit of.

Daniel Gafford doesn't appear to be any closer to getting real rotation minutes, so Carter's defense, as the lone Bulls big man capable of proving solid rim protection and switch defense, holding up against the Nets attack will have a lot to do with his ability to stay on the floor.

The Bulls defensive rotations on the perimeter will be just as, if not more important against a Nets team that comes into Saturday night shooting 39.5% on 20.3 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game. Brooklyn is scoring 108.5 points per 100 possessions, good for the 10th best offensive rating in the league.

Boylen will need Carter to effectively quarterback the Bulls' trap-heavy system that, in the absence of Kyrie Irving—who had 17 points, 9 assists, and no turnovers against the Nuggets on Thursday—will look to get the ball out of the hands of Spencer Dinwiddie early and often. If the Bulls play defense like they have all season, there is no reason they shouldn't be able to comfortably take down a Nets team that is  25th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 111.0 points per 100 possessions.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Special guest Sarah Kustok

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Special guest Sarah Kustok

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill are joined by Nets broadcaster and Chicago native Sarah Kustok

1:30        How Sarah manages a very busy schedule working multiple roles

3:00        On the next step for the Brooklyn Nets

5:30        Sarah on being a pioneer in broadcasting and why she didn’t feel too much pressure

7:30        On the MVP race

8:45        Kendall explains his disdain for Harden not getting travel calls

11:00     Potential for the Bulls next season

13:55     Kendall, again, wants Derrick Rose back with the Bulls

15:00     On lottery night, reaction in Chicago and New York

16:20     Mark’s lottery reform and anti-tanking idea

18:00     Sarah’s summer plans

20:15     Sarah on when she returns to the United Center and Chicago

22:00     Kendall on his analyst work for DAZN boxing

23:30     Sarah on being a role-model to young female broadcasters

25:20     On Nets in free agency this summer

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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