Indiana Pacers

Coby White broke out against the Pacers, but remains dissatisfied

Coby White broke out against the Pacers, but remains dissatisfied

Coby White notched his first 20-point game in a month-and-a-half against the Pacers, and the full array was on display. In a spurt of particular poignance, the Bulls rookie forged a personal 9-0 run that pulled the Bulls to within 74-72 with 2:13 to go in the third quarter, the tightest margin since the end of the first. The UC was raucous.

“It was fun, it was fun. Me and [Zach LaVine] got hot, we went on a little streak,” White acknowledged. LaVine and White combined for 23 of the Bulls 26 third quarter points, draining seven 3s between the two of them.

But, as Bulls opponents do, the Pacers pulled away in the fourth, eventually grabbing a double-digit victory without their three best players in Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo. As far as silver linings go, White’s spark-plug 23-point, 5-for-9 3-point shooting performance shimmers. But after the fact, he wasn’t ready to talk moral victories.

“If you win, then everything works out for you. If you don't, nothing matters,” White said. “It sucks, we play so hard and we always come up short. Just gotta stay positive, though.”

That resonates, but it’s worth appreciating White’s splendor, especially with his opportunities as general of the Bulls’ second unit continuing to grow. So, after the game, Jim Boylen and LaVine took time to do just that.

“Coby's a confident scorer, he's a resilient young guy. He'll miss two in a row and he'll keep playing, and I think that's very important for us,” Boylen said. “He's a baller. He balls. He plays.

“He works very hard, he was in the gym yesterday for an hour-and-a-half. I sat there and watched him. He doesn't take days off, and he's a worker." Boylen went on to commend White's markedly improved off-hand finishing (by my count, he canned two lefty layups against the Pacers).

“Coby's off the charts, I mean, I told y'all that from the beginning of the year, I said this dude is big-time,” LaVine said. “He can score in bunches, he can score in many ways, towards the hoop, 3-pointers, midrange. You know, when he gets hot it's tough to guard him, and we gotta try to find him. And it was big, we needed it tonight.”

To his point, LaVine (43) and White (23) combined for 66 points against the Pacers. The rest of the Bulls’ rotation: 39. When White scores 18 or more, the Bulls own a 6-3 record — not eye-popping by any means, but notable for a team with only 13 total wins, at present. There’s no doubt White’s contributions are needed.

LaVine reasserted the playoffs as the team's goal, as did White. And as crazy as that might sound, with the Bulls near-equal distance from the East's eighth seed and No. 1 lottery odds, it’s not yet impossible. 

But even if that doesn’t come to fruition, perhaps the frenzies White has shown the ability to throw the Bulls faithful into (especially when working in concert with LaVine) will inspire a modicum of hope for what’s further on the horizon. The general efficiency over long stretches is still lacking for White, but he's shooting shot 40% from 3 on 4.5 attempts per game since the start of December.

For the time being, though, he’ll stay focused on continuing to improve and, of course, the team.

“We're still playing for something,” White said. “We just gotta keep grinding towards that.”

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What to watch for: Bulls-Pacers a matchup of polar playing styles

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USA Today

What to watch for: Bulls-Pacers a matchup of polar playing styles

Two struggling squads look to right their respective ships when the Pacers visit the Bulls tonight. The game tips at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Pacers’ last five games (2-3)

  • Jan. 8 — L vs. Heat: 122-108

  • Jan. 6 — W at Hornets: 115-104

  • Jan. 4 — L at Hawks: 116-111

  • Jan. 2 — L vs. Nuggets: 124-116

  • Dec. 31 — W vs. 76ers: 115-97

Storyline(s) to watch

Neither of these teams are playing particularly well, coming into this one. The Pacers enter play losers of six of their last nine and have a 116 defensive rating over that stretch (28th in the NBA). Their last game was a blowout loss to Miami that saw multiple heated exchanges between T.J. Warren and Jimmy Butler.

The Bulls, of course, are in the midst of a season-high five game losing streak, are a season-low (high?) 12 games under .500 and just lost Wendell Carter Jr. for at least a month. These teams linked up in Indiana on Nov. 3, when the Pacers essentially trounced the Bulls 108-95 without Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. Oladipo is still out, and Sabonis and starting point guard Malcolm Brogdon are both listed as questionable for tonight. Still, the Pacers are a solid overall team in need of a win, which could spell misfortune for the Bulls. 

Watch closely how the Bulls defense — which is rated 28th in the NBA over the team’s current five-game skid — continues to adjust and hold up without their anchor in Carter. That side of the ball has kept the Bulls in most of their games this season, but this upcoming stretch of schedule is precarious.

Player to watch: Domantas Sabonis

Here’s a comprehensive list of players that have averaged at least 18 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists on at least 52% shooting over a full NBA season:

  • Wilt Chamberlain (1963-64, ’65-69, ’69-71)

  • Jerry Lucas (1968-69)

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1971-76)

  • Bill Walton (1977-78)

  • Charles Barkley (1986-87)

Domantas Sabonis’ averages so far in 2019-20: 18 points, 13.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 52.8% shooting. Is that a cherry-pick? Of course it is! But it’s great company for the fourth-year big, nonetheless, and should give some semblance of how impressive a campaign he’s having (and a well-timed one at that, given that he signed a four-year, $74.9 million extension last offseason):

Sabonis runs the floor hard, crashes the glass, takes and makes an overwhelming amount of midrange jumpers, and capably facilitates from the elbows. He’s a tricky matchup for Lauri Markkanen, especially given his ability to move defenders on the block. The Bulls were fortunate to avoid Sabonis in their last meeting in Indiana, but expect him to wreak havoc tonight if he plays.

Matchup to watch: A clash of styles

There’s an intriguing polarity to this matchup. The Pacers play at the fourth-slowest PACE in the league (99.08 possessions per game), the Bulls the 13th-fastest (101.05). Indiana also takes the second-fewest 3-point attempts per game (while shooting a fifth-best 36.8% on those looks) in the league while the Bulls take the eighth-most (converting an 18th-ranked 35.4%). The Bulls are midrange-averse; the Pacers take 18.3 midrange attempts per game (second in the NBA).

All of that is to say, something has to give. The Bulls are at their best running off of turnovers, but the Pacers cough up the least of those in the league, with only 12.9 per game. And though Indiana doesn’t rank highly in most team rebounding metrics, Sabonis and Myles Turner will pose a whale of a challenge for a shorthanded Bulls frontcourt on the interior and boards.

Whichever team is able to play their game — and each teams’ ‘game’ is staunchly different — is likely to find an edge.

News and nuggets

  • After rolling with a starting frontcourt of Thad Young and Lauri Markkanen against the Pelicans, Daniel Gafford will start alongside Markkanen tonight. The high-flying, deftly mobile Gafford has been the most pleasant surprise on the Bulls this season, but he remains a rookie, and the Bulls' defensive style is both physically and mentally taxing to play. How many minutes Boylen is willing to run him and how he fares against one of the more physically imposing centers in the league in Myles Turner are points to monitor closely.

  • Malcolm Brogdon (back soreness) and Domantas Sabonis (knee soreness) are both currently listed as questionable for tonight. Brogdon was part of the shorthanded Pacers team that beat the Bulls in November, tallying 22 points and 7 assists.

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Daniel Gafford to start for Bulls against Indiana Pacers

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USA Today

Daniel Gafford to start for Bulls against Indiana Pacers

In advance of hosting the Indiana Pacers Friday night, Jim Boylen announced that Daniel Gafford will make his first NBA start. He'll slide into the center spot alongside Lauri Markkanen in the first unit.

That froncourt duo is something of an adjustment from Wendesday night's game in New Orleans, when Boylen ran Thad Young out with the starters.

"We think for this game that's a good situation," Boylen said of the decision, which will see Gafford match up with Pacers center Myles Turner. "There's a possibility that our starting lineup could float a little bit, I don't want to commit to that [moving forward], I just want you to be aware of it, and we'll see how that goes."

Boylen stressed that the decision is more matchup-based than a referendum on any one player or player combination, and to expect some mixing and matching going forward.

"We have all the confidence in the world in Gaff, this is not about who we're confident in and who we're not," Boylen said. "There's other things that go into it. Sometimes it's who their backups are that goes into it."

Gafford went scoreless with four rebounds and two blocks in 16 minutes of action against the Pelicans, the Bulls' first game without Wendell Carter Jr. Carter is set to miss at least 4-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain, and said today that he's targeting the All-Star break for his return.

Young had 18 points and six rebounds in 34:44 minutes on 7-for-16 shooting on Wednesday. The hope is Young's presence will help along a Bulls bench that mustered just 23 points in that game.

"Thad's tough and he's experienced, and he plays very hard. He's got great hands, he's got great instincts. We move him around, to his credit, he's done a good job for us," Boylen said. "It seems like he makes one or two threes every game. And we also get him on the box a little bit, and he throws the ball out and he makes good plays."

Boylen also lauded Markkanen for fighting through an ankle ailment of his own last week, and said there's "no doubt" he plays tonight.

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