Kyrie Irving

How losing Kris Dunn could force Bulls to view rest of season differently

How losing Kris Dunn could force Bulls to view rest of season differently

NEW YORK — The Bulls have navigated 14 games without Wendell Carter Jr., their best interior defender. Now, they could be forced to make do without their best perimeter defender for a while.

Kris Dunn is scheduled to return to Chicago Saturday, where team physicians will evaluate the right knee injury he suffered just 13 seconds after tipoff in the Nets’ 133-118 blowout of the Bulls.

Coach Jim Boylen wouldn’t speculate on the severity of Dunn’s injury, which occurred when Thad Young’s head smashed into Dunn’s knee as Young took a charge from Joe Harris. But there was considerable concern emanating from the Bulls as they prepared to travel to Toronto without Dunn.

“It sucks man,” Zach LaVine said. “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.

“I think if our record is better, he’ll get more national coverage. I think he’s an All-League defender. He’s tops in steals. He guards the best player each night. Sometimes he takes him out, makes it tough for him. He has meant a lot for us. He’s the toughest dude on the team, not scared of anybody. He means a lot to us. It’s going to suck.”

It certainly did Friday night. Kyrie Irving is the type of talent that can go nuts on even the best defenders. But without Dunn, Irving carved up the Bulls for 54 points on 19-for-23 shooting, including 7-for-9 from 3-point range. Irving’s output marked his season-high and an opponent season-high against the Bulls.

“He made 3s, contested 3s. That got him going,” 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.”

Irving produced his prodigious output in just 32 minutes. And his 82.6 percent shooting marked the highest percentage in a 50-point game since Michael Jordan shot 82.8 percent while scoring 52 points on Nov. 16, 1988.

That’s a long time ago.

“We’ve been a very good defensive team. We’re going to continue to work at being a good defensive team,” Boylen said. “We’ll coach our guys to maintain that. That’s what we do.”

The Bulls whittled a 21-point deficit to six points early in the fourth. But in shooting 62.5 percent while making 50 field goals, the Nets posted Bulls’ opponent season-highs in those two categories as well as points.

LaVine said he offered some words of encouragement to Dunn at halftime, when the Bulls were getting their “ass whooped.” LaVine paused.

“It didn’t change a lot by the end of the game,” he said.

If Dunn faces an extended absence, the Bulls may have to get used to more defensive efforts like this one. Beyond that, a possible extended absence on top of all the other injuries could force management to view the remainder of this season differently.

The Bulls are now 3.5 games out of a playoff spot, and their closing schedule is brutal.

LaMelo Ball, the possible No. 1 pick in this June’s draft, watched the proceedings from a baseline seat. The third season of the rebuild was supposed to bring relevancy. Could it again bring chasing dreams in the form of draft lottery ping-pong balls?

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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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Shoulder soreness knocks Nets guard Kyrie Irving out vs. Bulls

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USA Today

Shoulder soreness knocks Nets guard Kyrie Irving out vs. Bulls

Another game, another opportunity.

The Bulls' early-season schedule has been filled with feast and famine in terms of opposing stars.

On the one hand, they've faced five former most valuable players in Derrick Rose, LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. On the other, they've avoided several significant players,  with Nets guard Kyrie Irving becoming the latest.

The Nets announced that Irving, who has been battling shoulder soreness on their current trip, won't play Saturday evening against the Bulls. Spencer Dinwiddie is a likely candidate to replace him as a starter. The Nets are 1-3 on this five-game trip, which concludes Saturday.

When the Bulls played the Pistons, Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson sat. When the Bulls played the Pacers, Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis sat. When the played the Hawks, John Collins didn't play.

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