Bulls get contributions top-to-bottom, outlast Timberwolves at home

Bulls get contributions top-to-bottom, outlast Timberwolves at home

The Zach LaVine Show can be tremendous fun. But, every once in a while, even he needs a little help from his friends. 

Against the Timberwolves, he got just enough. Including he and Lauri Markkanen — who eclipsed 20 points for the tenth time this season — the Bulls got double-digit scoring contributions from six players; Luke Kornet (15), Kris Dunn (14), Coby White (12) and Cristiano Felicio (12). Chandler Hutchison chipped in nine points and three steals, to boot.

"It helped us out a lot, especially when you can go deep into your bench like that," LaVine said. "I feel like that's how you can beat teams."

That's especially true on a night when LaVine wasn't his most prolific. He ended the game with 25 points, but with two-and-a-half minutes remaining and the Bulls trailing 105-104, he had just 18 on 6-for-15 shooting. As LaVine is wont to do, he did close the game out with seven of the Bulls' last 13 points, but credit the ancillary guys for keeping the team afloat during the meat of the game. A Bulls bench that had largely lost its umph since Dunn's insertion into the starting lineup outscored the Timberwolves' reserves 40-17.

"I think our second unit picked up our starters, and we obviously finished it out," LaVine said.

"It's really important to have everyone be able to step up, and you never kinda know night to night who it's gonna be," Kornet said. "Tonight was one of the more well-rounded games in that aspect and I feel like that's when you're the most difficult to play."

Kornet has now scored in double-figures in four of his last five games. Felicio's 12 points and 10 rebounds were both more than the nine points and seven rebounds he had this season entering play. Neither offered much resistance against Karl-Anthony Towns (40 points, 16-for-24 shooting), but neither were thought to be contibuting pieces as recently as a month ago. Their 27 combined points offset the Wolves' star as much as one could hope.

Jim Boylen also continued to tinker with his rotations, relying heavily on an ultra-small lineup of Tomas Satoransky, LaVine, Dunn, White and Markkanen down the stretch. He turned to it with the Bulls leading 104-103. Then, over three game minutes, they extended the lead to 113-108, essentially icing the game.

"I just thought we needed to score, we weren't gonna change our coverages unless we went to the switch and that group," Boylen said. "We just could not go through a drought in those last four minutes."

It's a win that befit what's been a tumultuous month of January. Even in victory, there was much to lament. A 19-point first half lead melted, giving way for a much-too-tense second half. Head-scratching mistakes continued to abound. In the eyes of many — especially the Bulls — this should have been a rout. 

But it's hard to gripe too much. The win moves the Bulls to 4-8 in January. 

"It's not progress that we let them back into the game," Markkanen said. "But it's nice to be able to pull the win down the stretch."

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Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders reflects on 'special bond' with Zach LaVine

Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders reflects on 'special bond' with Zach LaVine

When Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders recalls his time coaching Zach LaVine — as an assistant in Minnesota, for three seasons — basketball is far from the first thing that springs to mind.

"There's a lot of things I remember with Zach, because Zach is a player that I formed a special bond with," Saunders said. "A lot of the things I remember with Zach weren't necessarily basketball things. But how he treated people. He's one of the best guys I've been around at a young age, being mature in how he treated people within an organization, on the business side, everything, fans."

From there, personal anecdotes flowed out of Saunders. A walk around the Minnesota State Fair after LaVine's introductory press conference as a rookie. Watching proudly from the sideline as LaVine took part in the dunk contest at All-Star weekend. 

"He was in the gym two days before that in Minnesota, we were practicing his dunks," Saunders said. "And he was throwing off the wall and things like that."

"At night, I'd go back and call him up to help me and I'd see what he could do," LaVine said. "Cause I would go up there [to the gym] and gets shots up, and obviously practice dunking afterwards.

"Good memories. I enjoyed that part of my career."

Even after LaVine's tenure with the Timberwolves officially ended, that connection didn't — Saunders recalled his wedding day as evidence of that. To hear him tell it, LaVine's face was the first Saunders saw walking out of the church in which he married his wife, Hayley, back in 2017. LaVine had just been traded from the Timberwolves to the Bulls but was in attendance, anyway.

"He had raced from Chicago," Saunders said. "He had just gotten traded, but he still raced from Chicago. And his flight was delayed, but he had to be there. That's a moment that's always gonna stick with me."

"I told him I wasn't gonna miss it, there ain't no bad blood between us, I understand the business of basketball," LaVine said.

"They'll always be family to me."

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What to watch for: Karl-Anthony Towns is back, Timberwolves visit Bulls

What to watch for: Karl-Anthony Towns is back, Timberwolves visit Bulls

A returned Karl-Anthony Towns and the stumbling Minnesota Timberwolves roll into Chicago losers of their last six — can the Bulls take advantage? The game tips off at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Timberwolves’ last five games (0-5)

  • Jan. 20 — L vs. Nuggets: 107-100

  • Jan. 18 — L vs. Raptors: 122-112

  • Jan. 17 — L at Pacers: 116-114

  • Jan. 15 -- L vs. Pacers: 104-99

  • Jan. 13 — L vs. Thunder: 117-104

Storyline(s) to watch

Of the Timberwolves’ (15-28) 28 losses, 17 of them have come as a result of two rather lengthy losing streaks. The first — an 11-gamer from Dec. 1 to Dec. 23 — marred a surprising 10-8 start to the season and dropped them to the bottom of the Western Conference. Minnesota now rides into Chicago in the midst of a six-game winless stretch and losers of 20 of their last 25. 

Last week, the team shipped its starting point guard Jeff Teague to Atlanta, a signal of a shift towards development. Like the Bulls, the Timberwolves have implemented a sparkling new offensive system this season, and to similarly underwhelming results: Minnesota owns the league’s 22nd-rated offense (105.9 points per 100 possessions) and though they jack the third-most 3-point attempts per game in the NBA (39.3), they convert at the second-lowest clip (32.4%). On a team-wide basis, just about their only above average skill is running — they start Robert Covington in the power forward slot, rarely play two bigs together and rank seventh in the NBA in PACE

For the Bulls (16-29), this one kicks off a three-game stretch of relative reprieve. Currently 3-8 in the month of January, their next three opponents — Minnesota, Sacramento, Cleveland — own a cumulative record of 42-88, as of this writing. Zach LaVine watch continues: He’s averaging 28 points per game on 59.6% shooting in four career games against the team that drafted him and 30 points per game this January.

Player to watch: Karl-Anthony Towns

Towns missed an extended 15-game stretch from mid-December to mid-January with a sprained left knee, but returned last week. In three games since, he’s averaging 22.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4 assists per contest on 43.1/28.6/89.5 shooting splits — but that's a small sample size compared to the gaudy 26.5 points, 11.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists (51.4/41.8/79.6) averages he registered in 23 games before injury. He’s good.

 

Questions persist in regards to his defense, but Towns remains an absolute juggernaut of an offensive center, and his impact is immense. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Timberwolves score a whopping 14.1 points per 100 possessions more with Towns on the floor rather than off, sport a 54% eFG% with him (compared to 47.6% without) and he drastically (positively) impacts their volume and efficiency at the rim and from 3-point range. He can create from anywhere on the floor, and against the Bulls’ currently undermanned frontcourt, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him feast.

Matchup to watch: The Rooks

Coby White and Jarrett Culver were picked one spot away from each other in the 2019 draft (Culver no. 6, White no. 7). Now, they’ll square off for the first time.

With the aforementioned trade of Teague, the Wolves seem to have opened up a permanent spot and role in the starting lineup for Culver — a well-timed development. In the month of January, he’s averaging 14.5 points and 5 rebounds on 45.7% shooting (31 minutes per), and has scored in double-figures in 11 of his last 12 games. While the playmaking still needs some molding (0.57 assist:usage ratio), these are great strides for a player who got off to a clanky shooting start to the season.

White has had his ups and downs, as well, but has yet to be given the rein Culver has gotten recently (23.6 minutes per game in January). Still, he’s a candidate to break out on any given night, and while Culver’s defense is renowned, White outweighs him in pure scoring ability. If they find themselves across from one another, it adds another layer of intrigue to what should be a competitive matchup.

Injury report

No new official developments for the Bulls, but Otto Porter Jr. was at practice yesterday (sans boot) fielding rebounds for teammates. He’s still not cleared for any basketball activities as of yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. 

Jim Boylen: “It'd be wrong of me to give you a timetable on that [Porter’s return]. He's improving and what we're hoping for is as he gets his shoes back on and gets on the floor those juices start flowing and hopefully he can be back sooner rather than later. So, we'll see how it goes, we will not take a chance with him but we're excited about his progress.”

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