All posts by Jason Schwartz

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls end the first half on a high note with gritty win over the Celtics

17. That’s how many Thursday night home games the Bulls have won in a row on TNT. That’s incredible. Is that an obscure stat? Perhaps. Is it an explainable fact? Absolutely not. What makes this streak even more incredible is almost every game in that stretch has come against a very good basketball team. You don’t play the Jazz on TNT, you play the likes of the Celtics, the Cavs, the Raptors. Like I said it defies explanation, which is also a phrase that could be uttered to describe the ending of the Bulls (28-29) 104-103 win over the Celtics (37-20) last night.

With one minute and twenty seconds left in the fourth quarter, Doug McDermott had just hit his second consecutive free throw to pull the Bulls within one at a score of 103-102. Over the next three combined possessions that included two consecutive Bulls offensive rebounds, both teams could not add to their tally. So with eight seconds remaining and Bulls trailing by one, it came down to Jimmy to decide things.

Butler took his time setting up his move insuring his shot would be the last. From the right wing Jimmy awkwardly pulled up for a game-winning attempt while falling off-balance, the shot did not go. But after a dejected Bulls began heading toward their bench, they had realized a somewhat questionable foul had been called. Objectively, Marcus Smart played some pretty great D and may have grazed Jimmy’s elbow on the shot, but that’s not a call you make in that circumstance. As he has done so many times this year, Jimmy came through to knock down the ensuing two free throws to take a one point advantage. A last ditched effort from Al Hereford careened off the rim and the Bulls were heading into the All-Star break on a winning streak after back-to-back impressive wins over the Raptors and Celtics and within a game of the six-seed in the East.

My unsung hero of the night goes to the oft-maligned Bobby Portis. The reserve forward had a career high 19 points to go with eight rebounds on 8/13 shooting from the floor. 13 of those points came in the first-half when the Celtics were threatening to run away with this one as they shot 53 percent in the half. Portis was hitting jump shots from all over, including one from deep, and displayed the type of hustle the Bulls had dreamed about when they drafted the 2nd year pro number 20 overall in the 2015 draft. Portis still struggled a bit on the defensive end and turned the ball over twice from traveling, but the Arkansas grad showed something the Bulls hadn’t seen out of him in a long time, potential.

Another reason the Bulls won this game was due to their dominance on the glass. The Bulls out-rebounded the Celts 51-31 on the game including a staggering 15-4 edge on the offensive boards. This allowed the Bulls to win thanks to shooting noticeably worse than the Celtics thanks to the 13 extra shots they attempted compared to their opponents. This also resulted in a decided edge in second chance points, 22-4 in the Bulls favor.

Not everything went right for the Bulls, as they continued to stink up the joint from behind the arc. They shot 6/25 on the night (24 percent), lowering their league worse average from 31.8 percent. The lack of spacing in the Bulls offense often creates a log jam in the paint which makes it much more difficult to drive with any sort of efficiency. Doug has been hit or miss, while Niko got a DNP coach’s decision leaving the Bulls ammo-less. The Bulls will never be the Warriors in terms of shooting, but you have to at least make your opponent respect your shooting ability to free up space.

Isaiah Thomas continued his recent hot-stretch going for 29 points on 8/18 shooting while going an impressive 9/9 from the charity stripe and dishing out seven assists. The diminutive guard didn’t have his usual 4th quarter heroics, often forcing up shots in the final frame, but his ability to manipulate his body to get shots off in the lane against bigger defenders is extraordinary. Thomas is a worthy all-star, and I hope he doesn’t get overlooked (no pun intended) for his stature as his game speaks volumes.

Up Next: The Bulls get a reprieve for awhile as Jimmy Butler heads to New Orleans for the All-Star game this Sunday in the annual East vs. West clash.

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Note-A-Bulls: Warriors blow out the injury-riddled Bulls in Oracle Arena 123-92

Well, as far as Bulls losses go this year, at least this one was predictable. Sans Jimmy G Butler and Dwyane Wade against the best team in the league at Oracle Arena, the Bulls (26-27) got taken to the woodshed on Wednesday night by the Warriors (44-8) by a score of 123-92. The Bulls got outscored in each quarter and failed to ever really threaten the Dubs in this one. Without Butler and Wade, the Bulls lacked any serious scoring threat and any semblance of depth that could have kept this a game past the second quarter. Let’s see if we can find some positives to take from this overall stinker.

  • The Bulls actually started this one off competitive to the surprise of many. Halfway through the first, the Bulls found themselves knotted up at 11 apiece thanks to some quality defense and a generally high energy level. However, the Warriors promptly went on one of their patented runs, scoring 13 points in a row over the span of just a few minutes to create a gap that the Bulls would not be able to recover from.
  • In the second, the Bulls starting small forward for the night (Paul Zipser) fell victim to an injured ankle and would not return, depleting the already feeble Bulls roster even further. The injury didn’t appear too serious, but any injury is a major one at this point in the up-and-down campaign here.
  • The matchup between one of the best 3-point shooting teams in recent memory, and one of the worst, held true to form in this one. The Bulls shot a pedestrian 4/24 from deep on the night, a paltry 17%. Meanwhile, Klay and Draymond carried the load for the Warriors from outside combining for 11/15 shooting, 73%, in limited minutes. The duo were able to find open looks throughout the game as the Warriors as a whole finished 15/28 (54%) on the game. For those counting at home, that’s 33 more points Golden State scored from the beyond the arch than the Bulls, a devastating gap that few teams could overcome in today’s NBA.
  • With Wade and Butler out, Hoiberg was hoping to get a spark out of little used Denzel Valentine on the night. The rookie out of Michigan State failed to deliver after finally getting significant minutes. Valentine finished with a line of five points, three assists, and two turnovers while shooting just 2/11 in 21 minutes of game time. The rookie also finished with a +/- rating of -24 on the game. He was just not playing at the same speed as some of his counterparts and often found himself out of place on defense. The shooting was the least of Valentine’s issues in this one, as it was disappointing to see this effort after such a promising few games for the D-League Windy City Bulls.
  • On a night like Wednesday, you have to take some small victories from the game. In this case, the Bulls got some quality minutes out of their frontcourt starters Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez. The duo were the two highest scoring Bulls on the night and combined for a stat line of 32 points and 19 rebounds on 14/28 shooting (50%). With the two premier scoring options out in the backcourt, Gibson and Lopez stepped up and were visibly more aggressive in finding their shot when the opportunity arose. If these two can bring the same effort when Butler and Wade are back, it would go a long way in solving the Bulls scoring issues going forward.
  • For the Warriors, it was business as usual. The team’s ball movement was pristine, and their shooting was on the mark to fully take advantage of the fruits of their labor from all the quick passes this team executes. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant had stellar games to make up for a relatively off night from former MVP Stephen Curry.
  • I would give my MVP on the night to Green, as the more successful Michigan State product finished the night with 19 points on an efficient eight shots thanks to his previously mentioned three point stroke. Green also added eight boards and six dimes as the stat stuffer was doing it all for the Warriors on the offensive ends of things. Not many teams can win by 30 when their MVP scores only 13, but the Warriors aren’t most teams. Their scoring depth and general team-first ethic mean they can bully most teams without having to sweat out a competitive affair, as was the case last night.
  • Up Next: The Bulls continue this six-game road trip in Phoenix on Friday night as they take on the Suns.

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls bring the noise in a blowout win over the Thunder

Well the Bulls did it again. They played a great basketball game on the road against a quality team and made you wonder just how in the heck the Bulls (25-25) are a .500 team through 50 games this season. This W came in blowout fashion as the Thunder (28-22) lost their third straight since Enes Kanter went down with an injury. Let’s take a further look at how the Bulls managed a 128-100 win after all of their turmoil of the past week.

  • The first quarter was fairly even after the Bulls jumped out to an early nine-point lead. But poor shooting and general inconsistent movement on offense led to a fairly stagnant quarter as the Bulls clung to a 21-20 advantage after one.
  • The following two quarters decided this one. The Bulls shot lights out after the first while even Russell Westbrook couldn’t jumpstart the OKC offense in this one. The Bulls outscored the Thunder 73-53 over the middle two stanzas thanks to scoring from across the board (six Bulls in double-figures) while OKC became a one-man show.
  • It’s easy to attribute this game to a poor shooting night for one team (38% for OKC) combined with an unseasonably hot shooting game from the other (60% for the Bulls) but there was more to it in this one. The Bulls showed the kind of energy on both ends of the court that they often display against quality teas (especially on national TV for some reason). The result, more movement off the ball on offense creating more space and getting back on defense leading to minimal fast break points for OKC (18 on the night).
  • Finding consistency has been the issue ever since Hoiberg took over at the start of last year as they proved tonight they can beat anyone on any given night. While this one feels nice, knowing that they’ve lost home games to the Mavs and Heat take some shine out of it. Stringing five of these types of games together will be essential in what is shaping up to be a jam-packed back end of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
  • There were many positive takeaways on the night but one I want to focus on is Jerian Grant. He didn’t end with the best line 12 points, three assists, three rebounds on 5/7 shooting, but it was his energy in the first that got this team going. Grant had great vision, especially early on, and played very competent defense against a quality backcourt for the Thunder. If he can hit on his jumper like he did tonight with any consistency, Grant may find himself more ingrained in the rotation.
  • The disgruntled duo of Wade and Butler had themselves games as well. Wade ended the night with 18/7/7 on 7/12 shooting while posting a ridiculous +32 on the night. It still astounds me how crafty the veteran can be even after planting his pivot foot. Whether it’s drawing contact to get to the line or finding an open shot, Wade has one of the best pivot games in The Association.
  • Meanwhile Jimmy did Jimmy things posting 28 points on 11/17 shooting with a ho-hum five dimes, four boards, and three robberies against the Thunder. Every time OKC looked like they might creep back into it Butler would get aggressive and bully his way to the basket for an easy layup or getting to the line. He’s what Stacey King used to call Derrick Rose, a “run stopper”.
  • As for the Thunder, the lone bright spot on the evening was the jaw-dropping Russ Westbrook. Westbrook scored 28 points, assisted eight times, and grabbed five rebounds. While he still hasn’t recorded a triple-double against the Bulls (one of only three teams that can claim this), the little offense the Thunder did generate on Wednesday night was a result of him. Even being down 20, Russ was able to throw down a dunk that got me off my couch and generally makes everyone look like they’re in slow motion.
  • It’s obvious, however, that this team misses Enes Kanter. This team was lacking serious depth before the injury, meaning their bench is getting exposed now as there starters are forced to exhaust themselves throughout the game. I’m sure we’ll see a similar pattern as tonight, where the Thunder will stick around early before their depth catches up with them later in ball games. Russ can’t win games by himself every night despite what he might think.
  • Up Next: The Bulls play The Beard on Friday night in Houston as their second game of a six game road trip.

 

The T’Wolves: Their future may be bright, but their present leaves something to be desired

Future Western Conference power, dark horse playoff contender, the most exciting team in the NBA (minus the Dubs), these are just a few of the phrases that were tossed around in various season previews for the Minnesota Timberwolves to hype the team of tomorrow. There was promise everywhere as the team had an embarrassment of young talent to show off. The list included: Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Ricky Rubio, and Kris Dunn. None of these players were over 26 and only Rubio had been in The Association for more than 3 years. This was going to be the year the rebuilding Wolves finally had the depth and chemistry to make a legit run at the playoffs and beyond. Add to the mix the hottest free agent coach, Tom Thibodeau, joining the mix with his defensive genius and all of the pieces were there. It really is no surprise that several experts had the Wolves ending the season in the top 5 in the Western Conference.

Well, we’re currently 43 games into the regular season and that same Minnesota squad littered with talent is sitting in 12th in the Western Conference with a 15-28 record. So where did all that hype go? Well it still appears to be there, it’s just going to take a little longer than the fans in Minny would have hoped. Let’s begin with the positives, there still appears to be A LOT of talent on the Wolves. They have three players averaging near or more than 20 points per game: Karl Anthony-Towns (22.3), Andrew Wiggins (21.7), and Zach LaVine (19.8). And the best part? They are all 21 years old. That’s insane that their three top scorers are all so young and inexperienced and they still have that much room for growth.

To go off of that, Karl Anthony-Towns has established himself already as one of the premier big men in the league. The University of Kentucky product is following up his impressive Rookie of the Year campaign with an even bigger year. He is averaging a slash line of 22/12/3. Those are eye popping numbers for a second year player, especially those three assists per game which shows he’s seeing the court well and understanding the game at a much easier pace. Along with Joel Embiid, Towns has one of the brightest futures for any big guy in the leagues and will surely be in the MVP conversation down the road.

Now let’s take a look at why we’re all pumping the breaks on those preseason expectations and why they sit in 12th in the Western Conference standings. When Thibodeau took over, experts were expecting the defense to improve immediately making them into this young contending squad. However, that has not come to fruition at this point in year one of Thibs behind the bench for the Wolves. They are giving up 104.3 PPG, slightly better than the league average but nothing to write home about. Additionally, they are fourth worst in the league in opponents field goal percentage at 46.9%. This means that they are allowing their opponents easy looks at an alarming rate, which should not be the case under defensive guru Thibs. So what’s the issue? Is it youth, chemistry, effort? Probably a combination of all three but I think there is another issue in play here, tiredness.

Thibs is back to his old ways, running his best players into the ground. This was always a huge criticism of his time during the Bulls would be burning the tires on his most valuable players even when his team was up by a lot. That has not changed with his move to Minnesota as his three best players this year (Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine) are all in the top nine in the NBA in minutes played per game with LaVine leading the way at 37.3 MPG. These guys aren’t used to playing this many minutes and can easily lead to defensive lapses throughout the course of a 48 minute game. Additionally, it’s also not a great plan to run these young athletic players into the ground within their first few years in the league, especially for a team that isn’t going anywhere fast this season.

All in all, this is still a team to fear going forward. At some point, all of this young talent is going to mature and they will get their defensive feet under them with an expert in the subject at the helm. I think experts and fans alike just jumped the gun at how good these guys could be this early. However, if at this point next year the Wolves are still on the outside looking in at the playoff race, then maybe we have to look at the team chemistry and coaching as not a fit for these incredible youngsters. Here’s to hoping they figure it out and can survive the dreaded Thibs minutes.    

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls lose another head-scratcher to the Mavericks 99-98 at the UC

Well I wish I could say I’m surprised. Coming off back-to-back wins including an impressive W on the road in Memphis, the Bulls (21-22) did what they do best, confuse the hell out of you. While Taj Gibson was out of the lineup tonight with a minor injury, there is no excuse for losing to the Dallas Mavericks (14-27) at home. One month after blitzing the Bulls in Big D by a score of 107-82, the Mavs squeaked by the Bulls 99-98 (no Big Mac sorry) on Tuesday night. Let’s take a look at how one of the more disappointing losses of the season unfolded.

  • Let’s start with the ending. The Bulls tied the game up on a nice runner in the lane from Doug McDermott following a great cut to the basket that sprung him loose. After a big defensive stop the Bulls turned to Jimmy to once again be their closer, and once again he delivered on a long, contested jumper that put the Bulls up 98-96 and all was right with the world.
  • However, the Bulls got caught celebrating the make as they were anticipating Dallas to call timeout, only one never came. With the Bulls out of position, Nikola Mirotic got switched on to Deron Williams. D-Will proceeded to easily guide past Niko before dishing a beautiful pass over to Wesley Matthews who hit the clutch go-ahead 3.
  • Niko should have given Deron more cushion knowing that he is quicker and was only 1/5 from deep in the game. But after trying to face guard him, it forced Wade to come help leaving Matthews wide open, it’s the little things that get magnified late in games and end up turning W’s into L’s.
  • Fortunately, there was still 11 seconds left. Unfortunately, Hoiberg forgot to draw up a play, or so it seemed. Jimmy got the ball and was stuffed from going anywhere but luckily had the ball knocked out of his hands right to Wade. Unluckily, Wade missed the tough fadeaway as time expired to seal the Bulls fate.
  • Why no pick and roll? Why not let Rondo start with it and get it to Jimmy deeper in the paint? Anything would have been better than letting Jimmy try and beat Matthews 1-on-1 after Matthews had done a good job on him all night. Going pick and roll and giving Jimmy even a little space or ability to play make disappeared with this stand still offensive set and set the Bulls up for inevitable failure.
  • Obviously I just took a lot of time there breaking down what amounts to about 2% of the actual game But it is precisely these small mistake throughout the game that makes a good team mediocre. Not knowing scouting reports, not adjusting to in-game flow, not hustling back on defense after a make. All of these things turn wins in to losses and could mean the difference between facing the Cavs or Raptors in the first round, or missing the playoffs altogether! Alright, I’m done ranting now.
  • Let’s talk about some good things the Bulls did against the Mavs. Jimmy had a Jimmy game going for 24 points, 12 assists, and nine boards just missing out on a triple-double. He also got to the line an impressive 16 times making 14 of them, something he’s gotten exponentially better at these last couple of seasons.
  • Robin Lopez had a stellar offensive night for his standards as well. RoLo scored 21 points on 10/15 shooting and did it every which way. Put backs, jumpers, post moves, crazy “and-1s”, you name it Lopez executed it tonight and gave the Bulls a nice inside presence with Gibson out for the night.
  • The Mavs had a balanced scoring attack all night with six players in double-figured getting a game high 20 from Harrison Barnes. The MVP of the night though goes to Wesley Matthews who dueled with his Marquette brethren Butler all game long. He finished with only 11 points and four rebounds but played terrific defense on Jimmy all night holding him to only 12 field goal attempts and five makes forcing him to pass up shots he usually takes. Matthews was also the man to hit the biggest shot of the game to send a dagger into Bulls fans hearts.
  • Up Next: The Bulls travel to the ATL on Friday night to take on Dwight Howard and the Hawks.