All posts by Jared Wyllys

BULLet Points: Bulls grind out important win in Detroit on MLK Day

The Bulls are entering one of the toughest stretches of games that they will see all year, so Monday’s matinee win over the Detroit Pistons was vital to preserving their spot near the top of the Eastern Conference as the season nears its halfway point. The Bulls move to 24-16 on this victory, and maintain their spot just a game behind Toronto for the third spot in the Eastern Conference. Monday’s 111-101 win raised some questions about the Bulls and their need for Joakim Noah following his season ending injury on Friday night, but much of this is too early to tell. Here’s a look at how the Bulls held off a very strong Detroit team on Monday.

  • Bench play. The Bulls bench players scored a combined 33 points on Monday to just 18 from the Pistons. Aaron Brooks and Doug McDermott combined for 17 of those points, and Nikola Mirotic, though he didn’t get the start tonight even in Noah’s absence, added 10 points of his own. Otherwise, E’Twuan Moore added six to round out the bench scoring. With the exception of Bobby Portis, the bench had a +/- that averaged over +11 collectively. Brooks had a ridiculous 10 assists as well.
  • Pau Gasol. I can’t get too far into this without mentioning Gasol and the work that he did against Detroit. He played nearly the most minutes of the afternoon, second only to Jimmy Butler and his 13/18 from the field was instrumental for a team that was down by six points when the first quarter ended. Gasol also led the team with 31 points on offense to go with 12 rebounds, 10 of which came on defense.
  • Detroit’s collapse. The Pistons shot an insane 68% in the first quarter to take a six point lead as the quarter ended, but they folded as the game progressed. The third quarter was their roughest patch, as they were called for three technical fouls, two of which were against Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was ejected. Detroit had led by as much as 13 at one point in the third quarter, and coming off of their 18 point victory over the seemingly untouchable Golden State Warriors on Saturday, this was a matchup that I was a little concerned about, especially since it was a road game for the Bulls.
  • Better off without Jo? This is a question that I hate to even ask on the heels of his very devastating injury on Friday night that has effectively ended his season, and it is obviously one that cannot be answered after just one game without him, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on. Fred Hoiberg and Derrick Rose had a few things to say about the question today:

“I don’t think you could find one guy in that locker room that would say we’re a better team,” Hoiberg said. “He does so many things.”

“I’m not going to say that we’re over him or we don’t need him. We need him for sure,” Rose said. “But we’re professionals. We know that once someone goes out, somebody has to step in and do that job, and we believe in everybody on this team.”

  • I don’t want to read too much into this, but I would probably have said that the Bulls were better off, if even slightly, before he was injured. Noah turns 31 in February, so he has been in the league for a considerable amount of time, so his decline as a player is inevitable. Noah has posted a 14.3 PER so far this year, which is lower than even his rookie year nine seasons ago.
  • Where’s Bobby Portis? On Monday, Portis played for just over three minutes and did not score at all. He has not hit double digits in minutes in about a week, and Portis has not shown the flashes of brilliance that drew us to him a couple of weeks ago, and consequentially he has been seeing a diminished role off of the bench since then. Monday would have been a good opportunity to capitalize on the minutes that he was getting, but he did not score and he had just two rebounds.
  • Jimmy Butler, All Star? The voting ended on Monday night, and Butler stands a chance to be voted in as a starter. He has certainly earned a spot and probably deserves to start, but it’s more likely he is selected as a reserve behind Dwyane Wade and Kyle Lowry, likely vote winners.
  • Coming up, the Bulls will test their mettle at the United Center on Wednesday night against the 38-4 Golden State Warriors.

BULLet Points: Bulls run out of gas in Milwaukee, drop third straight

After six consecutive wins leading up to the weekend, the Bulls were starting to look like they were going to put together a very nice roll. Of course, two straight losses on Saturday and Monday night put a damper on those positive vibes that were starting to surround this team. That’s why Tuesday’s road game was especially important. Unfortunately, the Bulls lost 106-101 in a game that ultimately ended with a score that belies how overmatched the Bulls looked through much of the second half especially. These three losses in a row have left that six game winning streak feeling like a distant memory, and the Bulls move to 22-15 after this loss, a half game behind Atlanta in the Eastern Conference.

  • The Bulls came out hot in the first quarter, looking almost like they were going to put their two game mini-losing streak to an end, going up by nine as the quarter ended. The starting five of Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler, and Derrick Rose shot well and often, and at least started the night off on a good note.
  • Tony Snell provided some much needed spark in the second quarter, at the point in the game when it felt very much like the Bulls were actively working to give it away. His seven points in that quarter helped to propel them from squandering a nine point lead that they had built in the first quarter. Snell had a string of solid games at the end of December, but he had not been having much of an impact since the new year. Though he is not likely to serve as the catalyst much of the time and can be maddeningly inconsistent, he was the man for the job tonight.
  • Shooting from inside. Most notably, the Bulls were 4/17 from the paint in the second quarter, and if you compare that to their 5/9 in the first, you can see a big part of what caused them to go from leading by nine to getting outscored by five a quarter later. They were 3/9 in the third quarter and just 1/5 in the fourth.
  • In the third quarter, the Bucks came out with considerably more energy, moving past the Bulls with relative ease. In fact, the Bulls looked flat, especially on defense, often just standing completely still. Some of this lack of energy could come of course from the fact that the Bulls were on their third game in four days, including these back to back nights, but Milwaukee really ran the floor with them as the second half started. Really, the third quarter was looking like just bad upon bad, at least until about the 4:00 mark, when they had finally whittled what had been an eight point Bucks lead back down to a tie.
  • The turning point during the third quarter run came from the work of Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, and a timely three pointer from Aaron Brooks that forced a Milwaukee time out. This 8-0 run came on the heels of two missed free throws from Jabari Parker that could have put Milwaukee up by double digits.
  • Derrick Rose went to the bench almost as immediately as the third quarter started to have his knee checked. He continued to get worked on as the quarter progressed. As the fourth quarter started, Rose was on a stationary bike and he eventually returned about halfway through the quarter, but it was short lived. He returned to the bench after just a couple of minutes of play, and then went into the locker room with left patella tendinitis. In hindsight, having him work so hard to return in the second half doesn’t seem worth it. Rose has been on a nice stretch of games lately, shooting just under 45% in his last 17 games and almost 50% in his last four.
  • I would be remiss to fail to mention the night that Jimmy Butler had, even if the final outcome was not the desired one. He came pretty close to a double-double, with 30 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. His night was perhaps a bit soured by four turnovers. He ended up shooting 42.8% from the field, and 83% at the free throw line.
  • Given the recent success that he has experienced, it was a bit surprising to see Bobby Portis log such a small number of minutes. He saw just four minutes off of the bench, and he did not see any action in the second half at all, at a time when it seemed the most like the Bulls could have used some fresh legs. This may have been in part beacuse of an especially poor outing against the Wizards on Saturday, but also possibly because Portis was so in over his head when attempting to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even then, with as gassed as the Bulls looked, I expected to see more of him in the second half. Definitely something to monitor now that all the Bulls’ bigs are healthy again.
  • This game seemed to come down largely to energy, and it was very apparent in the second half. The Bulls managed to bring the game within two points on a pair of Jimmy Butler free throws, but that was followed by six straight points from Milwaukee for the final dagger. Like I mentioned earlier, the Bulls were playing on their second night in a row, and although the travel from the United Center on Monday night to Milwaukee tonight isn’t exactly strenuous, this kind of scheduling rarely favors the road team.
  • Coming up: the Bulls will thankfully get two nights off in a row, as they’ll play the hapless 76ers on Thursday night in Philadelphia.

BULLet Points: Bulls continue to roll with win over Bucks

  • Don’t look now, but the Bulls have not lost since the day after Christmas. That’s five wins in a row, including tonight’s 117-106 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at the United Center. This run puts them at 21-12 and 2.5 games behind Cleveland in the Eastern Conference. This year’s team has felt much like one that is working to find it’s identity, and it seems like it’s coming down to a changing of the guard, so to speak. I would normally resist such a cliche, but it works in this case, as it is increasingly apparent that this is probably Jimmy Butler’s team. Our own Jacob Bikshorn wrote on this topic just a couple of days before Butler’s record setting 40 point second half on Sunday afternoon.
  • Butler continued this dominance against the Bucks, extending his streak to 41 straight games with a steal, as well as leading the team in scoring with 32 points. What was perhaps even more impressive though was the team-leading 10 assists. He had just two turnovers (Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol combined for nine). As the season moves toward its second half, I am convinced that the Bulls will rise and fall with Jimmy Butler. Not long ago, on a relatively rare off night for Butler, the bench picked him up, but generally speaking the Bulls need Butler to be the kind of player he has been the last two games particularly. Butler currently has a PER of 21.3. The only regular player who tops this is Gasol at 22, and no one else comes all that close.
  • Bobby Portis has worked in recent weeks to earn more and more minutes on the floor, and while tonight may not have been his strongest recent outing, he added eight points and eight rebounds. Portis has a PER of 17.1, which is third in team ranking, but it is worth mentioning that his total minutes are still much, much lower than a lot of other guys on the team. I do think that Portis needs to stay on the floor for at least 20 minutes a night when he’s not a starter, but with increased minutes, we may see some of these numbers come to earth a bit.
  • I was perhaps a little hard on Pau Gasol in my last game recap, so I feel like I should acknowledge the night he had as well. He and Taj Gibson looked good in the post early in the game, and Gasol put together just a completely solid night. His 10 defensive rebounds and five assists were the icing on top of 26 points. As I mentioned earlier, he did contribute for a number of the team’s turnovers, but his aggressiveness in the post and on the boards contributed to some of this, so it is not entirely a bad thing. I’m probably still not ready to trust Gasol to do this on a regular basis, so I want to see more of Portis on the floor as the season progresses.
  • The Bulls were perfect from the free throw line. Though my personal experience as a basketball player was quite limited (hey, I watched a lot of games in high school from the best seats in the house, if you know what I mean), one of the most basic axioms of my years of attempting to play the sport at least passably enough that I didn’t embarrass myself was that if you can draw fouls and then make your free throws, then that is an immense value added. The Bulls shot 20 free throws tonight and made all of them, and though the Bucks shot well, they had 14 chances at the line, and made just eight of those. That’s a 12 point difference, and if you look at the final score, you don’t have to think too carefully to see how much that matters in the game’s outcome. The team shoots well from the stripe as a whole, at just under 77%.
  • I was a big fan of Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker as he came into the league, but he’s not putting together a particularly strong season. In fact, he’s had some pretty rough nights, and tonight was probably one of his weaker outings. He was just 5/12 from the field and did not have a single assist. His +/- for the night was -21, which he has only topped once during the season, about a month ago against the Clippers. His NBA experience is so limited, however, that I don’t want to rush to any judgment about him based on just 55 career games thus far.
  • Coming up: the Bulls will be looking to win their sixth in a row against the Celtics on Thursday.

BULLet Points: Bulls take out Raptors with return of the “Bench Mob”

  • I feel like I should begin by giving some credit to those who made the trek to the United Center tonight even in what has been one of the worst winter storms we’ve seen in a while. Those in attendance were treated to a bit of a pleasant surprise of a win, as the Bulls came out victorious, 104-97 and improving to 17-12.
  • The first quarter got off to a very slow start, as the Bulls went down by nine to start the game, and could not slow a scorching Luis Scola, who started the game 6/6 from the field. From there, it was the surprising energy of Aaron Brooks and Bobby Portis that put the Bulls back in this game. Brooks and Portis combined for 17 of the 26 points the Bulls scored in the second quarter, and as the game progressed, Tony Snell provided a surprising burst of energy as well. Snell went on to lead the scoring with 22.
  • Is this a return to the “bench mob”? For years, the Bulls were known for a deep bench that could keep them in nearly any game and step up when the starters were off the court or injured, and for possibly the first time this season, we saw them up to their old ways. As mentioned previously, the offense was very much driven by Portis, Brooks, and Snell. This “line,” to borrow a hockey term, won great affection for their play tonight, even earning a nickname: The PBS Line:

  • The play of these bench players was especially important, as Jimmy Butler was clearly not his best self. He scored just 5 points against the Raptors and had a +/- of -8 for the night. He’s been on a bit of a rough stretch in that regard, posting a +/- in the positive range just once in his last six games.

  • Derrick Rose had his second straight excellent game, offering some more encouragement going forward. He finished 7/16 for 20 points and four assists. Two aspects of his night stood out in particular: knocking down 3/5 big three point shots and soundly blocking Kyle Lowry on defense.
  • The role for Bobby Portis. After a pretty impressive night (12 points, nine rebounds, two assists, +16), the question turns to where Portis will fit in the rotation with the Bulls. He has been somewhat inconsistent in his limited appearances so far, but he has shown the energy and potential for flashes of brilliance like he did tonight. It seems likely that his increase in minutes tonight came largely from his play in the second quarter. He spent 27 minutes on the floor tonight, his most so far this season, and the most since playing 23 against the Knicks over a week ago. If he can continue to provide the kind of energy that he did tonight, he will force his way on to the floor with more and more PT.
  • Doug McDermott was a late scratch for the night, with soreness in his right knee. He left the game on December 19 against the Knicks with the same problem, but he had played in the three games since then. It doesn’t appear to be serious, but as this is the knee that he had surgery on a year ago, this is something to keep an eye on.
  • Can I bag on Pau Gasol a bit? He may have tied for the lead among scorers with 22 tonight, but he had a +/- of -4 and at times looked lethargic and even downright indifferent. For instance, on a sequence near the end of the second quarter, Gasol  was on the receiving end of a pass that he was not prepared for, which allowed the ball to get stolen and taken to the other end for a dunk. And then, he only continued by loafing back on offense after not even attempting to head to the other end following the turnover. On the return, he took the first shot and missed an easy jumper. Perhaps I’m being overly harsh, but although Gasol can usually score with regularity (he’s scored below double digits just three times all season), it might be that his age is beginning to show. If Portis can continue to show the kind of play that he did tonight, Gasol might benefit from increased breaks on the bench.
  • Kyle Lowry is having another All-Star season and was easily Toronto’s best player on Monday. He had 28 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three steals on efficient shooting. The Raptors were +12 in his 40 minutes and -19 in the eight he sat.
  • Coming up: the Bulls will stay at home to face the Indiana Pacers, who are 2-2 in their last week of play.

BULLet Points: Knicks spoil Bobby Portis Night

  • Back-to-backs are always tough, especially when the second game is on the road. You can almost always bank on a loss, even when they are the better team otherwise. This was very much the case tonight, as the Bulls dropped to 15-10 on a 107-91 loss to the Knicks. Not only had the Bulls played last night at the United Center against the Pistons, but they went through four overtime periods only to lose in the end. They got to New York very late in the night, and that showed as their very fast start in the first quarter faltered rather quickly.
  • Because of the late night, Pau Gasol stayed home in Chicago to rest, pushing Joakim Noah into the starting lineup. Gasol had played 48 minutes on Friday night, but that wasn’t the most on the team (Butler played 55 and Rose 54). Noah was the catalyst for an early surge in the first quarter, but even he couldn’t provide the energy to push them to maintain that lead for very long, as they were down 25-18 by the end of the first quarter. Noah finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but had a +/- for the night at -15.
  • #FreeBobbyPortis. It’s been a fun meme so far this season, but tonight was the first time we saw Portis get any sort of significant minutes. This happened, of course, because Gasol was not even in New York, but Portis may just have played well enough to earn a few more minutes going forward. He had only appeared in four games prior to tonight and had racked up a total of 26 minutes, but against the Knicks he played just under 23 and made them count. Though he was a -3 for the night (his defense is more than a bit shaky), he was second in scoring to Noah with 20 and grabbed 11 rebounds. His three turnovers were costly, but he provided a couple of three pointers late in the game that in other circumstances might have sparked a resurgence.
  • Unfortunately, the Bulls just looked too worn out. This showed in the lack of crispness on their offensive screens and plays as well as the transition defense. They didn’t shoot particularly well overall, but especially from deep (23.8%). Nikola Mirotic, for instance, made just one shot all night, and was 0/5 from three point range. He had been having a better stretch of games on offense, but the last two nights have not been kind to him. Doug McDermott struggled mightily too; the Bulls later announced he would not return with a sore knee. Hopefully it’s nothing big.
  • This was the first time I have been able to really watch Kristaps Porzingis, and he is definitely something special. I can only think of perhaps a handful of players I have watched who are as tall with that kind of athleticism. I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but he might even be the only one. At 7’3″ he moves and has the athleticism of someone 7 or 8 inches shorter. I was most impressed with his movement on offense, ball handling, and passing. It’s too early to tell, of course, but Rookie of the Year talk might not be totally out of line.
  • Along with Porzingis, the Bulls defense could not figure out Carmelo Anthony (+14, 27 points), and Arron Afflalo (+22, 18 points). Anthony especially played well off of assists from Porzingis and Jose Calderon. The Knicks are floating near .500 now, but they have the makings for a team that can make things interesting down the stretch.
  • Coming up: the Bulls play next on Monday night, when they will return to Chicago to play the 7-19 Brooklyn Nets.