All posts by schwaeb2

Note-A-Bulls: Rondo benched but Bulls fail to climb out of early hole against Pacers

After two narrow wins preceded by three consecutive losses, the Bulls entered Friday afternoon at 16-16, a record that simply undermines the inconsistency and streakiness of this team so far. Facing the Pacers, a team they beat just four days ago, the Bulls once again showed some struggles from both the players and coach Fred Hoiberg.

While things would unfold unusually, the Bulls started off with their usual five (Rondo, Wade, Butler, Gibson, Lopez). In the 1st quarter, the Pacers came out prepared and jumped out to a 15-4 lead. The Pacers would extend that lead to 24-10 with less than 4 minutes remaining in the quarter. Despite their slow offensive start, the Bulls managed to respond with a 12-4 run to finish of the quarter down just 28-22.    

In the 2nd quarter, the Pacers continually fought off the Bulls to keep their lead near or at the double-digit marker. After pulling within four points of Indianapolis, the Bulls would eventually go back down by 12, and headed into the locker room losing 62-50. Call me a broken record but once again, the script seemed to flip at halftime, as the Bulls would no longer be outplayed by the Pacers coming out of the break.

As earlier mentioned, the starting lineup would not hold its form for the majority of the game. After an unproductive 1st half and early foul trouble, Michael-Carter Williams would get the call to run the offense for the 2nd half. Throughout the 3rd quarter, the Bulls managed to go shot for shot with the Pacers, outscoring them 23-22. While the lead was still a tough one to overcome with one quarter left, the Bulls did look much better defensively.   

Unfortunately, in the 4th quarter, the Bulls once again could only outscore the Pacers by a single point, however, the defense looked less impressive against a Pacers team that didn’t really need to thrive offensively. After being asked about his status as head coach of the Bulls before the game started, Hoiberg’s decision to sit Rondo in the 2nd half was one that will draw judgment, both good and bad, from Bulls supporters. Once again, shooting efficiency was an issue as the Bulls hovered around 40% from the field and just over 25% from 3-point range.

  • The good: Wade and Butler combined for 45 points, both shooting in the upper 40’s percentage-wise, from the field. McDermott and Felicio were both 4-5 from the field coming off the bench. Felicio continued being productive on the boards grabbing 12 rebounds (six being offensive) in just 22 minutes of action.
  • The bad: Gibson struggled from the field while Lopez only had two field goal attempts and Rondo had none. Mirotic also struggled mightily going 3-14 from the field, 11 of those attempts being 3 pointers.
  • With continued offensive struggles, something the Bulls hoped Hoiberg would excel at as an NBA coach, the Bulls need to quickly figure out how to get more efficient minutes out of both the starters and bench players. 
  • Up Next: the Bulls must quickly recover for a New Year’s Eve matchup against the .500 Milwaukee Bucks. The Bulls lost back to back games to Milwaukee earlier in the year, and look to get back to .500 at home.

5 Things We Learned from the B1G/ACC Challenge

With the B1G/ACC challenge officially ending in a win for the ACC 9-5, let’s take a look back at what we learned from the three days of play in 14 arenas around the country.

1. The conversation includes everyone: Just when we thought we could begin to narrow the tournament picture, we were wrong. Illinois captured a redemption win vs NC State. Northwestern grabbed a much needed resume booster vs Wake Forest. Nebraska and Clemson were too close to learn much.  Buzz Williams and Kevin Stallings reminded everyone that their goal is March as well. On the other hand, not everyone proved they were quite ready to be top teams in their conference. Is Michigan still in the top half of the Big Ten? Is Syracuse a top 25 team? Where does Maryland stand now? Why isn’t NC State getting better results? The results produced as many questions as answers.

2. Yes, the Home Court Advantage is real: In an event with pairings designed to be competitive, it is that much more telling that 12 of the 14 games were won by the home team. With most of the games being close, it doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that the home teams squeezed out the wins.

3. Everyone wants to be relevant: Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech both had statement wins. Illinois and Northwestern made sure they were still in the conversation. Ohio State isn’t ready to slip from the limelight and the Seminoles did what they needed to do. However, Ohio State, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wake Forest’s efforts ensured no one could forget about them just yet.

4. These conferences are still very even: Yes, the ACC pulled away Wednesday night, but not convincingly. Miami won via a beneficial pairing vs Rutgers, Virginia almost blew an expected victory, and Clemson didn’t exactly affirm themselves as a tournament team. In the match-ups that featured two ranked opponents, the B1G took 2 of the 3 (UW vs. SYR and IU vs UNC) rather handily. A replay of this year’s challenge, or even a change in the home-courts, could have produced dramatically different results

5. These are the two toughest conferences to be in: Having eight of the 24 teams in this challenged ranked is a respectable feat. What’s more respectable are the number of teams who will be in the mix as well. Of the top six teams who missed the top 25 in this week’s AP poll, five took part in this challenge. Not too far behind are Florida State and Virginia Tech, who will likely get more love after their wins this week. After their performance in recent weeks, Pittsburgh and Northwestern may be receiving a few votes as well. As of right now, only a couple teams from each conference need to start facing the reality that is the NIT.

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls stifled as Bench Mob fails to get the job done

Coming in four games over .500, the Bulls looked to provide some cushioning on Wednesday night against the Lakers, with a matchup against Cleveland looming. Despite maintaining a lead through much of the game, the Bulls ultimately let one get away at the Madhouse on Madison. Ultimately, it was a tale of two benches as the Lakers were able to squeeze past the Bulls with contributions from throughout the rotation.

  • With everyone healthy, Hoiberg’s usual lineup of Rondo, Wade, Butler, Gibson, and Lopez started the game off. Despite some sloppy offense, the lineup managed to keep the Bulls ahead by contributing defensively.
  • The Bulls started the game off strong in the 1st quarter. Scoring 28 points and holding the Lakers to 17 would usually be enough for a win. After being up by as many as 14 points, the Bulls looked ready to distance themselves early.
  • With 11 points of cushioning going into the 2nd, the teams switched roles. Twice, the Lakers managed to chip away at the Bulls lead and draw nearly even, before the Bulls distanced themselves to keep it a two possession game. However, the Lakers took one more shot at the Bulls’ lead, leaving Chicago with no time to go back up as the half ended with the score being 47-47.
  • Unclear what the 2nd half held in store, the Bulls got back into form and outscored the Lakers 26-23, to give themselves a small lead, but a lead nonetheless going into the 4th quarter. Taj Gibson quickly snagged four boards, before Hoiberg let Mirotic have the remaining minutes in the quarter.
  • The 4th quarter felt like 12 minutes of Déjà vu. After the Bulls once again had the lead, the Lakers quickly began to chip away, tying or leading the game multiple times. Three times, the Bulls managed to reclaim the lead after surrendering it, but the fourth time was where the buck would stop. After tying the game up at 90 points apiece, the Lakers finished on a 6-0 run to win 96-90.
  • With 10 points, 9 rebounds, and a very impressive 8 blocks, Robin Lopez contributed some much needed support to help the Bulls hold on for most of the game. 
  • In a good illustration of how the game went for Chicago, Taj Gibson had a double-double with 10 rebounds and 11 points. However, he would foul out after some sloppy defensive fouls while matched up with Julius Randle. 
  • Only two bench players played over 20 minutes for the Bulls, Isaiah Canaan and Nikola Mirotic, going a combined 5-18 from the field. Denzel Valentine and Jerian Grant each saw over five minutes of playing time.
  • In another demonstration of just how this game went down, Butler was a brutal 4-18 from the field. On par with the sloppy defense from both sides though, he managed to get 15 shots from the foul line, and would make 13 of those to give him 22 points on the night. 
  • Not surprisingly, each of the Bulls’ starters had at least three fouls for the night, while five Lakers also had at least three fouls as well.  A total of 70 free throws were attempted between the two sides.
  • The bad: The Bulls shot a poor 35% from the field, but an abysmal 19% from beyond the arc on 21 attempts. A large part of this was due to the bench alone going just 1-11 from three-point range.
  • Like the Bulls, the Lakers’ stat sheet was nothing exciting from either side. They went just under 41% from the field, and did themselves few favors by only making 68% of their 41 free throw attempts. The difference maker though, was 36 points from Clarkson and Williams off the bench, each scoring 18, while Nance Jr. added on 12 as well.
  • Despite (ex-Bull?) Jose Calderon starting at point guard, Jordan Clarkson flashed his potential in 34 minutes off the bench. All of his points were scored from the field, with a very impressive 9-18 performance, which the Lakers desperately needed. 
  • Up Next: the Bulls host the reigning champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, on Friday.

Note-A-Bulls: Wade, Bulls, emerge victorious in the 305

After an exciting 3-0 start, reality hit the Bulls with a three game losing streak. Coming off another loss, the Bulls looked to hit back against a respectable Eastern Conference foe, the Miami Heat. Through nine games thus far, the list of guys who have stepped up for the Bulls continues to grow, but perhaps it was the lack of reliance on one guy that helped the Bulls keep the Heat contained through each quarter. Not for a lack of trying, Dwyane Wade failed to make a significant impression in his former home arena.

  • Per usual, Coach Hoiberg sent out Rondo, Wade. Butler, Gibson and Lopez to start things off. While the numbers differed heavily by each frame, the group was able get the job done in a variety of ways.
  • The 1st quarter was a streaky one for the Bulls. Starting down 4-12, the Bulls managed to score 12 unanswered to go up 16-12, and held onto the lead going into the 2nd.
  • Going into the 2nd quarter up one, the game began to take shape as both teams managed to reach the 30-point threshold. Starting out slow again, the Bulls went down seven points early on. Like the first quarter, they grabbed the lead back and would continue going back and forth, eventually heading into the half tied. With limited playing time, Bobby Portis managed to grab a couple of rebounds and make use of his minutes.
  • Coming out of the tunnel tied, the 3rd quarter was a complete 180 for both teams. It was 12 minutes filled with rebounds, fouls and turnovers. It mostly remained a one-possession game throughout, as each team managed to score just 17 points in the 3rd quarter.
  • In the 4th, the Bulls grabbed an early lead and kept their distance for most of the 12 minutes, holding on to win 98-95.
  • I said earlier in the season not to expect Robin Lopez to lead the lineup in rebounds on most nights, as there are a fair share of guys who can step up in that department. Tonight it was Rajon Rondo who hauled in a very impressive 12 boards. While the offense wasn’t particularly efficient, Rondo managed to go 6-14 from the field with 16 points, rounded out by 6 assists.
  • As the season takes shape, Hoiberg continues to stick with his usual game plan of giving Mirotic and McDermott a healthy mix of playing time, while also showing Canaan and Portis to limited action. The bench provided a quiet 25 points, while Doug McDermott saw his playing time reach 33 minutes.
  • Six of the nine players who saw action scored in double digits, while the three who did not (Gibson, Canaan, and Portis) were all held to under 25 minutes.
  • As will be the case throughout the season, we saw both good and bad from Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic had a respectable 10 points and 5 rebounds in 22 minutes, but was not particularly valuable on defense, picking up three fouls.
  • Despite matching up against Hassan Whiteside, who had a great performance logging 20 points and 20 rebounds, Robin Lopez managed to snag 9 boards and a healthy 16 points, leading the Bulls with 20 field goal attempts in 38 minutes.
  • The bad: The Bulls allowed the Heat to shoot around 45% from downtown on 29 three point attempts. Luckily, the Heat only made 2/3rds of their 15 free-throw attempts, and were shaky from inside the 3-point line.
  • As for the Heat, the storyline was similar to the Bulls. Everyone chipped in, but they could not outplay their offensive inconsistencies. Aside from Whiteside’s 20-20 performance, they struggled shooting from the field, and managed to stick around mainly due to their looks behind the arc. They had four players score at least fifteen points, but didn’t receive much otherwise.
  • Justice Winslow showed flashes of growth as he was 50% from the field, with 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, and 15 points. His balance will be something to keep an eye on if the Heat find themselves in the playoff picture as the season progresses.
  • Up Next: the Bulls host the 2-5 Wizards Sunday night. They look to extend their record to 6-4.

The curious case of Rajon Rondo

When the Bulls’ season came to a conclusion last year, it was apparent that the days atop the East were numbered, at least with the players on hand. After the necessary departure of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, fans feared that Jimmy Butler was left to keep this inexperienced core from sinking until the front office could begin to rebuild. With the acquisition of Dwayne Wade, the Bulls secured short-term assurance that they wouldn’t simply be a struggling franchise. Perhaps the most crucial signing though, had happened a few days before Wade’s. At age 30, a 4x All Star, 3x NBA assists leader and 2x NBA All-defensive first team, Rajon Rondo is just another piece to the puzzle…for now.

Like he did alongside the NBA’s first modern “Big Three,” Rajon Rondo has shown that having the pieces isn’t always enough without someone to glue them all together. After averaging a career high 11.7 assists, 6 rebounds, and a double/double each game with the Sacramento Kings last season, Rajon Rondo has the opportunity to be the invaluable factor that binds the Chicago Bulls together.

Similar to Chicago’s last point guard though, the numbers are a façade to the struggles that have occurred throughout Rondo’s veteran career. There was the stop in Dallas, and it was nothing more, where Rondo’s back injuries became a synonymous term to describe his disagreements with head coach Rick Carlisle. Before that, there was an ACL tear that sidelined Rondo for nearly a year. It all equated to a quiet three seasons where one of the NBA’s once-elite point-guards’ resume didn’t change. The question has now become, did Gar Forman simply replace one decaying floor general with another?

While Rondo may be three seasons removed from an all-star appearance, he is also nearly four years removed from his ACL tear. More importantly, the pass-first leader is coming off a season where he matched his career-high in assists with a lineup that would be no step up from the one he’ll be a part of this year.

While Fred Hoiberg can do a few different things with this Bulls rotation, Rondo will have two all-star caliber players alongside him and some improving scorers in the mix as well. The question though, is whether or not it even matters. In Dallas, with Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis on-hand, Rondo seemingly had a passer’s delight. Yet coach Rick Carlisle, who lead the Mavericks to a title with Jason Kidd at the helm, decided that Rondo’s potential wasn’t enough reason to work through the negatives.

This Bulls team isn’t the Boston Celtics team that Rondo fit seamlessly into. With Dwyane Wade accompanying Rondo at the other guard spot, Rondo may not have the freedom and control he had with the Kings either. What will be afforded to Rondo is an offensive-minded coach who will have a flexible approach to try and fit his pieces together. That starts up top with the guards. While Rondo is one question mark in the lineup, his playmaking ability could help answer some of the other question marks that lie in Chicago’s big men and young players.

Ex-Bulls PG Derrick Rose said the Knicks were a “super-team,” while others contest that they may not even be a playoff team. In an era where the league is more saturated with talent than ever before, someone who can create opportunities is as valuable as ever. Similar to the Knicks, the Bulls are nothing more than an intriguing team until they can actually win games. Rajon Rondo can be the guy who elevates them from a promising team on paper to a winning team on the court. Until then, Rondo himself is only an intriguing player for this upcoming season.

With a team that struggled defensively and relied on rebounding in 2015-16, Rondo’s rebounding and defense can ensure the Bulls get their money’s worth. Rondo may still have star potential, but he’ll need to be a valuable asset in this lineup before he can have a shot to be anything more.