Category Archives: Everything else

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: Cavs leave United Center empty handed after hard fought victory for the Bulls

On a chilly Friday night on the west side of Chicago, over twenty-thousand packed into the United Center to see the Bulls and Cavaliers square off for a key division game. As promised, LeBron James filled his half of the bet with Dwyane Wade and came to the UC in a full Cubs uniform. Both teams were coming off losses in their most recent match-ups, looking to regain momentum.

The teams assembled on the court, the Cavs sporting their all blue jerseys, and the Bulls in an atypical grey sleeve jersey. It was Tristian Thompson and Robin Lopez at center court, Lopez won the tip, and Bull basketball was on the air nationwide.

The first six minutes of the opening quarter were no different from how the Bulls typicalls begin games. A complete back and forth battle, with Taj Gibson starting off very strong. Taj had six points and three rebounds within the first six minutes of play. At the 6:07 mark, the Bulls had a one point lead as Wade hit a driving layup while going hard to the rim. The first quarter continued to march on, and the see-saw battle continued to progress. The typical subs made their way in, and after one the Cavs had a slim lead of 33-30.

The Cavs began the second quarter with an Iman Shumpert shot that wouldn’t go from twenty-one feet out, and the Bulls capitalized on the following possession with Jerian Grant hitting a routine layup. Then the King made his way back onto the court. After Grant hit the layup, the Cavs led 33-32. James returned to the court, and led the Cavs to go on a 7-0 run to extend their lead to 40-32 at the ten-minute mark. However, the Cavs did not let the stoppage of play break their momentum. Channing Frye hit a big three to keep the Cavs lead at eight, with the score 47-39. However, after that three, the Bulls found their gear again. They were able to cut the Cavs lead to as small as one as the score was 54-53 after Lopez hit a short-range jumper. Just under one minute to go in the half, Taj Gibson got one of the biggest gift fouls that one will ever see. Kevin Love pretty much “Love tapped” his chest, and Taj laughingly went to the free throw line. The first half ended with a very high score, Taj Gibson continuing to lead the Bulls with eighteen points. Through two it was Cleveland 60, the Bulls 59. The Bulls were 0-7 from downtown, while the Cavs were shooting nearly fifty percent from three. However, this was promising considering that the score was only 60-59.

LeBron inbounded the ball to Kyrie Irving to begin the third, with Irving drilling a mid-range jumper. The Bulls continued to claw with the leaders of the East, as both teams came out strong to begin the third. They looked like they were slowly picking of some momentum, as they led by eight at the 7:30 mark and the Cavs had gone cold. Jimmy G. Buckets and Wade were hitting their stride as they had combined for twenty-five points. The Cavs took a timeout at the 5:45 mark after Robin Lopez hit a sky-hook turnaround shot, and the Bulls continued to keep their eight-point lead. As usual, a timeout proved to work well. Kevin Love drilled a three to start the Cavs next possession, and the Bulls lead was cut to five. The next possession was crucial, as the Bulls needed an answer. Rajon Rondo, out of all players, splashed a three for the corner and the lead was back to eight at just over three minutes left. With under two minutes to go in the third, Nikola Mirotic threw a floater to the rim and Jimmy Butler volleyball tapped the ball right into the basket. After three, the shootout continued, as the Bulls led 88-80. Taj leading Chicago with twenty-one points and nine rebounds, and LeBron leading the Cavs with twenty-three points and eight assists.

The Bulls began the fourth with a missed jumper by Wade from seventeen feet out. In the following possession, LeBron added to his assist total and found Channing Frye for an easy layup. The Bulls continued to maintain the sizable lead with excellent offense and good ball movement. Until (of course), Rajon Rondo made a poor pass and the Cavs capitalized on the fast break and hit a three to cut to the lead back to five. With just under six minutes to go, the Bulls struggled to close the door. However, after shooting 0-7 to start the game, Niko hit a little floater in the paint to put the Bulls back up seven. With just over two minutes to play, LeBron committed his third turnover in the quarter, and the Bulls were able to extend their lead to eight. ON THE NEXT POSSESSION, JAMES COMMITTED ANOTHER TURNOVER. Following that, the Bulls played perfect defense to force a shot clock violation. After a bit of scare within the final fifteen seconds, the Bulls were able to hang on and win 111-105.

With the win, the Bulls improved to 11-6. Not only is it nice to see the win-loss column have a plus margin of five, but this win over the Cavs must serve as a big momentum builder for Chicago. To get a win against a team that has had a chokehold on you for such a long period of time has to inspire the Bulls at least in some manner. However, the Bulls have hardly any time to bask in the victory. Once everyone is ready to leave the UC, the Bulls will hop on the charter and head to Dallas to take on the struggling Mavericks tomorrow night.

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.

Bad news Bulls

In what’s been a well-documented flurry of moves this offseason, the Bulls have gone from faux Championship contenders that couldn’t even make the playoffs to a group of old, run down has-beens. What Gar Forman and John Paxson tried to sell as a move for the future (excuse me, what?) is really just a sorry attempt at trying to put butts in the seats with names like Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, and Robin Lopez in the starting squad alongside Chicago crowd favorites Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. GarPax could arguably get a pass for last year’s disaster, since it seemed like the plan in hiring Fred Holberg was to get younger. Instead, they traded in parts for a used car – one that might get you halfway there before stalling out and breaking down.

The Bulls will not only fail to make the playoffs once again, but will fail to beat the Vegas over/under of 38.5 wins. You might be scratching your head saying “Hold up, hold up, D Wade just finally came home to Chicago, had a great year last year, we got Rondo who’s one of the best passers in the league, both have won championships, and we got RoLo, who’s an underrated defender, and we got new young talent like Denzel Valentine, Spencer Dinwiddie, Isaiah Canaan. Plus, we got Bobby Portis, Cristiano Felicio, and Tony Snell coming back. Finally, we have a couple shooters in Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. How can you say the Bulls won’t make the playoffs much less win 39 games?” I’m glad you asked! Let me break it down for you…

Hoiberg’s Offense

If Bulls’ head coach Fred Hoiberg couldn’t get last year’s Bulls with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Pau Gasol to run an effective offense, he certainly won’t have any luck with this crew, who is hobbling on just as many bad knees. Hoiberg’s scheme works best with quick outlets and fast breaks, three-and-D shooters, and early screens to open up the floor. It requires agility and athleticism combined with sharp shooters. If what I just described doesn’t sound like the new version of the Bulls, it’s because it isn’t. Last year, the Bulls’ offensive efficiency was abysmal, ranking 25th in the league, and I have a hard time seeing it get much better this year with a slew of inexperience combined with guys in wheelchairs. McDermott will continue to shoot well, but Nikola still struggles with the pace of an NBA game and hits the three ball less than 40% of the time – not what you want to see from one of your supposed sharp shooters. The Bulls have reportedly encouraged Wade to shoot more threes, so let’s just put it this way: when one of your three-point threats is Dwyane Wade, you’ve got other issues you’re trying to hide.

Bulls Defense

The Bulls were unremarkably average last year. Their defensive efficiency ranked 15th in the league. It might make sense that the Bulls would get slightly better this year now that Pau Gasol is off the floor, replaced by Robin Lopez. However, opponents’ ORtg against the Knicks went up by 1.9 with Lopez *on* the floor, compared to Gasol, who made opponents 1.3 points *worse* when he was on the floor – a three point swing. Add to it Rondo and Wade, who allow 1.7 and an astounding 6.1 additional points for their opponents, respectively, compared to Derrick Rose’s poor, but not D Wade-poor, 4.1. The Bulls defense is in trouble. Expect their defensive efficiency to be in the bottom third of the league this year.

VORP (Value Over Replacement Player)

If the Bulls’ offense could overcome their imminent defensive struggles, then the team might fare okay and be about a break-even squad. VORP might be the one area you could argue that they’ll win some extra games, if you break down each star player that was dished compared to the one brought in: Pau Gasol ranked 17th in the league with a VORP of 3.5, as much as he was picked on last year, Derrick Rose: -0.7 (yeah, yikes), Joakim Noah: 0.6 – for a sum total of 3.4; whereas, Rajon Rondo: 1.9, Robin Lopez: 1.9, and Dwyane Wade: 1.6 for a total of 5.4. Multiply the difference in VORP (2.0) by 2.7 to achieve Wins Above Replacement and you might come to figure that the Bulls will win an extra 5.4 games this year, putting them at what would be 47 wins compared to last year’s 42, and enough for the playoffs. But that assumes no decline among Rondo and Wade who are both over the hump, and it also assumes one more massive and glaring problem that the Bulls have:

The (Not) Bench Mob

What bench does this team have? The Bulls have a rotation of about eight guys that they can sort of count on for 25-30 minutes. Butler, Rondo, Wade, Lopez, Gibson, McDermott, Mirotic (one, two, three…. seven) – make that seven guys that they can sort of count on. They *might* be alright for 30 minutes per game, but they’re going to get crushed for the other 18, and like Tom Thibodeau used to suggest: You have to play all 48 minutes if you want to win. Valentine, Walkup, Portis, Grant, MCW – they’ll have their moments, but they’re all going to need some time to grow and it won’t come together before the Bulls are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. If this team sees an injury to any of their main rotation players, which isn’t that unlikely considering their ages, then you might as well write this season off completely.

GarPax: If you’re going to break it up, tear it down. Instead, the Bulls broke it up and replaced it with crappier parts in an effort to limp into the playoffs for a first round exit.