Note-A-Bulls: Bulls secure much-needed win over Hornets 115-109

Playing back-to-back road games, the Bulls entered Charlotte on a sore note after getting thrashed the day before by Brad Stevens’ Celtics to extend the losing streak to five games. Yet despite their struggles, the Bulls had every right to come out hungry Monday night, wanting to keep the Milwaukee Bucks and the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference within grasp.

Hoiberg would give Rondo the start over Grant, accompanied by Wade, Butler, Portis, and Lopez. For the Hornets, it was Kemba, Lamb, Zeller, Williams, and Kidd-Gilchrist. Starting off the game, the Bulls looked ready to move on from a miserable preceding week. Just halfway into the quarter, they managed to net 20 points and jump out to an early lead.

Up 20-15, the Bulls surrendered eight straight points to the Hornets. Unexpectedly though, they finished the quarter on a 16-1 run, up 36-24 after 12 minutes. With the Hornets ready to rally, the Bulls were able to respond to defensive errors, maintaining a 10-point lead through the first five minutes of the 2nd. After some back-and-forth action, the Bulls kept the Hornets in check, taking their earlier 10-point lead with them into the locker rooms at halftime, up 58-48.

Predictable as always, the Bulls started off the 2nd half looking as if the teams’ roles had reversed. Within three minutes, the Hornets had cut the lead to three points and had it down to one point less than 60 seconds later. Despite the Hornets’ momentum, the Bulls continued to hold them off. After again letting them get to within a point of tying the game, the Bulls were able to stay up four by the six-minute mark in the 3rd. After two Zeller free-throws and a Frank Kaminsky lay-in, things were squared up 69-69 with just over five left in the quarter. From there on out though, the Bulls would take over and pull ahead 87-77 with three quarters in the books.

Again, the Hornets fought back in the final quarter, pulling to within four by the six-minute mark, looking poised to finally take the lead back. However, the Bulls would maintain their poise on this night. Ahead just three in the closing minutes, Jimmy Butler and Denzel Valentine made their free throws to put the game out of reach and give Chicago the 115-109 win in Charlotte.

  • Wade and Butler were each 8-15 from the field, each making all but one of their free throws. Both men finished the night with 23 points, while Butler helped the cause with 11 assists to get the double-double.
  • Taking advantage of the opportunity, Rondo scored a much-needed 20 points, also 8-15 from the field. Along with Butler’s impressive passing, Rondo was able to get six assists of his own and seven boards.
  • Off the bench, Mirotic turned in a much-needed performance. Going 8-16 from the field (5-12) from downtown, the big man netted 24 points in 29 minutes of action, while also grabbing 11 rebounds to get a double-double.
  • In 28 minutes of playing time, the rookie Valentine was able to add 11 points and five rebounds. Cameron Payne was 0-6 from the field in limited playing time, including 0-4 from downtown.
  • While the Hornets did shoot slightly better from the field, just 7-29 from beyond the arc didn’t help their cause. Losing the rebound and assist battle didn’t help, as the Bulls were able to match their impressive free-throw shooting.
  • Kidd-Gilchrist and Lamb and Walker all scored 20+ points, while Williams dominated the glass with 18 rebounds. The bench, however, could only contribute 16 points with some poor shooting efforts.
  • Next Up: the Bulls host the Grizzlies on Wednesday night, looking to squeeze back into the playoff picture.

Note-A-Bulls: Boston hands the helpless Bulls their fifth straight loss 100-80

I’m not sure how many doom and gloom articles have been written about the Bulls this year, but there’s about to be one more added to the list. In what can only be described as an absolute thumping, the Bulls (31-35) lost to the Celtics (42-25) on Sunday afternoon 100-80 in a game that somehow wasn’t as close as the score indicated. There are numerous stats that illustrate the Bulls ineptitude in this contest but I think one stands above the rest. With under 10 minutes to play in the second quarter, the Bulls had amassed a grand total of three field goals and had managed to turn the ball over six times. Their turnover to field goal ratio was an astounding 2:1 with under 10 minutes to go in the first half.

This one started bad and stayed ugly as the Bulls managed to score a measly 26 points in the entire first half. That was “good enough” for lowest mark of any NBA team at the half this season and only three more than the Bulls franchise low of 23 in a half.

There were several issues with the offense, especially in the first half. The most glaringly obvious were the spacing issues. There were times in the first half when there would be four of the five Bulls on the court on the same side of it. Or four Bulls clogging the lane at the same time. These issues are pretty predictable for anyone who looks at the Bulls roster and fails to see a premier outside threat. But there were some possessions that were just downright laughable, even for this space challenged squad.

Of course, there were other offensive issues as well. Turnovers remained an issue for this squad, and general shot-making was a challenge to say the least. The Bulls actually managed to find some open looks despite their spacing problems only to clank the majority of their opportunities. The Bulls finished the first half 11/43 from the field, 25 percent. It’s hard to stay in any game shooting at that clip, especially against a quality team on the road.

Dwyane Wade had one of the more memorable quotes of the day in a post-game interview where he was asked about minutes for potentially ill-prepared players on the roster. His response: “I wish upper management could be answering these questions. Because I’m tired of answering them” (via KC Johnson). Wade’s candidness about the front office is rather refreshing in the midst of a five game losing streak. I’m sure Bulls fans would like a similar explanation as far as what exactly Gar Forman and John Paxson are planning in terms of the future of this roster.

Wade however, didn’t exactly back up his post-game talk on the court. The Marquette product finished the game with just 8 points in 26 minutes while accumulating a career-worst +/- rating of -37. That’s a hard number to reach being on the floor for just over a half of basketball. Wade wasn’t particularly bad (minus a defensive gaffe in the first), but if you’re not part of the solution than you’re part of the problem. So he gets a black mark for that reason alone.

Elsewhere, Cameron Payne, the Bulls newest addition, continued his struggles. Having been given the backup point guard duties and seeing an increase in playing time, Payne showed he still has a long way to go before having an impact in this league. Payne scored 7 points and added 3 assists in 20 minutes on 3/7 shooting. However, he also managed to turn the ball over a concerning 5 times and generally showed little grasp of the flow of the offense. Things weren’t much better on the defensive side of things as Payne was constantly being taken off the dribble leading to easy baskets in the paint for the Celtics.

It’s hard to give an MVP to anyone for their performance yesterday, but Robin Lopez would have been the most deserving. The starting center scored 13 points on 5/6 shooting and displayed his normal hustle to grab boards even when things were getting out of hand. Say what you will about his skill, Lopez always goes 100% and never takes a play off.

For Boston, Isaiah Thomas did his thing, going for 22 points on an efficient 9/14 shooting. Al Horford also had himself a nice game scoring 12 while grabbing 7 boards and handing out 6 assists. The Celtics will need Horford to have  well-rounded game if they are going to pull the upset of the Cavs in the playoffs this year. Boston needs that balance on the roster as they can’t solely rely on Thomas to do it all come playoff time.

Next Up: The Bulls travel to Charlotte tomorrow to take on the Hornets in an attempt to halt their five game skid.

Note-A-Bulls: Magic come back in the second half to hand the Bulls their third straight defeat

After a fourteen-point loss to the Detroit Pistons on Monday, the Bulls traveled to Orlando to take on the struggling Magic, who had lost three out of their last five games. Dwyane Wade remained out with a thigh injury. Judging their performances against teams with losing records this season, you could assume the Bulls were in for a fight. For Orlando, starting center Nikola Vucevic sat out with soreness in his Achilles. Bismack Biyombo started in his place.

Robin Lopez and Biyombo faced each other at center in an empty Amway Center, with Lopez winning the tip. With no Vucevic, the Bulls certainly had an opportunity to capitalize on the boards. Orlando went with a small lineup, which allowed the Bulls to get many offensive rebounds.

The beginning of the first quarter started out normal. Both teams were trading baskets and were trying to establish momentum. However, it was easy to tell that these are two teams that are not among the NBA’s elite. Orlando began the game shooting 30 percent from the floor, while the Bulls were at 45 percent. With under six minutes to play in the first, the Bulls led 11-10 with Jimmy Butler leading the team in scoring, and four of the five starters registering points. Orlando was doing a good job “breaking out” and getting good shots, but they were not putting the ball in the hoop. Biyombo started out the game 0-5, with essentially three wide open short-distance jump shots. The Bulls took advantage of Orlando’s mistakes offensively, as they jumped out on a 6-0 run to end the quarter. At the end of the quarter, they led 22-19.

The bench squad for both sides stepped onto the floor to begin the second quarter. Orlando threw out the likes of D.J. Augustin, former Bull C.J. Watson, and Jeff Green. The Bulls had their usual secondary group on the floor, with the likes of Christiano Felicio, Rajon Rondo, and Denzel Valentine. However, it was newcomer Joffrey Lauvergne that got things going for the Bulls. Lauvergne had seven points in six minutes of play, helping push the Bulls’ lead to six at the 9:30 mark. Surprisingly, the Bulls kept this momentum going, and after a Cameron Payne three, they extended their lead to ten with just over seven minutes to play in the half. However, we’ve come to know these Bulls don’t disappoint. Immediately after they went on an 8-0 run, Orlando cut the lead back to six at the 6:30 mark. Fred Hoiberg took a timeout at that time, and it proved to be a good use of one. While we can’t necessarily decide what stops momentum, this certainly helped the Bulls. They pushed their lead back to nine at the 3:00 mark, hoping to make it larger heading into the half. The Bulls (somewhat) extended their lead at the half, mainly due to their unselfish play. At halftime, the Bulls had fifteen assists and were shooting 50 percent from the floor. They led 53-43 at the half after Jimmy Butler hit a step-back buzzer beater. Butler led the Bulls in scoring with thirteen points and registered six assists as well.

The third quarter started out well for the Bulls. Their strong offense continued, as they jumped out to a thirteen-point lead three minutes into the quarter. The score was 62-49. It seemed like the Bulls were going to blow this game wide open. They were doing enough defensively, and they were sharing the basketball well on the offensive end. However, after Jimmy Butler found Robin Lopez for a short jumper that gave the Bulls their thirteen-point lead, Orlando found life. The Bulls sharing of the basketball stopped. If you have watched the Bulls this season, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  The belief that Jimmy Butler must do everything goes into the minds of all the Bulls’ players, and everything that was going well stops. The Magic went on a 9-0 run in the middle part of the quarter, giving them new life. This run allowed Orlando to just get in striking distance, and they eventually tied the game at 77 after Evan Fournier made a three off a Jeff Green assist. The Magic outscored the Bulls 34-24 in the quarter.

The Bulls and the Magic started out the fourth slowly. In the first five minutes, the Magic shot three out of 10 from the floor, and the Bulls had not made a shot in the quarter at that point. All their points (four) came from the free through line.  The Bulls offensive struggles continued throughout the quarter. With under four minutes to play in the game, the Bulls had nine points in the quarter. Against a team that is at best, an average defensive side, you can’t be putting up nine points in eight minutes of play. Frustrations continued for the Bulls, as the Magic capitalized on poor shots and lazy defense from the Bulls. The entire second half was just a summary of the Bulls’ season. You get spurts of hope and good play, and then it all comes spiraling down for unexplained reasons. The final score, in case you couldn’t tell from the tone of this piece, went in favor of the Magic (98-91).

As I watched more and more of this game, I had a clear idea of what was going to happen. I don’t know why the Bulls get in this phase, but it seems that they can’t consistently play good basketball for 48 minutes. It makes no sense to ditch the unselfish method if it is working. How do you go from having 15 assists in the first half to just nine in the second half?  This game was no different than any other Bulls game this year. It gave you all kinds of emotions, and eventually just left you frustrated.

The Bulls are back at it Friday night at the United Center to take on James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

Note-A-Bulls: The Strive for Five comes to a halt with crushing 125-107 defeat to the Nuggets

Well, things started out well in the Bulls (30-30) quest to win their fifth straight game and move into a tie with the Indiana Pacers for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Instead, we saw a beatdown at the hands of the Denver Nuggets (27-33) in the second half on Tuesday night as fans found out what this team looks like when Jimmy Butler has an off night. The result, a humbling 125-107 defeat at the United Center with the Nuggets outscoring the Bulls 69-48 in the second half.

Things didn’t start off terribly for the suddenly hot Bulls. Bobby Portis was hitting some shots, and the Bulls were dominating the offensive glass securing 10 offensive boards compared to the Nuggets one in the first half. While they never pulled away, the Bulls largely controlled the play in the first two stanzas with the score sitting at 59-56 in their favor. In reality, the Bulls should have had a larger lead at this point in the game. The Bulls showed signs of pulling away in this one but either a poor turnover or a clutch Denver three would pull them back within reach. Eventually this would come back to haunt the Bulls as the play shift decidedly in the final two frames of this one.

The Nuggets had balanced scoring in this one, with seven players scoring at least 12 points, but it was the play of Danilo Gallinari and Nikola Jokic that were the difference in the second half. Jokic kickstarted things doing it all by himself. Between putting back his own offensive rebounds, hitting un-assisted outside jumpers, or setting up his teammates for easy layups, the Nuggets Nikola willed his team back in front in the third quarter. Once Jokic had put the Nuggets in front, Gallinari ensured they would stay there. Danilo hit three huge long-balls in the second half and kept the Bulls defense of-balance on his way to a game high 22 points on 7/10 shooting (3/4 from deep).

On the other end of the floor, the off-ball movement was nonexistent. There was a lot of one-on-one play and very few screens to create any type of separation from the defense. There was poor shot selection, little communication, and for once, the Bulls didn’t have Jimmy Butler to bail them out. Butler ended with a pedestrian line of 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. He also managed to make just three of his 13 shots from the field on the night. You could tell he wasn’t confident in his shot from the get go passing up open jumpers he would normally put up without hesitation.

Shockingly, the offensive hero on the night was Rajon Rondo, although he still managed a +/- of -15 on the night. But Rondo was miraculously hitting jumpers pretty consistently throughout the night shooting 8/15 from the field and even knocking down a trey. However, Rondo is long past the point of being able to carry on offense on his own, and this night received very little help. Wade ended up with a quiet 19 points, but no one else on the Bulls ended up with more than 12 points (Bobby Portis).

We all knew the Bulls winning streak wasn’t going to last forever. However, with a chance to push that streak to five at home against the Nuggets on two days rest, you expect better than this. The offense was stale, the defense showed no ability to adapt as they continuously went under screens despite Denver’s hot shooting, and no one stepped up to cover Jimmy’s off night. There were flashes of good, such as Bobby Portis finding his stroke and Cristiano Felicio

bringing his energy to go a perfect four of four from the floor. But there were too many negatives to really enjoy those, whether it was Cameron Payne going 2/10 from the field, or Portis continuing to struggle on the defensive ends to stay in front of his man or grab a rebound in traffic.

Next Up: The TNT Bulls are back to take on The Beatles, err, the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night at the UC probably sans Kevin Durant after his injury last night.

Note-A-Bulls: Bulls Win 4th Straight, Top “Kingless” Cavs 117-99

In their second game as the “new-look” Bulls, Jimmy Butler and company faced the Cleveland Cavaliers without Superstar LeBron James. With their recent trade of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, the Bulls started Bobby Portis and Jerian Grant, alongside Butler, Wade and Lopez. Both teams got out of the gate extremely slow, missing many of their first shots from the field but the Bulls were able to keep it close and play neck and neck with Cleveland for the first half. A hot shooting night from 3pt-land and a depleted Cavaliers team allowed the Bulls to come out of Cleveland with a win, their 3rd against the Eastern Conference favorite this season.

  • The shorthanded Cavaliers looked beatable tonight without their entire Big 3, especially early on in the game.
  • 4 ½ minutes into the game the Bulls were shooting 31.3% from the field, and the Cavaliers were shooting 35.7%, prompting announcer Jeff Van Gundy to want to leave the game early.
  • The Bulls came into tonight last in 3pt field goal percentage and 3pt field goal attempts, and completed a season high tonight of 15 made 3 pointers in the game.
    • In their second game without sharp-shooter Doug McDermott, the Bulls shot a surprising 50% from behind the arc with the help of rookie Denzel Valentine, newcomer Cameron Payne and the continued great play from Jimmy Butler, who finished with a triple double (18pts, 10reb 10asts).
    • I am still trying to figure out the Bulls plan with Valentine. A month ago, Valentine was between the D-League and the NBA, and I wrote that if he couldn’t crack this version of the Bulls roster, there wasn’t really much hope for him moving forward. However, it seems with the trade of Taj Gibson, Valentine will get that consistent chance he’s been waiting for. With Portis continuing to struggle, and after a 15-point game last night, Valentine finished with 11 points from the field tonight, 3-5 from distance, including two big threes in the 4th quarter to put the game away. It was nice to see him actually given a chance out on the floor and to see him deliver efficient results.
  • It was the Bulls bench that carried them in the first half, accounting for 21/35 points at the 7:58 mark in the 2nd quarter.
    • Newly acquired guard Cameron Payne made his Bulls debut and finished with 6 points on two 3 pointers. He looked a little uncomfortable bringing the ball up the floor, but was confident shooting. It should be interesting to see how the Bulls use him moving forward, as there is a logjam at the point guard position.
  • Former Bull Kyle Korver was quick to impress again, finishing 4/7 from 3pt land and 14 points. He now is 5th all-time in NBA history for most 3 pointers made in a career, just passing Vince Carter and Jamal Crawford. Korver will be remembered as one of the premier 3-pt shooters in NBA history, yet I still look at his time with the Bulls as a disappointment, as they never were able to run plays for him effectively, never able to get the looks he got tonight from the field.
  • At the half, the Bulls, playing one of their better halves of the year besides a few defensive lapses, found themselves down 56-55.
  • The second half showed consistency for the Bulls. They were able to take advantage of a Cavaliers team that is now 0-9 when playing with only 1 of their 3 stars.
    • However, their star that did suit up, Kyrie Irving, finished the night with 34 points, an impressive showing.
  • To note:  Former Mavericks Guard Deron Williams will be signing with Cleveland for the remainder of the season, adding another scoring piece to Lebron’s arsenal.
  • A clock malfunction at the end of the 3rd quarter allowed Rajon Rondo’s buzzer beater to count, giving them an 89-76 lead and by the 9:14 mark in the 4th, they were up 20 points, 98-78.
  • New Bulls Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne and Antony Morrow (DNP) did not see the floor in the second half, as Fred Hoiberg went the rest of the half with his normal rotation.
    • Unlike last night, Hoiberg decided to stick with Nikola Mirotic down the stretch vs. Denzel Valentine, a questionable decision in my opinion. While Mirotic finished the night with 14 points, and had a big 3-pointer at the end of the game to put it away, he was still only 2/5 from 3 and chose not to box out on a missed free throw by Christiano Felicio, again giving more reason to question his on-the-court commitment that we hear about in media reports.
  • This article cannot be complete without mention of Dwyane Wade. After his “poster” of a dunk last night, he continued to turn back the clock, finishing with 20 points, including some nice slashes to the basket and vintage step-back jumpers.

In my eyes, for the first time this season, the Bulls played a full 4 quarters. They were up for the challenge of a road-trip to Cleveland and proved that they still have some fight in them this season. While many of us are hoping they are just good enough to stay out of the playoffs and get that lottery pick, it was encouraging to see good play from young talent. While I don’t cheer often watching this team, I enjoyed seeing a Denzel Valentine 3-pointer swish through the net at a pivotal movement in the game. The rest of the season is about development and seeing what you have in young talent moving forward. While I do not think they did enough at the trade deadline, freeing up the rotation ever so slightly, to now give newcomer Cameron Payne, Jerian Grant and Denzel Valentine an actual opportunity allows the Bulls to actually be watchable. While it may not be pretty at times, these kids have to play to see how you can build for the future.

A funny ending is always nice when you can walk away with a win. Dwyane Wade was a rebound away from a triple double; when Jimmy Bulter swiped away the Cavaliers missed shot to ensure his own triple double. The next possession as the horn sounded, the Cavaliers missed again, Wade jumped to grab the rebound, all alone under the basket, and Christiano Felicio knocked it out of his hands out of bounds as time expired. All Wade could do was smile and succumbed to the fact that Felcio denied him of as he put it,  “greatness.”

  • Up Next: the Bulls look to keep their winning streak alive as they take on the Denver Nuggets at the UC on Tuesday.

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