Bulls look for fourth straight road win


Bulls look for fourth straight road win

The Bulls more resolved their struggles at home with a franchise record-setting performance, and they'll now have a chance to tie their longest road winning streak of the season when they take on the Raptors tonight on Comcast SportsNet.
After losing two straight inside the United Center, the Bulls' defense made sure not to make it three, allowing just 58 points in a 39-point blowout win over the Hawks on Monday. It was the fewest points allowed by Chicago in franchise history, and the Bulls grabbed an incredible 59 rebounds -- including 29 from Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah -- in the win.
Tom Thibodeau's group surprisingly has had less to prove on the road in 2012-'13, picking up wins in 10 of 15 tries thus far. That 10-5 mark is tops in the East, and behind only Oklahoma City (12-5) and the Los Angeles Clippers (11-5) for NBA road supremacy.
And while tonight's opponent, the 14-23 Raptors, don't seem like much of a test on paper, their 10-8 home record has paced them. It's never easy for teams to cross the border to play one game and come right home, as two of those losses have come in overtime, and just two others have been by double-digits. The Raptors will be comfortable, too, having played six straight home games to start 2013 before a matchup last night in Brooklyn, which they lost 113-106.
And with former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani and 2011 first round pick Jonas Valanciunas out, Toronto -- much like Chicago -- is relying on their pair of bigs to hold down the defense in the frontcourt. Ed Davis is averaging 13.6 points and 8.4 rebounds in 33 minutes in January, while fill-in center Amir Johnson has gone for 15.0 points and 8.1 rebounds in 31 minutes a night since the calendar flipped to 2013.
At the beginning of the year, the pair of lanky 6-foot-10 forwards were expected to spell each other, but have been forced into more significant roles and minutes and have answered the bell. The Raptors are just a marginal rebounding team, but have improved since Davis and Johnson saw an uptick in minutes. Depth is thin in the frontcourt -- they have Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy behind those two -- but they're playing well inside.
But those two aren't the only successful duo in the Raptors' rotation. Point guards Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon also have formed a pairing, in the backcourt, that has the Raptors still in contention for the No. 8 seed in the East -- currently they sit 5.5 games back.
Lowry was the major addition to the Toronto roster this offseason, and he exploded out of the gates, averaging 23.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists through the first three games. But a right ankle sprain cost him six games in November, and a right shoulder injury midway through December kept him out of action for seven more.
His numbers have been solid -- 13.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists -- but since he returned from his shoulder injury, he's been relegated to the bench in favor of Calderon. The seventh year veteran has long been considered one of the more underrated point guards in the league, and he thrived when Lowry was shelved with his respective injuries. In 22 starts this year, he's averaging 12.4 points and 10.2 assists. Off the bench (15 games), his numbers dip to 8.1 points and 4.2 assists.
Lowry is capable of playing the "two-guard," and both have seen time on the court together, but the two-headed attack of Lowry and Calderon has helped an otherwise average offense.
The two are questionable for tonight's affair, as Lowry suffered a sprained left ankle early against the Nets (that he played through), and Calderon suffered a hip injury he also did not come out for. The two are game-time decisions tonight, and if they cannot go former Bulls point guard John Lucas III would get the start. The offensive spark has averaged 4.2 points and 1.7 assists in 11 minutes per game.
See if the Bulls can continue their impressive play away from the United Center and pick up a win out of the country tonight on Comcast SportsNet.

Bulls finalize training camp roster

Bulls finalize training camp roster

The Bulls finalized their training camp roster on Monday morning, in the lead-up to the start of the team's official media day.

The team will carry 19 players into the preseason before cutting that number down a maximum of 15 in late October.

No. 0 Isaiah Canaan, guard: Signed to a two-year, $2.2 million deal in July, Canaan will compete with Spencer Dinwiddie and Jerian Grant for minutes behind Rajon Rondo.

No. 2 Jerian Grant, guard: The combo guard will get a fresh start in Chicago after an inconsistent rookie season with the Knicks.

No. 3 Dwyane Wade, guard: The three-time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer begins the next chapter of his famed career after 13 seasons in Miami.

No. 5 Bobby Portis, forward: After showing flashes of potential in his rookie season, the 6-foot-11 Portis will be in line for an extended role following Joakim Noah's and Pau Gasol's departures.

No. 6 Cristiano Felicio, center: The Brazilian impressed plenty in last season's final month, and he should see significant minutes behind Robin Lopez.

No. 7 D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, guard: The undrafted rookie averaged 14.8 points per game in his senior season at Georgetown.

No. 8 Robin Lopez, center: One of the league's most underrated centers, Lopez was one of five players to average 10 points, 7 rebounds and play in all 82 games a year ago.

No. 9 Rajon Rondo, guard: The veteran point guard led the NBA in assists last season, but playing on his fourth team in three seasons means his best days may be behind him.

No. 11 Doug McDermott, forward: The sharpshooter showed significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, finishing sixth in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage. Now about the defense...

No. 15 Thomas Walkup, guard: The All-American honorable mention went for 33 points in No. 14 Stephen F. Austin's opening-round upset win over No. 3 West Virginia.

No. 16 Paul Zipser, forward: The Bulls' 2016 second-round pick can do a bit of everything, and at 22 years old he could be ready to contribute sooner than later.

No. 20 Tony Snell, forward: It may be difficult for the former first-rounder to crack the rotation after a forgettable third season.

No. 21 Jimmy Butler, guard: An All-Star in each of the last two seasons, the 27-year-old Butler is poised for yet another career year.

No. 22 Taj Gibson, forward: The 31-year-old veteran is in a contract year, and should see an even more expanded role after starting 55 games last season - even if Nikola Mirotic replaces him in the starting lineup.

No. 24 Vince Hunter, forward: The 6-foot-8 Hunter averaged 21.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for the Reno Bighorns last season as rookie.

No. 25 Spencer Dinwiddie, guard: A casuality of the Pistons' crowded backcourt, Dinwiddie has a chance to carve out a role in Chicago behind Rajon Rondo.

No 31 J.J. Avila, forward: A standout at Colorado State who graduated in 2015, Avila appeared in four Summer League games for the Knicks, averaging 1.2 points and 1.5 rebounds.

No. 44 Nikola Mirotic, forward: The Bulls will be relying on Mirotic's outside shot, which improved mightily in his second season from 31.6 percent to 39 percent.

No. 45 Denzel Valentine, guard: The jack-of-all-trades will need some time to find his role, but he's an apt passer and outside shooter with good size on the wing.

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

USA Today Sports Images

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

All the new guys: Last October, the Bulls entered camp with essentially the same roster that lost to Cleveland in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, save for then-rookie Bobby Portis. This time, there’s no Derrick Rose, no Joakim Noah, no Pau Gasol, no Mike Dunleavy, and no E’Twaun Moore.

That’s four starters (essentially) whose performances or presence has been counted on in some way, even through some of the uncertainty that surrounded a few of these guys.

Conceivably, the Bulls can have around five new players in the actual rotation who weren’t thought of this time last year, although last year’s product left a lot to be desired.

The adjustment time and chemistry building starts Tuesday.

Who starts at power forward: All other positions in the first five are set, especially with the new faces. But the pivotal decision for Fred Hoiberg, if it hasn’t been made already, is who will start alongside Robin Lopez at center. It could be Nikola Mirotic, or Taj Gibson or even Bobby Portis, depending on Hoiberg’s sensibilities.

Smart money says it’ll probably be Mirotic considering he’s the best perimeter shooter of the three and actually a decent defensive rebounder. Gibson being a great screener, finisher and defender makes him intriguing as an option, but offensive space will be limited if he’s out there with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. As for Portis, is he ready to take a step toward consistency in year 2?

The point guard: Rajon Rondo’s basketball intelligence is genius level, where he can master a gameplan and probably even devise one of his own that rivals his coaches. The man can counter a play before the opposing defense initiates an adjustment. That said, how will he and Hoiberg mesh this season? He clashed with Doc Rivers, had knock-down battles with Rick Carlisle in Dallas and George Karl didn’t have it in him to fight anybody in Sacramento, let alone Rondo.

Rondo likes playing the game at his speed, with his own feel and rhythm. Hoiberg will have to tailor his style for the new personnel he has, and luckily for him, isn’t a “my way or the highway” type of fellow that’s sure to rub Rondo the wrong way. Will Rondo embrace Hoiberg’s system and become an extension of the coach, or will Hoiberg give Rondo enough rope to explore Rondo’s intelligence to find a middle ground?

Will that even be enough?

The backup point guard: Just as intriguing as the starting power forward battle will be who backs up Rondo at point guard, although it’s likely that player won’t have to fill the traditional role of doing anything aside from walking the ball up and letting either Butler or Wade initiate the offense.

It’s likely Hoiberg will change his substitution patterns to have either Wade or Butler anchor second units in the second quarter, as a way to maximize the time he has with both while not having them invade each other’s space in the halfcourt. So who plays backup point could be more about who fits best next to the best player on the floor as opposed to who the best player is.

It seems to open the door for rookie Denzel Valentine since he can play three positions (although defense will be a task), along with Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan and Spencer Dinwiddie.

Grant was a first-rounder in 2015 who wants to show he’s worth that status, while Dinwiddie was projected as a lottery pick three years ago before tearing his ACL at Colorado.

It’s certainly not the most stressful decision Hoiberg will have to make, but a curious one.

Developing an identity: Does it happen in training camp? Who knows, but tones are often set as to what type of squad a team will be. Last season, Hoiberg believed he was building on a solid foundation after Tom Thibodeau’s defense first mentality, but signs of things crumbling began to show very early in the preseason.

This season, with so many new pieces, moving parts and overall uncertainty, there’s question as to what kind of team the Bulls will be. It’s intriguing, to say the least. But what will the Bulls hang their hats on come late October?