Chicago Bulls

Bulls go punchless against Knicks

Bulls go punchless against Knicks

NEW YORK — Explaining a rhyme or reason to the Bulls season is like figuring out what the Knicks’ plan is for the long-term, or playing trivia on where players like Maurice Ndour and Mindaugas Kuzminskas went to school.

But those were the players taking the Bulls to school, when the Bulls were the ones who apparently had something to play for, when they came in on a season-high four game winning streak.

Like most other times when the Bulls had quick highs, the lows came hard and fast as the New York Knicks completed a season sweep of the Bulls with a 100-91 win at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night.

In position to actually come within a game of the Milwaukee Bucks for fifth seed in the East, they played like they’d rather be in Bora Bora come April 13 with a woeful performance that seemingly stretched all night.

They broke trends they established during the win streak such as 3-point shooting and dominating the glass, getting beat by a 53-36 margin on the boards and shooting six of 23 from the 3-point line.

The rebound disparity caused the usually-mild Fred Hoiberg to unleash an expletive in his postgame media session.

“Tonight we just got our asses kicked on the boards and you’re not going to win when you have an effort like that,” Hoiberg said. “Look at the numbers on the glass, that tells you everything you need to know. They had their way with us. It’s not how you win games.”

After trading baskets to start the game, the offense slowed to a crawl and the Bulls didn’t fall back on their defense to keep them in it.

“We gotta let our defense lead to our offense instead of our offense go to our defense,” said Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 26 points and four assists. “It looks good when we’re making shots, but you can’t rely on that every single night like you want to. You gotta guard, rebound, get loose balls.”

The Bulls shot 38 percent, a number that was inflated by a late comeback that made the game look respectable—although they didn’t perform like a team that respected its opponent.

“We didn’t come out with the fire we needed to,” Butler said. “They came out like they were playing for something and we didn’t. They whipped our tail in every aspect of the game.”

Yes, Carmelo Anthony returned after an injury and contributed 18 points, including a highlight-reel crossover on Nikola Mirotic and triple from 30 feet, but it was more of the lesser-known Knicks who delivered the blows to the Bulls.

Like Kuzminskas, who probably gave Hoiberg a conniption on the sideline with his easy drive past Bobby Portis and dunk over Joffrey Lauvergne in the third quarter.

Like Ndour, who trapped and agitated and ran the floor to the tune of 12 points and 10 rebounds—only playing because the Knicks want to get an extended look of their young players, as playoff possibilities are far out of reach.

Or Justin Holiday, who took the place of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah as former Bulls who came back to torture their former teams. Holiday was only a Bull for a short time before being shipped with Rose to New York right before the draft but fit the bull of young and athletic, scoring 12 off the bench.

With the last four games against teams like the Knicks—out of the playoffs and giving players an opportunity to prove themselves, the Bulls can’t let their guard down if they hope to play beyond 82 games.

“The next three teams we play are gonna play as hard as any team in the league,” Hoiberg said. “They’re gonna play free, they’re gonna play loose. We gotta come prepared and we gotta come ready.”

And an old bugaboo reared its head again, as Robin Lopez pointed to a lack of accountability on the defensive end.

“It’s an accountability issue. We gotta stay on each other’s backs,” Lopez said. “Keep reminding each other how important each one of these individual games are.”

But given they’ve been at this exercise since October, expecting the light to magically appear doesn’t seem realistic.

“That’s a very good point. We’ve been up and down all season long and that’s when you want to build good habits,” Lopez said. “We’ve done a good job holding each other accountable this past stretch and we didn’t see that tonight. It’s something we have to keep up as we go into the playoffs—if we go into the playoffs.”

The second quarter was as bad a display of basketball as you’ll see, given the plight of the Knicks and the alleged newfound life that had been on display from the Bulls. Perhaps the fatigue played a part but if fatigue could talk, it would tell the Bulls not to use him as a scapegoat as they played their third game in four nights.

Butler even had his moments, although he tried to bring the Bulls back from the dead in the second half.  But Paul Zipser went scoreless and Rajon Rondo was a minus-21 when he was on the floor. Denzel Valentine went scoreless, missing his six shots.

Whenever you think you have a handle on these Bulls and they’ve found something, an old layer revealed itself and you feel silly for believing anything, one way or the other.

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

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USA TODAY

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

The Bulls are in complete rebuild mode, and that means they have little use for 35-year-old Dwyane Wade.

ESPN's Nick Friedell reported last week that it's a matter of when - not if - the Bulls will buy out Wade. The future Hall of Famer is due $24 million this upcoming season, but how much Wade receives in a potential buyout could hold things up in the short-term.

The question then becomes: where would Wade land after he passes through waivers and becomes a free agent?

A potential destination is joining good friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Wade could also consider going back to the Miami Heat, where he spent the first 13 years of his NBA career.

And if he did, budding star Hassan Whiteside says the team would welcome back Wade with open arms.

"It'd be great," Whiteside told the Sun Sentinel. "It's a three-time NBA champion coming back, coming in and really helping a team out. It would be great."

Stay tuned, but it seems like a Wade-to-Miami reunion is a real possibility.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.