Bulls try to rebound at home in clash with Hawks

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Bulls try to rebound at home in clash with Hawks

The Bulls are searching desperately to get back on track inside the United Center, where they've lost two of their last three, as they take on Josh Smith and the Atlanta Hawks on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill.

Of all the potential downfalls the Bulls could have suffered without Derrick Rose, wins at home likely were near the bottom of that list. But after going 62-12 at the United Center the past two seasons, the Bulls have almost matched that loss total through 35 games in 2012-'13, managing a 10-10 record in Chicago. That also includes losses in two of the last three home contests, which, before this season, had never occurred in Tom Thibodeau's tenure. But that stretch has happened four times already, and the Bulls will need to reclaim their homecourt advantage as the season nears the halfway point.

It doesn't get easier, however, as one of the surprises of the Eastern Conference makes their way to the Madhouse on Madison tonight. The Hawks made one of the major moves of this past offseason, sending All-Star Joe Johnson and the remainder of his max contract to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams, DeShawn Stevenson and a future first-round pick. In essence, it was a salary dump -- Johnson was due nearly 90 million over the next four seasons -- that didn't send back much talent for Atlanta to work with for the upcoming season. But in the weak East (and their awful Southeast Division) the Hawks have managed to jump out to a 21-15 record and sit in the No. 5 seed in the conference. Eight of those wins have come against the Wizards, Bobcats and Magic, teams with a combined 22-78 record, though they do have wins over Oklahoma City and Memphis.

Another one of those wins, however, came against the Bulls on Dec. 22, when Al Horford's 20 points and 10 rebounds paced the Hawks in a 92-75 victory in Chicago. The Bulls were without Rip Hamilton, but the offense suffered its second worst outing of the year as Luol Deng's 11 points led Chicago, which shot 42 percent and went to the free throw line just eight times. Carlos Boozer managed eight points and four rebounds in the loss, but the Hawks should see a different power forward tonight.

Boozer has been stellar through the Bulls recent woes, averaging 22.7 points and 10.2 rebounds in six games since the calendar flipped to 2013. He's connecting on better than 54 percent of his field goal attempts in that span after making 46 percent through 25 games. He'll need to be at his best once again against Horford and Smith.

Tonight also marks the second return to Chicago for sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who is in the midst of his best season in eight years. He's averaging 2.6 3-pointers a game, helping to fill the void left by Johnson, off the bench, and scored a reserve-best 13 points in December's matchup with the Bulls. Newcomers Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson have taken the majority of the outside shooting with Korver out of the lineup. The Bulls still rank last in the league at 4.6 3-pointers per game, but have improved to 10th in 3-point percentage (35.8).

The Bulls have lost two of three at home (and overall), while Atlanta stumbles into the United Center having lost five of its last six. One team will get back on track with a big win that may hold playoff seeding implications by season's end, so tune into Comcast SportsNet to catch all of tonight's action.

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue break down the Bulls' upcoming schedule in the latest edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

TNT Bulls are back this week as the team heads into a crucial stretch. 

Currently, the Bulls sit half a game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and with just eight games remaining on the schedule, each contest is essentially a must-win. 

So, yes, Thursday would be a great time for Jimmy Butler and company to summon their TNT alter ego. The Bulls have sealed 18 straight victories when playing on TNT Thursday, an improbable feat considering those games are usually reserved for two of the NBA's best. 

To continue that run, they'll have to down Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also fighting for playoff positioning -- albeit at the top of the conference. Good thing the Bulls have a tendency to get up for big games. 

"The Bulls play up and down to their competition," Bulls Pregame and Postgame analyst Kendall Gill said. "They've been doing that the whole season." 

After Cleveland, the Bulls get set to battle another playoff squad, the Atlanta Hawks. 

Watch the video above to see Schanowski, Gill and Perdue break down the matchups. 

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Whacked on his ailing left hand by Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler shook off the pain to hit a rare triple in transition while Middleton was complaining for a foul a couple possessions later.

Butler then darted into the passing lane for a pass intended for Jason Terry like a linebacker jumping into the flat for an interception, then trotted down for an uncontested dunk to give the Bulls an unlikely 17-point lead.

For the man who claims he’s the best football player in the NBA, playing through the pain and doing so with his team’s playoff hopes dwindling, Butler may finally have some believers to his boasts.

Not only did the Bulls avoid a season sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks with a resounding 109-94 win at the BMO Bradley Center Sunday afternoon, they restored a slight sense of pride after looking like they had none of it Friday night in their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I give them credit for bouncing back after a tough home loss,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to understand what makes us successful. When we’re committed to following the game plan and executing…It’s the little things we have to do that add up to give ourselves a chance to win.

Butler scored 20 with a career-high 14 assists in a grinding 39 minutes, but he could play the role of a semi-closer, making those big plays in the fourth when the Bulls pulled away, and pulled to within a game of the eighth playoff spot in the East.

But the Bulls’ defense, one that held the Bucks to just 39 points in the second half, caught his eye.

“I could actually say we played some legitimate defense,” Butler said. “Got back in transition, we always helped. We came out, stuck to the gameplan of getting back.”

He didn’t have to carry a heavy load offensively, though, leading to his being fresh down the stretch as he started the fourth quarter on the floor as opposed to the bench.

Instead, it was March Madness as Nikola Mirotic played up to his career numbers in his favorite month on the calendar, drilling five triples on his way to 28 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes.

It helped the Bulls shoot 54 percent overall, bringing their mark to 10-1 when they cross that threshold.

“I’ve been playing with a lot of confidence,” Mirotic said. “I’ve spent a lot of hours before practice and after. I know you guys have been asking about consistency, so I’m working on that and trying to be more consistent.”

Mirotic and Rajon Rondo helped the Bulls to a decisive double-digit lead in the third quarter with Rondo scoring 14 of his 18 points in the period, hitting a triple, getting into the lane for layups and dishing out a few of his eight assists.

It was an offensive masterpiece for the Bulls, a prospect that seemed highly unlikely given the opponent and the way they played coming into Sunday’s contest. And with the Bucks getting Giannis Antetokounmpo going early along with Middleton, it looked like a nightmare of a different kind was in store for the Bulls.

Antetokounmpo scored 22 with eight rebounds and seven assists, but 12 of those points happened in the first quarter. Middleton scored 14 but shot six of 17.

“When we get slapped in the face and punched in the mouth, adversity hits and we have to handle it and get through it,” Hoiberg said. “I didn’t see any head-hanging when it didn’t start off great.”

But Hoiberg wasn’t about to let an instant replay occur, having seen his own version of a “Nightmare on Madison Street” Friday night against the woeful 76ers when his backups let time stand still for minutes at a time, squandering a double-digit lead.

Hoiberg decided not to mess around with the second unit as the Bucks began pulling away in the same manner the 76ers did Friday night. He brought the starters right back in when the lead ballooned to 45-33 at the 8:29 mark.

“We were ready in case that happened,” Hoiberg said. “We felt we had to do everything possible to give ourselves a chance. We were ready to play our guys big minutes tonight and we’ll have to do that in the next eight games.”

Then the Bulls went to work to finish the half, with a 23-10 run, along with starting off the third as efficient as they had been in awhile against a worthwhile opponent, shooting 14 of 21 in the period to take a 91-79 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Mirotic was seven of eight from the field before halftime and his first miss of the third—a 30-foot triple that went wide right, wound up in a 3-point opportunity for Rondo, who scooped the ball and scored on a layup while being fouled.

It was that kind of afternoon for the Bulls, a team that can’t seem to decide who they want to be on a nightly basis—making it that much harder for an opponent to predict, that much more difficult to eliminate from the playoff conversation.