There are plenty of strange things going on with the Bulls right now -- Bobby Portis coming back from a suspension, rebuilding centerpiece Zach LaVine working out, but not yet playing; trying to win games when that's not really the goal this season.
While coach Fred Hoiberg tries to keep the players focused on the small details, such as effort and improvement, bigger issues are always lurking.
Bulls game dayBulls vs. Indiana Pacers at the United Center, 7 p.m. Friday
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: The Pacers (5-7) have dropped four straight since winning at Cleveland on Nov. 1. SG Victor Oladipo, acquired in the Paul George trade from OKC, has been better than expected, averaging 22.8 points and shooting 45 percent from 3-point range. C Myles Turner (15.2 ppg) suffered a concussion on opening night and missed seven games before returning for the four-game losing streak. PF Thaddeus Young (14.8 ppg), C Domantas Sabonis (13.5), Bojan Bogdanovic (13.3) and PG Darren Collison (12.5) are also averaging in double figures. The Pacers rank sixth in the league in scoring at 109.3 points per game. Indiana has lost five in a row at the United Center.
Next: San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
-- Mike McGraw
Second-year forward Denzel Valentine made an interesting comment regarding Portis making his season debut in Toronto with 21 points and 13 rebounds.
"Didn't realize how much we missed him until he played," Valentine said. "He stretches the floor out, big shots, he defends, brings energy. He brings a lot to the table."
Portis will get his second chance to take the court Friday when the Bulls host Indiana. Whether Portis and injured forward Nikola Mirotic can coexist again after the damaging Oct. 17 practice altercation remains to be seen.
"I give our veteran guys a lot of credit with Quincy (Pondexter) and Justin (Holiday) and Robin (Lopez) as far as keeping our guys focused on the task at hand and worrying about the things we can control," Hoiberg said Thursday. "That's playing with great effort and intensity and giving ourselves a chance. For the most part, we've done that."
The Bulls appeared to take some confidence from their second-half comeback at Toronto, cutting a 23-point deficit to 3 late in the game. But this is a young team without a go-to scorer, so any sort of win streak seems far-fetched, at least until LaVine returns in a few weeks.
"It gives a lot of confidence. Go out there and compete," Valentine said of the close losses. "We really believe we're just as good as anybody in the NBA. We've just got to come out and play with fire and urgency from the start."
Hoiberg talked about having one basic goal during a season in which the Bulls are widely expected to be one of the NBA's worst teams.
"A big part of it is can you look each other in the eye after the game and say we played harder than our opponent?" Hoiberg said. "The thing we can control is doing that every night we step on the floor; every time we step on the floor for practice. It's about growth. It's about getting better every day.
"Our guys have responded well. We've had really good, hard competitive practices and feel that has carried over in the games. It hasn't showed right now in the wins, but I'm confident that if we keep playing with this type of energy, eventually it will."
The best time for the payoff might be next season, because the Bulls need that top-five draft pick in 2018. But the outlook could improve when LaVine joins the lineup. He's been working out with the team, but has not been cleared for full contact.
"Yeah, when we get Zach back, I'm excited," Hoiberg said. "It certainly gives us another weapon out there. He's as good an athlete as there is in this league and he shoots it with ease. So he should be able to open things up for us."
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