Chicago Bulls use of big men as outside shooters has interesting potential

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls' Bobby Portis (5) and Kris Dunn celebrate in the final minutes of the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, in Milwaukee. The Bulls won 115-109.

    Chicago Bulls' Bobby Portis (5) and Kris Dunn celebrate in the final minutes of the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, in Milwaukee. The Bulls won 115-109.

 
 
Posted12/17/2017 1:00 AM

Maybe chess match isn't the right phrase, but Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg did a nice job of matching lineups at the end of Friday's victory at Milwaukee.

While the Bucks used four guards with star Giannis Antetokounmpo, that group allowed Hoiberg to use what has become his favorite lineup lately -- Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis playing together.

 

Portis and Mirotic scored 22 of the Bulls' 33 fourth-quarter points, and the surprising winning streak stretched to five.

"Those two guys played very well off of each other again," Hoiberg said after the game. "I can't say enough about how well those two have played. They've really showed great chemistry and obviously hope they keep it up."

The Bulls' closing lineup was unconventional in a few different ways. For one, the two big men, Mirotic and Portis, are the best outside shooters. During the streak, Mirotic and Portis have combined to hit 22 of 43 shots from 3-point range.

That creates a unique challenge for defenses.

If the two traditional power forwards are guarded by big men, it takes the tallest defenders away from the basket and creates driving lanes for guys such as Kris Dunn and David Nwaba. If the defense switches, both Mirotic and Portis can drop down into the post and shoot over a smaller opponent.

The Bulls' clinching basket was an off-balance bank shot and 3-point play by Mirotic with 1:07 left. The Bulls also controlled the offensive glass in Friday's game, finishing with a 24-13 edge in second-chance points.

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Realistically, this should be a popular look long term for the Bulls. The inside-out offense could be a good fit for Zach LaVine when he returns from a knee injury in a few weeks because he can get to the basket and hit 3s.

The Bulls also have a third power forward who can shoot well from the outside in rookie Lauri Markkanen, who has missed the past three games with a sore back. Markkanen probably is the most athletic of those three big men.

The Bucks were limited because some of their 3-point shooters are injured, like Tony Snell and Mirza Teletovic. But it did seem like coach Jason Kidd's four-guard lineup played to the Bulls' strengths.

"I liked the way it worked. I liked the way it looked," Hoiberg said. "If they would have had a true big in there, Robin (Lopez) would have been in there."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Bulls aren't ready to abandon the big lineup yet, since Lopez scored an efficient 18 points Friday.

The other unusual part of the closing lineup is the Bulls used the 6-foot-4 Nwaba to guard the 6-11 Antetokounmpo. It worked. Antetokounmpo finished with 29 points but scored just 4 in the fourth quarter.

"David's a fullback out there," Hoiberg said. "He has such a low base; he's strong. He does a good job of getting into the body and he moves his feet tremendously well. We felt David was the only guy that had a chance of even slowing him (Antetokounmpo) down a little."

Nwaba, who has become one of the more valuable Bulls, said he enjoys a defensive challenge.

"That's how I got into the league," Nwaba said. "The Lakers gave me an opportunity because I could play defense, so I just try to showcase that every opportunity I get. I enjoy guarding the toughest players on the court."

Mirotic and Portis are big men who can shoot from long range and also are mobile enough to get away with guarding smaller opponents. Overall, the closing lineup, which included Justin Holiday, might be the Bulls' best defensive group. and Hoiberg likes to scramble and trap with that group.

So it was a perfect storm down the stretch in Milwaukee. The question is whether the Bulls' unconventional lineup can work all the time, or is it more of a gimmick that opponents will figure out?

"I'm proud of the team because we are finding ways to finish those games that we weren't before," Mirotic said. "We are finding the right guy in the right moment and sharing the ball. We are just enjoying every game right now."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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