Bulls return from break ready to deal with conflicting goals
Can the Bulls create some positive momentum for the future without messing up their lottery chances?
Yeah, probably. First of all, don't sweat the lottery too much. Look at it this way, there's a better chance one of the bottom three teams doesn't get the No. 1 pick than does.
As NBA season picks up again following the all-star break, the Bulls have the league's fourth-worst record. Even if they play better over the last 24 games, their chances of moving up in the standings are pretty slim. They are currently 5 games behind Atlanta for the fifth-worst record and 9 behind Memphis for sixth-worst.
The bottom three teams all get a 14 percent chance at the top pick (which means a 58 percent chance another team will get it). The fourth-worst team has a 12.5 percent chance, so the drop is small. Building some positive momentum might benefit the rebuild, although there was plenty of late-season false hope during the championship era rebuild when the Bulls would beat good teams that were resting up for the playoffs.
"I don't think the fan base wants a team to go out there and lose on purpose," Zach LaVine said Wednesday at the Advocate Center. "I think they want players who are competitive and want to win. I want to win every game, so I understand what some people may think, but to be honest I am going out there and playing for myself and my teammates not to lose."
The positive vibes seemed to pick up immediately after the Bulls added forward Otto Porter Jr. from Washington in a trade for Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker. The Bulls went 2-2 between the trade and break, with Porter averaging 22.5 points while shooting 62 percent from the field.
Coach Jim Boylen said one of his goal for the final stretch of the regular season is to improve the defense. Since he took the job on Dec. 3, the Bulls were better on defense for a while, then turned into one of the league's best scoring teams. They've never done both things well at the same time.
"I've been frustrated with our defense," Boylen said. "I've been encouraged by our offense, but I want us to be a complete team, and not 30th in one and (first) in another. I want us to be balanced.
"That's what I spent my break thinking about. We spent the first 35 minutes of our practice on defense and getting better at what we need to do, better in basics and habits."
Boylen said Kris Dunn did the full practice and should be good to go when the season resumes in Orlando on Friday. Dunn sat out the final game before the break because of a sore back. Robin Lopez missed the practice because his flight back to Chicago was delayed.
The All-Star Game should be a bigger deal around here next year, since the United Center will host the event for the first time in 2020. It was last in Chicago at the Stadium in 1988.
LaVine, a two-time slam dunk contest champion, sent an Instagram post over the weekend talking of a rematch of the memorable 2016 contest between LaVine and Orlando's Aaron Gordon. Asked about it Wednesday, LaVine was hesitant.
"I teased somebody online with a little Instagram post, but I don't know, man," LaVine said. "I'm worried about getting in the game instead of dunk contests. But it's here next year and I'll see what I can do, man. I don't know. I think I've still got a couple tricks, but I don't know. I don't know, I don't know. Maybe."