Current Bulls roster not built for physical play
After losing in Minnesota on Wednesday, Bulls coach Jim Boylen talked about the need to play with more force and physicality, while not using their changing lineups as an excuse.
So naturally, the Bulls canceled practice Thursday. Sometimes they'll hold a limited practice and tell reporters there's no availability. But a day off during a relatively light week would seem to be a good chance to get players back in sync.
Boylen blamed defensive rebounding after the 115-108 loss. But as usual, the Bulls offered up a wide variety of problems, a season-long theme when the roster doesn't fit together well and doesn't match the style of play.
"I want us to rebound the ball better, I want us to be physical," Boylen said after the game. "I didn't think our physicality was good enough. Our effort on the defensive board has to be better."
Is it even possible for the Bulls to get more physical? In the past two games, they got a couple players back from injuries -- Otto Porter and Lauri Markkanen -- who aren't exactly known for their physicality.
Rebounding has been a consistent issue for the Bulls and as pointed out here last week, they have just two players who rank in the top 160 in the league in rebounds per minute played -- Wendell Carter Jr. and Cristiano Felicio. Then Carter (6 points, 9 rebounds) was outplayed by Minnesota's undrafted rookie Naz Reid (16 points, 11 rebounds) on Wednesday.
It was good to see Markkanen get some of his 13 points around the basket. Playing for the first time since Jan. 24, Markkanen's first hoop Wednesday was a post up over Jake Layman. That was followed by a driving hook, 17-foot turnaround and a cutting lay-in off a pass from Porter. Markkanen hit 6 of 10 shots overall and went 1-for-4 from 3-point range.
"I tried to get to the rim and get a couple of easy ones," Markkanen said after the game. "Of course, you've got to move to get there, not just stay out at the 3-point line. We ran some things to get me on the move, so it was good."
To say defensive rebounds killed the Bulls in Minnesota would ignore so many other problems. The Timberwolves grabbed 10 offensive boards, but eight of those came in the first half when the Bulls built a 58-55 lead.
The Bulls shot 55 percent in the first half and 40 percent in the second half. They were outscored by 24 points from the 3-point line and 9 points at the foul line.
The game's key sequence was the start of the third quarter when the Timberwolves hit 3-pointers on four of their first six possessions and went on a 17-6 run that flipped control of the game.
Minnesota did some of the same things New York did when beating the Bulls last Saturday. Knowing the Bulls like to trap screen-and-rolls, both teams would fake a screen and instead send the big man diving free to the basket, while the Bulls' defenders were trying to trap the ball.
For a while, the Bulls ranked among the top defensive teams in the league while using their aggressive, trapping style. But the defense fell off a cliff when Kris Dunn got injured and with all the changing lineups, they've struggled to make any progress.
And it's no secret the Bulls have plenty of guys who are not great individual defenders, like Tomas Satoransky, Denzel Valentine, Zach LaVine, Porter and Markkanen. Usually a few quick passes against the Bulls will create open 3-point looks and Minnesota was hot from long range.
On the other end, the Bulls haven't shot consistently well from long range. Their best 3-point shooter at 40 percent is two-way player Adam Mokoka and he didn't make the trip to Minnesota.
The best news for the Bulls right now is the play of rookie Coby White. Over the last six games, he's averaged 28.0 points and 3.5 assists, while shooting 51 percent overall and 49 percent from 3-point range.
This is probably the right time to move White into the starting lineup, now that he's proven his hot streak wasn't a three-game fluke. And the timing is good since LaVine is likely to miss another game or two with a quad strain.
Bulls game dayBulls game day
Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers, 7 p.m. Friday at the United Center
TV: NBCSCH • Radio: WSCR 670-AM
Outlook: Last time the Bulls played Indiana, they nearly pulled off a road win, but a long 3-pointer by Victor Oladipo, playing his first game in a year after recovering from a quad tear, sent the game to overtime and the Bulls eventually lost 115-106 on Jan. 29. That was the last time Kris Dunn played a full game before suffering a season-ending knee injury. ... The Pacers (37-25) lost six in a row after beating the Bulls as they struggled to work Oladipo back into the lineup. Now Indiana has won six of its last eight. ... PG Malcolm Brogdon (16.3 ppg) left Wednesday's loss to Milwaukee early with a hip injury. ... SF TJ Warren is the Pacers' top scorer at 18.7 ppg, followed by all-star PF Domantas Sabonis with 18.2 points and 12.4 rebounds. Oladipo is averaging 12 points in 10 games since he returned. ... The Bulls have lost eight straight to Indiana.
Next: Brooklyn Nets, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Barclays Center
-- Mike McGraw