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Note-A-Bulls: Rondo shines as Bulls take commanding 2-0 series lead over Celtics

After a surprising game one victory, the Chicago Bulls looked to earn a commanding 2-0 lead on the No.1 seed Boston Celtics. It’s safe to say that stealing one game in Boston is already a huge positive for the Bulls, but with a chance to put a chokehold on a potential NBA Finals team, the Bulls had a great opportunity to make even more noise than they did in Game 1.

Boston began the game on a 7-0 run, with star point guard Isaiah Thomas scoring five of the team’s first seven points. However, that was the best part of the quarter for Boston. After former Celtic Rajon Rondo hit a short jumper to give the Bulls an 11-10 lead, Chicago got hot. The Bulls went on a 14-5 run throughout the middle of the first quarter. However, despite the extremely promising start, these are the 2016-17 Chicago Bulls. In the last two minutes of the quarter, the Celtics cut the Bulls lead to five, with the box score reading 31-26 in favor of the Bulls.

Boston’s hot end to the second quarter continued early on in the second quarter. After Jae Crowder made a layup from Marcus Smart, Boston tied the game at 36. However, the Bulls did not let Boston’s large run that stretched across the end of the first and early into the second break their spirit. They were able to push their lead back to ten, after Boston missed seven consecutive shots. Robin Lopez (Yes, Robin Lopez) continued to take advantage of Boston’s poor rebounding. It was assumed that Lopez would have a decent series, but no one saw what he is doing. At the 4:50 mark in the second, Lopez had eight points and four rebounds, shooting 80 percent from the floor. The great play didn’t stop there. Boston took at timeout at the 4:50 mark. However, right after the timeout, the Bulls pushed their lead to eleven off a great breakout pass by Rajon Rondo. Boston finally registered a field goal for the first time in five minutes after Crowder hit a three to cut the lead back to eight. The Bulls held strong as the half closed out, keeping their lead at eight. Rondo (Yes, Rondo) was leading the way for the Bulls. He finished the half with a vintage Rondo stat line, with eight points, nine assists and seven rebounds. On plays where Rondo could help the Bulls create a shot, they shot 59 percent from the floor. On plays where he wasn’t involved, they only shot 38 percent. The Bulls did a great job in the first half taking care of the basketball, as they only had four turnovers.

The third quarter started out promising for Boston, but the Bulls continued to keep their foot on the gas. The Boston crowd was doing everything and anything to push their beloved Celtics to break out and get a lead. Al Horford, who only had three points in the first half, began the scoring with a strong dunk to try and get that crowd up. However, you could just see we were in for a fist fight. Lopez had all six of the Bulls points to start the quarter, keeping their lead at one at the 8:10 mark. The good play continued for the Bulls, as once Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade returned to the floor, they went on a 15-6 run to put their lead back to ten. That run would continue, as after a Boston timeout at the 4:56 mark, the Bulls scored nine unanswered before Boston finally found a basket to cut the Bulls lead to twelve. As the minutes shrunk, the Bulls continued to stand tall. Michael Carter-Williams made a surprise appearance into the game, after Jerian Grant looked lost on an offensive possession. Jimmy Butler was barking at Grant for a good five seconds. After three, the Bulls led 86-75. Boston, with twelve minutes to go, needed a push early in the fourth if the Bulls weren’t going to steal Game 2.

The fourth quarter started how you’d expect it would, the Bulls started out OK. Again, Boston was searching for everything and anything to get their crowd loud and make a push to get the lead. Kelly Olynyk sunk a three at the 10:04 mark, cutting the Bulls lead to nine. Fred Hoiberg made a smart decision, by taking a timeout immediately after the three. The last thing the Bulls needed was to let the Boston crowd back into this game. As the minutes shrunk, the intensity of the game certainly increased. You could see Boston fighting on every possession, but not getting the result they wanted. The Bulls continued to keep their foot on the gas and stand tall. At the 6:01 mark, the Bulls earned their largest lead of the night of 16, after Rondo registered his 14th assist of the game on an alley-oop to Cristiano Felicio. After that play, the Boston faithful finally seemed to go quiet. As a result, the Bulls were able to slow the game down, and wind down the clock. Eventually, that clock hit 0:00, and the Bullsß earned a 2-0 lead on the Celtics. Wade finished the game as the leading scorer, with 22 points. However, it was Rondo and Lopez that anchored this win. Rondo finished one assist shy of a triple-double, and Lopez finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, shooting an astounding 73 percent from the floor.

What a bizarre first week of the playoffs for the City of Chicago. I don’t know what’s happened, but somehow this is working. The Celtics are one of the weaker No.1 seeds you’ll see, but nobody saw this. Nobody saw Rajon Rondo dancing with triple-double numbers, or Robin Lopez averaging a double-double. However, these things have happened, and your Chicago Bulls lead 2-0 in a series that nobody thought they had a chance in. The Bulls can’t take their foot off the gas heading into Game 3, as Boston is going to do everything to steal one back at the United Center and make this a series. However, one thing is for sure. The UC is going to be a “sea of red” on Friday night.

Up Next: The Bulls return to the UC Friday night vs. the Celtics where there is sure to be a raucous crowd for this now-surging team.

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Note-A-Bulls: Sixers embarrass the Bulls at the UC 117-107 thanks to Saric’s big night

While most of the country was focused on the Sweet 16 Friday Night, the NBA still offered a slate of 10 games. This included your Chicago Bulls, who faced off against the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center. Coming off an 18-point win Wednesday against the Detroit Pistons, the Bulls hoped to earn their first “winning streak” since winning four straight back in February. This is a game the Bulls must win if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Despite the Bulls mediocre play, the UC was filled on Friday. Robin Lopez squared off against Richaun Holmes of Philadelphia, with Lopez winning the tip. Bulls basketball was on the air with Neil Funk and Stacey King. The first five minutes of the game were very much in the Bulls’ favor. They were able to jump out to a 16-6 lead, earning three assists on six field goals made. Nikola Mirotic started the game where he left off Wednesday, leading the Bulls early with seven points. However, the Sixers answered with going on a 6-0 run after they took a timeout at the 7-minute mark. This led Fred Hoiberg to take a timeout, hoping to break the Sixers’ run. Following the timeout, the Bulls jumped back out to an eight-point lead thanks to the work of Mirotic. Mirotic found Denzel Valentine for a three that hit nothing but net to give the Bulls that eight-point lead (26-18). However, the Sixers would answer the Bulls run (surprise). The quarter ended with the Sixers going on another 6-0 run, with the score 28-24. Jimmy Butler led all scorers with 11 points. He and Mirotic accounted for 21 of the Bulls 28 points.

The second quarter started out slowly for the Bulls. They started out the quarter two for seven and allowed the Sixers to get a six-point lead. That lead was cut down to as little as four, but the Bulls couldn’t regain the lead. Once Paul Zipser air-balled a three from a fairly good look, you knew things were about to get ugly. Sean Rodriguez, the backup point guard of the Sixers, was putting on a show. He helped Philly push their lead to nine, and had nine points in nine minutes played. The Bulls were letting the Sixers get to the basket at will, allowing 34 points in the paint at the 3:20 mark in the second quarter. At that stage in the game, the Sixers had 49 points. The minutes continued to shrink, and the Sixers lead continued to grow. After Rodriguez created his sixth assist of the game, the Sixers extended their lead to 17! Yes, the Philadelphia 76ers led the Bulls by 17 at the United Center. OK. Now that you read that again, let’s get back to the game. The final thirty seconds of the half were no different than anything else in the game thus far. At the end of the first half, the Sixers led 59-46, shooting an absurd 57.8 percent from the floor. Jimmy Butler led all scorers with 20 points. However, the only other Bull to be in double figures was Mirotic with 10.

The third quarter started out just how you thought it would. In the first two minutes of the quarter, the Sixers pushed their lead to 20. The point guards of the Sixers continued to cause trouble for the Bulls. T.J. McConell had four of the Sixers first four points in the quarter. It was getting so bad that Stacey King was comparing Rodriguez and McConell to John Stockton. This pathetic defense is just inexcusable against a team like the Sixers. With just under eight minutes to play in the third, the Sixers led by 22 POINTS, shooting 63 percent. The only bright spot was (take a wild guess) Jimmy Butler. However, Butler could only do so much. It was essentially one-versus-five. As a result, the score wasn’t in the Bulls favor. I would try and write something positive, but there was just no content. The Sixers continued to just shove their lead right down the Bulls’ throats. After three, the thrashing continued as the Sixers led 93-71. Butler had 31 of those 71 points. The Sixers had 66 (hey-hey!) points in the paint after the third.

The fourth quarter started out fairly well for the Bulls. They started out the quarter on a 9-4 run, which cut the lead down to 17. However, with only nine and a half minutes to play in the game, the Bulls would need to put on quite the show to make the entire comeback. The momentum was pushing in the Bulls favor. They continued to chip away at the Sixers’ lead, as they were able to cut it down to ten after Butler found Bobby Portis for a mid-range jumper. That assist was Butler’s eighth of the game, he was getting close to a double-double. However, this little spurt of momentum wasn’t enough. The Sixers did what they needed to do to not let the Bulls get back in the game and eventually came out with the win. The final score was 117-107. Butler finished with 36 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

This game was no different than any other Bulls game this season when facing a bad team. They didn’t show up to play, they got down big, tried to come back, and eventually lost. They continue to just go in circles, showing no signs of change. It’s unacceptable to be down 26 points against a team with the resumé of the Sixers, let alone your home court. With the loss, the Bulls fall to 34-39 on the season and are two games back of the Miami Heat for the eight seed. The Bulls are off until Sunday, where they’ll look to bounce back against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center.

Note-A-Bulls: Magic come back in the second half to hand the Bulls their third straight defeat

After a fourteen-point loss to the Detroit Pistons on Monday, the Bulls traveled to Orlando to take on the struggling Magic, who had lost three out of their last five games. Dwyane Wade remained out with a thigh injury. Judging their performances against teams with losing records this season, you could assume the Bulls were in for a fight. For Orlando, starting center Nikola Vucevic sat out with soreness in his Achilles. Bismack Biyombo started in his place.

Robin Lopez and Biyombo faced each other at center in an empty Amway Center, with Lopez winning the tip. With no Vucevic, the Bulls certainly had an opportunity to capitalize on the boards. Orlando went with a small lineup, which allowed the Bulls to get many offensive rebounds.

The beginning of the first quarter started out normal. Both teams were trading baskets and were trying to establish momentum. However, it was easy to tell that these are two teams that are not among the NBA’s elite. Orlando began the game shooting 30 percent from the floor, while the Bulls were at 45 percent. With under six minutes to play in the first, the Bulls led 11-10 with Jimmy Butler leading the team in scoring, and four of the five starters registering points. Orlando was doing a good job “breaking out” and getting good shots, but they were not putting the ball in the hoop. Biyombo started out the game 0-5, with essentially three wide open short-distance jump shots. The Bulls took advantage of Orlando’s mistakes offensively, as they jumped out on a 6-0 run to end the quarter. At the end of the quarter, they led 22-19.

The bench squad for both sides stepped onto the floor to begin the second quarter. Orlando threw out the likes of D.J. Augustin, former Bull C.J. Watson, and Jeff Green. The Bulls had their usual secondary group on the floor, with the likes of Christiano Felicio, Rajon Rondo, and Denzel Valentine. However, it was newcomer Joffrey Lauvergne that got things going for the Bulls. Lauvergne had seven points in six minutes of play, helping push the Bulls’ lead to six at the 9:30 mark. Surprisingly, the Bulls kept this momentum going, and after a Cameron Payne three, they extended their lead to ten with just over seven minutes to play in the half. However, we’ve come to know these Bulls don’t disappoint. Immediately after they went on an 8-0 run, Orlando cut the lead back to six at the 6:30 mark. Fred Hoiberg took a timeout at that time, and it proved to be a good use of one. While we can’t necessarily decide what stops momentum, this certainly helped the Bulls. They pushed their lead back to nine at the 3:00 mark, hoping to make it larger heading into the half. The Bulls (somewhat) extended their lead at the half, mainly due to their unselfish play. At halftime, the Bulls had fifteen assists and were shooting 50 percent from the floor. They led 53-43 at the half after Jimmy Butler hit a step-back buzzer beater. Butler led the Bulls in scoring with thirteen points and registered six assists as well.

The third quarter started out well for the Bulls. Their strong offense continued, as they jumped out to a thirteen-point lead three minutes into the quarter. The score was 62-49. It seemed like the Bulls were going to blow this game wide open. They were doing enough defensively, and they were sharing the basketball well on the offensive end. However, after Jimmy Butler found Robin Lopez for a short jumper that gave the Bulls their thirteen-point lead, Orlando found life. The Bulls sharing of the basketball stopped. If you have watched the Bulls this season, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  The belief that Jimmy Butler must do everything goes into the minds of all the Bulls’ players, and everything that was going well stops. The Magic went on a 9-0 run in the middle part of the quarter, giving them new life. This run allowed Orlando to just get in striking distance, and they eventually tied the game at 77 after Evan Fournier made a three off a Jeff Green assist. The Magic outscored the Bulls 34-24 in the quarter.

The Bulls and the Magic started out the fourth slowly. In the first five minutes, the Magic shot three out of 10 from the floor, and the Bulls had not made a shot in the quarter at that point. All their points (four) came from the free through line.  The Bulls offensive struggles continued throughout the quarter. With under four minutes to play in the game, the Bulls had nine points in the quarter. Against a team that is at best, an average defensive side, you can’t be putting up nine points in eight minutes of play. Frustrations continued for the Bulls, as the Magic capitalized on poor shots and lazy defense from the Bulls. The entire second half was just a summary of the Bulls’ season. You get spurts of hope and good play, and then it all comes spiraling down for unexplained reasons. The final score, in case you couldn’t tell from the tone of this piece, went in favor of the Magic (98-91).

As I watched more and more of this game, I had a clear idea of what was going to happen. I don’t know why the Bulls get in this phase, but it seems that they can’t consistently play good basketball for 48 minutes. It makes no sense to ditch the unselfish method if it is working. How do you go from having 15 assists in the first half to just nine in the second half?  This game was no different than any other Bulls game this year. It gave you all kinds of emotions, and eventually just left you frustrated.

The Bulls are back at it Friday night at the United Center to take on James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

Note-A-Bulls: Defeated Bulls show no fight in embarrassing loss to Timberwolves

I watched this game via NBA League Pass. 10 minutes prior to tipoff, I continuously watched tight shots of the Timberwolves DJ spin records. I love sports. The shorthanded Bulls squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday with a depleted starting five. The game concluded a 6-game road trip, hoping for a 3-3 stretch. Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, Paul Zipser, and Dwyane Wade all sat out in Sunday’s tilt.

Robin Lopez and Gorgui Dieng squared off at center court, with Lopez winning the tip. Just like that, Bulls basketball was on the air. The Bulls sported their usual red road jerseys while the Wolves wore what usually is their blue road jersey. To not much surprise, the Bulls started out slow offensively. They started out 2/9 from the field, and trailed by nine with just under eight minutes to play with the score 14-5 in favor of Minnesota. The offense continued to look abysmal, as the Bulls registered two turnovers into two possessions which led to Minnesota extending their early lead to 14.  Rajon Rondo checked in at around the 6:00 mark as Fred Hoiberg looked for spark offensively. Rondo was able to register one assist on a nice pass to Bobby Portis that was the first three of the game for the Bulls. However, the world would eventually find its course again, and the Bulls defense just looked pathetic. At the 2:40 mark, they trailed 31-12. Minnesota was shooting 72 percent from the floor, while the Bulls were just over 35 percent. If you thought there was any sign of momentum coming the Bulls way, you were wrong. Minnesota led 34-17 after the first quarter.

Things weren’t much better as the second quarter started up. The Wolves began the quarter on a 11-2 run which extended their lead to 26 points. Fred Hoiberg used a timeout with just under 9 minutes to go in the half, as Minnesota continued to enforce their will on the Bulls. Shots were not falling and the defense looked lazy. The only entertainment that was out there for Bulls fans was the voice of former Head Coach of the Bulls Tom Thibodeau screaming at his players despite having a 26-point lead. Both bench units were out on the floor around the halfway mark of the second quarter. This was the Bulls opportunity to get some kind of life, and they were able to drop the lead to 20 with just over six minutes to play in the first half. However, things just continued to look awful for the Bulls as the minutes shrunk in the second quarter. At the 3:00 minute mark, Minnesota had more points in the paint (30) than the Bulls did total (27). The Bulls finally looked like they were getting some offense together as the half came to an end. They hit five straight field goals to cut the Wolves’ lead to 17. Despite the lead still being rather large, the strong finish allowed the Bulls to grab some kind of momentum heading into the half.

Any sign of that momentum carrying over from halftime looked unlikely. Minnesota began the quarter on a 9-3 run. Stacey King put it well after Dieng threw down a wide-open dunk that it was time for players to sit on the bench. The Bulls seemed like they had no spark to them. Then, just a few minutes later, the cycle repeated itself. The Bulls got a couple stops on the defensive end and were able to turn those stops into points and cut the lead to 18 at the 7:00 mark. However, Minnesota didn’t come back with pushing their lead back to over 20. The Bulls used a common strategy when trailing by over 20, which is living by the three. This strategy doesn’t usually pan out well for the Bulls, as they rank No. 30 in the league (dead last) in 3-point field goal percentage. You could view today’s game as an outlier, as at the 2:30 mark in the third the Bulls were shooting 62.5 percent from distance. But of course, this comeback effort proved to be worthless. Minnesota climbed right back into the driver’s seat, extending their lead to 19. The Bulls had a 4 on 1 breakaway chance with Michael Carter-Williams carrying the basketball. For whatever reason, MCW decided to attack the rim and not make a pass until he was halfway in the air, and the Bulls turned it over. You just can’t make plays like that. It’s about as close to a free basket as one can have.

There wasn’t much that changed in the game at the start of the fourth quarter. The Bulls continue to shoot the three well, Tom Thibodeau continued to bark like a dog, and the Wolves led by around 20 points.  The sloppy play dragged on, and the bus was starting to warm up. There was just nothing that would please you as a Bulls fan that happened today. Andrew Wiggins showed off his athleticism as he made Doug McDermott beg for mercy after throwing down this ferocious slam. Stacey put it well: “You might want to take away his right-hand Doug. He’s right handed.” The minutes got smaller, and the Wolves lead got larger. Minnesota picked up one of the easiest wins they’ll have all year, with the final score hitting 117-89.

It was more than likely that the Bulls were going to struggle offensively in this game without their two best players. However, this performance was just unacceptable. The Bulls have been terrible against bad teams all year, but getting blown out to team that has been poor like the Wolves must raise questions. Team chemistry seems to be at a low, and I don’t know what the Bulls can do to fix that. They’ve got two games this week before the All-Star break. If they’re able to pick up some steam heading into the break, that could carry over well. These two games are huge for the Bulls, and let’s hope they realize that.

Up Next: The Bulls play host to the Raptors on Valentine’s Day as they look to snap out of their most recent funk.

The Bearded Freakshow and the race for MVP with Mr. Triple Double

After an offseason of drama and changes across the Houston Rockets organization, one major piece stayed constant. Superstar James Harden is without question a top ten, if not top five player in the league, and the Rockets realize that. Bringing in offensive minded veteran head coach Mike D’Antoni told the rest of the league that the Rockets were okay with being offensively driven.

Bringing in perimeter shooters like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon were the first signs that pointed to the Rockets using Harden more as a point guard. We’ve all seen how great of a player Harden is when he attacks the rim, and with the opportunity to either go at the rim or dish it out to the perimeter, it’s no surprise Harden is averaging nearly twelve assists a game.

While Harden certainly gets attention and recognition across the league for his play, he doesn’t seem to get the same attention as the other superstars across the league. This could be attributed to the fact that his former teammate, Russell Westbrook has had one of the greatest statistical seasons in NBA history. However, Harden isn’t very far behind the beast from Oklahoma City. He currently is averaging twenty-eight PPG (third in the league), twelve APG (first in the league), and eight RPG (which ranks first among shooting guards). Westbrook has managed to earn twenty triple-doubles this year, but Harden sits right behind him with twelve.

There is no reason to say that Westbrook does not deserve to be considered first in the MVP ratings, but the argument for Harden is about as good as it can get. He has led the Rockets to an excellent first half of the season, as they currently sit third in the competitive Western Conference.

However, there is a lot more to discuss when looking at the season Harden has had thus far. He ranks second in the league in terms of estimated wins added, with a score of fourteen (13.6). He sits behind only, you guessed it, Russell Westbrook (13.7). Houston has thirty-two wins this year, so say Harden went down with a season ending injury. While the Rockets should be able to stay slightly above .500, they would immediately lose any opportunity to be a contender in the West. This may seem obvious, as when a team loses a star player like Harden, their chances of being successful take a large hit.

However, take a player like Paul George. The small forward is the Indiana Pacers best player, and is having a strong season. Yet, he currently ranks forty-second in the NBA in EWA with a score of five. The Pacers do not have as good of a record as Houston does, but this does demonstrate that losing a superstar does not always mean a team will go down the tubes.

As the second half of the season approaches, there will be two major storylines that will play out in Houston. The first and more important storyline is where the Rockets will finish up in the Western Conference standings. Could they surpass their interstate rivals the San Antonio Spurs or even climb all the way to the top and own the one seed over the Golden State Warriors? They are certainly in striking distance, and if they continue to play the way they are, the Rockets have a great opportunity.

The other storyline that Rocket fans will mainly be intrigued by is if Harden will hoist the MVP trophy at the end of this season. As referenced by most of this article, he most likely only trails Russell Westbrook. If the season ended today, it would be hard not to give it to Westbrook despite the Thunder’s “so-so” record. However, if Harden can keep up his phenomenal play and lead the Rockets to a fifty-five sixty win season, he will certainly have the resume as well to match-up.