Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsNikola Mirotic and the Bulls will look to rebound tonight against the Suns (10:30 ET, ESPN).
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Friday’s game between the Chicago Bulls (12th in BPI) and the Phoenix Suns (14th in BPI). Our BPI gives the Suns a 63 percent chance of winning.
1. Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic is in the running for Rookie of the Year. He is scoring at the same rate as Andrew Wiggins (16 pts per 36 minutes) but is doing so more efficiently (57 percent True Shooting Percentage vs 50 percent for Wiggins), and is also passing and rebounding at higher rates.
2. The Bulls have the 12th ranked defense in the league, largely because their defensive rebounding has fallen off from 11th in the league last year (75.4 DREB%) to 20th (74 DREB%) in the league this year. When they are rebounding at last year's rate or better, they give up only 100 points per 100 possessions, but when they are below that, they allow 103 points per 100 possessions.
3. The Suns are the second fastest team in the league, averaging 99 possessions per 48 minutes (Warriors are the fastest at 101), but they can get overheated. In games where the Suns average over 100 possessions per 48 minutes, they score 104 points per 100 possessions, but in games where they are more controlled and play slower than that, they are a more efficient offense, scoring 110 points per 100 possessions.
4. Gerald Green leads all Suns’ players with more than 500 minutes by taking almost 10 threes per 36 minutes. When he is shooting at least that frequently from beyond the arc, the Suns score 109 points per 100 possessions, compared to only 104 points per 100 possessions when Green shoots below that rate.
LOS ANGELES -- With the inconsistent way the Chicago Bulls have played through much of the season, the fact that they dropped a 123-118 double-overtime affair to a terrible Los Angeles Lakers squad shouldn't come as a surprise. The surprise would have been if the Bulls had actually found a way to win.
As has been the case so often this season, the Bulls allowed a poor team to get out to an early lead and gain confidence. When the Bulls finally decided to play hard in the final moments, it looked as if they would escape with a much-tougher-than-it-should-have-been win. But as usual, the Bulls ran out of gas after exerting so much effort and couldn't knock down shots when they needed them most in the waning minutes of double overtime.
As has been the case so often this season, a litany of excuses and befuddled looks followed in the Bulls' locker room. Bulls guard Derrick Rose said his team needed to find its identity again -- "on the defensive end."
"Where when people play us, they know it's going to be a tough-ass time," Rose said. "We used to have that and now it's not there anymore, and you can just tell the way that people are playing."
Where did it go? The Bulls used to impose their will on opponents, especially on the defensive end; now they just sleepwalk through long stretches of the game and hope to turn it on late.
Just a few hours after being officially named to the All-Star team for the first time, Butler offered one of the most honest assessments of the Bulls to date. Like many of his teammates, he's disgusted by the way they are playing. But, like many of his teammates, Butler isn't sure how to fix the issue.
"We talk about it all the time," Butler said. "But it's enough of the talking. We got to get it done. Guys can rah-rah-rah and say, 'Oh, we got to start playing defense,' but we've heard it for 40-something games now. One of these days we're going to get tired of getting our ass kicked and decide to play defense."
After one of the most impressive wins of the year on Tuesday night against the red-hot Golden State Warriors, the Bulls looked lifeless throughout much of this game. They took the Lakers for granted and played down to the level of their competition again. Why does that keep happening?
"I have no idea," Butler said. "I think we just sometimes don't come out ready to play. We've done it against good teams, we've done it against bad teams. But we can't do it against any team in this league because anybody can beat anybody. And that what was definitely shown here tonight in the Staples Center."
For a team that played with so much pride for the past four seasons, it's odd to see them continually sleepwalk through games. The feeling within the locker room isn't one of panic -- the Bulls still believe they can beat anyone, as they have shown already this week -- but the lingering issue is that the lack of intensity, especially on the defensive end, is more than just a trend now. It's a problem.
"You just got to look at yourself in the mirror," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "I got to look at myself in the mirror and say, 'You know what? I got to do better.' That's all I can do."
As a group, the Bulls should all be doing that. Championship-caliber teams have bad games during the course of a long, 82-game season, but they don't have the same problems over and over again. The Bulls' biggest problem appears to be that they can't get out of their own way most nights. They aren't playing with the same fire night to night, and they are relying way too much on their offense instead of playing the type of defense that earned them such a hard-nosed reputation throughout the league.
"I think that's what it is," Butler said, offering a sentiment shared by many within the locker room. "We can score so many points now that we think we don't have to guard anybody. And that's not the case. It hasn't been working for us. It's not going to work for us, so we need to stop doing that."
LOS ANGELES -- In a Los Angeles Lakers franchise so stocked with legends it's difficult to single out individuals for superlatives, finding a description for Pau Gasol is remarkably simple. He's the best Lakers acquisition of the 21st century.
The flip side is that letting him leave without receiving anything in return is the Lakers' biggest mistake of the century.
First, Pau's place in Laker lore. There's no easy answer for greatest Laker of all-time when Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor are among the nominees. And good luck picking a starting center between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan without an argument.
LOS ANGELES -- Jordan Hill scored 26 points and forced the second overtime with a clutch jumper, and the Los Angeles Lakers snapped their nine-game losing streak in thrilling fashion with a 123-118 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.
With big late baskets from everybody in their patchwork lineup, the Lakers avoided matching the 1994 squad coached by Magic Johnson for the longest skid in the 16-time champion franchise's history.
All-Star Jimmy Butler matched his career high with 35 points for the Bulls, who rallied from a nine-point deficit in 70 seconds late in regulation.
LOS ANGELES -- It was overwhelming at first, the tribute video playing back the memories, the cheers and applause raining down, the fans wearing "Thank Pau" shirts with his accomplishments with the Lakers listed on the back.
"So many emotions -- and that ovation at the start of the game, hard to focus," Pau Gasol said afterward, surrounded by a swarm of reporters who used to cover him daily. "It took me a while to get settled into the game."
Before Gasol's first game back in L.A. against his former team Thursday -- a 123-118 double-overtime loss by the Bulls at Staples Center -- he went to center court and applauded along with fans, showing appreciation for their support after the video played.
But before that, Gasol, who finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four blocks, received a surprise guest in the locker room: Kobe Bryant.
Following season-ending right shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, the Lakers' star guard, who won two championships alongside Gasol, visited his former teammate. Gasol left the Lakers last summer after 6 1/2 seasons with the team.
"I really appreciated him coming. I didn't expect it at all," Gasol said. "It was an incredible gesture on his part to want to come and want to say hello. A great unexpected gift."
Not that the two talked all that long.
"He just got surgery," Gasol said. "He was in pain. I told him to go rest, get out of here. ... We're in touch. We talk. I'll see him down the road at one point."
Bryant had been expected to speak to the crowd before the game, but he told ESPN he wasn't feeling well enough, 31 hours after the operation, to go on the court.
This wasn't the first time Gasol entered Staples Center as a member of the Bulls. He also was here Nov. 17 when Chicago faced, and defeated, the Los Angeles Clippers
The Chicago Bulls swingman was named to the Eastern Conference squad on Thursday as a reserve and will join veteran Pau Gasol in New York City from Feb. 13-15.
"It's an honor," Butler said before Thursday night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers. "I think everybody would love to make the All-Star team in their career. I feel like I've come a long way since I started here, since I started playing basketball, but I guess you could say that that's one thing that you would want as a kid growing up is to be in this league and to be an All-Star at that."
"It just goes to show that I'm confident in my game," Butler said. "You can say that it's All-Star-worthy right now, but I still feel like I have a long way to go to get to where we want to get as a team. This work this summer, it's starting to pay off, but I don't want for it to end just here. I think there's still a lot better I can become."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was happy to find out that the 25-year-old is headed to New York.
"We're thrilled for him," Thibodeau said. "He's worked extremely hard to put himself in that position. I know his teammates are excited for him. The most important thing is what he's done for our team. To help carry the load being down players early on is exactly what we needed. But the fact that he's a two-way player, doesn't take any plays off. He's had a great first half of the season."
Butler blocked out the contract talks before the season and carried the Bulls offensively, along with Gasol, for the first two months while Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah worked their way back from various injuries.
"I think the important thing is just the way he approached it," Thibodeau said of Butler's summer and the contract discussions in training camp. "Taking the weight off was critical for him. I thought he had a great training camp, he hit the ground running. And I thought that each year that he's been with us he's gotten a lot better. His drive, his intelligence, and obviously you can't do that without being very talented. When you combine all of those things, I think it's huge."
Butler was just happy to be able to share the honor at lunch with his family. He said his mom and brothers were on hand when he told them the news on Thursday afternoon.
Even though defense seems to be optional in All-Star Games, Butler joked that he will still get after it.
"They might not [play defense], but I do," he said. "So if you see me diving on the floor and people are like, 'What is he doing?' I can't help but be the player that I am."
The league announced Thursday night that Teague is one of three members of the 38-8 Atlanta Hawks to make the Eastern Conference squad alongside teammates Al Horford and Paul Millsap. It's the first trio of Hawks All-Stars since John Drew, Eddie Johnson and Dan Roundfield in 1980.
"We love for our players to have success and for our players to be appreciated," said Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer, who will coach the East. "Yeah, there's a sense of pride. They work really hard. They do a lot of things we appreciate. If other people are appreciating them, that's a good thing."
LOS ANGELES -- Pau Gasol knows Thursday night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers will be different. After spending six and a half years with the Lakers, the veteran big man decided to sign with the Chicago Bulls last summer, a decision that looks very wise given how poorly the Lakers have been playing.
Even so, Gasol knows that facing off against his old team will be a different experience for him.
"It's going to be emotional," he said recently. "It's going to be special for sure. A lot of thoughts and emotions and memories will come back at that time. So I'll just try to contain them as much as I can and try to focus on playing my game and helping my team win."
The Bulls visit the Lakers a couple of nights after their most impressive win of the season, 113-111 in overtime over the Golden State Warriors. Gasol had 18 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists in the win.
"I feel like I'm 100 percent," Noah said. "I feel good health-wise."
It was easy to be skeptical of this answer given that Noah said the same thing several times already this season. The difference between Tuesday's proclamation compared to all the others is that Noah's performance on the floor finally backed up his words.
He scored 18 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out six assists in Tuesday's impressive win over the Golden State Warriors. Aside from the numbers, the biggest difference in Noah's game was on the defensive end. He moved better laterally than he had all season, covering the floor all night against a quick, perimeter-oriented squad.
Noah's movement around the floor was one of the biggest differences in the game. His play was a reminder of just how important he is for a Bulls squad that has championship aspirations. The Bulls need Derrick Rose to lead them offensively in order to reach their goals, but Noah is just as important on the defensive end. If he plays the way he did on Tuesday, they have a chance to win a title. If he plays the way he's been playing throughout much of the season, they do not.
"I think it was the first game we both played well, at that level," Bulls big man Pau Gasol said. "We kept a lot of balls alive, we made plays, we both had big games, huge contributions, so it was good to see. I think Jo needed a game like this to get himself going and get a little more confidence in himself, so it's been great."
Noah has always been the type of emotional player who thrives off the success of his teammates. But as Gasol alluded to, a game like Tuesday's, against a team as hot as the Warriors, could do wonders for Noah's game moving forward. Up to this point in the season, Noah has looked like a shell of the player who won the defensive player of the year award a season ago. He looked a step slow and was noticeably frustrated on and off the floor throughout the season. His team had success -- but he couldn't find much for himself.
After watching him contribute on all levels Tuesday night, his teammates and coaches are hoping this is a sign of things to come.
"I don't want to say anything crazy and then stink it up the next game," Noah said of his performance. "Just got to keep working at it."
If Noah continues playing at the the high level he displayed on Tuesday, the Bulls' defensive woes should become less of an issue.
Noah is still trying to find his way with Gasol on the floor, but the pair continues to learn more about each other each game and is slowly starting to find a rhythm. That pacing is contingent on Noah continuing to play like his old self. He remains confident that the time is coming when he'll be ready before the Bulls' postseason run begins, but nobody is quite sure whether his body will hold up for five more months of work.
If it does, he might look back on Tuesday as the turning point of one of the most up-and-down seasons of his career.
And Lakers coach Byron Scott said fans owe Gasol one thing:
"A standing ovation," Scott said. "This is a guy that was here that helped to win two championships. He deserves that. Pau was a great player when he was here and is still a great player. He’s having a lot of success in Chicago. But I think fans should show him the respect that he deserves."
The 7-foot Spaniard joined the Lakers in a 2008 trade with the Memphis Grizzlies and helped turn around a franchise still searching for an identity after Shaquille O'Neal left in 2004 via trade to Miami.
In the first three seasons after O’Neal’s departure, the Lakers missed the playoffs once and twice failed to reach the second round. After Gasol arrived, they reached three straight NBA Finals, winning in 2009 and 2010.
But Gasol's later years in L.A. were riddled with injuries, mixed results and trade rumors, including when he was involved in a nixed 2011 deal that would've sent Chris Paul to the Lakers.
Ultimately, Gasol left the Lakers after 6½ seasons to accept a three-year, $22 million deal from the Bulls while spurning a richer offer from the Lakers and a plea from Kobe Bryant to stay.
"I thought here in L.A., for whatever reason, he was getting beat up a lot," Scott said. "I thought it took a toll on him. That’s probably one of the main reasons he decided to go to Chicago."
Gasol, a 14-year veteran who was named an Eastern Conference All-Star starter last week, is averaging 18.3 points a game -- his best mark since 2010-11 -- and a career-high 11.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. Scott said that when the Lakers played in Chicago on Christmas Day, Gasol looked "totally different."
"Offensively, he really doesn’t have a whole lot of weaknesses," Scott said. "He’s probably the best passing big man in the game besides his brother [Marc Gasol of the Grizzlies]. When he’s on the post, he’s a guy that can get it done on the post with turnaround jump shots and hook shots over either shoulder.
"And if you double him, he can make you pay by the way he passes the ball out of a double-team. He’s just one of those guys that you hope that he’s missing shots that night."
Scott said he expects Gasol to face a range of emotions Thursday, when the Lakers plan to honor Gasol with a video tribute.
"I think at the very start [of Thursday's game], he’ll think about his time here and the great success that he’s had here and he’ll probably think about some of the other times as well," Scott said.
"I think there will be a mixture of emotions going through him. But once again, when it’s all said and done and the game is over, hopefully he’ll know that the people here do appreciate him."