TALKIN’ ABOUT PRAC­TICE

Af­ter busy stretch of games, Bulls fi­nally get needed chance to work on some fun­da­men­tals

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - JOE COW­LEY jcow­ley@suntimes.com | @sun­times_hoops

Fi­nally, the Bulls get a breather.

Well, as much of a breather as an un­der­manned, over­worked team could ask for th­ese days, with the next two op­po­nents be­ing the lot­tery-bound Cava­liers and Mav­er­icks at the United Cen­ter.

Af­ter a stretch of six games (five against likely play­off teams) crammed into 10 nights, the Bulls fi­nally were able to get in a needed full prac­tice Fri­day.

Try­ing to fix glar­ing holes in shootarounds and walk­throughs wasn’t get­ting it done, so the tim­ing for the prac­tice couldn’t have been bet­ter.

“We’ve got to ex­e­cute bet­ter, [and] we’ve got to get more con­sis­tent on the of­fen­sive end,” Hoiberg said of the Bulls’ 3-9 start. “We’ve got habits that we need to break th­ese next few days. [Fri­day was] the first time to prac­tice in a long time. First time with two days in be­tween games since we started, so it’s a great op­por­tu­nity to get out here on the prac­tice court and hope­fully cor­rect some things.’’

There’s a list of things.

First, lead­ing scorer Zach LaVine must stay in a rhythm and not get caught up try­ing to carry the team. It’s not an easy tightrope to walk all the time, es­pe­cially since LaVine is fourth in the NBA in scor­ing with 27.4 points per game de­spite hav­ing the low­est shoot­ing per­cent­age (.461) of the quar­tet.

“I’m do­ing what I have to do,” LaVine said. “I don’t know if I have to score 30 for us to win. I think we won one game where I didn’t.”

LaVine is cor­rect. He scored 27 in the 97-85 vic­tory against the Hawks. In the dou­ble-over­time win over the Knicks, LaVine scored 41. In the win against the Hor­nets, he scored 32.

“I’ll do what­ever I have to do to try to put points on the board or help us win,” LaVine said. “If that’s scor­ing, fa­cil­i­tat­ing, re­bound­ing, what­ever it is. It’s scor­ing for right now. I’ll con­tinue to do that un­til we need some­thing else.”

The Bulls of­fered no clar­ity on when other scor­ers will re­turn from in­jury. Lauri Markka­nen (right el­bow) is the only player start­ing to work his way back into the lineup, but that won’t come un­til late No­vem­ber at the ear­li­est.

Vice pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions John Pax­son said Wed­nes­day in New Or­leans that Den­zel Valen­tine (left an­kle) was down­graded to be­ing out “in­def­i­nitely,” while Kris Dunn (left knee) and Bobby Por­tis (right knee) were still more than a month away.

“We go out there with what we have and we play hard and we give our­selves an op­por­tu­nity to win,” LaVine said of the men­tal fa­tigue as­so­ci­ated with be­ing short-handed. “That’s what we can pat our­selves on the back for. If we go out there and ex­e­cute and do ev­ery­thing we can to be in the game at the end and have a fight­ing chance, I think we did our job. It’s a lit­tle tir­ing. But this is our job to go out and do this.”

Else­where, backup cen­ter Cris­tiano Fe­li­cio could lose min­utes to Robin Lopez. At start­ing point guard, Ryan Ar­cidi­a­cono has out­played Cam Payne in two of the last three games.

And, of course, there’s al­ways the de­fense. “If we keep the ef­fort go­ing, we’re go­ing to be fine,” Hoiberg said. “My job is to keep the spir­its up, keep the morale up through some of th­ese tough times.”

KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES

Zach LaVine is fourth in the NBA in scor­ing (27.4 points per game) but has a .461 shoot­ing per­cent­age. The Bulls host the Cavs on Sat­ur­day.

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