Bulls aim for season sweep of Spurs (Dec 25, 2016)

BY AP • December 24, 2016

Don't expect San Antonio to have any semblance of revenge on its collective mind when the Chicago Bulls - one of just five teams to beat the Spurs this season - hit the Alamo City on Sunday at the AT&T Center for one of the NBA's Christmas Day extravaganza of basketball.

The Spurs just aren't motivated that way. For proof, ask the Portland Trailblazers, which lost at home to San Antonio 110-90 on Friday on the night after the Spurs fell in Los Angeles to the Clippers.

San Antonio (24-6) put so little emphasis on the game with the Trailblazers that coach Gregg Popovich didn't play starting point guard Tony Parker, starting center Pau Gasol or reserve guard Manu Ginobili, opting to rest the long-in-the-tooth-but-still-vital players for the long haul of the season. It's been a common practice for Popovich over the past few years and has barely slowed the Spurs' continued success.

Instead of floundering, the Spurs played one of their best games of the year on the second night of a road back-to-back and the final contest of a three-game road trip. San Antonio made exactly half of its shots from the field, shot .600 from 3-point range and .952 from the free-throw line while outrebounding the Blazers 45-33 and forcing 17 turnovers that resulted in 18 points.

"It was one of our better defensive performances of the year," Popovich said afterward in his always succinct manner.

Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs in the victory over Portland with 33 points, while Patty Mills came off the bench to add 23 points and former Trailblazers stalwart LaMarcus Aldridge collected 18 points, 14 rebounds and six assists.

Mills said after the win that the San Antonio offense was jumpstarted by its defense.

"When you can get stops, get deflections and run out of that in transition, it tends to loosen up the defense a bit more," Mills said.

Gasol, Parker and Ginobili will suit up and play against Chicago on Sunday. But that doesn't always mean the Spurs will be any more dominant - they won't be looking to peak until the postseason, when everything is on the line.

Chicago (14-15) comes to San Antonio for the only time this season on the heels of a 101-93 loss on Friday at Charlotte. In that game, the Bulls had a miserable stretch in the second quarter, going 12 straight possessions and 6:18 without scoring.

Chicago - and namely center Robin Lopez and forward Taj Gibson - came unglued near the game's end. Both were ejected with 38.1 seconds remaining and the Hornets leading 98-89 when Lopez received a Flagrant-2 foul for a sharp elbow to the Hornets' Marvin Williams and Gibson picked up his second technical foul of the night in the ensuing scrum.

The Bulls were coming off a 107-97 loss to Washington on Wednesday, when they blew a 13-point lead.

"Tempers flared a little bit and it was pretty contentious," Lopez said. "Basketball's a passionate game. I play with passion. Obviously it didn't go the way we wanted."

Jimmy Butler led the Bulls in the loss to Charlotte with 26 points. Doug McDermott scored 15 points, Dwyane Wade had 12, Nikola Mirotic added 12 and Gibson finished with 10.

"Our competitive spirit was good tonight," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We came out again and we fought and gave ourselves a chance to win. Then obviously things unraveled at the end."

The Bulls have lost five of their seven outings since beating San Antonio 95-91 at home on Dec. 8 and their two straight losses have them below .500 for the first time all season.

In the first game between the two teams, all five Bulls starters scored in double-digits and Chicago held San Antonio to 32 points in the first half. The Bulls and Spurs split last season's series; there has not been a two-game sweep for either team since 2009-10, when the Bulls won both contests.



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