Bulls

Big O: Asik powers Bulls to eighth straight win

414153.jpg

Big O: Asik powers Bulls to eighth straight win

Thursday, March 17, 2011
Posted 8:35 p.m. Updated 9:39 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

NEWARK Despite a spirited comeback, the Bulls (49-18) managed to hold off the Nets (22-44), 84-73, Thursday night at the Prudential Center, extending the winning streak of the Eastern Conferences top squad to a season-high eight games - its longest streak since the spring of 2005.

This was a great game for us, playing a team thats won five in a rowour defense came through. We got stops when we needed to. We dont want to be in that situation, but its a good test for us, said Luol Deng. Were getting better at that. The beginning of the year a game like thiseven the one that we lost herewe kind of panicked a little bit at the end. There was none of that today. We were just calm, we got stops. We got baskets when we needed to.

Nets sharpshooter Anthony Morrow got New Jersey off to a quick start with his proficient outside marksmanship, putting the Bulls into catch-up mode from the games outset. New Jersey center Brook Lopez (22 points, eight rebounds) also got into the act, using his shooting range and skills to not only score the basketball, but draw a pair of quick fouls on Bulls veteran starter Kurt Thomas, sending him to the pine in exchange for rookie Omer Asik (11 points, career-high 16 rebounds).

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau also inserted Taj Gibson and behind the young frontline duo, the visitors scratched and clawed their way back into the contest. Although All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (21 points, four assists) wasnt having a great shooting night initially, he willed his way to the foul line to manufacture points, aiding Chicago in turning the tables on the Nets, resulting in a 24-20 lead at the conclusion of the opening period.

Asiks strong interior play persisted and with Deng (19 points) in his customary role as early second quarter go-to guy, the Bulls maintained their slight cushion. Thibodeau eventually filtered his regulars back into the contest, but even with a powerful Rose tomahawk dunk thrilling the Prudential Center fans, the visitors didnt gain much more separation between themselves and their hosts.

Still, tough defense as usual, was the order of the day for Chicago , causing New Jerseys field-goal percentage to drop significantly. Center Joakim Noah (five points, 10 rebounds, six assists) back after a one-game absence due to flu-like symptoms subsequently served as a more than adequate secondary ballhandler.

His timings still not there offensively, in terms of that 15-to-17-foot shot, but it will be and hes capable of making that shot. Hes a very good playmaker. When you put two on the ball and you hit Jo in the middle of the floor, his decision-making is excellent, Thibodeau said of Noah. Hes a terrific playmaker for a guy that size. You just throw it near him and hell get it. He can put it on the floor and he makes great plays, so we have a lot of confidence in him.

Hes not quite 100 percent, but today, he just battled through it and Ive got a lot of respect for that. Thats great leadership for us.

At halftime, the Bulls held a 43-36 advantage.

While Nets power forward Kris Humphries (13 points, 16 rebounds) beastly efforts in the paint on both ends were impressive, his activity on the inside wasnt enough for New Jersey, as the Bulls gradually pulled away.

Rose got the better of his matchup with fellow elite floor general Deron Williams (five points, 11 assists), limiting the All-Stars scoring with his improved defense and patiently running Chicagos offense by either picking apart the defense himself or facilitating good ball movement when the Nets extended their pressure.

It was important because it was our next game. It was nothing individual or anything, said Rose of the duel afterwards. Of course, every time you play in this league, youre playing against somebody good, especially at the point guard position and I just wanted to go out there and play hard.

Chimed in Thibodeau: Two fierce competitors. Both strong, quick. Derricks defense is improving. Hes gotten a lot better, hes doing a great job of challenging shots, he continued. Thats a big part of who we are. When youre not shooting the ball well, you want to be able to win, and our defensive, our rebounding and taking care of the ball put us in position to win.

Despite subpar shooting numbers as a team, the Bulls increased their lead to double digits, with stifling defense, Dengs scoring and Asiks dominance around the rim being major factors. Through three quarters, the Bulls were up, 60-50.

Omer gave us a huge lift off the bench, praised Thibodeau. Even the past two games, he struggled a little bit, but his work has been so consistent and I think hes gotten a lot of confidence.

Today, he had that great rebounding rhythm again and it seemed like anything that was near him, he was getting. The thing that I liked was that he was going up strongthat energy, I thought it really inspired us, too.

Added Noah: Thats the beauty of this team. Weve got a lot of weapons. Omers somebody who lives in the gym, improving. His confidence is getting better and better. Hes understanding how he can score in the offense. Hes playing at a really high level and we need that to do what we want to do.

New Jersey didnt wilt, however; and an early fourth-quarter spurt led by backup forward Travis Outlaw affected Chicagos comfort level. The home team spurred by a suddenly supportive crowd kept pushing and the game became a tight-knit affair midway through the final stanza, as contributions from the likes of Lopez and backup guard Sasha Vujacic (13 points, five rebounds) helped them cut the deficit.

They pressured us some, Thibodeau noted. We played at a pace we didnt want to play at and once we settled down, recognized the second passer and made that second pass, we got a high-percentage shot and that opened things up.

With under six minutes to play, a deep Lopez two-point jumper tied the contest at 65 and both teams exchanged baskets for a stretch Deng and Rose were Chicagos offensive catalysts irking the decidedly defensive-minded Thibodeau.

Ball security became an issue for the Nets, as turnovers Rose picked off a lazy Williams cross-court pass, which was subsequently converted into a fast-break layup mishandles and poor shot selection plagued the hosts down the stretch, as did general unforced miscues, such as defensive three-second violations at key moments.

Conversely, the Bulls scored timely baskets to create some breathing room late, forcing the home fans to acknowledge the reality of the situation: New Jersey wouldnt pull off the upset of an upper-echelon conference rival.

Chicago corralled important rebounds, and generally played mistake-free basketball late, capitalizing on the Nets mistakes.

A three-pointer from Kyle Korver (12 points) with 1:16 to go pretty much sealed the deal, dashing any remaining hopes of the New Jersey faithful in the arena that the Nets would extend the five-game winning streak they came into the game enjoying.

Thats what weve been doing the whole year, playing defense if our offense isnt going. That rarely happens, but if its not, well rely on our defense and thats what we did tonight, just make it tough on them, said Rose, an important cog in a defensive unit that has held opponents to a final tally in the 70s 12 times this season.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way

Dunking Markkanen, dead-legged LaVine, no Dunn and tanking the right way

ATLANTA — Here are the observations from the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena Saturday afternoon.

Not a shooter, but a scorer: The Atlanta Hawks’ gameplan was clear on Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen: Do anything but let him shoot.

They succeeded at that objective but in the words of Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, they “won the battle but lost the war” as Markkanen missed all four of his 3-pointers and didn’t hit a jump shot.

But he scored 19 including six dunks—after coming in with 28 dunks in the first 42 games. The Hawks kept putting smaller players on him after switching pick and rolls and the Bulls smartly and patiently went to Markkanen inside after ball movement.

Shooting over 6-foot-10 guys who aren’t as agile is certainly satisfying for the rookie but as Markkanen said, “dunking is fun.”

“Trying to be a complete player,” Markkanen said. “If that was their game plan, I don’t know. I can do much more than shoot. I missed how many three’s today? But that wasn’t going for me tonight so I went to something else.”

Clearly while Markkanen’s game is growing the easiest thing for opposing teams to do is to see how he’ll perform against smaller players, but as the season has gone on he’s shown more comfort with his back to the basket and being two passes away, ready to step into the lane when defenses collapse.

“I know I can’t just shoot threes, I gotta get to the rim,” Markkanen said. “Eventually it’ll open more space for 3-pointers and stuff like that. Trying to mix it up.”

Dead legs or settling in for Zach LaVine: It was tailor made for Zach LaVine to get his second slam of the season, getting the ball on a breakaway with only Taurean Prince trailing him.

Whether LaVine heard footsteps or knew he didn’t have the full lift to get there, Prince caught up with him to foul from behind as LaVine tripped before liftoff, missing a layup.

It was indicative of his early showing, as the adrenaline from the first two games has worn off and LaVine is having to get used to his body’s limitations in the moment—especially as his minute restriction was raised to 24 minutes for the next three games before he’ll be re-evaluated again.

He was 0-for-4 in the first half before catching a bit of a rhythm in the second half, finishing two-for-nine with eight points in 18 minutes, adding nine rebounds. His explosion isn’t there yet, going to the rim. And his legs on his jumper feels a little flat, too.

“I don’t have all of it (legs),” LaVine said. “A couple possessions down the floor, I get tired. Get fouled and have to walk it off. I have to get the game legs back and I can’t practice it, it comes with playing.”

In two months, one would think he’ll finish that with little issues but he admitted fatigue caught up with him more than anything.

“My first two (games) I was extremely excited, energized,” LaVine said. “I just feel like it’s something I gotta get used to playing NBA games again. I feel it a little bit.”

Especially in watching Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas go through a similar up-and-down period with his return, nobody should’ve expected LaVine’s performances to just keep rising and rising without dropoff.

This is part of the rehab, and the Bulls feel as if they’re prepared for it. Their reasoning for only marginally increasing LaVine’s workload from 20 to 24 minutes is simple: They want him to have off-days to continue strengthening his surgically-repaired knee, not just having him take the practice days as recovery from playing heavy minutes.

“You can’t anticipate any of it,” LaVine said. “I felt good the first two, I feel good now. No injury, no knick-knacks or anything. Just energy-wise and your legs, making sure you’re getting up and down the floor, making sure you’re getting elevation on your jumper and in the lane, I gotta get better at it.”

As self-aware as anyone considering what he’s been through over the past year, he offered an assurance to any who may be concerned.

“I gotta play through it, find ways around it,” LaVine said. “Regardless I’m not scared or anything. I feel fine.”

Dunn out vs. New Orleans: Kris Dunn will be out against the New Orleans Pelicans and it appears more likely he’ll miss Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia as well as he recovers from the concussion he suffered in a scary fall against Golden State earlier this week.

“He has no change in his symptoms,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll know more tomorrow but his symptoms haven’t changed.”

Initially the Bulls didn’t believe Dunn had a concussion but the symptoms emerged early the next morning.

“From what I understand with concussion symptoms, they can take up to 24 hours to develop. It sounds like the initial tests, he passed,” Hoiberg said. “Then he woke up the morning, had a headache, had some dizziness, was re-checked and that’s when they put him in concussion protocol. There’s been very little change since. He’s still having trouble with sleeping. The biggest thing is making sure he’s getting rest and he stays hydrated.”

The tank: One team successfully executed how to tank, and that was the Atlanta Hawks. Yes, the Bulls forced them into missing 37 of 48 3-point attempts, and the Bulls jumped on them early and never allowed the Hawks to take a lead, much less get too close.

“We opened with a double-digit lead right out the gate,” Hoiberg said. “Overall, really complete performance for our guys.”

“We knew we had to come out the gate with great effort.”

Robin Lopez continued his impressive play with 20 points and Justin Holiday hit a few shots late to score 13, while Bobby Portis scored 14 in 18 minutes.

But pretty, it was not.

The Bulls haven’t completely abandoned their plans for the season, as they’ll field calls for Holiday, Lopez and of course, have Nikola Mirotic’s exit being first on their docket.

But while this team is relatively whole, this is a game they should win handily.

And they did.

Yet and still, though, this applies to the 13-32 Hawks:

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

New York Times veteran NBA writer Marc Stein tweeted late Friday that multiple teams were interested in fourth-year swingman Rodney Hood.

We know that the Jazz are one of the rumored teams interested in embattled forward Niko Mirotic and while it wouldn’t seem to make sense on the surface, Rodney Hood could be a good fit for the Bulls.

Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer and the Bulls would retain the rights to match any offer if they felt like the former Duke Blue Devil was the right piece to join the new core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn.

There is one complication in a potential Mirotic for Hood deal; the salaries don’t quite match. Utah would need to send another player like Alec Burks to Chicago in the deal. The Bulls would have to be OK taking on Burks’ $11.5 million salary for the 2018-19 season and his cap hit in free agency. Good news though, the free agent class this summer is very thin at small forward, the main position the Bulls have a need for.

Another road block, the Bulls are set to max out LaVine this July, and they may be wary on tying up a good part of their cap space for the next four years on two players.

Acquiring Hood hurts the ‘tank’ but you’d have a three-month audition of a 25-year old shooter that on paper would seem to work with the current rotation. If the Bulls felt like Hood wasn’t a good fit, let him walk in free agency. They would then keep their cap space intact for the 2019 super free agent class.