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Big O: Asik powers Bulls to eighth straight win

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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.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.