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Boozer practices as Bulls gear up for Hawks

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Boozer practices as Bulls gear up for Hawks

Sunday, May 1, 2011Posted: 3:10 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Hell be ready to go, claimed Joakim Noah when asked about the status of his teammate, Carlos Boozer, after the Bulls Sunday afternoon practice at the Berto Center.

For sure, added Derrick Rose. Hes going to play in that game Mondays Game 1 of Chicagos Eastern Conference semifinal series against Atlanta.

While he declined to talk to reporters, Boozer participatedreportedly on a limited basisin his first practice since suffering a turf-toe injury in the Bulls Game 5 first-round win over the Pacers. Prior to Sunday, Boozer had only been lifting weights, but hadnt spent any time on the court, with the exception of some light individual shooting.

Hes going to be good," Rose said. "From looking at film, watching film on him, seeing how in some of the games, how aggressive he was and thats all we try to tell him to do, is be aggressive while hes on the court and just play his game.

"Hes been in this league long enough where hell be able to get himself out of a little slump. Hes still coming in, talking, shooting the ball, doing his routine and nothing has changed.

While the Bulls expect Boozer to play in the teams second-round opener MondayChicago head coach Tom Thibodeau hasnt decided whether Taj Gibson or Kurt Thomas would start if he didnt playthey could be facing a short-handed opponent. Former Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, Atlantas starting point guard, is listed as doubtful with a strained right hamstring, which he suffered late in the Hawks Game 6 victory over the Orlando Magic.

Knowing that he was my veteran and I was his rook, yeah, I feel bad about the injury, but Im sorry to say that Im just worried about whats going on over here, said Derrick Rose of his former backcourt mate.

Chimed in Noah: I wish Kirk nothing but the best. Obviously Ive been there. Its tough to be in that position, to be injured.

If Hinrich is limited or out for the series, candidates to replace him include second-year point guard Jeff Teague and another former Bull, sixth man Jamal Crawford, who led the team in scoring in the Orlando series. Teague received scant playing time against Orlando and has been generally out of first-year head coach Larry Drews rotation since Atlanta acquired Hinrich from Washington at the trade deadline.

They have quality depth. Crawford has played a lot of minutes. Teague has played extremely well when hes been in their rotation, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau after Saturdays practice. Joe Johnson has the ability to handle the ball and make plays. Theyve got a lot of depth in their backcourt and their perimeter guys are really skilled, so youve got to be ready for everybody.

At the end of games, the ball is primarily in Joe Johnsons hands or Jamal Crawfords hands, so their end-of-game stuff will be exactly the same. But they also have Marvin Williams, who didnt play quite as much as he normally does because of the matchup that they had with Orlando, so now hes back on the floor. Theyve got a lot of weapons they can throw at you and I think Teague is really a good player also, so theyre fortunate to have that type of depth at the point-guard position.

Added Rose: It doesnt change at all. Weve got to go out there and play. Teague or whoever starts out there in his spot, theyre good players. Jamal, you know hes a scorer, keeps them going, keeps them in games and theyre a real athletic team with a lot of spots where they can change pick-and-rolls.

Crawford is tough. One of the best scorers in the league. Every team that he goes on, he knows his role, which is to score the ball. If anything, try to stick him as a team and make everything tough on him.

While Crawford is capable of handling the point, hes more of a designated instant-offense scorer for the Hawks, as evidenced by his team-leading scoring average against the Magic. Both Johnson and Crawford often play one-on-one, isolation-type basketball within the Hawks sets and although they have decent court vision, neither is known for their playmaking ability.

Overall, the Hawks have proved to be an inconsistent squad, capable of looking like world-beaters and lottery-bound in consecutive games. After surrendering a huge halftime lead in the two teams first matchup, Chicago dominated Atlanta in their final two meetings. But the Bulls still believe the Hawks will give them a battle in the second round.

Its going to be a tough series. Theyre a good team, they play hard together and theyve got everything going for them right now, Rose explained. I think its going to be tougher than the first-round series against Indiana. Theyve got guys that can really jump and contest my shot. Really big guys like Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford are tough players.

Its all confidence. They play the same way, but they believe that they can win games, that they can go far and when youve got everybody on a team believing that, its hard to slow a team down, he continued. Theyre playing with confidence. They let a team sweep them the previous year, then to come out and play against that team and beat them in a series, it means a lot. Theyre playing with a lot of confidence, they believe in each other and they believe they can win."

Concurred Thibodeau: The regular season, theres a lot of things that go into that, so you have to judge it by a how a team is playing right now. Not that youre not looking at the matchup in those games, but youre looking at how theyre performing right now and thats what weve got to be ready for. Theyre playing at a very high level right now.

During the Orlando series, the Hawks started backup Jason Collins at center, pushing Horford to power forward and Josh Smith to small forward, in order to better defend All-Star center Dwight Howard, who was defended one-on-one by Collins and other reserves. Although it's unlikely Atlanta will use the same lineup, the Bulls are preparing for all possibilities, including Hinrichs absence, Horfords interior scoring and the Hawks ability to switch matchups with their long, athletic and versatile defenders.

Youre trying to clean up some of the things that you need to work on and youre preparing for your opponent, said Thibodeau, who said he believes Atlanta will most likely go back to starting Marvin Williams at small forward. That was the matchup that they used for Howard, but we have to be ready for them to go big or go small, so I think the plan is to plan for both.

Theyve done less of that switching on defense this year, but they still have the capability of doing that at the two, three and four, so you have your counters to attack it. Putting different people into pick-and-rolls to negate it. You can also create the mismatch that you want. Youve just got to have the ability to read those defenses.

Thibodeau is worried about Horford in particular.

"His athleticism, his ability to run the floor, his activity on the offensive boards, his ability to shoot the 15 to 17-foot shothes a hard guy to match up with," he said. "I think because of the skill set of Joe Johnson and Crawford, that puts a lot of pressure on you, so you have to have a multiple-effort mentality. When we do give help, we have to make sure we get back to him and we dont give him clean looks at the basket. We just have to help appropriately.

Atlanta is regarded as more of a finesse team than the physical young Pacers, but the Bulls wont be surprised if the Hawks opt to utilize a similar strategy.

Thats playoff basketball," Thibodeau said. "Theres also a price to pay for that. We shot a lot of free throws. We shot it at a very good percentage. We got into the penalty early in the fourth quarter. Whenever you put two on the ballwhich they really didnt do until the fourth quarterbut that was also our best quarter. Youve got to be ready for everything. it could be size on him, they could be physical. Its nothing that we havent seen. Youve got to be ready to fight. These playoff games, theyre not going to be easy. Theyre going to be tough, hard-fought games.

Echoed Noah: I expect it to be very physical.

This is the time of year where theres not a lot of teams lefttheres only eight teams leftthis is what its all about. Everybody on the court only wants one thing and thats a championship.

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.