Bulls blaze past Portland on Deng's career night


Bulls blaze past Portland on Deng's career night

Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010
Updated 12:08 AM

By Aggrey Sam

Something was missing in the first two games of the Bulls' season. No, not Carlos Boozer; that's a given. Rather, Luol Deng, after a promising preseason, faded into the background in the team's first two contests.

That wouldn't be the case Monday evening, as Deng's career-high 40 points and a stout defense would spark a wire-to-wire 110-98 Chicago victory over visiting Portland at the United Center.

"Even in the first two games, I didn't think that he shot the ball well, but I thought he played well, because of all the things that he's doing. He's moving without the ball, he's cutting hard, he's making the extra pass and he's playing really good defense. Tonight, he was terrific offensively, just body was in motion, got out and ran the floor, so he did a number of different things," said Thibodeau about Deng afterwards. "Sometimes players will allow their offense to dictate their defense. You know that you're not going to shoot well every night. Maybe you have a tough matchup. Maybe you're being guarded well, you're being trapped. So, that night might be harder on you offensively, but there's other ways you can help and I think you want to be a defensive team first.

"Luol, from the start of camp, has been that way. He goes hard on defense every day in practice, so I was glad in the first two games, he didn't get down. He just kept working on his game, got in early, stayed late, getting a lot of shots up, so I was very confident he would come around."

A focused Bulls team took the United Center floor with bad intentions, as an aggressive offense produced results and head coach Tom Thibodeau's inside-out game plan was executed. Deng bounced back from a subpar game offensively, as his defense has been underrated; Deng at least made life difficult for Kevin Durant in the season-opening loss at Oklahoma City and absolutely hounded Ben Gordon after he was switched onto his former teammate in the second half of Chicago's successful home opener start to the season with an efficient (6-for-7 shooting, 16 points) opening quarter.

Taj Gibson was effective before returning to his pattern of quick foul trouble, as he was saddled with a pair early, leading to the insertion of rookie center Omer Asik. Fellow reserve James Johnson (playing shooting guard, and guarding Blazers star Brandon Roy and giving the Bulls a huge lineup with Asik's presence) was similarly rewarded for his strong play in Chicago's last win, receiving early playing time in return.

Unlikely secondary ballhandler Joakim Noah, the center was pressed into duty from the outset, when Portland took to full-court pressure of point guard Derrick Rose, who still managed to impact the contest with his slashing and playmaking repertoire didn't make much of a dent in the way of scoring, but made several nifty passes to provide opportunities for others and was responsible with the ball in his hands. Suffocating team defense, versatile power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, originally a Bulls draft choice in 2006 (he was swapped for the departed Tyrus Thomas in a draft-day deal), was the only Trailblazer to produce from a scoring standpoint also played a large part in Chicago leading, 32-21, after a quarter of play.

"I made shots, but we moved the ball really well. We had a lot of open shots the way they played our pick-and-roll, trying to blitz D.Rose," said the modest Deng. "When they're blitzing and we move the ball well, you've got players sometimes, you could play great "D" and guys still hit shots.

"I didn't really shoot the ball well the first two games. I shot the ball well tonight, but every night is going to be different. We've got a lot of new players on this team and we've just got to understand that. We've just got to find ways to win, but every night, your role will be different," he continued. "It's just the way the game goes sometimes and tonight, it was just the way the game went. I had a lot of open shots and a few easy layups early."

The second period would see the Bulls cruise early on, as a largely uninspired Trailblazers team seemingly walked through the motions. Utah expatriates Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer made positive contributions, as the reserve wings continue to attempt to integrate themselves into Thibodeau's system. Korver, in particular, looked to be in the flow, active and engaged, and his shooting would give Chicago a boost.

Rose, under much scrutiny for his high volume of shot attempts in the season's early going, functioned as a distributor primarily, demonstrating that any shoot-first tendencies were more out of necessity than choice. Portland crept back in the game, capitalizing on rushed shots by the home team and eventually cutting its sizable deficit to single digits, mostly by virtue of Aldridge's varied scoring methods. Despite the visitors finally appearing to be fully engaged by midway through the quarter, the Bulls maintained a 56-47 advantage going into the half.

"I'm the type of person where if I've got something going, I'm going to stick with it. If it's scoring, I'm going to stick with it if it's helping us and tonight, it was passing the ball. It might sound crazy as a point guard, but I'm different. They were hitting the shots and I had to keep feeding them, and I think they were knocking down shots that they were supposed to,' said Rose, who finished with a career-high tying 13 assists, as well as 16 points (on 11 shots) and five rebounds. "Anything easy, where my teammates were getting off. They played great, man, and we put them away pretty early.

"Coming into the game, I knew I could pass the ball. They were double-teaming me. I think I was making the right plays," continued Rose, who said he stayed in close contact with Deng to boost his spirits after his disappointing first two games of the season. "Deng's confidence is sky-high. He didn't even have a second guess about whether he was going to shoot or not. He was letting the ball go and that's what we need him to do, be that other threat for this team. He's one of them, he's put in a lot of work, so I think that it's paying off."

"Derrick was terrific. He got us a fast pace to the game, got us some easy scoring opportunities and I thought he was great with the pass tonight. I thought he was reading what's happening. They trapped him more and he made the right play," said Thibodeau. "It's important to make the right play. Derrick has the responsibility of running the team and some nights, a guy can get hot, he has a favorable matchup. He has to read that and the responsibility of a primary scorer is when the second defender comes, to hit the open man, and I think that he's done that."

Thibodeau added: "When he's been in single coverage, Derrick has attacked and he's been very effective. I think the better our defense is, the better we rebound, the more he's in the open floor and that's where I've said this many times he's impossible to guard, if he has a head of steam and he's coming at you. That's where we get going, there's easy scoring opportunities for everybody in transition."

Deng's hot shooting persisted into the third quarter, as the veteran small forward was torrid from the field. In turn, however, the Bulls had no answer for Aldridge, who gave them fits with his combination of shooting range, agility and back-to-the-basket moves. But in general, Chicago's defensive effort continued to fluster the Trailblazers, who were both cold from the outside and unable to get quality shots on the interior, especially with the pairing of Noah and Asik on the defensive end.

The Bulls held a comfortable winning margin, although Thibodeau was visibly displeased with the team's bugaboo on the short season repeatedly putting its opponent on the foul line; in contrast, Chicago was inefficient at the charity stripe themselves which ensured the contest wasn't a laugher just yet. After three periods, the Bulls led, 88-73.

While not visually appealing, Chicago maintained its comfortable cushion by way of stout defense early in the final stanza, although they struggled to find the basket themselves. Foul difficulties, however, would plague the Bulls and a subtle race to beat the clock before interior stalwarts Noah and Gibson, as well as Johnson and Asik, were disqualified ensued, while they simultaneously attempted to prevent a Portland comeback.

Deng's offensive brilliance continued, but in a stretch where Chicago relaxed a bit, the home team's grasp on the contest was strong enough that the tempo was slowed an all-reserve Portland lineup would pose a late challenge, but the game was already well in hand.

"We're not where we want to be yet, but we're getting there. I think we're moving in the right direction I thought overall, we did a lot of good things defensively, but we still have a lot of things to clean up," said Thibodeau. "Portland is a quality team, so I thought we did a lot of good things to get the win."

"I like the way we're playing. If someone gets hot, we're going to continue to go to that guy and I thought Derrick made a lot of great reads in the game," he continued. "Each night, I'm hopeful that it's going to be somebody different to take the scoring load off Rose. It's going to be more than one; we're going to need two, three, four guys."

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.

Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history


Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history

We're trying to figure out the best season in Bulls franchise history, and we want your help in deciding.

Because the Bulls tout the greatest player in basketball history, who could have made up this list by himself, we're giving Michael Jordan his own side of the bracket. But the other side of the bracket is also filled with some pretty memorable and remarkable campaigns.

So read up on each matchup and then have your voice heard by voting on our Twitter page here. Check out the entire bracket in the graphic above.

The Jordan Region

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96) vs. No. 8 Michael Jordan (1990-91)

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96): Jordan was on a mission in his first full season back from retirement. He led the Bulls to a then-record 72 wins with a regular-season MVP award, All-Star MVP and romp through the NBA playoffs, where the Bulls went 15-3 en route to their fourth NBA title. Jordan won his eighth straight scoring title at 30.4 points a game, with nine games where he put up 40 or more. He saved his best for Detroit, scoring 53 with 11 rebounds and six steals in early March. To prove Jordan was getting better as he aged, he shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range at age 33.

No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91): 1990-91: Jordan's second MVP came with his first NBA title, as he was at the peak of his powers physically combined with the ultimate team success, with the Bulls finally getting past Detroit before defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He shot a career-high 54 percent from the field while averaging 31.5 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists as he began to fully embrace the triangle offense in Phil Jackson's second season. Jordan had 57 games where he shot better than 50 percent from the field, and was among the league leaders in steals at 2.7 per game while earning his fourth straight All-Defensive First Team honor.

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11) vs. No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94)

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11): Where to begin? The youngest MVP in league history took the league by storm, averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins. Rose had been named an All-Star the previous season but took his game to new heights in Year 3, appearing in 81 games, making 128 3-pointers (after making a combined 32 his first two seasons) while helping the Bulls rank first in defensive efficiency under first year head coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose and the Bulls lost in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, with Rose shooting a paltry 35 percent on 24 attempts per game. But his historic season will always go down as one of the franchise’s best, and the only non-Jordan MVP.

No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94): Yeah, well what would Scottie be without MJ? We found out that answer in 1993-94, when Pippen took the reins of the franchise as Jordan rode the Birmingham bus as a minor-league baseball player. Pippen responded with a sensational season, averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He averaged 2.9 steals, shot 49 percent from the field and became a 3-point threat for the first time in his career. He was named First Team All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Team, and finished third to Hakeem and The Admiral in MVP voting. He averaged 22.8/8.3/4.6 in the postseason but ultimately proved it was easier to win in the spring with MJ by his side. Still, this individual season was one of the franchise’s best, if not the best. Hardware isn’t everything.

NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander


NBA Draft Tracker: Kentucky PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

For most of the college basketball season, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats ranked among the nation’s biggest underachievers. Calipari had perfected the one-and-done route in Lexington, recruiting classes full of McDonald’s All-Americans every year, making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, and then sending those talented freshmen off to the NBA. Matter of fact, Coach Cal’s ability to get players ready to play professionally is the foundation of his recruiting success.

However, this season the tried and true formula ran into a bit of a speed bump. Injuries and inconsistency led to double digit losses for the Wildcats during the regular season, and an uncertain tournament outlook. That’s when freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander emerged as the leader of this young team, and sparked Kentucky to a Southeastern Conference tournament championship.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been even better in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 19 points with 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the Wildcats’ opening round win over Davidson, then coming back with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in a victory over Buffalo.

At 6-6, Gilgeous-Alexander has the ability to shoot and pass over smaller defenders, while also possessing the quickness that is so crucial at the point guard position. Yes, he is very thin at 180 pounds, but has the frame to put on weight once he’s introduced to an NBA strength training program.

Gilgeous-Alexander has been Kentucky’s most efficient player throughout the season, shooting 49% from the field and nearly 42% from the 3 point line. He has the quickness and ball-handling ability to break down defenses and get in the paint for easy scores or assists. As the season progressed, Gilgeous-Alexander took on the role of go-to scorer late in games, sparking Kentucky’s runs in the S.E.C. AND NCAA tournaments.

So, by now I’m sure you’re asking, where does he fit with the Bulls? 3 weeks ago I was hoping Gilgeous-Alexander might be available in the 16-22 range where the Bulls might be able to get him with the Pelicans’ 1st round pick acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade. Unfortunately, his outstanding post-season play has him rocketing into the late lottery in the most recent mock drafts, and he could move up even higher if Kentucky advances to the Final 4.

The Bulls are happy with Kris Dunn as their starting point guard, and both Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne are under contract for next season. But if somehow the Pelicans fall out of the playoff field in the West (which seems very unlikely right now), adding an athletic combo guard like Gilgeous-Alexander would be an outstanding pick at 13 or 14.

So, when you’re watching Kentucky play in the NCAA Tournament, keep an eye on the tall, skinny guard wearing #22 and try to project just how good he might be on the professional level.