Bulls capture NBA's best record with victory


Bulls capture NBA's best record with victory

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 9:42 p.m. Updated: 11:58 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam

Although the Bulls (62-20) didnt win their regular-season finale in classic fashion, the 97-92 victory over the visiting Nets at the United Center Wednesday night did demonstrate one of their strengths all season: their depth, in the form of the Bench Mob, the nickname for Chicagos reserves. In a game featuring unlikely protagonists on both sides, the Bulls withstood a strong challenge from the visiting Nets to hold on late and clinch the NBAs best overall record heading into Saturdays playoff opener against the Indiana Pacers.

WATCH: Rose shares his thoughts on Indiana

Of course, thats always good, but our next step is getting prepared for the playoffs. We knew that we made this game tonight harder than what it was, Derrick Rose acknowledged of the teams 62-win season. It took our bench to come in and play great for us to win. Now were looking forward to the playoffs.

With an inferior opponent in town, it first appeared as if the Bulls had finally gone mainstream, feeding into the notion that these types of affairs were better for resting than actual performance. The lowly Nets were competitive at the outsetthe likes of Sasha Vujacic (10 points) and Stephen Graham (11 points) were de facto go-to guysputting the Bulls on their heels early in the first quarter.

But Chicago hadnt come all this way to wave the white flag and created some breathing room, overpowering the visitors with their considerable advantage in star power, particularly low-post duo Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah (10 points, 10 rebounds).

Noahwho started despite tweaking his ankle the previous evening, continued to show progress by playing with his usual high energy level. Despite his protests to the contrary, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau substituted some of his starterssuch as Rose (15 points) and Luol Deng (11 points), who both typically play heavy minutesand behind balanced scoring, the Bulls ended the opening period with a 26-20 lead.

WATCH: Deng discusses the Bulls mindset

The Bulls positive trend continued in the second quarter, as they increased their winning margin to double digits, with Thibodeau giving his reserves ample playing time. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver (19 points) and little-used midseason acquisition Rasual Butler (10 points) each made it rain from the outside, while Chicagos stingy defense caused the Nets misery on the other end.

As has been customary, however, the Bulls intensity decreased and their guests capitalized, gradually coming back behind point guard Jordan Farmar (21 points, 12 assists)superstar floor general Deron Williams was out due to wrist surgeryand backup big man Johan Petro (13 points, eight rebounds). At the half, however, the Bulls were able to maintain a 50-43 advantage.

After the intermission, New Jersey shocked the United Center crowd by jumping out to a double-digit lead, sparked by a 13-0 run that raised the question of whether the two teams had changed identities. Brook Lopez (19 points) came alive for the Nets and with the talented center playing in a motivated fashion, the visitors stunned their hosts in taking control of the contest.

READ: Bulls-Pacers 1st round schedule

At the start of the third, as a team, we were low energy and thats when we got into a hole, so we were looking to change things up from there, said Thibodeau. I didnt want to put the starters back in.

Deng concurred: The guys were big. The starters, we were out there trying. Were digging deep, were trying. It was a tough game, physically and mentally, but our bench has been there all year and they were ready.

Adding injury to insult, Noah bumped knees and was forced to leave the contestworse, in the midst of one his trademark double-double outingssending Bulls fans into a state of panic.
WATCH: Noah says he's feeling fine

Im fine, Noah said afterwards. This is so exciting right now I think that once you step on to the court, youre numb to all that stuff.

I just felt like I was running the floor better today and I was just moving a lot better. Im still a work in process, the center went on to say. Im still not where I want to be, but Im hoping that when the playoffs start, the environment gets me going a little bit more.

Added Thibodeau: I think hes fine.

I thought he played very well in the first half. I thought his energy was extremely high, he was active, offensive rebounding, blocking shots, running the post, sprinting the floor, high energy, he continued. To me, that was a great sign. Thats two games in a row where his activity was really high.

WATCH: Thibodeau on a "new season"

But led by Rose, Chicago put a halt to the Nets spurt, tying the contest at 68 apiece after three quarters, following a jumper by Korver in the waning seconds of the period.

The Bulls Bench Mob (sans the injured Ronnie Brewer, who sprained his right thumb Tuesday in New York) couldnt pull away from the Nets in the close-knit affair, despite the efforts of Korver, who carried the offensive load for Chicago. By tightening up their defenseor New Jersey playing to their usual standardsthe Bulls were primed to salvage the contest as the stretch run approached.

The bench was great, really good and I think it says a lot about Rasual. Hes been a great pro, stays ready, practices hard, great teammate and made a lot of big plays for us, said Thibodeau, highlighting the play of Butler, who has already become popular in Chicagos locker room. I wanted to play our bench more today and cut back on the starters minutes a little bit, but just the way the game was unfolding, we were looking for a group that could give us something.

Chimed in Noah: The Bench Mob has been saving us and playing great all year. We wouldnt have 62 wins and had the season that we had if wasnt for them.

WATCH: Boozer feeling proud

With both Korver and Butler coming up big late in the back-and-forth affair, the Bulls trailed by a point before Butler knocked down a corner triple with 46.1 seconds remaining to give the home team a 92-90 lead. While New Jersey would threaten the late leadincluding a muffed Taj Gibson (nine points, eight rebounds) jump ballthe Bulls survived and kept their positive momentum heading into Saturdays playoff opener.

Sixty-two is a great number and were definitely happy about it, but were not satisfied. We dont want it to end here. Now its a new season, said Noah. I dont think it changes anything. At the end of the day, the best record doesnt help you win a basketball game. Youve got to go in there with the mindset of being on edge for 48 minutes, be really focused and understand that its going to be tough, and were going to go through a lot togethergood times, hard timesand through all of it, weve got to stick together. When we realize that, we can do something special.

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.

LeBron James' brilliance overpowers Denzel Valentine's career night for Bulls


LeBron James' brilliance overpowers Denzel Valentine's career night for Bulls

It look a little longer than perhaps LeBron James expected—or maybe not, given the recent woes from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But it happens in a flash—no matter if it is a fadeaway jumper, darting pass through multiple defenders or a swat into the third row for an unsuspecting Cameron Payne, who acted like he hadn’t seen James’ movies.

It took an almost Herculean effort from the game’s best player to put away a pesky Bulls team, 114-109 Saturday at the United Center. James was without several regulars, including Rodney Hood, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver—and his coach, Tyronn Lue, didn’t join the bench in the second half after getting ill.

The no-look passes, the easy drives to the basket, it’s hard to realize he’s playing in his 15th season but he’s at a level few can match, even if his team struggles to keep up.

Whatever he’s lost in athleticism, he’s gained in mastering the game and making sure it’s played at his pace.

Of course, we can quibble with his indifference to defense at times and make note of how that permeates to the rest of the team, as they let the Bulls back in way too many times.

But when you say that, it’s just as easy to see his passing makes his teams unselfish. The Cavs routinely swing the ball from a good shot to a great shot, even if it’s facilitated by James himself, as they had 25 assists on 44 field goals.

“Right now the game is effortless,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “LeBron wants to be a passer first and that’s where he was hurting us early. And then he got loose and got to the rim.”

James led them with 12 in addition to his 33 points and 13 rebounds in 39 minutes, and the Cavaliers needed every bit of his production as the Bulls emptied the reservoir with four of their five regular starters out.

“I just want to get healthy,” James said. “It’s unfamiliar territory for a lot of guys, going in and out the lineup and having six guys out…I think it was a good (road) trip for us.”

The Bulls were missing Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez for various reasons.

Denzel Valentine filled in admirably for a career night and luckily, didn’t throw a cringing behind-the-back pass to the expensive seats. Buoyed by a lax defense from the opposition, he led the Bulls with 34 points, seven rebounds and six assists, hitting eight of 11 from long range in 34 minutes.

If it wasn’t for a late foul on Jordan Clarkson when the Bulls improbably tied the game at 105 with 1:41 left, the Bulls would’ve made things very interesting. But he made contact with Clarkson in the corner and the Cavaliers took a four-point lead.

James got a steal on the next possession and hit a fadeaway to complete his night, his 15th triple-double of the season.

“As soon as I went in a little bit he threw it out there,” Valentine said of James. “And I went to close out and boom. It’s just a learning moment.”

Valentine has earned praise from Hoiberg for filling a leadership void while Lopez and Justin Holiday have taken a backseat due to the organization’s wishes to evaluate young players for the rest of the season.

In the meantime, Valentine hopes he’s proving to be a starter at this level, not just a plug-and-play role player.

“I believe I’m a starter in this league,” Valentine said. “I believe I can be an important piece of an NBA team. But whatever my role on the team is that they want me to do, the organization wants me to do, I’ll do. But personally, I believe I’m a starter and I can contribute in major ways. I just got to keep working and keep getting better.”

Whether he’s a fringe starter or valuable piece off the bench, Valentine has at least shown to develop a consistent jump shot—which in today’s game puts him as a fit on any team. Shooting 39 percent on the season means if the Bulls make him available this offseason, they will have callers.

“It just shows what I’m capable of,” Valentine said. “I believe in myself even when I’m out there playing bad. But I put the work in no matter what happens, if I’m playing well [or], if I’m playing bad.”

His fearlessness, along with Bobby Portis and Cameron Payne, pulled the Bulls back from the brink after the Cavaliers took a 17-point lead before halftime.

Sixteen of his points came in the third, sending the United Center into a frenzy despite the fact a loss would be more beneficial for the franchise considering the New York Knicks destroyed the Charlotte Hornets, paving the way for the Bulls to slide back into eighth in the lottery standings.

Payne did his best to undermine the tank, with a career-high 10 assists go to with 13 points on five of 11 shooting. Portis was solid with 15 points and 15 rebounds, but had a late dunk blocked by Jeff Green.

And combined with Antonio Blakeney getting his shots up anytime he touched the ball, including on fast breaks when the Bulls had multiple-man advantages, just enough was done to give the Cavs the necessary room to end their 13-day road trip on a high note.

“We’ve got a lot of guys in positions they haven’t been in all year,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Cam was unbelievable pushing the pace, especially early in the game.”

Green added 21 and Clarkson came off the bench to score 19. All can thank James for their night—along with a fan he threw his armband to afterward, who was left in tears.

And had the Bulls actually won this game, both James and the Bulls fans would’ve been in tears.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?


Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Vincent Goodwill, and Kendall Gill discuss the concern over Zach Lavine’s inconsistent play, plus is it smart for the Bulls to offer him a max contract? Kendall also explains why the Bulls need to be careful not to lowball Lavine, like the Hornets did with him early in his career. Plus the trio discuss the early exit for Oklahoma and Trae Young. He’s likely to be there when the Bulls make their first pick, should they take him? And Vincent shares who the consensus top 5 picks are after talking with several NBA talent evaluators.