Bulls conjure up some Magic in Orlando


Bulls conjure up some Magic in Orlando

Friday, March 4, 2011
Posted: 8:49 PM Updated: 10:05 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam

ORLANDOTo a man, the Bulls and their coaching staff constantly preach that the teams depth is one of the squads primary strengths, as they believe any player is capable of stepping up on any given evening to carry them to victory. Friday night was Omer Asiks turn, as the rookie center battled Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard effectively, sparking Chicago (42-18) to an 89-81 win over Orlando (39-23) in a defensive-themed performance.

Chicago, perhaps suffering from a hangover in the aftermath of their collapse in Atlanta Wednesday, got off to a rough start at the sparkling-new Amway Center. The interior presence of Howard (20 points, 8-for-8 field-goal shooting, 10 rebounds, four blocked shots) proved to be an effective deterrent to drives to the basket, ball security didnt seem to be a priority and Orlando scored effectively, whether in transition, from the perimeter or Howard asserting his power at the rim, the latter of which caused Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to make an early adjustment, subbing Joakim Noah for the defensive-minded Asik.

The playmaking of Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson (14 points, six assists)who was injured early in the teams last contest, a Bulls win at the United Centerand outside shooting of veteran Jason Richardson (16 points, five rebounds) were catalysts, but while the visitors early offering didnt look pretty, they kept within striking distance of the home team. Orlando, however, didnt exploit Chicagos early missteps, and the scoring of Derrick Rose (24 points, four assists, four rebounds, two steals) and Luol Deng (16 points, six rebounds, three assists) kept the visitors afloat against the trigger-happy hosts and through the opening period, the score was knotted up at 21 apiece.

After the first five minutes of the game, once we settled down, I thought we played real solid defense and the rebounding was great, Thibodeau observed. Our bench came in and played great. The starters, they settled down, after about five minutes. I thought we were really anxious and we were breaking down because of what we were doing.

When the bench came in, they gave us a huge lift. Actually, the second quarter, because they were going so well, I probably held on to the starters a little longer than usual, but they were playing very well and theyve been playing well for a while, so I wanted to keep playing them.

Dengs hot hand persisted through the early second quarter, but it was countered by the unexpected offensive contributions of Orlandos Brandon Bass (16 points), as both starting forwards transitioned into primary scoring options while playing with their respective teams second units, keeping the contest a tightly-knit affair. Upon Carlos Boozers (12 points, nine rebounds) return to the contest, Chicago seized its first lead of the game on a putback by the Alaskan power forward, then subsequently extended it to create some breathing room as part of a 14-0 run by a mostly-reserve lineup to give the visitors a double-digit lead.

Toward the end of the half, Howard was fouled by Noah and then wildly swung an elbow when tangled up with Kyle Korver (10 points, 3-for-4 three-point shooting), resulting in a technical foul with 1:41 remaining in the period, his 16th of the season, which is punishable by a one-game suspension. A late scoring burst by Rose piled on to the Magics woes and the Bulls went into intermission with a 49-35 advantage.

A pair of quick fouls on Noah early in the third quarter put him on the bench with four personals, but with Asik (five points, career-high 13 rebounds, five of which were offensive, two blocks) in his stead, the Bulls maintained their cushion, as neither team was especially efficient offensively, although both Boozer and Nelson had their moments. Orlandos scoring woes persistedthe Magics reliance on three-point shooting betrayed themand with Chicago controlling the glass, the visitors didnt let the home team have an opportunity to get the crowds momentum behind them.

Behind Howard, however, the Magic gradually chipped away and made it a single-digit contest as the periods midway mark passed, sparked by improved defense and timely scoring, particularly two crowd-energizing triples by reserve sharpshooters Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick, the erstwhile offseason Bulls free-agent target. But Chicago persevered and despite Asik fouling Gilbert Arenas on a three-point attemptthe former All-Star guard hit the entire trio of free throws with 0.5 seconds left in the quarterthe Bulls took a 65-57 lead into the final stanza.

Chicagos reserves kept things going in the visitors favor, but when Asikwho clearly had become Thibodeaus preferred option in defending Howard and thusly played the bulk of thepicked up his fifth foul, the Magic went on a quick run, again threatening to shift the games course. Noah, who struggled mightily to score, came back in, but promptly accrued his fifth, too, forcing Thibodeau to play musical chairs with his two seven-footers.

Still, the Bulls defense and strong offensive rebounding ensured the visitors kept the hosts on their heels and a traditional Rose three-point play in transition once again gave Chicago a double-digit winning margin midway through the period. Asik keyed the Bulls with his savvy defense against Howard, infectious energy on the boards and refusal to be cowed by a big stage before fouling out with 1:37 to go after playing a career-high 31 minutes.

Its really fun to play against the best center in the league. I tried to do just do my job, tried to defend him, Asik told CSNChicago.com afterwards. I just tried to defend and take the rebounds. The team needs me at that position, so I tried to do my job. Thats it.

Omers been playing huge for us lately and I think that hes playing more and more confident every game and he played huge for us tonight, and we needed it. I was in foul trouble and hes been bringing a lot of energy for us off the bench and hes been a huge presence for us at the rim. He played awesome, said Joakim Noah, who was visibly pleasedboth during and after the gameto see his backup excel. Omer is somebodyfirst of all, just watching him play this summer in the World ChampionshipsI knew he was going to be somebody that was going to help us right away and hes somebody, apparently, in Europe whos very known for his play. Im glad that hes with us because hes helping us win ballgames right now.

Added Thibodeau: Omer was great, from his individual post defense to his rebounding, shot-blocking and then offensively, he helps you execute. He sets great screens, keeps the ball moving, gets you extra possessions and he and Taj play extremely well together.

Hes stronger than he looks and hes a range rebounder. He can go and get the ball out of his area. And his shot-blockingnot only his shot-blocking, but his lane intimidationhis ability to go up and not foul, and make guys finish over him. I think its a testament to his work and his drive, he continued. Hes really worked hard and hes improved. In the beginning of the year, those were fouls and now hes learned to hold his hands back. Hes using his chest well, hes jumping straight up and hes a hard guy to score over, and hes got a quick second jump. Hes doing a lot of great things for us.

Korvers marksmanship was also a factor for the guests, as he seemingly came up with dagger-like triples at the most important moments, including one with 1:06 on the clock, giving the Bulls an 86-73 lead.

Praised Thibodeau: I thought Kyle made a lot of good plays for us also. When Kyle comes off a pin-down, he usually gets double-teamed and he makes the right play every time.

For Korver, it was a bit of redemption after airballing a three-pointer that would have sent Wednesdays loss in Atlanta into overtime, especially after witnessing Orlandos impressive comeback win over the Bulls next opponent, Miami, Thursday night.

I just wanted to be aggressive. I wanted to step into my shots and hit them. I definitely felt bad about the other night. I couldnt sleep until like five in the morning after Wednesdays game. It was a tough one, Korver, who hit all three of his three-pointers in the fourth quarter, told CSNChicago.com. Youve got to block it out and be ready to shoot the next one.

The NBA is a game of runs and thats just the way its always been. Obviously we all watched the game last nightand we saw them come back, and we gave one away the other night in Atlanta after the big leadand so, at halftime, we talked about it a lot, he continued. I thought we came out with a better focus in the second half.

The reality is, in the playoffs, you have to win on the road and its games like this that kind of build the confidence that you need to do that later on. If you go into the playoffs and you havent won any big road games, in the back of your mind, that kind of wears on you.

Chimed in Noah: I think we rebounded the ball pretty well tonight and I think that it was a great team effort.

Our bench has been playing great for us. I feel like we just come in waves. Weve just got to keep it up, keep improving and not be satisfied with this win, but this was definitely a huge win. This was my first time winning here!

To be a great team, you have to be able to deal with adversity and weve dealt with a lot of adversity so far this year, he continued. We try not to get too high and we try not to get too low, just try to stay as consistent as possible and just focus on the next task, and thats the Miami Heat.
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.

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around


Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

Denzel Valentine corralled a rebound and casually dribbled up the right side of the floor, unaware of the final 5 seconds ticking off the clock in the third quarter. The second-year shooting guard moved toward the basket as the buzzer sounded, only realizing his gaffe as the red lights behind the backboard lit up. It was that kind of night for the Bulls offense, and one that highlighted carelessness, a lack of talent and obvious growing pains as the rebuild begins.

Fred Hoiberg’s group finished with more turnovers (20) than assists (18), shot 38 percent from the field and were doubled up on points in the paint in an ugly 87-77 loss to the Spurs on Saturday night. Adding to the issues were only nine free-throw attempts and 28 percent shooting from deep on a night where the Bulls played well enough defensively to earn a win.

But they couldn’t take advantage of a Spurs team playing without Kawhi Leonard. The ball stopped for long periods of time in the halfcourt, the fast break was non-existent and miscommunications were frequent, even when they didn’t result in one of those 20 turnovers.

“We had 20 turnovers that led to 23 points…that’s what kills you,” Hoiberg said. “A team goes on a run and they get easy ones, pick-sixes, you’re all of a sudden in a big hole. And obviously did not shoot the ball well today.”

The struggles came from across the board. Only Cris Felicio was turnover-less of the nine Bulls who played. The backcourt tandem of Jerian Grant and Justin Holiday combined for 11 of 32 shooting. Rookie Lauri Markkanen showed flashes with eight first-half points, but finished 5 of 14 and committed three ugly turnovers. Robin Lopez made the first 3-pointer of his career 630 games in, but a 29-year-old leading the way for a young rebuilding group could be deemed bittersweet at best.

It capped off a whirlwind first week for the Bulls, who dealt on the fly with the fallout of the altercation between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Losing Mirotic and Portis hurt from a talent standpoint, but it also threw a wrench into Hoiberg’s rotation and scheme. It thrust 20-year-old Markkanen into the starting lineup; Paul Zipser has shifted to playing more power forward (while also starting at small forward); Lopez is being asked to score more than ever, and at times be the primary option.

“With everything we’ve had going on the past week, with playing guys different positions that they haven’t played yet,” Hoiberg said, “we’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to go out there and play. We’re getting stuck at times because guys are in the wrong spots.”

The Bulls opened Saturday night with a solid first quarter, scoring 21 points, assisting on nine of 12 baskets and committing just three turnovers.

The final three quarters couldn’t have been more different. The second unit again struggled like it did in allowing the Raptors a 20-2 second-quarter run on Tuesday. Even without Leonard the Spurs’ defensive length cut off passing and driving lanes, forcing the Bulls to dribble down the shot clock and turn to isolation basketball or contested 3-pointers.

The Spurs couldn’t pull away thanks to an inspired defensive effort by the Bulls, but the offensive stalling rendered it moot; the Bulls took 28 3-pointers and 37 shots in the paint, an ugly ratio when considering the nine free-throw attempts. The bench shot 7-for-19, but most of that came in garbage time.

“One thing we definitely need to work on is attacking the basket,” Lopez said. “I think there are times where we all get a little jumper-happy on the perimeter. I think we need to have a good balance.

We need to be aware of that. We’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of room for error so any time we concede the ball like that, we don’t get up a shot attempt, tat’s going to really hurt us.”

Kris Dunn may be closer than expected to returning to the lineup after dislocating his finger in the preseason. It would give the Bulls help on that dismayed second unit, knocking Kay Felder (3 turnovers in 15 minutes) out of the rotation. Once Mirotic and Portis return in November, Hoiberg will have more flexibility with his rotations as well as some insurance if frontcourt foul trouble arrives.

None are go-to scorers, and not even Zach LaVine's 19.8 points per game last season will save the Bulls once he's healthy. Season-long struggles like Saturday night are on the way for a young team searching for pieces of the future. That's expected, and in the long term it benefits them as more Lottery balls roll toward Chicago.

But in a season in which success will be judged not on wins and losses but improvement from game-to-game, but the Bulls have set the bar low in the season's first week.