Bulls

Bulls crush Wizards behind tenacious defense

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Bulls crush Wizards behind tenacious defense

Monday, Feb. 28, 2011
Posted 8:27 PM Updated 10:25

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

WASHINGTONIn addition to his numerous gifts on the basketball court, it also appears Derrick Rose (21 points, nine assists, five rebounds) is prophetic. No, not his increasingly accurate preseason Why cant I be MVP? foreshadowing, but his more recent proclamation that the Bulls (41-17) were poised to go on a run after last Thursdays statement victory over the Miami Heat.

Mondays 105-77 win over the Wizards (15-44) at the Verizon Center not only equaled their season total for wins the previous two seasons, but with a fully healthy squad, Chicagos stout defense and balanced offense showed proof that team has found its' groove, even when theyre not playing their most inspired basketball. The triumph against lowly Washington gave the Bulls seven wins in their last eight games and 13 of their last 16, already a run by any standards.

The visiting Bulls got off to a quick start, simultaneously establishing their inside game and rebounding presence against an inexperienced Wizards team, although forwards Andray Blatche (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Josh Howard (10 points, four rebounds) were factors offensively for Washington. Joakim Noah (19 points, 11 rebounds, two steals) continued to show progress in his fourth game back from a 30-game absence, utilizing his length and trademark energy to be a force on the offensive glass.

Noah is back almost to the point he was at before the injury, evaluated Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. His activity is off the charts, his defense is terrific, his rebounding is very good and you can see hes starting to get a lot more comfortable offensively.

Observed Noah himself: I think Ive still got a ways to go. Every game I feel better.

Im still feeling a little sluggish at the beginning of games, just getting my second wind or my third wind.

The turnover-prone home team contributed to Chicagos cause in the early going, enabling the Bulls to get out in transitionsomething long awaited with Noahs returnand was best exemplified by Rose (21 points, nine assists, five rebounds, three steals) going one-on-one with Wizards rookie point guard John Wall (nine points, 10 assists) in transition and finding Noah for a dunk with a gorgeous through-the-legs bounce pass, for once purposely putting some mustard on a play.

I just do it. Didnt think about it. Just a couple plays that I made. I didnt have it pre-planned or anything. I just did it, Rose explained. I just wanted to make it very easy. Just give it to Joakim and either he finished or he gets fouled. He was open.

Added Thibodeau: Derrick, he was terrific. Twenty-one and nine, complete control of the game and you dont get any extra points for that, but hes got the ability to do a lot of different things. Hes got great vision, hes so unselfish. He got us great shots all night long.

To me, his leaderships been outstanding, the way hes running the team. I think he inspires his teammates because of the way he plays. He plays so hard and he plays so unselfishly, he continued. If two guys are on him, without hesitation, he finds the open man. He has a good feel for whats going on in the gamewhos going well, what the good matchup is, who may need a shothe does a great job of bringing guys into the game, also. If a guys struggling a little bit, hell find a way to get him a layup and get him going, so hes doing a great job running our team and hes setting the tone defensively.

Perhaps the visitors relished the games up-tempo nature a bit too much, however, and due to some careless mistakes, only held a 25-20 advantage after the opening period.

I thought our mindset was right from the beginning. We got established defensively, the rebounding was outstanding to start the game and I thought that gave us an advantage, Thibodeau observed. We didnt take care of the ball as well as we would have liked.

Chimed in Rose: I think its Chicagos transition game helping us a lot, especially when we can score at will and stop somebody on the other end. I think our transition defense still needs to be up to par a little bit more, but other than that, I think its real tough for people to score on us in a halfcourt set.

The always-energetic Bulls second unitsans Luol Deng (21 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals), who usually starts the second quarter, but was atypically subbed for in the first period by Thibodeaugave the visitors a lift and increased the lead, with back-to-back dunks by Taj Gibson (seven rebounds, four blocked shots) leading the way, prompting Wizards head coach Flip Saunders to put a brief halt to the proceedings. Although the Bulls werent exactly proficient shooting the ballor protecting itthe abysmal early showing of the Wizards allowed them to build a double-digit lead in the sloppy affair.
The Bulls went down low to Joakim Noah early and often against the Wizards Monday night. Noah responded with 8 points in the first quarter on his way to a double-double effort with 19 points and 11 rebounds. (AP)
Chicago continued to be effective when going insideoutside shooting was another storybut its winning margin was maintained, as the defensive clamps put on Washington werent released through the first half. Following a Deng three-pointer (the teams first in nine attempts) at the halftime buzzer, the Bulls took a 50-37 lead into intermission.

After a lackluster start to the second halfdefensive lapses seemed to infuriate Thibodeau, leading to a 30-second timeout early in the third quarterChicago picked up its play in spurts, with a balanced scoring effort from the starting quintet. A quick flurry from Rose midway through the perioda beautiful southpaw reverse layup in transition excited the somewhat apathetic Verizon Center audience, followed by a pull-up triple on the subsequent Bulls possessionhelped open up the floodgates for the visitors, who increased their lead to blowout proportions.

The inside dominance of Noah and Carlos Boozer (12 points, 10 rebounds) against the alternately undersized, inexperienced, too slender or defensively-challenged Washington big men, combined with Roses outside marksmanship and Dengs slashing created the separation expected of a contest between a contender and cellar-dweller. Through three periods, the Bulls led, 78-57.

Were playing well. Were still getting a feel for each other, Noah said of his post partnership with Boozer. Hes somebody who demands a lot of attention and its good. It gives me a lot of easy opportunities. Im hoping that when I get back to playing at a high level, I can help him out, too.

Expounded Boozer: Every second were out there together, were getting better and better. We talk the game throughout the course of the game. The great thing about our chemistryme and Jois that were both great competitors and were able to talk to each other in a way that helps us get better while were on the job, while were still playing. So, if we make a mistake one time down, the next time down, its corrected already.

The way hes been playing since hes been backyouve got to remember, he missed 30 gameshes been a monster. Its impressive, he continued. I might not ever play with another man like Joakim Noah. You know his personality, too. Hes a fun teammate to be around.

A two-minute scoring drought between both teams started the final stanzabringing out the boo birds in the nations capitalbut the games pace quickly picked up, briefly reversing the trend to a more transition-oriented, defense-optional affair, much to the displeasure of Thibodeau. Instead of giving his starters an early rest, the scoring of explosive Wizards swingman Nick Young (14 points, five rebounds) led to the return of Chicagos regulars midway through the quarter, in order to firmly cement the victory.

As if there was any doubt about the result, a pair of Rose plays with the game approaching its waning moments removed any notion: After a steal, the All-Star point guard found Deng in transition with a behind-the-head pass for a dunk; on the ensuing Bulls possession, the Chicago native drove into traffic before dropping off a wraparound dish to Noah for another slam. Thibodeau finally sat his starters and although a pair of late Kyle Korver three-pointers only made the onslaught continued, the home fans still thirsted for an appearance from reserve forward Brian Scalabrine, who not only entered the contest, but obliged them with the games final basket.

Rose discussed the teams mentality when facing an inferior opponent.

Were getting there. I think defensively, were still working Jo back into it. Hes doing a great job with a lot of energy, helping us be aggressive on both ends. But I think that everybodys pushing to hurry up and jell very quickly, said Rose. Thibs came in, talked to us, just telling us that we cant let down against teams like this. Weve got to come out, be aggressive on both ends and have an edge. He always says have an edge to every game and you never want to go into a game like this and give a team confidence.

We just tried to take their confidence from the beginning.

As Noah put it, We can do something special, but its on us to stay focused on the next task.

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

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USA TODAY

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.