Bulls

Bulls finally get revenge on road-weary Bobcats

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Bulls finally get revenge on road-weary Bobcats

Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011Posted: 10:21 PM

By Chris Cason
For CSNChicago.com

Fueled and focus on avoiding a season series sweep, the Bulls defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 106-94 Tuesday at the United Center.

"You just don't want anyone in this league to have your number," said Luol Deng about the focus placed on the game after having dropped their previous two meetings against Charlotte.

His play backed up those words as he led Chicago with a game-high 24 points and Derrick Rose scored 18 points and handed out 13 assists.

The weary Bobcats were on the last night of a four-games-in five-nights-stand and were coming into the game off an impressive 109-89 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday.

Despite its fatigue, Charlotte was able to keep pace with Chicago, battling back from double-digit deficits three times, but their energy faded in the fourth quarter as the Bulls defense clamped down.

After a Gerald Henderson (20 points) dunk with with 11:30 remaining in the fourth, Chicago held Charlotte scoreless for nearly four minutes, before a Tom Thibodeau technical foul put them at the line to break the drought. The Bulls went on a 8-0 run during that time and the Bobcats would only get as close as eight points as Chicago had seized the momentum.

"I thought we tried to give a good effort," said Charlotte coach Paul Silas. "After playing last night, coming here, this team was waiting on us and we had beaten them twice. They had the resolve to come out and whup us and that's what they did."

Charlotte's pressing defense on Rose was particularly impressive holding him without a field goal for nearly 23 minutes -- after he scored 5 in the first quarter -- before two spectacular drives midway through the third gave the Bulls offense a kick start. Despite the trapping to keep the ball out of his hands, he was still able to find teammates for open looks.

"I liked the way Derrick played," said Thibodeau. "They were trying to get the ball out of his hands. He made some key passes and some big baskets. Sometimes you beat the press with the pass, sometimes with the dribble and sometimes with the shot. Derrick did a good job reading what the defense was doing and we had some easy offense off that"

"We were trying to blitz the pick and roll and rotate," said Silas. "We didn't rotate quickly enough. Kyle Korver (15 points, 5-5 FGMA) got some wide open looks when we said don't leave him. It was just one of those nights were it just wasn't happening for us."

If Chicago needed any extra incentive to avoid losing their third and final meeting against Charlotte, they only had to look a couple of seats down from the Bobcats bench where sat Michael Jordan next to former teammate Scottie Pippen.

The pair were shown on the Jumbo Tron after a timeout in the first period and a sold out crowd of 21,391 stood on it's feet and gave a rousing applause.

Not surprised by the ovation or the attention Jordan received, Deng was surprised to see him courtside.

"Just what he did for this organization, this city, the joy he brought here, it should be more cheering," said Deng. They should stop the game. Mike has inspired a lot of people and what he did for this city is amazing. That's just something special. It's not going to happen often. You have to embrace that and enjoy every time you see someone like that."

The Bulls will have one final home game before the All-Star break and it comes against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.

The Spurs are the owner of the league's best record at 46-9 and have already defeated the Bulls, coming back from 17 to win 103-94 back on Nov. 17. Even with San Antonio's record, the Bulls are now 24-4 at home and looking forward to the challenge.

"It's a big game for us," said Deng. "In San Antonio we were up 17 at one point and they came back and won the game. They're having a terrific year. Before the All-Star break, we want to go out right. It's going to be a tough game, they're a very good team but I'm not worried about us not coming ready to play."

NOTE

Kurt Thomas was honored before the game for becoming only the 97th player to reach 1,000 games played.

"All my teammates were congratulating me, a lot of fans around the city so it's definitely a great accomplishment," said the humbled Thomas after the win. "Something I never thought about, never thought I would play this long in the league but for me to reach this milestone. It's definitely great."

At the ripe age of 38, Thomas' grit and toughness has been on full display this season as he's helped keep the Bulls rolling with Joakim Noah being sidelined.

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

The Zach LaVine timeline for a Bulls debut remains the same, although he’s ahead of schedule in every metric of his return from ACL surgery this past February.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t angling for more work and pushing his limits to learn the offense he’ll be featured in, along with taking contact “here and there,” in his words. He’s supposed to wait nine months from the day of his February 14 surgery before taking contact, which would put him at a November 14 practice before the Bulls go to Oklahoma City.

“I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on them,” LaVine said in his first public words since media day several weeks ago. “I’m pushing them as hard as I can, but at the end of the day we still gotta be careful. I feel great. I’m doing everything I was doing before. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. But every day I’m just getting back, trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.”

LaVine was at Air Canada Centre getting a workout in before the Bulls opener against the Raptors and has gotten in heavy workouts on the off days with the assistant coaches in the meantime.

Sticking to the schedule will be on both LaVine and the Bulls, although both sides could be tempted to cut corners a bit. It would be human nature for the Bulls to show the NBA world their centerpiece from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, as well as LaVine to want to be the frontline player he feels he deserves to be.

“Yeah, it’s definitely hard. I don’t like missing games,” LaVine said. “Before the injury I didn’t really miss any games. I think I missed one or two in my career, so it really sucks just sitting there, not being able to help. I try to help as much as I can from the sideline. You know, give a little advice here and there, but yeah it hurts.”

He’s also in line for a big-time extension, having passed the deadline for extensions for players in his 2014 draft class. He’ll have to wait until the summer, especially since it didn’t make sense for him to extend unless it was a max deal.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine said. “And I feel the deal is going to get done, either then or next summer. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer. I’m very happy and looking forward to that day as well. The main concern is just getting back on the court, get my legs ready and try to help the team as much as possible until then.”

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points as a third option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but will be featured in Fred Hoiberg’s offense as a first and maybe even second option, too—especially seeing how anemic the Bulls offense has looked in the first two games.

“With the team that we have and the system that (Fred Hoiberg) put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” LaVine said. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score sometimes, but I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

Never lacking for confidence, LaVine hasn’t been deterred by the losing or even the unfortunate Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident from last week.

“We’re building something here. People understand we’re going through a little bit of that process,” LaVine said. “But we’re going to play and win. When I’m on the court, I’m trying to win. Wins and losses do happen. We can always take positives from both of those. That’s how you grow.”

As for Mirotic, LaVine hasn’t spoken to him but has sent texts—as it seems many of the Bulls have reached out to their teammate over the last several days.

“It was unfortunate. That’s what happens when two players are battling I guess,” LaVine said. “I don’t think either of them were in the wrong. It was just something that happened, an altercation. Men are men sometimes. We never should have that happen. But I think we’ve moved past it. Bobby’s in a good spot. We’ve all tried to contact Niko. I think we’ll all be able to move forward.”

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.”