Bulls

Bulls have no answer for New York's three party

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Bulls have no answer for New York's three party

Friday, Nov. 5, 2010
Updated 12:05 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

In a battle of two retooled squads, the old adage that offense wins games, but defense wins championships proved to be true.

The visiting Knicks, perhaps restless after having their previous game postponed due to asbestos concerns in historic Madison Square Garden, absolutely lit up the Bulls offensively, en route to a 120-112 road win. New York would shoot a blistering 16-for-24 from deep for the contest tying a record for most made three-pointers by an opponent, also set by the Knicks and despite Chicagos slight advantages in field-goal percentage and rebounding (the Bulls did commit more turnovers than the Knicks, as well as commit more fouls, two issues since the preseason) and Derrick Roses 14 assists, the United Center hosts fought an uphill battle all game long.

A quick start enabled the Bulls to pull out of the gates first in what the visitors wanted to be a track meet all evening, with the home team prevailing upon defense to be the deciding factor. However, careless and unforced Bulls turnovers allowed the Knicks to stay within close contact.

Taj Gibson, a native New Yorker perhaps inspired by facing his hometown team and a matchup with elite power forward Amare Stoudemire got off to an active and aggressive start, battling his All-Star counterpart tooth and nail in the early going.

New York would eventually take the lead, but a highlight-reel, powerful two-handed dunk by Derrick Rose his first poster of the young season followed by a nifty Rose dish to Joakim Noah for a powerful finish of his own would tie the game up with 2:28 left in the first quarter. A subsequent timeout from Knicks head coach Mike DAntoni quieted a buzzing United Center crowd and Chicago went back to its defenseless ways ensuring Tom Thibodeau wouldnt be happy; New York shot 5-for-7 from three-point range in the period leaving the Bulls at a 34-30 disadvantage heading into the second quarter.

The urgency has to be there to run them off that line. They dont need much space or time to get it off and theyre confident shooting it. I thought we allowed them to play to their strengths. Youve got to take something away. What are you going to be willing to live with? I thought we didnt take anything away. They had easy scoring opportunities, we didnt control the ball, we didnt close out to their shooters, our floor balance was bad in the first half and I thought a big part of that was because of what happened off our turnovers, observed Thibodeau.

They got their confidence going early. Gallinari was hurting us from the three-point line. Their guards Douglas was getting wide-open shots, Felton. Once a shooting team like that gets going, they get their confidence early, its a lot harder to shut them downby then, they had already gotten their confidence, so that put a lot of pressure on us," Thibodeau continued. "The other thing was our turnovers, I think we had 13 in the first half and now youre giving them easy transition opportunities out of transition.

"Thats a point in the game that we have to clean up. When we break the lineup at the end of the first quarter, start of the second, we have to do better.

We didnt get stops on D. It was just a rough night for us. We just didnt shut them down early. We gave them too much confidence from the jump. They were hitting a bunch of good shots. They were just taking their normal threes and hit a bunch, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. Theres no excuse in this league. We have to be a 48-minute team. That team just taught us a lesson we have to bounce back from.

We felt we could have got any shot that we wanted. The offense wasnt the problem. We can score points. It was the defense. The defense really didnt get stops when it counted. I speak for myself and a couple times down, we just couldnt get stops, continued Gibson, who scored 18 points and snatched 10 rebounds against his hometown team. In this league, youve got to bounce back. Nobodys going to feel sorry for you. I learned that last year in my rookie year, just bouncing back. We have guys capable of that, we have a good team. Were just still working out kinks. Thats all it is. Each game is just a lesson, its still early in the season, theres still a lot of basketball to play.

With its second unit in the contest at the outset of the second period, Chicago struggled to produce points. Complicating matters further was the Knicks ability to maintain their torrid shooting, burying the Bulls in a double-digit hole.

Even after Thibodeau reinserted Rose and Noah, the issue of New York getting wide-open looks from deep and virtually untouched jaunts to the rim persisted. Italian sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari was New Yorks catalyst, as he converted tough finishes on the inside and lit up Chicagos defense from the outside with his trio of first-half triples.

Noah and Rose came in with energy intended to get their teammates to follow their lead, but their efforts were unrequited on the defensive end, as the Knicks continued to score at will. Another cause of concern besides turnovers, lackluster defense and poor shooting was the Bulls subpar rebounding against a team that isnt exactly a juggernaut on the glass. By the end of the first half, a disjointed on both ends Bulls bunch would give up 70 points to the visitors.

I think they also shot the ball very well, but at the same time, I feel that we had to find a way to close out to them better. Our game plan was to make them shoot tough two-point shots and we couldnt get them off that three-point line tonight for whatever reason. So, that was definitely the game plan and we messed it up as players, said Noah, who had another double-double with 12 points and 13 boards. For whatever reason, our energy wasnt where it was supposed to be tonight. They played very well; got to give credit when credit is due. When you shoot 70 percent from the three-point line, its going to be tough to win the game. Theres definitely things that we should have done better and theres definitely a learning experience and we cant let this happen.

A Chicago run based upon improved defense, hustle, transition play and offensive execution would get the Bulls within 12 before a DAntoni timeout. It became clear that New Yorks intent was to keep the games pace at a high speed, while the Bulls desired to push the tempo in transition and off Knicks turnovers, but to keep it in the halfcourt otherwise.

Knicks reserve guard Toney Douglas and starter Raymond Felton both point guards played in tandem to maintain the visitors up-tempo, long ball-heavy attack. This was also the point at which Rose put his stamp on the game, blending playmaking although Chicagos maddening spate of turnovers didnt yet cease and diverse scoring, whether attacking the basket or showcasing his much-improved range and accuracy.

The respective deep games of Douglas and Felton, however, persisted, as the pair apparently inherited Gallinaris first-half hot hand, leaving the Bulls fighting an uphill battle, despite impressive showings on the interior from Gibson and Noah. After a late three-pointer from Deng, the Bulls faced a 93-83 deficit after three quarters of action.

Weve got to look at our turnovers and we kind of played to their strengths they dont mind us scoring, I dont think they mind us outrebounding them but we gave them the threes and thats their strength, said Deng, who scored 17 points on the evening. Im not taking anything away from New York they shot the ball well but I know we can play better defense. Second half, they scored 50 points. First half, I think they had 70.

I think we gave them confidence. Our defense was bad early on, they hit shots and we had to stick with our game plan. It was like an ocean out there; they hit some unbelievable shots and at times we did play good D, but they still hit them, Deng would tell CSNChicago.com.

Douglas unconscious play continued early in the final stanza, as he somewhat successfully went mano a mano with Rose. After initially making it a single-digit contest early in the period, Chicagos energy waned with its reserve also unable to prevent the Knicks onslaught.

Following Roses exit which appeared to be a white flag of surrender however, an all-bench group surprisingly sparked by swingman Ronnie Brewer clawed and fought its way back into the game, making it a single-digit contest. Despite the crowds fervent We want Rose, Thibodeau elected to stick with the unit that got the team to that point.

I thought that group was playing pretty well and we had gone with the starters a little longer than usual to start the second half, so when we got down 15, thats when I subbed them. The second unit, I thought, fought hard to close it and I wanted to see what they could get out of it, explained Thibodeau. They were closing a lot harder to the three-point line. The way their guards were shooting, I thought the energy needed to get out to the lineyoure going to use a lot of energy doing that. I thought about it, but I thought the group that was out there was covering the line pretty well.

You definitely want to be out there. I think that Coach is definitely trying to make a point and I think its pretty clear weve got to come out there with better energy and we cant let a team score at will like that. Its the starters responsibility to do a better job defensively, said Noah afterwards. I think its definitely more than that Thibodeaus explanation about closing out on New Yorks shooters okay, I understand that but at the same time, I feel that its our responsibility to play better defense. I think we could have definitely done a better job tonight. Its frustrating to lose the game the way that we lost it and theres definitely a lot of things that we could have done better as players to come back into this game.

Thibodeau told us before he said when Carlos got hurt, If youre on this team, if youre in this league, that just proves that you can help us win. You wouldnt be here if you couldnt help this team win. So he doesnt really care about whos on the court. His main focal point is on defense. He can live with bad shots and different kind of other mistakes, dribbling, but he doesnt want guys to get too lackadaisical on defense. He can live with a shot if thats your shot, take your shot but his main focal point is defense, Gibson, the lone starter to close out the game for Chicago after Rose exited with 9:30 to play, told CSNChicago.com. I really dont know Thibodeaus intentions because I know with the second group we had, we cut it down to eight and at points, we just couldnt get stops. We fouled, we had a couple letdowns on defense and it was just a tough night for us.

Rose led the Bulls with 24 points to go with his career-high assist total in defeat, with Korver sniping his way to 18 points on the night.

For the victorious Knicks, Douglas led the way with 30 points, Gallinari poured in 24, Felton put up 20 points and 10 assists and Stoudemire recorded a modest 14 points and eight boards before fouling out late.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms 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.

It might not be so easy for the Bulls to tank down the stretch

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It might not be so easy for the Bulls to tank down the stretch

And here you thought the Bulls wouldn't be competing for anything down the stretch. Yes, the Bulls will miss the postseason for the second time in three seasons, and the post-Jimmy Butler rebuild is off and running with a Lottery selection (and potentially two) on the horizon.

And now the race for the top spot in the NBA Draft Lottery is on, with 23 to 27 games left in the regular season and a whopping seven teams within 1.5 games of each other for the worst record in the league. The Bulls are currently sitting 8th in the reverse standings at 20-37, 3.0 games behind the league-worst Suns and Hawks. And in what's largely considered a seven-man draft, Fred Hoiberg and the boys have some work to do to improve their chances of moving into the top-5 or top-3 of the draft.

Yes, the Bulls were sellers at the deadline, dealing leading scorer Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans. And they lost eight of their last 10 games before the All-Star Break while promising extended minutes for players like Paul Zipser, Cristiano Felicio and even Cameron Payne. All those signs point to a franchise with a full and clear understanding that losses right now mean much bigger wins in June. But it's not as easy as it sounds. The Bulls aren't the only team looking to secure losses, and those other teams may have easier paths of doing so. Here's why.

For starters, not all these clumped-together records were built equally. Yes, the wins and losses all count the same at the end of the day, but if we're projecting how each team may finish the Bulls are certainly poised to play better than the teams around them. In fact, the Bulls are still playing .500 basketball (17-17) since their infamous 3-20 start. Unsurprisingly all seven teams ahead of the Bulls have worse records, as do the New York Knicks (11-24 since Dec. 8), who are just two games behind the Bulls, have lost eight straight and are without All-Star Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL). Remember, there are teams chasing the Bulls, too.

The Bulls have a seven-game win streak to their name and won 10 games in December; of the teams with worse records than the Bulls, only the Mavericks have a seven-win month this season.

And let's remember, too, the Bulls have gone 17-17 while missing Zach LaVine in 20 of those, Kris Dunn in 11 others and Lauri Markkanen in three. Those three are all healthy now (LaVine likely won't play in back-to-backs, but the Bulls have just three of those sets left) and while they have an ugly -18.8 net rating in four games, the Bulls are 2-2 with all three on the floor and have losses against the top-seeded Raptors and defending champion Warriors. It's safe to assume Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen will all benefit and improve from playing with one another. And while Nikola Mirotic was a large part of the Bulls' success (they went 14-11 with him in the lineup), the trade has opened up more minutes for Bobby Portis, who's quietly averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds since the Mirotic trade. No, Portis isn't Mirotic, but the dropoff isn't all that significant, especially when considering the defensive end.

What's this all mean? That the Bulls have the best top-end talent of any team in these tank standings, and arguably the most talented overall roster. It sounds laughable, but we're not comparing them to the Rockets and Celtics. Perhaps Orlando's core of Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic (when healthy) comes close, but the Magic also just sold their starting point guard Elfrid Payton for pennies on the dollar. They're clearly in tank mode, and the rest of that roster is a nightmare. Dallas has some nice pieces, but also plenty of shutdown candidates as the season nears its end.

And that's another angle to this. The Bulls really don't have any players who may rest late in the season. Then again, phantom injuries could arise and LaVine might sit down the stretch for precautionary purposes. But Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, the team's elder statesmen at 29 and 28, respectively, aren't exactly tipping the scale between wins and losses. As long as LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen, Portis and Denzel Valentine are seeing 28+ minutes, the Bulls are going to be in good position. Teams like Atlanta and Sacramento are already resting veterans, and Memphis could do the same with Marc Gasol if the Lottery balls depend on it. It's a good thing the Bulls don't have this luxury, as they're leaning on their young talent, but it also means the team isn't going to get much worse.

The biggest hurdle for the Bulls, however, is going to be their remaining schedule. Marvin Bagley fans might want to stop reading. Only four teams in the NBA will face an easier remaining schedule than the Bulls, and none are ahead of them in the race for the top pick. The 76ers, Hornets, Warriors and Heat have easier schedules, and then it's the Bulls, with a remaining SOS of .474. Here's how that compares to the seven teams the Bulls are looking up at in the tank standings:

So the Bulls have an easier schedule than any team in front of them, and the Knicks. And looking at the Bulls' remaining schedule (far right column), it's clear that the three games against the Nets (which includes what should be a fun home-and-home in the season's final week) and two games against the Grizzlies will loom large. It also wouldn't surprise anyone if the Bulls picked up random victories over teams like Boston (March 5), Cleveland (March 17), Milwaukee (March 23) or Houston (March 27). They have a way of playing up to their opponents (see: Minnesota).

When it comes to discussing the league's worst teams, the Bulls might simply be too good. And their schedule might simply be too bad. That's certainly a good problem to have when considering the franchise's rebuild has gone quicker than most expected, even if it means fewer chances to secure a top-3 pick. Then again, the Bulls did fine selecting 7th overall last season in grabbing Markkanen, so perhaps a top-5 pick isn't necessary. It might not even be an option.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.