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Bulls impress former champs, move into first

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Bulls impress former champs, move into first

Saturday, March 12, 2011
Posted 9:52 p.m. Updated 10:58 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

A halftime ceremony for the 20th anniversary of the franchises first title perhaps overshadowed an evening when the Bulls (47-18) tied Boston for first place in the Eastern Conference, following a 118-100 win over the Jazz (34-33) Saturday night, the teams sixth consecutive triumph.

WATCH: 1991 Bulls ceremony

After a stellar first-half performance complete with a 17-point first-quarter outburst from All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and a team record-setting three-point shooting mark with 18 shots from deep the Bulls let their foot off the gas a bit, but their huge lead was enough to carry them to victory.

Given the beginning of the contest, the second half wasnt played with the focus the Bulls have emphasized all season. Given the distractions at hand, however, that should probably have been expected.

We didnt want to lose, thats the biggest thing, Rose told CSNChicago.com in a United Center hallway afterwards, as Bulls legends Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant briefly offered postgame congratulations to the young star. It was an honor being in their presence. You just saw how the fans treated them and you wanted to be in their shoes one day.

Whether motivated by the upcoming halftime ceremony or not, the Bulls certainly played inspired, getting out to an 11-0 start, with Joakim Noah (16 points, nine rebounds) scoring six points in the run after a scoreless outing the previous evening. Despite a Jazz timeout, the onslaught continued, as Chicago s defensive intensity overwhelmed the visitors, coached by former DePaul star and longtime NBA player Tyrone Corbin.

WATCH: Noah loves praise

With luminaries such as Michael Jordan looking on, Rose got off to a quick start hitting four of his first five shot attempts, all from long range, prompting the now-customary M-V-P chant earlier than usual as did Luol Deng (26 points, seven rebounds, six assists), allowing the Bulls to maintain their double-figure advantage. The lead ballooned to 20 by the opening periods end, capped by Roses fifth three-pointer of the quarter at the buzzer, giving Chicago a 37-17 lead.

Nothing, Rose, a major reason why Chicago set records for made triples in a quarter and half, told CSNChicago.com when asked about what adjustments he made in his shooting stroke, as he had been struggling from deep as of late. Just keep shooting. I told you, Im not going to stop shooting. Im not the one. Everybody gives me confidence to shoot and tonight, they were just falling.

Added Deng: We came out aggressive. We did a good job, we shot the ball well, we got stops and we went up. It was a great atmosphere, too. We were excited to start the game and we did a good job. Derrick was making great plays.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau employed a lineup of five reserves to start the second quarter (as opposed to four members of the second unit and Deng) and his second unit responded well, as the home teams lead was extended even further.

It was a group effort, as the perimeter shooting of C.J. Watson (the backup point guard shot 3-for-3 on three-pointers, while also notching three apiece of rebounds and assists) and Kyle Korver (12 second-quarter points, 17 points overall, 3-for-3 from three-point range), combined with the inside play of Taj Gibson and Omer Asik was too much for Utah to handle.

Thibodeau filtered his starters back into the contest by then, the lead was approaching a 30-point margin to close out the half and although Jazz big man Al Jefferson (the man who replaced currently sidelined Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer in Utah) and reserve swingman C.J. Miles (13 points) attempted to provide the United Center guests with some semblance of a scoring punch, Utah was unable to significantly chip into the deficit. At the intermission, Chicago held a 68-41 lead.

Theres no doubt that when you see the love that those guys get, its well deserved. When were on the road and we get the love that we get, a lot of it is because of what they did, said Noah. The Bulls are a franchise that is recognized all over the world and it is because of those guys. To be part of that is something very special. Were trying to do something special to respect the tradition.

Through the early portion of the third quarter, the Bulls maintained their comfortable advantage, as the Jazz perhaps shell-shocked from the first half were unable to mount much of a challenge for the time being. However, the visitors gradually cut into the seemingly insurmountable deficit and when Chicagos lead dipped to under 20 points.

Thibodeau, dissatisfied with turnovers, defensive lapses and generally sloppy execution, put a halt to the proceedings to refocus his squad.

I was concerned at halftime. We were taking a lot of threes. The first thing we did when we came out was take a three instead of establishing our inside-out game, said Thibodeau afterwards. You have a tendency to relax. Keeping your focus is critical. I knew going in, it would be a tough game. We came off back-to-back and a lot of games in a week.

The powerful Jefferson (33 points, 18 rebounds) continued to be an inside force for Utah and coupled with balanced scoring from his supporting cast and the Bulls offensive inefficiency despite the respective scoring efforts of Rose and Deng the visitors made the score look somewhat more manageable. Heading into the final stanza, the home team still led, 88-71.

Jefferson continued to torment the Bulls early in the fourth period, but after an early-quarter adjustment by Thibodeau via timeout, Dengs scoring and Watsons (16 points, eight assists) blend of playmaking helped the second unit steady the ship. Thibodeau went back to his starters, who came out with more energy.

Thibodeau paired Watson with Rose to counter Utahs smallish backcourt and the quiet Las Vegas native, freed from the responsibility of running the offense, knocked down a triple, prompting Corbin to call timeout midway through the quarter, as the gap between the teams again threatened to hit 20 points again. Utah didnt wilt, playing an up-tempo style in order to play catch-up at a rapid pace, but Chicago always seemed to have an answer.

Thats any NBA team. Theyre going to play hard, Rose told CSNChicago.com. We slacked on defense a little bit, but we were able to finish the game out.

A basket-for-basket exchange had taken hold of the contest and while that style isnt favored by Thibodeau, the Bulls lead appeared to simply be too much for the Jazz to overcome. While Jefferson was almost unstoppable in the low post, point guard Devin Harris (24 points) found his touch, but Noah and Deng took turns carrying the scoring load down the stretch to finish off the Jazz.

As far as the games significance in the standings, Deng took a familiar, focused tact.

It doesnt mean anything, said Deng of tying the Celtics for first place in the East. We play Washington next game. Thats going to be our main focus.

Chimed in Thibodeau: We are still chasing. I want us to continue to improve every game. The really good teams do that. The whole idea is to play your best at the end of the season and to be as healthy as you can. That is what we are striving for. Weve been playing solid and we have a lot of room for improvement.

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

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.