Bulls

Bulls impress former champs, move into first

410159.jpg

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

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

22752696_10155487323821858_1170167000_n.jpg
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.