Bulls

Bulls lock down Bucks, continue central perfection

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Bulls lock down Bucks, continue central perfection

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
Posted 9:56 p.m. Updated 11:49 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

MILWAUKEEIf a going on a runas All-Star point guard Derrick Rose proclaimed the Bulls are ready to doconsists of winning in grind-it-out fashion, then perhaps the Bulls (40-17) are poised to do some damage. It wasnt aesthetically appealing, but Chicagos 83-75 win over Central Division rival Milwaukee (22-36)keeping their mark against divisional opponents spotlessSaturday night at the Bradley Center got the desired result, with a balanced offensive effort to boot.

You go into a game against Milwaukee, theyre going to play tough. Youve got to be ready for that. Its going to be a physical, grind-it-out type game, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau for whom, the game was right up his alley. Youre fighting for every inch the whole night. Theyre terrific defensively. I thought the rebounding was huge for us.

Milwaukee came out on the feisty side, perhaps surprising the Bulls with their willingness to push the basketball to create transition opportunities. Forward Luc Mbah a Moute (16 points, eight rebounds, four steals), primarily known as a defensive specialist, was the Bucks offensive protagonist in the early going, scoring double figures in the opening period by showcasing an array of scoring methods.

The big thing you have to analyze is what shots are they getting. Mbah a Moute hit some jump shots and theyre a great drive-and-kick, so the ball moves, bodies move, they make the extra pass and if youre committed to keeping the ball out of the paint, you still have to get back to challenge those shotswhich we could have probably done a little bit better jobbut you have to ask, are they contested twos? explained Thibodeau. If theyre contested twos and theyre making early, youre going to live with that, but what you cant live with are the easy pointsthe layups in transition, the second shots, ball driven to the rimthings of that nature. But if theyre contested two-point shots on the perimeter, thats what our defense is: Five guys tied together, make them shoot jump shots as much as possible and challenge those shots.

Playing behind for most of the period, the Bulls allowed the hosts to enjoy a comfortable cushionmostly due to Chicagos inefficiency shooting the ball compared to Milwaukees superior marksmanshipand while a Rose (17 points, four assists, four rebounds, two steals) breakaway dunk ignited the sizable contingent of Bulls fans at the Bradley Center, late contributions by Bucks rookie forward Larry Sanders kept the visitors on the wrong end of a 25-21 score after a quarter of play.

You had to work this game, said Thibodeau. We didnt like the first quarter defensively. We thought we gave them too much.

Then we seemed to be more locked in, more disciplined and as the game wore on, we were helping each other well.

Although they were unable to truly chip into the Bucks lead early in the second quarter, Luol Deng (19 points, five rebounds, three assists) held down the fort with his scoring while on the court with a reserve-led unit. That momentumthe energetic play of Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson helped the causeled to the Bulls overtaking the Bucks, with Joakim Noahs (eight points, 17 rebounds, three blocked shots) work on the boards also a key factor in the squad starting the period on an 11-4 run, prompting Milwaukee head coach Scott Skiles to call timeout.

I thought Jo was really good tonight, observed Thibodeau. I thought his defense was terrificindividual defense, his team defenserebounding effort.

Added Noah: Im just going out there, trying to play my game, trying to get my wind right and Im just happy we got the dub today.

It felt better. Its going to get better every day. Its still not 100 percent, but Im happy we got the win. I really like our team, he continued to self-evaluate. I feel like it was a team effort again and I think our bench did a great jobthe whole season, reallybut were just getting so much better as a team and weve just got to keep improving to find out how good we can really be.

Even with Noah dominating the backboards in his third contest back from a 30-game layoff, Chicago briefly surrendered its lead to the Bucks, whose swingman duo of Carlos Delfino and former Bull John Salmons (14 points) combined to provide enough offense for scoring-deficient Milwaukee to tie the score at intermission at 39 apiece.

After an almost silent first half, Carlos Boozer (13 points, six rebounds) started to find his groove offensively in the third quarter, enabling the Bulls to effectively use their inside-outside philosophy. Although Noah picking up his third foul put a slight damper on Chicagos surge, the team turned around a lackluster beginning to the period to open up a small cushion, capped by ex-Buck Keith Bogans knocking down a three-pointer midway through the quarter.

Strong, active team defense and offensive balance were the Bulls calling card for the remainder of the period, as the visitors stymied Milwaukee with their defense, won the battle of the boards decisively and with an aggressive Deng stepping up his scoring late in the quarter, the Bulls opened up a double-digit lead. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls held a 70-59 advantage.

Both teams battled being stagnant to start the fourth quarterthrough five minutes of play, they managed only six points between them; C.J. Watson scored all four points for Chicagobut while Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau couldnt have been pleased with the offensive output of his squad, the defensive guru could at least take pride in the fact that Milwaukee couldnt find the range either. Eventually, however, the Bucks chipped into the deficit, making it a single-digit contest, with center Andrew Bogut (six points, 15 rebounds) anchoring the middle.

That seemed to motivate Chicago and with Thibodeau filtering his regulars back into the contest, the Bulls also picked up the scoring pace, with Rose manufacturing baskets. But the Bucks didnt wilt and with diminutive backup point guard Earl Boykins (10 points) running the show, the home team made it a two-possession game with under four minutes to play.

Following a Bulls timeout, sharpshooter Kyle Korver (11 points, four rebounds) knocked down a triple to give the Bulls some breathing room, but even though the resilient Bucks continued to fight back, a Korver pull-up jumper once again gave the visitors a double-digit lead as the games stretch run approached. Chicago didnt exactly close things out in styleunforced turnovers plagued them the entire nightbut in the end, they did enough to cement the victory without much worry, if not perfection.

I think that we played a decent game, just had to get a win, summed up Rose, who described the Chicago-heavy Bradley Center crowd as crazy; it felt like a home game.

More important to the 22-year-old superstar was having the Bulls full lineup intact.

It feels good. We can finally get in a rhythm with everybody back, he said. I think that were playing good as a team.

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 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.