Bulls

Bulls lock down late, extend conference lead

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Bulls lock down late, extend conference lead

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted 9:48 p.m. Updated 11:44 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Another night, another blue-collar victory for the Bulls (52-19), who outlasted a game Grizzlies (40-32) squad, 99-96, Friday evening at the United Center.

On a night when offense didnt come easy, All-Star point guard Derrick Rose came up big in the clutch, converting a traditional three-point play late in the game as part of the effort to stave off Memphis.

Korver on Rose: He's special

A win is the most important thing. My teammates, they had my back tonight. Shots that I would normally hit werent going for me tonight, said Rose, who struggled through a 6-for-22 game shooting from the floor, afterwards. Theres always going to be a night like that, but were playing against tough teams.

Towards the end, I just knew that I just had to make shots or make plays," he continued. "That was the biggest thing. Im trying to get better at the end, just being a closer. Im still trying to get there.

Deng unhappy with Bulls' effort

Clearly not in awe of the Bulls new status as darlings of the national media, the Grizzlies blitzed their hosts in the early going, jumping out to an 11-4 lead. Chicago native Tony Allen (13 points) led the visitors charge, as the Grizzlies swingman who played for Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau when both were in Boston scored eight quick points on 4-for-4 shooting in the opening period.

While Luol Deng (23 points, six rebounds) was the only player who could effectively manufacture offense initially, a lack of touches during the teams drought affected him as well. Luckily for Chicago , Taj Gibson's (six points, seven rebounds) immediate impact off the bench sparked the home teams offense.

Meanwhile, Memphis got scoring from a variety of sources such as point guard Mike Conley (12 points, six assists) and another swingman, Sam Young their hot shooting cooled off toward the conclusion of the first quarter, which ended with the Bulls trailing slightly, 22-21.

They were the aggressor in the first quarter, Carlos Boozer observed. Once we got in the fight of the game, I thought we fought back great.

Chicagos second unit (affectionately known as The Bench Mob), usually relied upon to outplay the opposing reserves and thus either increase the starters lead, give the Bulls an advantage or get the team back in the game didnt make much initial progress in their nightly second-quarter pursuit, although rookie center Omer Asik (six points, five rebounds) again impacted the game with his always-high activity level, as did swingman Ronnie Brewer (seven points, four rebounds).

Tellingly, however, a C.J. Watson (five points, three assists) tumble beyond the court and into the courtside seats was perhaps the most buzzed-about moment of the reserves stint, prior to Thibodeau filtering in most of his regulars.

An antsy United Center crowd, unaccustomed to their now-first-place team playing in a lackluster fashion, displayed its dissatisfaction with both the officiating and the play on the court, as the excitable Allen continued to torment his hometown team and the Grizzlies gained confidence to go with their lead.

Late in the half, however, a double technical on power forwards Boozer (12 points, nine rebounds) and Zach Randolph (16 points, five rebounds, four assists) seemed to ignite the Bulls, resulting in a Deng-propelled comeback and a 49-46 halftime lead for Chicago, following a tough Rose (24 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) fall-away jumper with seconds remaining.

Weve got players that really like Derrick and Booz get a lot of attention, said Deng. Everyone else, weve got to be smart about what theyre trying to do early in the game and use that to our advantage.

Derrick does a good job of getting so much attention, its really just a matter of locking in and making your shot, he continued. I had open shots and Ive been shooting the ball well the last few games.

After the break, the Grizzlies made a concerted effort to get the ball inside to underrated center Marc Gasol (14 points, 11 rebounds, four assists), who responded by scoring proficiently in the low post. Rose began to assert himself offensively, but Memphis countered by utilizing Randolph, a highly-skilled post-up player, keeping the game a tight-knit affair.

Chicago, buoyed by Roses strong all-around play it wasnt one of his better shooting nights, however built a slight cushion, but the visitors refused to wilt, hanging tough despite Allen earning himself a technical foul.

Through three quarters, the Bulls clung to a 74-73 advantage. Led by reserve forwards Darrell Arthur (10 points) and Leon Powe (11 points) another of Thibodeaus former Celtics protgs Memphis kept battling, eventually overtaking the Bulls.

Now, it was time for Chicago to fight back and that they did, with Boozer as a catalyst, as the power forward controlled the boards and muscled in tough baskets on the interior, leading to the Bulls having the momentum in this see-saw battle heading down the stretch.

Defense was the Bulls saving grace late in the physical contest, as they came up with key defensive stops to prevent the Grizzlies from taking a lead in the final minutes. On the other hand, crucial turnovers plagued the home team, ensuring that they didnt have the opportunity to capitalize on their good work on the other end of the floor.

Thats how the playoffs are going to be. More than likely, thats how the playoffs are going to be called, said Boozer of the games atmosphere. Great test for our team.

Added Rose: Every game. Falling, tripping, getting fouled hard. Some calls and some no-calls. Weve just got to fight through it.

With under a minute left and holding a 95-93 lead, the Bulls forced a Memphis miss and after Allen, the boisterous Chicagoan, couldnt control the offensive rebound, the Bulls had possession with 30.2 seconds left. Out of a timeout, Rose took Allen off the dribble and finished at the basket with his left hand, drawing a foul in the process, giving the Bulls a 98-93 lead with 10.8 seconds remaining.

He jumped on my right hand, thinking I was going to drive right and I just saw a lane. Right when I saw it, I just tried to go in there hard and get contact. I got it and just tried to focus on making the layup, and it went in, Rose recounted. Id been missing bunnies the whole game. Id been missing layups, shots I normally hit. It feels good when a shot finally goes in.

Rose completed the three-point play, but after a timeout, Grizzlies sixth man O.J. Mayo rebounded a Memphis miss to knock down a three-pointer with 4.3 seconds to go, cutting the deficit to 98-96. Following a timeout, Rose was fouled on the ensuing possession, but split a pair of free throws, leaving the door open for the Grizzlies in a one-possession game.

Alas, Conleys final long-range attempt was short, giving Chicago the victory. Coupled with a Celtics loss, the Bulls increased their stranglehold on first place in the East to a two-game lead.

We get poised at the end of the game, said Boozer. Weve almost seen every scenario this season, so when the game got down to the wire, we were comfortable because we had already been there.

Sometimes it comes down to the last two or three minutes who wants it more? and we wanted it more.

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.

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

No surprise as Bulls, Zach LaVine decide to wait on contract extension

Only a couple names went off the board of 2014 draftees who reached agreements on extensions with their teams, with Zach LaVine sitting on the sidelines as the midnight deadline came and went.

His debut in a Bulls uniform and contract will have to wait.

Although LaVine’s representatives and the Bulls front office remained in communication, there was never any serious talk of a deal being reached and he’ll hit restricted free agency this summer.

The Bulls will have a better picture of what type of player LaVine is post-surgery on his left knee, and LaVine will have a chance to reconstruct his market value the way he’s done to his knee—as evidenced by his casual stroll down the lane, two dribbles and two-handed dunk while running a dummy offense with the assistant coaches over the weekend at the Advocate Center.

His return isn’t imminent, as he’s still weeks away from being cleared to practice, following the track of his rehab from surgery.

Perhaps in a bit of curious timing, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was talking about LaVine, saying his future shooting guard wasn’t going through much in the way of 5-on-0 drills.

“The big focus right now is on his rehab,” Hoiberg said.

But considering how few options Hoiberg has on a team that isn’t expected to win more than 20 games, the thought of how he’ll use LaVine on the floor in this offense isn’t unrealistic.

“He's doing a lot of unpredictable movements, but a lot of that is 1-on-0 workouts. Yeah, absolutely there's things we look at and see actions that other teams might be running for their skilled players or shooters.”

Justin Holiday will be keeping the seat warm for LaVine until LaVine is completely healed from his surgery, and while the Bulls are adhering to the nine-month recovery prognosis after his February surgery, his return will be highly anticipated.

“Some of the things we're running for Justin right now I think will be very good for Zach as well,” Hoiberg said. “Then we're going to get both of those guys on the floor, it's going to give you two really good options as far as shooting and spacing and two athletic wing players.”

With the Bulls in the infancy stages of a rebuild, LaVine’s success is one they’ll be invested in above any other player on the roster considering the financial stakes.

LaVine can command a deal well over $100 million this summer and will join the likes of draftmates Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon into the always-tricky world of restricted free agency.

The Bulls have done this dance before, most recently with Jimmy Butler before Butler blossomed into an All-Star. There was a small gulf between Butler’s contract wishes and the Bulls offer before the 2014-15 season began, one that resulted in Butler receiving a max contract when Butler took the biggest single-season leap in his career.

Preserving precious salary cap space has been paramount for the Bulls, who originally signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to short-term deals with an eye on the summer of 2018, believing many teams will have overspent with the salary cap boom.

In that instance, they’re correct and are in position to have among the most cap space in the NBA next summer when Wade’s contract buyout runs off the books being close to $40 million under the cap. As of now, only Robin Lopez is guaranteed over $10 million for next season and Nikola Mirotic’s deal is a team option.

For LaVine, he began to blossom playing as a third wheel behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota before tearing his ACL. If he’s a reasonable facsimile physically, he will produce at a higher clip than scoring 18.9 points as a No. 1 option in Chicago.

As the centerpiece in the Butler trade, the Bulls have no intentions on letting him walk and LaVine is even more incentivized to perform for a potential max contract.

“I'm very excited about Zach. You can tell how much he wants to be out there with our guys. Every day he comes in and says, 'Coach, I'm ready to go out there',” Hoiberg said. “It's a process. We have to make sure he 100 percent healthy, even though he feels no symptoms right now at all. He's got no soreness in that leg. But he can't wait, his teammates can't wait and the staff obviously is very excited to get him back out there.”

Bulls continue stockpiling young point guards

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USA TODAY

Bulls continue stockpiling young point guards

Point Guard of the Future Part VIII? 

The Bulls added another guard to their already-claustrophobic backcourt on Monday, claiming Kay Felder off free agency waivers, according to The Vertical's Shams Charania. 

Felder, 22, was dealt alongside Richard Jefferson from the Cavaliers to the Hawks on Saturday before being immediately waived.

The Bulls then decided to take a flyer on the Oakland University product because why the heck not? Barring some type of NBA miracle, the Bulls are on a season-long march to the lottery, so adding another young player can't hurt. Even if Felder is now the fifth point guard, joining Cameron Payne, Kris Dunn, Ryan Arcidiacono and Jerian Grant, on the squad. 

In 42 games with the Cavs last season, Felder averaged four points and 1.4 assists in just over nine minutes. He was drafted with the hope that he could further his NCAA reputation as a scorer. However, he connected on just 39 percent from the field during his rookie season. He's also undersized -- like Nate Robinson-Isaiah Thomas Undersized -- lowering his ceiling as a defender. 

Whether he can find a niche as a second-unit heat check guy remains to be seen, but with Kris Dunn expected to miss a few weeks, it gives Fred Hoiberg another option at the very least. He's also former NBA All-Star Steve Smith's cousin, should you believe in the power of basketball families. 

In a corresponding move, the Bulls waived Diamond Stone and preseason hero, Jarell Eddie.