Bulls

Bulls need to start fine-tuning for the playoffs

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Bulls need to start fine-tuning for the playoffs

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Posted: 10:01 a.m.
By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com
With less than a month left in the NBAs regular season, the competition is heating up for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It might come down to the Bulls-Celtics game at the United Center on April 7th, but then again, Boston coach Doc Rivers has already said he wont push his veteran starters just to get the number one seed. The Celtics have been to the NBA Finals in two of the last three seasons, and Rivers is confident they can win any series, even without home court advantage.

The Bulls, on the other hand, will go all out to get the top spot so they can avoid playing either Boston or Miami in the Conference semi-finals. Finishing 1st means an opening round match-up against a team with a losing record (either Indiana, Charlotte or Milwaukee), and a semi-final series against either Orlando or Atlanta. And, if the Bulls are fortunate enough to advance to the Conference finals, playing a potential Game 7 at home against either Boston or Miami would be extremely valuable.

READ: Bulls playoff tickets go on sale Friday

So, aside from finishing with the best record, what other goals should Tom Thibodeau and his staff have for the rest of the regular season? First off, getting some rest for Derrick Rose and Luol Deng. Those two players lead the team in minutes played, and theyre always on the court in crunch time. Knowing Thibodeaus desire to win every possession, its hard to picture him changing his rotation, unless the Bulls find a way to wrap up home court advantage before the final week. But any time off Rose and Deng can get down the stretch will certainly help them heading into the playoffs.

Secondly, the Bulls need to re-establish Carlos Boozer in the low post. Even before Boozer suffered that ankle sprain earlier this month, his offensive numbers had dropped significantly. The Bulls struggled to get the ball to Boozer on the block, and more and more of his shots became fallaway jumpers. With the emphasis on half-court execution in the playoffs, the Bulls need Boozer playing at peak efficiency again, so its important to use the final weeks of the regular season to get Carlos more touches so he can feel confident about his game going into the post-season. Over his career, Boozer has increased his production in the playoffs, which is a very encouraging sign for Bulls fans.

WATCH: Rose on Bulls' 41-point 2nd quarter in win over Hawks

Finally, we know Rose will play at an MVP level in the playoffs, but with opposing defenses geared to keeping him out of the paint, the Bulls need their perimeter shooters to play at a high level as well. Thibodeau is committed to Keith Bogans as his starting shooting guard, so forget about Rasual Butler becoming part of the rotation. That means the Bulls need to get more minutes for Kyle Korver, and more options for Deng to spot up at the three-point line. Ultimately, the Bulls prospects to advance in the playoffs will rest on their outstanding defense and their ability to knock down open shots created by Roses penetration.

So, what do you think? Is a number one seed crucial to the Bulls playoff prospects? Is Boozers low post offense another key to post-season success? And, are you confident Bogans will be able to knock down those wide-open 3s in the playoffs?

Feel free to post your comments in the section below. Were looking forward to a great stretch run with the Bulls, Celtics and Heat all chasing 60 wins, with the hope of earning home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.