Bulls

Bulls notes: Birthday boy Thibodeau happy to be back in Boston

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Bulls notes: Birthday boy Thibodeau happy to be back in Boston

BOSTON -- Tom Thibodeau spent his 55th birthday Thursday in a city that means a lot to him: Boston.
He indicated that his usual custom of going out for dinner with his former boss, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers continued, and the Maywood, Ill., native had to pick up the tab, a running joke between the pair that Thibodeau is aware Rivers will give him a hard time about through the media.
Of course Rivers informed the media that he paid for the coaches meal! Thibodeau quipped. He had to, too.
Birthday aside, the former Harvard University assistant coach his last stop before embarking on a 20-year NBA odyssey prior to landing the Chicago job talked about the special meaning Boston has for him, specifically winning the 2009 NBA title as a Celtics assistant.
I was very fortunate to be here. Its a great organization. To be part of a championship team, I think its a special place, so I always respect that, he said before the Bulls morning shootaround Friday at TD BankNorth Garden. I look forward to seeing these guys after we play, but I also know their spirit. Its a very competitive group. When the ball goes up, I want to beat them just as badly as they want to beat me, so I know whats at stake here.
Celtics Bradley impresses Thibodeau
Thibodeau discussed the impact of Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley, a defensive specialist who returned from a shoulder injury suffered in last year's playoffs. Since Bradley came back to the lineup Jan. 2, Boston has been a different team, as hes taken some pressure of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo on the defensive end of the court, as well as given the Celtics, who added several newcomers in the offseason, a dose of athleticism and added some familiar chemistry.
Hes huge. Sometimes guys like that and he proved it last year, too statistically, you cant measure their impact. But his energy, his toughness, his ability to slow people down, I think that brings a lot to the team, Thibodeau said of Bradley. With the Celtics, the core of that team is still Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, and so, those guys have been through a lot of wars together, and you throw Doc Rivers into it, theyre going to always figure things out and theres a lot of toughness there. Theyve got a lot of new faces, so theyre sort of figuring that out, but the core of the team is intact.
Bulls collective effort working in Roses absence
While theres been some uneven play at times during the campaign, like last season, the Bulls have seemingly found a formula for success without the star power of the sidelined Derrick Rose in the lineup. Thibodeau is far from satisfied, but acknowledged that the Bulls team approach has been effective at times.
The big thing for us was you can never replace Derrick individually and we knew that from the start, so for us, it was to do it collectively. Everyone would have to step up, do their job and put a lot into it. Thats our only chance and for the most part, weve done that, he explained. You cant replace a guy like Derrick individually, so we understand it has to be done with our defense and our rebounding, and sharing the ball and everybody being ready to step up.
You always feel like you can do better and there have been stretches where weve played well, the coach continued. For the most part, I think the attitude and the approach have been very good.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.