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Bulls: Play must improve as series hits Indy

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Bulls: Play must improve as series hits Indy

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Posted: 11:14 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Judging from the downbeat tenor of their comments (in fairness, often guided by the tone of reporters questions) following each of the games in their first-round series against Indiana, one would never guess the Bulls hold a 2-0 series lead. It isnt like theyre not used to thisstruggling collectively offensively outside of Derrick Rose, playing down to competition early in contest, engaging in defensive slugfestsbut like the national audience that has eagerly joined their passionate Chicago fan base, the Bulls expect more out of themselves.

We did a good joba better jobbut again, I think we can do an even better job on defense. Our whole thing is improving as a team, so thats where are our mindset is at, to keep improving. Well get in the lab tomorrow, see what we did good, see what we didnt do so good and get ready for Thursdays game, said Carlos Boozer, described by Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau as a lightning rod due to his subpar Game 1 outing.

READ: Down but not out, Pacers look to corral Rose

I thought we improved from Game 1, continued Boozer, who bounced back with a 17-point, 16-rebound effort Monday. I think we can do better as a team. I think I can do better.

We try to strive for excellence. Youre not going to reach it, but you want to see how close you can get to it. We know we can play a lot better. We feel like we have the capability of improving throughout the coursed of the series. Weve got to put the work in, got to watch the tape, see our mistakes and try to correct them each game, and got to be a little bit more prepared.

Boozerwho helped hold Pacers power-forward counterpart Tyler Hansbrough in check after the second-year pro gave the Bulls fits, to quote sharpshooter Kyle Korver, in Game 1aside, Chicago has found the going tough against a confident young Indiana team that has competed neck and neck with the leagues top regular-season squad.

Im always concerned and I just want us to continue to improve, stated Thibodeau. Its the playoffs. Wins are hard to come by. Theyre a good team. I want us to play better, I want us to improve, but you have to give them credit also. Were not going to change our approach, so tomorrow, its back to improving and focus on the next game. Thats it.

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Thibodeau knows better than you or I the difficulty of being successful in the NBAs treacherous postseasonespecially this spring, where lower-seeded teams either pulled off upsets or took favored opponents to the wire in just about every game during the playoffs opening weekendbut after a 62-win season in which it seemed like the Bulls got contributions from multiple role players and secondary scorers on a nightly basis, it has now come down to the brilliance of one Derrick Rose for them to succeed.

Thats nothing new for Chicago, as the likely MVPthe votes are already in, just in case his teammates didnt know; theres no reason for them to put Rose in a position to prove his value to those who have already cast their ballots for Dwight Howard, LeBron James or othershas bailed them out plenty of times during the year. But now, more than ever, the Bulls are increasingly reliant on the Windy City native to come to the rescue, early, late and at all times in between.

The game dictates that. Hes a primary scorer, the balls in his hands a lot and we need him to score, so hes done it, said Thibodeau. But Im comfortable with his decision-making, too. Hes going to make the right play.

WATCH: Relive the Bulls' Game 2 win over the Pacers

Rose himselfever humble, selfless and more critical on himself than anybody (other than maybe Thibodeau) could hope to bewasnt awed by his Atlas-like performances in the series first two games. Instead, he focused on the negative from an individual aspect, while showing perspective that belied his youth.

The only thing Im worried about is my turnovers. Of course, I had six of them. That definitely changed the game. If anything, I can learn from it and do better next time. With the team, weve got to come out with an edge, got to take their confidence and we didnt do that tonight. It was still a pretty close game, all the way until the end, said Rose. Were very happy to be here, of course. We wouldnt take anything back, but our play has to get better. Weve got to be more smooth, more efficient, especially on the defensive end, where weve got to try a lot harder. But I feel like were going to get things together pretty quickly.

Im all right. These games are definitely tough. It takes a punishment to keep going in there and keep getting beat up. Tonight, I just tried to mix up my game, shoot jump shots a little bit. But Im going to still attack, play the way that I playaggressiveand that opens up my teammates, he continued, referring to the Pacers physicality, particularly when he drives to the basket. Im still learning myself. I have a little experience, but if anything, I think Thibs is getting us ready. My coaching staff has been doing a great job making sure that we know that these games are very important and every practice, every shootaround, every film session, guys have to be focused because we know that were trying to do something special.

But after narrowly avoiding the upstart Pacers losing not one, but two opportunities to beat them on their home court, Rose isnt taking anything for granted.

We know its going to be tough, he said, referencing the Bulls pair of upcoming games at Indianas Conseco Fieldhouse. Weve got to pull together. Coach always says, walk through the fire together and going there, were going to have to stay together. We cant have anybody coming in unprofessional, unfocused.

Echoed Boozer: This is what the playoffs are about. Playing, stakes are high, everybody wants to win. You dont want to give an inch.

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.

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

LOS ANGELES—Kris Dunn wanted to have some fun in the Rising Stars game while Lauri Markkanen wanted to get a win.

Both accomplished their goals, being on opposite sides for the first time as the best first and second year players were divided into U.S. and International teams, with the World Team winning 155-124 Friday night at Staples Center.

It wasn’t set up for either Dunn or Markkanen to truly stand out considering the presence of Lakers and Celtics players who were more notable and flashy, along with the spectacular exploits of rookies Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Dennis Smith Jr (Denver).

Those two certainly wowed the crowd at times with half-court alley-oop passes, giving a preview of what Saturday night will look like, considering both will be in the dunk contest.

Dunn scored nine points in 18 minutes while Markkanen scored 15 in 22 minutes. Both came off the bench, ceding to the likes of Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (29 points) and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who turned the game into his own 3-point showcase with 30-foot bombs, hitting seven triples for 26 points off the bench.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 35 points and 10 rebounds, playing for the U.S. team, showing his entire bag of tricks with spectacular dunks and dribble moves for jumpers.

Markkanen had his moments in the “game within a game” category. When prompted by World coach Rex Kalamian that the first player to get a block would get $100, Markkanen tipped the next shot at the rim and pointed to the scorer’s table, but wasn’t credited with the block.

However, he felt like he got his pound of flesh with Dunn on a tip-dunk. The two didn’t have their moment

“I almost jumped over his head. That counts,” he joked.

Dunn made sure that although he and Markkanen were on opposite sides that he remained Markkanen’s biggest fan.

When asked who was his pick for rookie of the year, he repeatedly said “Lauri Markkanen”, over the likes of Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers, another standout rookie.

His reasoning was simple.

“Why? He hit eight threes in Madison Square Garden,” Dunn said, half-jokingly.

Half-jokingly.

“For Lauri to be a rookie and have so much confidence in himself and to play in big time games, especially at Madison Square Garden. I’m gonna keep bringing that game up. Because He had eight three’s. You don’t see that too mnay times. Lauri is a big player for us,” Dunn said.

Markkanen probably won’t win the award but to see Dunn so steadfastly support his teammate in this way is a good sign for a budding relationship, despite the light moments of competitiveness where Dunn said he wanted to take advantage of Markkanen on the perimeter.

Markkanen’s game has been aided by Dunn on the floor and one could see how the quality of looks Markkanen had in the past few weeks suffered with Dunn out due to a concussion.

Dunn’s turnaround directly led to the Bulls turning around their season in December, and he remembers what he was doing this time last year at the All-Star break when he wasn’t selected to be part of the rookie challenge.

“Thibs had me in the gym,” Dunn said.

It seemed unlikely but he’s rebounded nicely, being a shoo-in for 15 points, eight assists and two steals on a nightly basis. Turning the corner has been a bright spot in the season.

“I wouldn’t say a specific game but each and every game I started to get more comfortable, not with myself but with my team,” Dunn said. “Being a point guard, you gotta build that chemistry with your teammates and try to figure out where everybody needs the ball. How you can be aggressive and lead at the same time.”