Bulls

Bulls Show Signs of Life in Loss to Lakers

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Bulls Show Signs of Life in Loss to Lakers

Wednesday, December 16
By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Okay, let's start with the premise there are no moral victories in professional sports. But with that being said (apologies to Larry David & Curb Your Enthusiasm), it looks like the Bulls are trying to go back to the defense-first style that helped them get off to a 6-4 start this season. Led by an inspired effort by Joakim Noah, who finished with 11 points, 20 rebounds and 6 blocked shots, the Bulls outrebounded the league's tallest team and outworked them on both ends of the floor. Problem is, the Lakers have Kobe Bryant and the Bulls don't, and there-in lies the fundamental problem for your 2009-2010 Chicago Bulls.

This Bulls' team is offensively challenged. They shoot a low percentage from the field and the three point line, and they don't have a go-to scorer who can create his own shot or get to the free throw line down the stretch of close games. Granted, Derrick Rose is trying. The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year has been much more aggressive over the last few weeks, taking close to 20 shots per game, and his scoring average is climbing steadily. But Derrick still looks at himself as a point guard first, and he just doesn't have that selfish streak you find in so many of the game's great scorers (like Kobe). It was great to see him take the final shot of regulation against Golden State last Friday night. And, even though he missed the shot, it showed he's starting to realize how the Bulls' fortunes are riding on his performance.

Another issue for the Bulls is the puzzling season-long slump of John Salmons. One of the reasons the Bulls decided to let Ben Gordon go in free agency was the outstanding play by Salmons late last season and in the playoff series against Boston. The coaches and front office hoped Salmons would build off his career season, and become a consistent 18 to 20 point scorer while playing 35-plus minutes as the Bulls' starting shooting guard. But 23 games into the season, Salmons is still searching for his shooting stroke. He only played 29 minutes against the Lakers last night, and managed just 2 points on 1-5 shooting from the field. After last Saturday's loss to Boston, Salmons admitted he's struggling to get anything going and he looked devastated while acknowledging his numbers are down in all the key offensive categories. Maybe we were all fooled by his great play at the end of last season. After all, over his 7-plus seasons in the league, he's a 9 point a game scorer, and 44 percent shooter from the field. Now, the danger for the Bulls is that Salmons won't opt out of the final year of his contract, which would put them on the hook for his 6.7 million dollar salary, and prevent the Bulls from having enough cap room to make a maximum salary offer to one of the elite free agents.

But that's a problem for another day. Right now, the Bulls are looking forward to the return of Tyrus Thomas in about 2 weeks, which will give them the fresh legs off the bench they've been looking for during the current slump. During training camp, the coaches thought they were two-deep with quality players at every position, but the injuries to Thomas, Kirk Hinrich and Jannero Pargo have seriously cut into that depth and forced Vinny Del Negro to play his starters for heavy minutes. Now, we're hearing about Joakim Noah's rotator cuff injury, which required a cortisone shot. Noah has been the team's MVP, but the strain of playing big minutes against bulkier centers is obviously taking its toll. Getting Thomas back will allow Del Negro to give Noah more rest, and hopefully keep him healthy for the second half of the season.

Given the woeful state of the Eastern Conference, this season is far from over for the Bulls. They're only 2 games out of the final playoff spot, and judging by last night's effort against the Lakers, it looks like the worst is over. The schedule is much more favorable in the weeks ahead, starting with Thursday's visit by the New York Knicks. I'll see you courtside with Kendall Gill to preview the game during Sportsnite at 6:30, then Neil Funk and Stacey King have the call at 7 on Comcast SportsNet.

As always, your comments and e-mails are welcome. Here's to better Bulls' basketball over the holidays and into the New Year!

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

Everybody saw the play, that awkward instance where Zach LaVine looked ready for his second dunk of the season but was fouled from behind by Atlanta’s Taurean Prince.

It looked as if LaVine was ready for liftoff but one of his jets misfired, sparking at least the thought of his recovery from his ACL injury being a bit off—but he laughed at the thought.

“I don’t know why everybody keeps talking about it,” LaVine said Sunday at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center, where the Bulls held practice. “The dude stepped on the back of my foot, so I couldn’t get off the ground. Everybody’s wondering if I’m okay, yeah. I just missed a fouled layup.”

The adrenaline from his first two games have worn off a bit, and he missed his first four shots from the field Saturday before hitting a couple in the start of the third quarter in the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Hawks.

He looked winded a few times during his stint and admitted his conditioning isn’t where it should be—as expected given he’s missed 11 months of real basketball. He said his conditioning is at about “70 percent”, and you can certainly see it in his jump shot not being as fluid as it was last season in Minnesota.

“It was feeling good in practice but in games it’s seventy,” LaVine said. “Playing defense, getting back, running the break, just getting used to it.”

Add to it, the Bulls cover the most halfcourt ground of any team in the NBA with their set offense and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has long said he’s not slowing down his offense while LaVine is in.

The shooting guard will have to catch up to the pace, and it’ll probably be better for him in the long run.

“I think it’s just ‘okay’ and rightfully so,” said Hoiberg about LaVine’s conditioning. “It’s impossible to simulate game action in practices when you’re doing individual workouts. Every time he plays that conditioning will ramp up. As he plays, it’ll get better and better. And he’s such a good and natural athlete, it’ll come back quickly.”

Hoiberg isn’t concerned about the variances in LaVine’s performances. He came out the gate with such force and adrenaline in his debut against Detroit and two days later against Miami, but it’s tailed off against Golden State and then Atlanta.

“I think Zach’s doing great,” Hoiberg said. “You look around the league where players have come back from significant injuries, he’s gonna be up and down. His first two games he’s been unbelievable. A couple games he hasn’t shot the ball great. He played unselfish basketball last night.”

LaVine’s minutes has been extended to 24 from 20, and he’ll still practice in the off-days as the Bulls want to keep his rehab on schedule as opposed to having him play heavy minutes initially.

He’ll be re-evaluated after Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia and could see his minutes rise before the Bulls host the Lakers Friday at the United Center.

“I should just get used to it,” LaVine said. “Just getting used to the swing of things. It takes a second for your body to get adjusted to it.”

Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Bulls take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Pregame Live.

1. Anthony Davis

The five-time All-Star just continues to improve. While he's not averaging career-highs in any major category, no one's going to scoff at his 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks in 36 minutes per game. He's shooting nearly 56 percent from the field and is on pace for a career-best in 3-pointers made, which is a pretty impressive statistic. Lauri Markkanen will have his hands full, and it may be in the Bulls' best interest to get Nikola Mirotic some early minutes to try and get physical with Davis. There's no real way to slow him down.

2. DeMarcus Cousins

And if the Bulls should so happen to get lucky and slow down Davis, there's another All-Star starter waiting alongside him. Boogie Cousins has been every bit as good as Davis this season, averaging 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 36 minutes. He's certainly not as efficient as Davis (47 percent from the field, 5.0 turnovers) but is deadly inside. He's shooting a career-best 52.8 percent on 2-pointers this season, and his 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks make him a serviceable defender (although the Bulls could certainly stretch their offense to make him work more).

3. Rajon Rondo

Rondo hasn't been great in his first season with the Pellies, but perhaps he's turning things around. Beginning with his absurd 25-assist game just after Christmas, Rondo is averaging 7.4 points, 8.2 assists and 1.0 steal per game. He's allowed Jrue Holiday to play more off the ball, and while his defense is nothing to write home about he's logging solid minutes for a Pelicans team woefully short in the backcourt.