Bulls

Bulls starters meshing at the right time?

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Bulls starters meshing at the right time?

INDIANAPOLISFor the 15th time this season, Tom Thibodeau had the luxury of having his starting group together in Wednesday nights win over the Pacers. While each member of the quintet werent outstanding individuallythe starting backcourt of Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton shot a combined 5-for-21 from the fieldthe Bulls head coach liked what he saw in general.

I like the way the starters started the game. It got us off to a good start. Carlos was really good to start. Derrick had a really good bounce to his game and I like the plays that Rip was making off the catch-and-shoot. Rips shots were great shotsthey were all in and outso I was very pleased with our starters, he said. Theres always things that you could do better, that we need to work on, but were getting there. Our starters havent played a lot together all year, so it was a good opportunity for them to get some quality time on the floor and I thought that was good for us. Our bench has been terrific all season long, so it was good. It was good to have everybody.

As has occurred for much of the season, the Bulls Bench Mob carried the squad, with Kyle Korver in particular having an excellent performance with a team-high 20 points, including making four of his six three-point attempts, but there were good signs from the first unit, as well. For example, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah were both extremely productive from the outset, All-Star Luol Deng had a solid all-around night and Rose, the reigning league MVP, appeared to have regained some of his vaunted explosiveness.

Im just trying to play within the group. Theyve been doing a good job making sure that Im taking my time, not rushing anything when I come off picks, just trying to make the right play. Carlos and Joakim are doing a great job of making plays for other people. Lu is playing great, shooting the ball good. Rip is Rip, hitting mid-range and trying to get the line, trying to get people up in the air going into him. I think our chemistry is good. Our bench is even better. Their chemistry is great. They know who should shoot the ball, who shouldnt shoot the ball. Their chemistry is good. Thats the reason why we won the game tonight, Rose explained. Its easy now. Guys arent scared to take shots. If theyre open, were doing what were supposed to do and thats shoot the ball, and moving the ball, so I think our assists are up and were rebounding the ball, too.

Im not worried about that, he continued, when asked about whether hed return to his MVP-level form in the near future. Im going to be all right. Certain situations, if it was a crazy type of game and at the end, I need to take over, thats what Im going to try to do. If not, Im still going to try to play my game, play aggressive.

Unlike a lot of other coaches, Thibodeau is of the mindset that his starters should play significant, if not excessive minutes down the regular seasons stretch run, a position justified by the amount of injuries they incurred over the campaign.

Well see where we are. I want our starters to get more time together, so itll be similar to tonight, but well see how the game unfolds, he explained, when asked about his plans for the Bulls season finale Thursday against Cleveland at the United Center. I just want us to continue to take it step by step. Just get ready tomorrow, have a great walk-through, know Cleveland and the rest of it takes care of itself. Dont worry about all the other stuff.

Korver concurred: Im not into those guys totally staying out. Maybe in certain situations, with certain teams, they can feel that out, but I think for usespecially for us because we have had guys outwe need Derrick to play some. We dont need him to hurt himself or strain anything, but we need him to play and we need to play with him.

Typically, the Bulls win reflected what the team has done all year, with few blips on the radar: Win, no matter how it looks to the casual fan.

Explained Korver: Just a grind-it-out type team. We may have the best record in the league, but we probably also lead the league in ugly games played. Were out there just grinding, man. Were a great defensive team, were a great rebounding team and we definitely rely on both of those things to win.

Added Noah: I think we played well tonight, so thats a good sign and weve just got to keep it up. We just have one more until the playoffs start, so its an exciting time of the year and we just want to be playing the right way.

Even having clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls are proud of achieving the feat in consecutive seasons, but remain focused on the task at hand.

Its huge. Having the best record in the NBA, youve worked hard for it all year and besides, you want to finish the season with good momentum. Weve got our starting unit, we want to get our rhythm down and finish with wins, Deng told CSNChicago.com. I thought we played well. Theres still a lot to work on, get our rhythm down.

Chimed in Rose: Its important, but the only thing weve got to do is win out. The most important thing were thinking about right now is Cleveland.

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.