Bulls

Champs respect emerging Bulls squad

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Champs respect emerging Bulls squad

Friday, Dec. 10, 2010
Posted: 3:40 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Phil Jacksons potential final visit to the United Center. Another litmus test for the new-look Bulls with a healthy Carlos Boozer. Derrick Roses youthful brilliance against cagey veteran superstar Kobe Bryant, tutored as teenager, by the way, by one Tom Thibodeau. Two teams on three-game winning streaks.

Subplots abound in Fridays matchup of the Bulls and the Lakers, the teams second meeting in less than a month, with the reigning champs holding off Chicago late in the Staples Center. Not a team known for its modesty, the Lakers have a healthy respect for their next opponent.

Theyve got the personnel. They seem dedicated to it. Its tough sometimes for kids to come in and find a way and get their minds straight and become pros. This crew seems to be drumming to that level of professionalism that it takes to be serious about winning, said Jackson at Friday mornings Lakers shootaround at the United Center when asked if he saw the Bulls approaching the championship-era teams he once coached.

Weve said that theyre going to be in the top five or six in the East, but right now they look that they could even be above that. They look like they could be in the three or four spot.

Carlos Boozer gives them a credible scorer, a guy thats a big body. We like Taj Gibson. Hes played very well since coming in the NBA, but Carlos gives them a real genuine scorer.

Added Bryant: The Bulls are a team that plays well together. They execute extremely well. They play hard.

Boozer is very versatile. He can extend the floor, which is perfect playing with a point guard like D-Rose. You need somebody that can extend the floor and he certainly can do that. He has great hands around the hoop, he has a knack for offensive rebounds and hes a very underrated passer.

Sixth-man extraordinaire-turned-starter Lamar Odom told CSNChicago, Theyre a good team. Theyve got a great defensive coach, great point guard.

Now theyve got Boozer as a scoring forward, really helped them out. I think their addition of Korver there will stretch the floor. Of course, you know what youre going to get from Noah hard defender, going to roll to the basket and rebound, he continued. I think Deng is one of the keys for them, somebody you want to try to keep out of the game. I know for them, its important that he gets going.

Theyre going to be a good team. Theyre going to be fighting for a playoff spot I dont know where, but theyre going to be fighting somewhere fighting to probably upset a team in the second or the late rounds of the playoffs.

After last months close call, the healthy respect the Lakers had for Rose only increased.

Hes a hell of a player. Hes one of the best players Ive ever played with or against. There isnt anything stopping him from getting to where he wants to go with the basketball. He has a high basketball I.Q., Odom, who played with Rose on the gold-medal winning FIBA World Championships USA Basketball squad in the offseason, told CSNChicago.com.

After he either sets somebody up or uses the dribble to get to where he wants to go in the lane, theres not too many guys his size that can elevate and get to the basket and finish with an array of moves.

Hes like an acrobat in the air. He worked on his pull-up jumper the whole summer and its showing because now when he gets going he gets those first two layups, then that jumper gets going guys have got to step out. It makes it easier for him to drive. Hes just playing with boys out there.

Jacksons take on Rose was similar.

Well, there are a lot of players in this game that we pick because theyve been on very good basketball teams in college and theyve been winners in their high school, college days. That doesnt mean theyre going to come into the NBA and be stars. They still have to have the talent, said Jackson. The ones that know how to win seem to perpetually find a way to win, help their teams win and Derrick has that character about him. What separates him right now and had separated him was his ability to hit shots trust his jump shot and this year he seems to have found that confidence that he needs to have the ability to pull up and shoot a shot.

Bryant, who briefly spoke with Rose on the court after the game in Los Angeles last month Just told him to stay healthy and continue the job that hes doing believes Rose can become even better.

I think the skys the limit for him. You see now, with the improvement hes made on his jump shot, just last year to this year, how his game has really gone to another level. I think hes just scratching the surface. I think he realizes now what his jump shot can do and hopefully hell continue to work on it and become a pure shooter, said Bryant, who told reporters Friday, Im passing expletivehe can certainly try, when asked if he was passing the torch to Rose.

I dont think you can develop that. I think you either have it or you dont. I think hes had that since high school, continued Bryant, when queried about Roses developing killer instinct, last displayed Wednesday in the waning moments of the Bulls narrow escape at Cleveland. That separates players, I think. Players of equal ability, its about the engine that you have inside. It certainly gives him an edge.

While the Bulls championship era will never be repeated, the fact that the team closest to doing it gives the current Windy City squad such a hearty endorsement should raise the level of optimism in Chicago.

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.

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

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USA TODAY

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

Denzel Valentine corralled a rebound and casually dribbled up the right side of the floor, unaware of the final 5 seconds ticking off the clock in the third quarter. The second-year shooting guard moved toward the basket as the buzzer sounded, only realizing his gaffe as the red lights behind the backboard lit up. It was that kind of night for the Bulls offense, and one that highlighted carelessness, a lack of talent and obvious growing pains as the rebuild begins.

Fred Hoiberg’s group finished with more turnovers (20) than assists (18), shot 38 percent from the field and were doubled up on points in the paint in an ugly 87-77 loss to the Spurs on Saturday night. Adding to the issues were only nine free-throw attempts and 28 percent shooting from deep on a night where the Bulls played well enough defensively to earn a win.

But they couldn’t take advantage of a Spurs team playing without Kawhi Leonard. The ball stopped for long periods of time in the halfcourt, the fast break was non-existent and miscommunications were frequent, even when they didn’t result in one of those 20 turnovers.

“We had 20 turnovers that led to 23 points…that’s what kills you,” Hoiberg said. “A team goes on a run and they get easy ones, pick-sixes, you’re all of a sudden in a big hole. And obviously did not shoot the ball well today.”

The struggles came from across the board. Only Cris Felicio was turnover-less of the nine Bulls who played. The backcourt tandem of Jerian Grant and Justin Holiday combined for 11 of 32 shooting. Rookie Lauri Markkanen showed flashes with eight first-half points, but finished 5 of 14 and committed three ugly turnovers. Robin Lopez made the first 3-pointer of his career 630 games in, but a 29-year-old leading the way for a young rebuilding group could be deemed bittersweet at best.

It capped off a whirlwind first week for the Bulls, who dealt on the fly with the fallout of the altercation between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Losing Mirotic and Portis hurt from a talent standpoint, but it also threw a wrench into Hoiberg’s rotation and scheme. It thrust 20-year-old Markkanen into the starting lineup; Paul Zipser has shifted to playing more power forward (while also starting at small forward); Lopez is being asked to score more than ever, and at times be the primary option.

“With everything we’ve had going on the past week, with playing guys different positions that they haven’t played yet,” Hoiberg said, “we’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to go out there and play. We’re getting stuck at times because guys are in the wrong spots.”

The Bulls opened Saturday night with a solid first quarter, scoring 21 points, assisting on nine of 12 baskets and committing just three turnovers.

The final three quarters couldn’t have been more different. The second unit again struggled like it did in allowing the Raptors a 20-2 second-quarter run on Tuesday. Even without Leonard the Spurs’ defensive length cut off passing and driving lanes, forcing the Bulls to dribble down the shot clock and turn to isolation basketball or contested 3-pointers.

The Spurs couldn’t pull away thanks to an inspired defensive effort by the Bulls, but the offensive stalling rendered it moot; the Bulls took 28 3-pointers and 37 shots in the paint, an ugly ratio when considering the nine free-throw attempts. The bench shot 7-for-19, but most of that came in garbage time.

“One thing we definitely need to work on is attacking the basket,” Lopez said. “I think there are times where we all get a little jumper-happy on the perimeter. I think we need to have a good balance.

We need to be aware of that. We’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of room for error so any time we concede the ball like that, we don’t get up a shot attempt, tat’s going to really hurt us.”

Kris Dunn may be closer than expected to returning to the lineup after dislocating his finger in the preseason. It would give the Bulls help on that dismayed second unit, knocking Kay Felder (3 turnovers in 15 minutes) out of the rotation. Once Mirotic and Portis return in November, Hoiberg will have more flexibility with his rotations as well as some insurance if frontcourt foul trouble arrives.

None are go-to scorers, and not even Zach LaVine's 19.8 points per game last season will save the Bulls once he's healthy. Season-long struggles like Saturday night are on the way for a young team searching for pieces of the future. That's expected, and in the long term it benefits them as more Lottery balls roll toward Chicago.

But in a season in which success will be judged not on wins and losses but improvement from game-to-game, but the Bulls have set the bar low in the season's first week.