Bulls

Del Negro, Thomas Looking to Move Forward

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Del Negro, Thomas Looking to Move Forward

Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010
6:03 P.M.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Prior to the Chicagos road game tonight in Indiana, Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro briefly spoke to the media. Del Negros main concern was Pacers star forward Danny Granger, an All-Star last season

Hes pretty good, by the way, sarcastically opened Del Negro. Shoots a lot of threes, really good on the break, long threes, big right-hand driver, they post him up a lot. Hes been an All-Star and hes a handful, so obviously weve got to pay attention to him.

When asked about the Pacers offense, Del Negro clearly wasnt taking tonights game for granted, despite its futility earlier in the season.

They have been putting up a lot of points lately. They put up a lot in the last several games. They shoot a lot of threes. Our transition defense has to be very solid tonight. We have to contest shots, observed Del Negro. Troy Murphy spreads you out. They lift him and he has great range. Brandon Rush has been shooting the ball very well from deep. The three-ball is going to be very, very important, long rebounds. We have to attack in our own transition on offense and get to the ft line.

Del Negro also indirectly addressed the ongoing Tyrus Thomas situation by talking about his rotation, specifically frontcourt players in Joakim Noahs absence.

Tyrus and John usually come in at the five, six-minute mark in the first quarter, and that wont change tonight. Well get Chris Richard in there and get Brad Miller a little bit of a rest, depending on matchups, whether Pacers center Roy Hibberts in there or whatever big theyre going with, said Del Negro. A lot of the time now, theyve been going a little bit smaller, putting Murphy at the five and playing four other smalls. Well just see how the matchups go and see how we want to exploit them. We may go big when they go small or maybe well go small and see how they match up, well just play out the game and then see how foul trouble is and tempo and things of that nature.

When asked about Miller, whos suffering from knee issues, Del Negro was cautiously optimistic.

His knees still got a little swelling in there, but hes been moving good. Weve had a difficult schedule, as far as back-to-backs, so he hasnt had a lot of rest, said Del Negro. Tonights no different. Well focus in on tonights game, and then another tough one at home against Orlando.

When it was pointed out that the Bulls face some teams below the caliber of some of the stronger teams in the leaguewhom their schedule was front-loaded withpotentially leading to smooth sailing after this weekends All-Star break, Del Negro wasnt so sure.

You would hope, but the old clichyou take one at a time. Weve beaten a lot of the upper-echelon teams; weve also lost to teams that dont have as good of a record, Del Negro explained. We dont have that type of team right now, where you just throw the ball into the post or handle mismatches and things. We have to play smart, we have to be efficient defensively. Our rebounding numbers are down since Joakim Noahs been out, and hes a big part of that.

Thats a big emphasis tonightno questionwell be trying to control the glass, he continued, again focusing on tonights matchup. Not giving them second opportunities, where theyre making threes and putting a lot of pressure on us.

The schedule has not been perfect for us. Weve had a ton of back-to-backs. Over half of our games are back-to-back games, said Del Negro, getting back to the teams schedule. You have to be ready to play and we have to healthy, play smart power basketball and try to keep guys as healthy as possible and as fresh as possible.

CSNChicago.com also spoke to Thomas before the game, although the fourth-year forward didnt have much to say about his suspension or the aftermath.

You know, execute the game plan, said Thomas, when asked about his role this evening.

Nothing to say, was his response when questioned about his current relationship with Del Negro, as well as speculation that hed be playing for another team before the upcoming NBA trade deadline.

Joakim Noah, whos out with plantar fasciitis, didnt travel on this trip, while Luol Deng, who slightly injured his shoulder, will play tonight.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms 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.