Bulls

Deng all about defense against Pacers

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Deng all about defense against Pacers

Thursday, April 21, 2011Posted: 2:00 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLISWith all of the concern about Derrick Rose having to do too much scoring in the Bulls first-round series against the Pacers, one would think the team simply doesnt have capable secondary options. True, Carlos Boozer struggled in Game 1 and although he bounced back with a solid outing in Game 2, he also went long stretches without impacting the game on offense.

But while the Bulls certainly need Boozer to consistently play well for the team to make an extended postseason run, it seems many people are forgetting the player who was considered the teams glue: Luol Deng. The small forward hasnt been as offensive-minded through the series first two games for good reason; his primary assignment has been defending Pacers leading scorer Danny Granger.

Every series is going to be different, if you look at every team. Depending on who we play nextlets say, after this round, we win this round and we play Orlandosomebodys going to have to guard Dwight (Howard) and whoever that somebody is, as a team., weve got to let him know and hes got to understand that affecting that guy defensively is going to help us a lot more than what you do for us offensively, said Deng, who received votes, along with teammates Keith Bogans and Joakim Noah, for the NBAs Defensive Player of the Year award, which went to Orlandos Howard for the third consecutive season.

Thats really how I look at this series. If I have high-scoring games, thats a plus, but for me, making Granger work for every basket, making it tough for himeither he shoots a low percentage taking a lot of shots or he doesnt get a lot of shotsthats really my goal and every game in this series, thats what Im going to do.

Chimed in Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: The thing with Granger is, you dont stop a player like that. What youve got to do is try to make him work for his points and hes one of the best scorers in the league because of all the different ways he gets it. He can pick-and-roll, he can catch-and-shoot, he can post, hes dangerous in transition, hes a very good offensive rebounder, he can get to the line. What we have to do is be tied together and try to make him work for those points, but hes a load. Hes hard to guard.

Deng knows his offense is a secondary concern for him this series, but while he admits that improved play from Boozer will help ease Roses burden, he also believes that the final result is more important than how it happens.

I know were going to need Boozer. Derrick is carrying a lot of the load right now and a lot of people are talking about, Is Derrick doing too much? but I keep saying, every series is going to present a different story. If we win every game and Derrick scores like that, then thats who we are, thats what were trying to do. If we start losing and Derrick is putting up all these points, then weve got to start talking about other things, Deng explained.

Dengs approach hasnt varied all season, perhaps his best all-around campaign and one in which he played in all 82 regular-season games for just the second time in his career.

It meant a lot. I wanted to get back to that. I tried last year. I ended upI think I played 70 or 72, I dont rememberit was a goal of mine, but then I had that calf strain. Coming into this year, I wanted to make it a goal, to make sure I played every game. I had no idea I was going to play as many minutes as I did. Im just really happy I was able to be consistent and thats what I always wanted to do, just be consistent, said Deng.

When Coach got the job, he called me and he really told me how he felt, what kind of player I could be, how he was going to use me and he really felt like I was very underratedhe kept telling me thatand it helped me with my confidence. When I came in, practicing and the way he was going to use me, I just knew I was going to play a lot.

In the wake of his individual and the teams success this season, the seventh-year pro doesnt dwell on it, but the labelsoftsome fans have put on him since he signed a six-year, 71-million contract extension in the summer of 2008 and was hampered by various injuries cut him deep.

It bothered me a lot. I think what bothered me the most was how the whole injury thing came up. I know its behind me now, but it really bothered me a lot. Just to be called that, knowing what I played througheven before that, with the injuriesI didnt like it. Not that I could help what people say, but it bothered me a lot, acknowledged Deng, who led the Bulls in minutes played and logged the third-most court time amongst his peers in the league this season. I didnt do it play 82 games for anyone. I wasnt trying to prove anyone wrong. The things that were said about me bothered me, but I never really played basketball for anyone but me, so I just felt like I really wanted to do it for myself. Just play the games, help my team as much as I can and really be happy with what I did during the season.

Not just the soft thing. A lot of people said I got paid and I gave up the game, and to me, that bothered me a lot. I dont know how to explain it, but if youre ever offered that money, youre not going to say, No, Im going to take less, but Im still going to play, he continued. The deal was done, but that bothered me more than anything, with where Im from and what Ive been through, for people to think that money would let me give up the game. Thats just stupid.

While the versatile, underrated native of Sudan is now more appreciated by Bulls fans, perhaps nobody treasures his talent more than Thibodeau.

Lu will be fine. You can count on him, said the coach, who wasnt pleased, however, with the technical foul Deng earned in Game 1 of the series for coming to the defense of Rose. Hes going to play defense, hes going to help you execute offensively and hes going to make shots. Hes already proven that. He just has to keep doing all the things hes been doing,

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.

It might not be so easy for the Bulls to tank down the stretch

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It might not be so easy for the Bulls to tank down the stretch

And here you thought the Bulls wouldn't be competing for anything down the stretch. Yes, the Bulls will miss the postseason for the second time in three seasons, and the post-Jimmy Butler rebuild is off and running with a Lottery selection (and potentially two) on the horizon.

And now the race for the top spot in the NBA Draft Lottery is on, with 23 to 27 games left in the regular season and a whopping seven teams within 1.5 games of each other for the worst record in the league. The Bulls are currently sitting 8th in the reverse standings at 20-37, 3.0 games behind the league-worst Suns and Hawks. And in what's largely considered a seven-man draft, Fred Hoiberg and the boys have some work to do to improve their chances of moving into the top-5 or top-3 of the draft.

Yes, the Bulls were sellers at the deadline, dealing leading scorer Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans. And they lost eight of their last 10 games before the All-Star Break while promising extended minutes for players like Paul Zipser, Cristiano Felicio and even Cameron Payne. All those signs point to a franchise with a full and clear understanding that losses right now mean much bigger wins in June. But it's not as easy as it sounds. The Bulls aren't the only team looking to secure losses, and those other teams may have easier paths of doing so. Here's why.

For starters, not all these clumped-together records were built equally. Yes, the wins and losses all count the same at the end of the day, but if we're projecting how each team may finish the Bulls are certainly poised to play better than the teams around them. In fact, the Bulls are still playing .500 basketball (17-17) since their infamous 3-20 start. Unsurprisingly all seven teams ahead of the Bulls have worse records, as do the New York Knicks (11-24 since Dec. 8), who are just two games behind the Bulls, have lost eight straight and are without All-Star Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL). Remember, there are teams chasing the Bulls, too.

The Bulls have a seven-game win streak to their name and won 10 games in December; of the teams with worse records than the Bulls, only the Mavericks have a seven-win month this season.

And let's remember, too, the Bulls have gone 17-17 while missing Zach LaVine in 20 of those, Kris Dunn in 11 others and Lauri Markkanen in three. Those three are all healthy now (LaVine likely won't play in back-to-backs, but the Bulls have just three of those sets left) and while they have an ugly -18.8 net rating in four games, the Bulls are 2-2 with all three on the floor and have losses against the top-seeded Raptors and defending champion Warriors. It's safe to assume Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen will all benefit and improve from playing with one another. And while Nikola Mirotic was a large part of the Bulls' success (they went 14-11 with him in the lineup), the trade has opened up more minutes for Bobby Portis, who's quietly averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds since the Mirotic trade. No, Portis isn't Mirotic, but the dropoff isn't all that significant, especially when considering the defensive end.

What's this all mean? That the Bulls have the best top-end talent of any team in these tank standings, and arguably the most talented overall roster. It sounds laughable, but we're not comparing them to the Rockets and Celtics. Perhaps Orlando's core of Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic (when healthy) comes close, but the Magic also just sold their starting point guard Elfrid Payton for pennies on the dollar. They're clearly in tank mode, and the rest of that roster is a nightmare. Dallas has some nice pieces, but also plenty of shutdown candidates as the season nears its end.

And that's another angle to this. The Bulls really don't have any players who may rest late in the season. Then again, phantom injuries could arise and LaVine might sit down the stretch for precautionary purposes. But Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, the team's elder statesmen at 29 and 28, respectively, aren't exactly tipping the scale between wins and losses. As long as LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen, Portis and Denzel Valentine are seeing 28+ minutes, the Bulls are going to be in good position. Teams like Atlanta and Sacramento are already resting veterans, and Memphis could do the same with Marc Gasol if the Lottery balls depend on it. It's a good thing the Bulls don't have this luxury, as they're leaning on their young talent, but it also means the team isn't going to get much worse.

The biggest hurdle for the Bulls, however, is going to be their remaining schedule. Marvin Bagley fans might want to stop reading. Only four teams in the NBA will face an easier remaining schedule than the Bulls, and none are ahead of them in the race for the top pick. The 76ers, Hornets, Warriors and Heat have easier schedules, and then it's the Bulls, with a remaining SOS of .474. Here's how that compares to the seven teams the Bulls are looking up at in the tank standings:

So the Bulls have an easier schedule than any team in front of them, and the Knicks. And looking at the Bulls' remaining schedule (far right column), it's clear that the three games against the Nets (which includes what should be a fun home-and-home in the season's final week) and two games against the Grizzlies will loom large. It also wouldn't surprise anyone if the Bulls picked up random victories over teams like Boston (March 5), Cleveland (March 17), Milwaukee (March 23) or Houston (March 27). They have a way of playing up to their opponents (see: Minnesota).

When it comes to discussing the league's worst teams, the Bulls might simply be too good. And their schedule might simply be too bad. That's certainly a good problem to have when considering the franchise's rebuild has gone quicker than most expected, even if it means fewer chances to secure a top-3 pick. Then again, the Bulls did fine selecting 7th overall last season in grabbing Markkanen, so perhaps a top-5 pick isn't necessary. It might not even be an option.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.