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Deng's balanced attack propels Bulls over Pacers

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Deng's balanced attack propels Bulls over Pacers

Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011
Posted 9:30 p.m. Updated 11:46 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

With their superstar still ailing, the Bulls didnt miss a beat Saturday night.

Although they again allowed an inferior opponent to stick around three quarter, a huge fourth-quarter push increased Chicagos current winning streak to five games, as they knocked off the visiting Indiana Pacers, 110-89.

It was a victory with equal parts unselfish offense, stout defense when it mattered and enough out of Bulls stars and supporting-cast members alike. In the grand scheme of things, casual observers may consider it just another win against subpar competition especially after beating fellow Eastern Conference contender Orlando the previous evening but to the game-by-game Bulls, it was much more significant.

WATCH: Ronnie Brewer posterizes a Pacer

When you look at your season, this game had just as much value as last nights game. The perception is last night was a big game, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Well, tonight is big. It counts just as much.

A looming subplot entering the contest was the health of All-Star point guard Derrick Rose. Rose (20 points, seven assists), whos suffering from stomach ulcers, had a quiet first half just five points on 1-for-7 shooting but exploded after the intermission, hitting his first four shot attempts (all jumpers off the dribble), then taking over the game for a stretch in the final stanza.

I took it easy in the first half and in the second half, I just tried to be aggressive, taking shots they were giving me and they were just falling, said Rose, who admitted he felt sore afterwards. Theres nothing to complain about. Everybodys feeling good, were winning and were just trying to keep this thing going.

We won. Thats the biggest thing. Theres nothing to say about it, continued Rose, who hasnt eaten a solid meal in days. Get these wins out of the way now, rest up and hopefully get better.

Although the Bulls start to the contest wasnt exactly crisp they didnt shoot the ball proficiently at the outset and allowed Pacers power forward Josh McRoberts (20 points, eight rebounds) to score seven of Indianas first nine points solid defense permitted them to take a slim lead over their divisional rivals.

However, Chicagos balanced offensive approach couldnt withstand the Pacers perimeter-oriented attack, as starting wings Danny Granger (17 points, six rebounds) and Mike Dunleavy (13 points) wreaked havoc from the outside.

In fact, the visitors went on to build a slight cushion, as point guard Darren Collisons (11 points, eight assists) playmaking and the ability to spread the Bulls defense then attack by either bombing away from deep or efficiently slashing to the rim but the lethargic home team made a late rally, fueled by Luol Dengs (19 points, eight assists, six rebounds) aggressive start to the contest, to cut the deficit to 27-25 at the conclusion of the opening period.

With Granger, Indianas leading scorer, paired with the Pacers second unit against his counterpart, Deng, and the Bulls reserves, both teams essentially canceled each other out at the start of the second quarter, with their respective small forwards carrying the offensive burdens.

That even nature of the close-knit affair took a turn toward the Bulls favor upon Carlos Boozers (24 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) reinsertion to the contest. Aside from his typical low-post scoring and rebounding contributions, Boozers passing he got reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver (16 points) going with a kick-out pass that led to a three-pointer; Korver scored on two more trips soon afterwards, including a rarely-seen drive on the baseline that was finished with a nifty reverse layup also benefited his teammates.

When hes shooting like that, it opens so many screens for us, praised Thibodeau. He played such a terrific game. it looks like hes getting his legs under him again.

Indiana hung around, however, buoyed by the play of backup point guard A.J. Price (12 points), but after both squads filtered their regulars back into the contest, Chicago took command, rattling off eight uncontested points before Pacers head coach Jim OBrien attempted to put a halt to the onslaught with a timeout.

Whatever instructions were meted out appeared to have been followed the Bulls ragged play certainly helped the visitors cause as Indiana battled back before the half and Chicagos lead evaporated to a 55-51 winning margin at the break.

After halftime, Rose began to assert himself as a scorer. Indiana countered by going to McRoberts, whose activity, athleticism and energetic play on the interior gave Chicago fits, prompting Thibodeau to put a temporary cease to the proceedings.

The remainder of the period was evenly played the insertion of Taj Gibson (four points, seven rebounds) improved the Bulls defensive effort and after a Rose three-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer, Chicago entered the final frame with a 77-72 lead.

Rose came out like gangbusters in the fourth quarter, wowing the United Center crowd with two early scores before giving way to backup point guard C.J. Watson for a breather.

It just shows you the type of competitor he is. Hes our leader, hes our MVP this year. Hes been doing it all for us, night in and night out. We expected him to be out there tonight, veteran Kurt Thomas told CSNChicago.com. I wasnt concerned at all. I felt he was going to do what he needed to do to get his mind right and get his body right before the game.

Added Rose: I like pressure. If anything, it makes me play harder and makes me perform better.

Additionally, Dengs strong all-around play persisted, as he mixed inside and outside scoring, a solid effort on the boards, nice playmaking from the wing and tough defense on Granger, all aiding Chicago in putting Indiana in a double-digit hole.

A downer for the Bulls came when Gibson, after stepping on teammate Ronnie Brewers (eight points, five rebounds) foot, appeared rolled his right ankle. Gibson writhed in pain on the court before being helped up he seemingly couldnt put weight on the injured ankle and needed assistance to walk off the floor and headed directly to the locker room early in the period.

WATCH: Gibson discusses ankle injury

I just remember Granger cutting down the lane, I went to help and I dont know if it was just me or if I tripped over somebodys foot. My foot just came in just twisted in the same injury from before, earlier this season. I just went down, recounted Gibson, who told reporters an X-ray on his ankle came up negative and was diagnosed as a sprain.

I thought it was pretty serious because it was the same exact spot same exact place I turned it a couple months back and the pain was way worse than what happened last time I did turn my ankle. I was a little scared and at first, I couldnt put pressure on it. I was nervous.

Korver returned to the contest and added to the home teams momentum by draining two jumpers and while the Bulls werent efficient, they played stifling defense against the Pacers.

However, it was Brewers powerful, two-handed flush over McRoberts plus the foul that blew the game open even wider and resulted in the unraveling of the Pacers.

WATCH: Brewer describes dunk

Deng dropped it off to me, McRoberts jumped and I got the and-one. It was a good play, it was good that the crowd got into it and I was happy I made the free throw, said Brewer, who was exuberant after the spectacular dunk. I think I over-celebrated, but I think I was in the heat of the moment.

McRoberts was assessed a technical foul following the ensuing free throw for shoving Boozer while jostling for the rebound. Then, OBrien received his second technical of the contest and was ejected.
After defeating the Pacers, Bulls players gave credit to head coach Tom Thibodeau for making sure they focus on the task at hand; meanwhile, Thibodeau admitted he doesn't even know what the Bulls record currently is. (AP)
Chicago went to Boozer to seal the deal, but the gap was large enough that Thibodeau elect to use reserve forward Brian Scalabrine, a fan favorite whose appearance brought delight to the fans.

In addition to their prize of Big Macs for the Bulls reaching triple digits, the crowd also received another treat: Chicago maintaining their dominance at home.

With the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls will head into a five-game West Coast road trip next week, starting with a reunion with former coach Vinny Del Negro Wednesday in Los Angeles. Similar to Saturday night, the plan is for the team to not look past any opponent.

Our confidence is high. Any game we go into, we expect to win. Most of the time, were not worried about opponents; were just worried about what to do. Its all about us and thats a winning attitude, Deng told CSNChicago.com. Coachs challenge is getting us fired up and our challenge the captains and as a team is to be ready for the game. Coach has been doing a good job preparing us, making sure every theres a reason and we havent really relaxed yet. Thats how you win and thats how were winning.

Added Thomas: All were focusing on is the Clippers. Thats our next game, thats our next opponentI know you hear it all the time, but thats been our mentality all year.

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.

Looking for culture reset, Bulls find themselves in the middle of more drama

Looking for culture reset, Bulls find themselves in the middle of more drama

It was supposed to be an uneventful and culture-resetting season for the Chicago Bulls, but that ended the moment Bobby Portis’ hand connected with the sweet spot on Nikola Mirotic’s face.

Now a light is shining on an unwilling franchise and rightful questions are again being asked about what led to the event, rather than the result.

Mirotic will be out four-to-six weeks with facial fractures and a concussion to boot and Portis was suspended for the first eight games of the season, leaving rookie Lauri Markkanen to man the power forward spot against the likes of Serge Ibaka and LaMarcus Aldridge his first two games.

Welcome to the NBA, kid.

It’s likely he received his wake-up call when he saw his teammates exchange friendly fire, though, considering the witnesses said Mirotic and Portis had been at it for awhile before Portis took one swing to conclude matters.

“Both players owned responsibility in the incident itself but only one player threw a punch. And that punch connected. For us, that is inexcusable,” Bulls Vice-President John Paxson said. “It’s not who we are.”

But when there is no discernable identity, and there’s a coaching staff who’ve witnessed these two go at it for well over two years you have to ask if this is who the Bulls are.

Not in the way of fighting but a team that collectively stands by idly while a situation builds and builds before it explodes, then is forced to clean up the carnage while having to explain and react to an unnecessary event.

Jimmy Butler, gone. Ditto for Derrick Rose. Tom Thibodeau? Dumped too before he picked up what the Bulls didn’t want in Butler on draft night, jump starting this process of the Bulls headed to Parts Unknown.

All have been blamed at some point for the state of affairs. Rose’s knees, Butler’s mouth, Thibodeau’s unwillingness to bend.

Butler took a tongue-in-cheek shot directly across the bow of his former franchise when asked about the incident involving his former teammates, saying “All I know is I’m not to blame for this one”, a nod to the narrative surrounding his trade to Minnesota.

Now who’s left to blame and what happens from here is anybody’s guess.

“When’s the right time to step in? I saw it on the best teams I played on, where you had that competitive spirit,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to have it to have any chance at all. So sure, looking back on it, would we have handled the situation differently? Maybe. I don’t know.”

Both Paxson and Hoiberg expressed the rightful disappointment in Portis while also saying Mirotic had a hand in what occurred. Portis will ultimately bear the responsibility, with his eight-game suspension coming at the worst possible time as his option for next season hasn’t been picked up yet, as it’s hard to see he and Mirotic sharing the same space in a locker room whenever Mirotic returns.

And if he is still around, it’ll be on the players to keep a team from splintering — as if the expected losing won’t be depressing enough.

“As teammates, we're certainly supporting Bobby and supporting Niko,” said Robin Lopez, a de-facto leader on a young roster. “We're going to let them know that what they did, the way they messed up, wasn't right, but we're definitely supporting them.”

Lopez, along with many others, said the confrontation has been brewing for some time, that the pushing and shoving wasn’t anything new. From a human standpoint it’s understandable to sense tension as Portis has been itching for playing time for two years after playing behind veterans, anxious to cement himself on a team that drafted a player at his position four months ago.

Mirotic came in as a golden boy of sorts, handed a starting spot by Hoiberg two years ago and given every chance to snag a starting spot last year before Taj Gibson aggressively stepped in.

His up-and-down performances were rewarded with a $12-plus million deal this offseason and although players usually don’t count each other’s money, they take note of who’s favored and who isn’t.

Mix in competition and ego days before the season began and it’s not surprising something was on the horizon.

But it’s up to a coaching staff to step in, as assistant coach Randy Brown did before the parties were separated in the hope things would settle down.

They didn’t, and now Hoiberg will start yet another season having his aptitude to coach a professional team questioned before he can call an official play or lay out a rotation — because Portis laid Mirotic out on the Advocate Center floor.

Hoiberg desperately wants to change the narrative surrounding his first two years, eager to prove his system can work and that he’s capable of commanding a team that plays hard and organized on a nightly basis.

Whether this is an omen or a random event, it certainly doesn’t bode well for Hoiberg to his detractors.

He stood to the side while Paxson addressed the media, appearing both bewildered and shocked he was having to address such a rare situation a little more than 24 hours before his season-opening cleanse was to occur.

“I’m very disappointed in what happened,” Hoiberg said. “Now, my job is to not let this moment derail us. My job is to get these guys prepared to go out and fight and play as a group, and I’m confident our guys will do that. They’ve shown that going all the way back into late August.

“I’m confident our guys will rally around each other. I’ve seen how much these guys care for each other, and we’re going to go into Toronto tomorrow as a group. We’re going to learn from this. We’re going to grow from this. We’re going to compete, I promise you that.”

It’s clear the Bulls want to extricate themselves from the past couple years and now recent events, but when things are swept under the rug they have a funny way of reappearing at the weirdest times.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Could the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic fight have been prevented?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Could the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic fight have been prevented?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski and Vincent Goodwill react to Bobby Portis’ eight-game suspension and how the Bulls handled the incident with Nikola Mirotic. Mark and Vinnie also discuss how the injury and suspension thrusts Lauri Markkanen into the starting power forward spot and the impact on the rest of Fred Hoiberg’s rotation. Plus the duo previews the season opener against the Raptors.