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Dynamic Duo: Rose, Boozer will Bulls to victory

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Dynamic Duo: Rose, Boozer will Bulls to victory

Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010
Updated 12:13 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

It wasnt always pretty, but in the Bulls (10-8) 119-116 overtime triumph Saturday evening over the Rockets (7-13), the long-anticipated dynamic duo of Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer was finally more than just a tease.

Bouncing back from two disappointing losses after Boozers return from injury, Chicagos energy level, defensive intensity and offensive cohesion were all evident in the win, even though the Rockets late comeback threw a scare into the United Center crowd before Roses end-of-regulation heroics.

Concluded Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: In the end, I think we did what we had to do to win.

From the games outset, the Bulls appeared to be much more in sync. New addition Boozer (25 points, nine rebounds) got off to an active and aggressive start, showcasing the interior scoring and rebounding ability that elevated him to stardom in Utah.

With better ball movement facilitating quality shot opportunities, Chicago more closely resembled the surging squad that came off a successful circus trip than the abysmal team witnessed in the previous two contests.

Because of our defense and rebounding, it allowed us to get into a quicker pace and some easy scoring opportunities. I also thought we had good ball movement in the first half, said Thibodeau. I also thought Carlos got more comfortable. Obviously 25 points in 30 minutes, hes a guy you can throw the ball into and get some good things off of that, too.

Each game, hes gotten better and better, more comfortable, and I thought offensively against Boston, he had several plays that were good basketball plays, where you could see his instincts taking over, he continued. Today, I thought his offense was very good again and I thought his rebounding was much better. I thought he really went after the ball today, so that part was good."

Every day is a little bit more comfortable. Every day Im getting in a little bit better shape. Every day Im more comfortable with my hand getting hit. Every day Im getting more comfortable on offense. Im still learning everything. This is kind of like my preseason for me because these are the first games Ive played in, said Boozer. Im learning on the fly, but hopefully we can keep winning.

If you worry about this, if you think about that, then youre a step behind. Youve just got to go out there and do it, make them react to what youre doing. Be more aggressive thats what Im trying to do and Im following my teammates. My teammates have been playing for two months, so Im trying to follow their lead, the two-time All-Star went on to say. I was happy. Im making steps in the right direction.

However, Houston power forward Luis Scola (27 points, eight rebounds) used his crafty scoring to keep the visiting Rockets in the game. Still, both Rose (25 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, five steals) and Luol Deng (15 points) seemed to find their respective grooves an important occurrence, with Boozer also playing well and with the defensive intensity back at a high level, the Bulls took a 25-23 advantage into the second quarter.

Chicagos second unit maintained and extended the home teams winning margin by virtue of sound play and, quite honestly, facing a M.A.S.H. crew already down starters Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming for extended absences, backup guard Courtney Lee was felled by teammate and former Bull Brad Miller (20 points, four 3-pointers, three blocked shots) of Rockets reserves.

With the majority of Bulls regulars along with reserves Kyle Korver (13 points) and Omer Asik back in the contest midway through the period, Chicagos lead further ballooned, with the Bulls transition game, opportunistic defense, inside-outside offense serving as catalysts.

Toward the end of the half, a trio of Rose plays illustrated the Bulls return to form. First, the All-Star toyed with his defender with a back-and-forth between-the-legs dribble before exploding around a screen to finish with a powerful southpaw dunk.

Then, the Chicago native made a nifty behind-the-back move to split two Rockets and subsequently threaded the needle to find Joakim Noah (13 points, 12 rebounds, four blocked shots, four assists) for a tough layup, plus the foul.

Lastly, following a steal, Rose would explode for whats becoming his signature slam he cocks the ball behind his head, almost to the middle of his shoulder blades to rock the rim with two hands to give the Bulls a 56-44 lead at intermission.

Rose was terrific. I thought the first half, too, he set the tone for the defense with his ball pressure. He really competed hard, said Thibodeau about his point guard, who set a new career-high in steals in the contest. I thought he had a great edge to him today. He came out and it was right from the start of the game. The thing that I like is that I thought he was attacking on defense, too. A normal game, hes always attacking on offense, but when hes attacking on defense, it makes our defense totally different.

While on the surface, the Bulls didnt do anything to take away from their first-half momentum in the third quarter, the teams general level of intensity fluctuated. They still held a rebounding advantage and shot the ball more proficiently than their opponents, but the Rockets in turn, picked up their play and gradually closed on Chicago.

Houston stopped settling for contested perimeter shots (shooting guard Kevin Martin, in particular, was highly effective, along with Scola), got better looks and didnt allow the Bulls defense to pressure them into as many unforced errors, while Chicagos slippage was marked by a less flowing halfcourt offense despite solid starts to the half by Boozer and Deng.

Korver and Taj Gibson (eight points, six rebounds) provided important sparks for the home team and although the Bulls played with more urgency to close the period, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry (16 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals) made it 81-79, in Chicagos favor, heading into the final stanza.

Ragged play marked the early portion of the fourth quarter, but the insertion of Rose gave the Bulls life, as the point guard blended scoring and playmaking to aid his team in maintaining its slight cushion. Houston, however, just wouldnt go away, as timely buckets from the likes of Miller kept the contest close.

Chicago would continually go to Boozer, who displayed an ability to draw contact and get to the foul line, even if he didnt always convert.

Stated Boozer: I was trying to draw contact the whole game, but they do a great job of collapsing.

I think the more minutes that they play together, theyre learning a lot about each other and where he wants to get the ball and how he likes to get it, things like that, the pick-and-roll game. I think the more hes out there, particularly with Derrick, to get a feel of what he likes to do, added Thibodeau. I think theyre Boozers teammates searching him out without getting away from what were trying to do offensively, too. Each game, I think youre going to see more and more from him. Once he knocked down a couple shots you could see how aggressive he was to start the game today you knew he was going to attack.

But the Rockets kept pushing and after a 3-pointer, then a conventional three-point play off a Miller dish; Lee had long recovered from his first-half injury Houston took its first lead since 8-6 in the first quarter.

They Houston can score the ball, acknowledged Thibodeau. That team has a lot of weapons.

Down the stretch, the pesky Lowry made several key plays for the Rockets, while Chicago struggled to convert opportunities, allowing the visitors to stretch their slim lead to two possessions with under a minute to play. But two Boozer put-backs sandwiched around a 1-for-2 Lowry trip to the line and Miller following suit allowed the Bulls one last chance with 10.7 seconds to play in regulation.

With the Bulls down 109-106 following Millers free throw he missed the first Rose pushed the ball down the court and with no hesitation, drained a 3-pointer with no time remaining to send the game into an extra session.

They gave me a little bit of room, Ive been working on the shot and I just shot it, Rose explained to reporters afterwards. At first, they guarded it well. Thats why I had to throw it to Joakim and he handed back and I had a little bit of daylight.

I think thats the first time I celebrated after one of my shots all year. It just felt good knowing that in those situations Im capable of knocking down shots like that.

Added Boozer: Hes that guy. Hes proven that this entire season.

We just got him the ball, hit him with a couple screens, got out of the way, he came off and hit that three to put us into overtime, he continued. Hes been doing that all season. Hes been able to prove that he is that guy for us. We know if we need a basket, were going to D. Rose and hell get it for us.

In overtime, the contest became a back-and-forth affair, with the two teams alternating leads. Rose played the protagonist for the Bulls, as usual, mixing his brilliant drives and finishes at the rim with court awareness, passing and perimeter shooting.

But after an errant Rose pull-up jumper with the Bulls holding a two-point lead, the Rockets had another go at it, but Ronnie Brewer chased down a loose ball after Miller missed an open triple and hit the back end of his trip to the line to give Chicago a 119-116 advantage with 4.5 seconds on the clock.

We played hard in the first half. The second half we kind of eased up, they came back and we got in foul trouble in the third quarter. We were putting them on the line, giving them easy baskets, said Rose. But a win is a win.

We needed it bad. We lost two in a row, it was gonna be hard to lose three, but we just had enough finish it off, he continued. This was huge. If we would have lost this game, it would have hurt very bad. Were just grateful and blessed we won this game.

Added Boozer: I feel like it was ours to win. Aint no gimmes in the NBA. Teams dont let you win. Youve got to take winswe took this game 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.