Bulls

Game 2: Bulls must contain (still) confident Pacers

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Game 2: Bulls must contain (still) confident Pacers

Monday, April 18, 2011Posted: 10:55 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After a loss--albeit a loss in which they led until the game's final minute--the Pacers' confidence might seem a bit misplaced, especially for a team with only one starter (leading scorer Danny Granger) and a handful of veteran reserves with any postseason experience.

The tail end of Indiana's practice at West Side basketball facility A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics Sunday afternoon was spirited and, while players were joking and relaxed, (reporters were treated to an impromptu one-man dunk competition by rookie swingman Paul George) there was no mistaking their defiance.

"We are encouraged. We know we're a good basketball team. We know we can play with this team. We played a good basketball game for 45 minutes. They got the best of us down the stretch, but we definitely feel like we can play with this team and we're looking to earn a split Monday night," vowed interim head coach Frank Vogel.

READ: 'Madhouse on Madison' song to be featured in game tonight

"I don't think there's a lot of psychology that goes into that bouncing back from Sunday's heart-breaking defeat. We've been playing good basketball for a long time. We're a confident bunch. We expected to play that way. We expect to play that way Monday night."

The 37-year-old's contagious confidence has spread through his entire squad and, while the Pacers certainly don't look at Saturday as a moral victory, it's clear that their last two matchups against the Bulls have them believing that not only could they steal a win from the top-seeded team in the playoffs, but a heist of the entire first-round series isn't out of the question.

"We also believe that we can definitely compete against any team, so it's not just knowing that we've got nothing to lose, we believe that we can compete with any team in this league and when we're all on the same page, we believe we can beat any team in this league, too," said Pacers point guard Darren Collison. "Vogel is real confident. He instills a lot of confidence in everybody on this team.

"He's not just saying it to say it; he believes that, and whenever a coach has that much belief and that much confidence on the court, it carries over to the players."

Realistically, Indiana does comprehend that throwing a scare into the Bulls wasn't enough--to paraphrase the beginning of Granger's amusing ex-girlfriend stalker comparison, "With Chicago, no. With Derrick Rose, no."--even if it took a furious, 16-1 run down the game's final stretch for Chicago to pull off the come-from-behind win.

"That game's over with. Now, we just need to make the adjustments and try to improve," said Granger. "We played okay. We played well enough to win, but we just didn't finish it off. We went back to the film, we looked at a lot of things, made a lot of mistakes. We obviously could have played better, but that being said, we almost had the game.

"We had a really big chance to turn the series because winning the first game on their home court could have really changed the series," continued the small forward. "You're going to win some games, you're going to lose some, but I think when we give teams our best punch, a lot of times, we'll win that game."

Granger, whose pre-series comments about the Bulls going as Rose goes drew a lot of attention, isn't changing his tune about the Pacers' focus heading into Game 2, although Indiana still had no answers for the likely MVP's heroics Saturday.

"We can't give up 39 points, 21 free throws to him again. Those would be losing numbers for us, so that's our main priority right now. We realize they have other players, but our main priority right now is Derrick Rose," said Granger. "I don't know if he's going to score 40 points every game--I mean, he's capable--but that's what it took for them to beat us that time, so this time, if we can limit his effectiveness, hopefully we can come out with the win.

"When we looked at the tape--the final stretch of the game--we had a lot of breakdowns, not only defensively, but on the offensive end and it was uncharacteristic for what we wanted to do during that period of the game," he continued. "We got some good looks. They just didn't go down for us. Then, on the other end, we had a bad defensive lapse, where we gave up the three to Kyle Korver. We kind of messed up on that. Derrick Rose was getting to the basket at will the whole game. He did it in the fourth quarter, the last two minutes. We just couldn't really get a handle on him."

Vogel acknowledged that, upon further review, not as many of the fouls that led to Rose's repeat journeys to the charity stripe were as egregious as he first believed.

"Not a lot of them were bad calls. Most of them were him being aggressive and getting to the basket. We've got to have a wall of defenders every time he comes in there," he said.

Vogel wouldn't divulge any details of the Pacers' planned defensive adjustments, but expect Indiana to employ a trapping strategy to complement the physicality that greets Rose on his forays to the rim.

"We just practiced some different looks that we might throw at Derrick Rose and some of their other guys," said Vogel. "We've got to a better job keeping him out of the paint."

Confirmed Tyler Hansbrough: "We're going to try and keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible, and try to contain him a little better and not let him run around the court, and do his thing."

Unlike the widespread perception that guarding Hansbrough is one player's responsibility--more on that to come--the Pacers know they can't leave any lone defender on an island with Rose and are even willing to sacrifice to contain the explosive scorer.

"It's a hard task, but it's not one man's job to do it; it's all five guys on the court. We've tweaked some things," explained center Roy Hibbert. "I could be saying, 'Hey, you know what? I only got one shot in the second half,' but I wanted to be a defensive presence and I was really trying to do a good job with clogging up the paint, helping out as much as possible and just making sure Derrick Rose didn't get any easy looks at the basket."

Regardless of whether it's slowing down Rose or exhibiting more poise in crunch time, the young Pacers know they have to grow up in a hurry. However, they came into the series with a chip on their collective shoulder and after coming so close to bringing in the postseason with a monumental upset, they're not exactly dissuaded from trying to beat the odds.

"I'm not sure if it's confidence or it's just us getting out there and wanting to prove something, that we belong in the playoffs," said Hansbrough. "A lot of people have written us off."

Philosophized Hibbert: "We've got one under our belt now and it's in the moment when things click.

"We'll be able to figure it out when we're in the moment," he continued. "We're disappointed--a loss is a loss--but we know what we're capable of and we're hungrier than we've ever been before. We want a split in Chicago and then go home to Indy and get those wins there. I'm kind of happy this isn't like the NCAA college basketball tournament where this is one-and-done.

"It's going to be a long series; I just want to tell you guys the media that."

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.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Bulls' Tuesday night tilt against the Cavaliers on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. LeBron James will be on your television

Love him or hate him, LeBron James is must-see TV. Now in his 15th NBA season, James has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite playing just one preseason game (against the Bulls), James has shown anything but rust in three games, averaging 25.0 points on 60 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in nearly 37 minutes. He's a threat every night to do something you've never seen on a basketball court, His Airness included. Justin Holiday and Paul Zipser will have their hands full against the game's best player.

2. Lauri Markkanen, Week 2

Small sample size alert! But through the season's first week Markkanen and Ben Simmons are the only rookies averaging a double-double (Dallas' Dennis Smith has played just one game, averaging 16 points and 10 assists). While the Bulls have struggled through two games, Markkanen's net rating is third best on the team and he leads the Bulls bigs in rebounds per game and rebound percentage. Markkanen has shown some versatility offensively, and his 7 free-throw attempts have been a nice surprise as well.

3. Don't forget: The Bulls swept the Cavaliers last year

OK, so expecting a victory Tuesday night in Cleveland isn't smart. The Bulls will be underdogs just like they were in each of the four games last season, all of which were Bulls winners. It was the first time in 52 division series that LeBron James had been swept, which is pretty remarkable considering the Bulls were the No. 8 seed and the Cavs coasted to a third straight NBA Finals. We're not over here predicting a win. But just remember: the Bulls have fared well against James in the regular season.

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

The Zach LaVine timeline for a Bulls debut remains the same, although he’s ahead of schedule in every metric of his return from ACL surgery this past February.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t angling for more work and pushing his limits to learn the offense he’ll be featured in, along with taking contact “here and there,” in his words. He’s supposed to wait nine months from the day of his February 14 surgery before taking contact, which would put him at a November 14 practice before the Bulls go to Oklahoma City.

“I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on them,” LaVine said in his first public words since media day several weeks ago. “I’m pushing them as hard as I can, but at the end of the day we still gotta be careful. I feel great. I’m doing everything I was doing before. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. But every day I’m just getting back, trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.”

LaVine was at Air Canada Centre getting a workout in before the Bulls opener against the Raptors and has gotten in heavy workouts on the off days with the assistant coaches in the meantime.

Sticking to the schedule will be on both LaVine and the Bulls, although both sides could be tempted to cut corners a bit. It would be human nature for the Bulls to show the NBA world their centerpiece from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, as well as LaVine to want to be the frontline player he feels he deserves to be.

“Yeah, it’s definitely hard. I don’t like missing games,” LaVine said. “Before the injury I didn’t really miss any games. I think I missed one or two in my career, so it really sucks just sitting there, not being able to help. I try to help as much as I can from the sideline. You know, give a little advice here and there, but yeah it hurts.”

He’s also in line for a big-time extension, having passed the deadline for extensions for players in his 2014 draft class. He’ll have to wait until the summer, especially since it didn’t make sense for him to extend unless it was a max deal.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine said. “And I feel the deal is going to get done, either then or next summer. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer. I’m very happy and looking forward to that day as well. The main concern is just getting back on the court, get my legs ready and try to help the team as much as possible until then.”

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points as a third option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but will be featured in Fred Hoiberg’s offense as a first and maybe even second option, too—especially seeing how anemic the Bulls offense has looked in the first two games.

“With the team that we have and the system that (Fred Hoiberg) put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” LaVine said. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score sometimes, but I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

Never lacking for confidence, LaVine hasn’t been deterred by the losing or even the unfortunate Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident from last week.

“We’re building something here. People understand we’re going through a little bit of that process,” LaVine said. “But we’re going to play and win. When I’m on the court, I’m trying to win. Wins and losses do happen. We can always take positives from both of those. That’s how you grow.”

As for Mirotic, LaVine hasn’t spoken to him but has sent texts—as it seems many of the Bulls have reached out to their teammate over the last several days.

“It was unfortunate. That’s what happens when two players are battling I guess,” LaVine said. “I don’t think either of them were in the wrong. It was just something that happened, an altercation. Men are men sometimes. We never should have that happen. But I think we’ve moved past it. Bobby’s in a good spot. We’ve all tried to contact Niko. I think we’ll all be able to move forward.”