Bulls

Memphis Massacre: Bulls top Grizzlies by 40

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Memphis Massacre: Bulls top Grizzlies by 40

Updated: Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012 at 11:05 p.m.

Tom Thibodeau must have taken notes from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick while he was a Celtics assistant coach. The Bulls head coach declined to disclose the fact that a starter would be held out of the lineup during his pregame media availability.

But it wouldnt matter Sunday night, as the Bulls (4-1) beat the Grizzlies (1-3) in a laugher, 104-64, at the United Center. Although visiting Memphis was also short-handed, the home teams focus and defensive intensity were impressive in the rout.

I liked the way we approached the game. I thought we were good on defense and good on offense, so it was a step in the right direction, said Thibodeau. We had a lot of things go our way tonight.

The newest Bull, Rip Hamilton, sat out of the contest, due to a groin strain, which meant the inclusion of swingman Ronnie Brewer (17 points, seven rebounds, five assists) in the starting lineup. For some teams, that could be an issue, but Brewer, who has been playing well from his usual reserve role as of late, stepped up in the opening period by attacking the basket and knocking down his improving outside jumper.

You need everybody, Thibodeau explained. Our bench has played very, very effectively in short minutes.

Ronnie stepped in and hes played great all preseason, played well in the regular season, so it was good for him to get extra minutes, he continued. Hes playing with a lot of confidence and he has right from the start of training camp. I think he just picked up where he left off. At the end of last year, he was playing really well, so I think hes gotten his confidence back and we need him.

With two defensive-minded squads facing off, the early-game shooting percentages were predictably ugly, but the home team, boasting the drive-and-kick abilities of Derrick Rose (16 points, six assists) and the all-around efforts of Luol Deng (11 points, seven rebounds), obtained a bit of breathing room. Chicago continued plugging away and with stout defense leading the way, acquired a 25-12 advantage after the opening period.

The low-scoring affair followed the same pattern in the second quarter, with the Bulls gradually extending their winning margin, as the Grizzlies were forced to play without the services of Zach Randolph, the teams go-to scorer.

Deng and fellow forwards Carlos Boozer (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Taj Gibson were productive against the scrappy visitors, who utilized the likes of second-round draft pick Josh Selby, new acquisitions Quincy Pondexter and Dante Cunningham and free-agent pickups Josh Davis and Jeremy Pargo, the latter of whom started at point guard in place of the injured Mike Conley.

Memphis is a tough team, said Thibodeau. We caught a break with Randolph getting hurt and of course, Conley being out.

Boozer took advantage of Randolphs absence to hit mid-range jumpers, attack the glass and even wreak havoc on the interior with his feathery touch on post moves, reaching a double-double by halftime. Along with stifling defense that held the visitors to 26.8 percent shooting from the field, Roses floor leadership also played a big part in the Bulls taking a seemingly insurmountable lead, 54-28 into the break.

Carlos was big, said Thibodeau. He was really, really good. Ran the floor, played defense, rebounded the ball, scored. He played really, really well.

Chimed in his longtime teammate -- with the Utah Jazz before joining the Bulls -- Brewer: He was really aggressive. I think he set the tone. We were going to be aggressive offensively and we were going to be aggressive defensively. He was making shots, he was rebounding and he was playing like the old Booz that I know.

Things didnt get any better for the visitors after the intermission, as Rose looked to be more assertive as a scorer and other than center Marc Gasol (eight points, 10 rebounds), the Grizzlies couldnt muster up much offense against their hosts. Chicago continued its recent trend of pushing the pace and implanting its transition game, leading to easy baskets off Memphis turnovers.

Derrick, he gives you whatever the team needs. He got us off to a really good start with his defense, pushing the ball up the floor and when hes pushing the ball like that, it gets everyone moving, and we needed that energy. His line doesnt really reflect how well he played, said Thibodeau, always conscious of how hes pacing his team. The thing is, right now were just concerned with improving every day. The minutes part of it Derricks in great shape; he can handle the big minutes. Luols in great shape; he can handle big minutes. The thing I did like is we needed our bench guys to get more minutes. Theyve earned more minutes, but its hard to give it to them.

Joakim Noah (eight points, seven rebounds), was also a valuable contributor, doing everything from hitting his patented Tornado jumper to making plays for his teammates with his playmaking ability, and of course, crashing the boards.

The Grizzlies hole got deeper and deeper as time went on, and an improbable third quarter highlighted by the play of backup center Omer Asik (eight points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots) concluded with the Bulls up by 40 points, 84-44.

It helps my game improve, especially offensively. Those type of games help me a lot, Asik told CSNChicago.com. I try to play more aggressive on offense.

Concurred Thibodeau: Omer was very good and Omers starting to react to the ball again, his rebounding was terrific, clogging up the lane.

The final stanza began on a negative note, as reserve point guard C.J. Watson injured his left elbow diving for a loose ball early in the period, prompting Thibodeau to insert third-stringer John Lucas III. Still, Memphis woeful offensive showing meant that, for all intents and purposes, the game was long over the crowd in an oddly subdued United Center began chanting for Thibodeau to substitute fan favorite Brian Scalabrine into the contest but Lucas didnt make any assumptions, as he poured in eight points almost immediately, matching the point total of any Grizzlies player at the time.

When you have an injury, the next guys got to step in. thats why you have them, said Thibodeau about the point guard, whose father he once worked under as an assistant coach. John has filled that role before.

Bulls fans got their wish, as Scalabrine entered the contest, and rookie Jimmy Butler scored his first two regular-season NBA points. In fact, by the end of the game, the only mysteries were whether Scalabrine would score (he wouldnt), Lucas would reach double figures (he didnt) and if any Grizzlies would reach double figures (reserve swingman Sam Young finished with 10 points) in the blowout victory.

I think every game is important. You dont want to start the season at home with a bad taste in your mouth, especially with the shortened season and how many games are coming up in a short amount of time, so we wanted to get this first win. We knew that they were a good team, said Brewer, who briefly played for the Grizzlies after the Jazz sent him to Utah in a midseason trade the season before the Bulls signed him as a free agent.

We knew we couldnt take them lightly and we had to play them tough, so thats what we did, Brewer concluded.

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

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AP

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

The mending hasn’t yet begun for the Bulls, but perhaps a good sign in moving forward from the Bobby Portis punch that delivered a concussion and broken facial bones to Nikola Mirotic is that it isn’t being ignored.

Fred Hoiberg is being tight-lipped about where matters stand, but he did at least say Portis returned to practice and apologized to the team Friday afternoon. Hoiberg wouldn’t reveal the contents of Portis’ apology and Portis didn’t address the media, but it’s clear things aren’t business-as-usual at the Advocate Center.

“Bobby was back at practice. It was good to have him back in here,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, everybody’s looking forward to having Niko back in here, as well, hopefully soon.”

When asked about Portis’ spirit, Hoiberg deflected and preferred to talk about what adjustments the team will have to make in the immediate future, especially with rookie Lauri Markkanen having to go against Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the home opener Saturday night.

“That’s the biggest thing we have to do as far as preparing until we get our guys back, is throwing different lineups out there and hopefully getting better with our execution,” Hoiberg said.

Justin Holiday admitted that things aren’t normal, saying the actual games to start the season won’t serve as a welcome distraction because this isn’t something that can just be treated trivially.

He wouldn’t venture into getting into his teammates’ head, saying “Bobby came into today like Bobby. We’re not quite sure what he’s thinking mentally. We can’t assume that.”

But one thing that can’t be assumed is a sweeping under or pretending.

“I mean I don’t necessarily think this is a situation for us to get past,” Holiday said. “I think it’s a situation that obviously (needs) to be brought to the forefront. It’s a situation that needs to be taken care of for those two to be able to come together and be brothers again. I don’t think we’re trying to get past it.”

Holiday has been a leader during this early time, so his words and definitive tone were noticeable.

“They say sometimes you need time to heal,” Holiday said. “Again, we have to think about both situations in this. One guy is trying to get back healthy. And again, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish we could just fix this the right way, but that’s not the case.”

It’s complicated all around, with no real precedent.

For Hoiberg, his handling has two faces. Since Portis is able to practice but has to sit out seven more games on a team-mandated suspension, he has to walk the line of incorporating Portis in daily drills and activities but also has to prepare a team that wasn’t prepared for two power forwards being out for an extended period.

That was on display Thursday as Quincy Pondexter likely played that position for the first time in his career, and it’s highly unlikely Paul Zipser practiced there at all with the depth the Bulls had until now.

“We have to get our guys ready to play positions that they haven’t played,” Hoiberg said. “We’re getting them in here early. We’re getting a group in to work on our execution. Quincy not only hasn’t played in two and a half years but I don’t know if he has ever played the 4.

“You just have to do the best with what you have.”

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

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USA TODAY

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

Quincy Pondexter’s trade to Chicago makes him a newcomer. His birth certificate makes him a veteran. But it’s his story that makes him worth listening to.

Even in the eye of team chaos, Pondexter’s debut with the Bulls had such a special meaning that when he entered the game to start the second quarter, he thought he would come to tears.

Having been out of basketball the last two years after knee surgeries went bad, Pondexter came close to dying in a New York hospital in January when his organs began to fail after a MRSA infection.

Catching MRSA can often lead to death.

“It wasn’t looking good,” Pondexter said. “It was tough. I prayed. My family was there close to me. Being able to play basketball again in less than a year is crazy. It’s all God. This journey has been amazing.”

His journey took him from being in New Orleans, where his knee troubles started, to being an addition to the Bulls in a trade months ago when the Bulls picked up cash and a second-round pick from the Pelicans.

Pondexter joined high school teammate and close friend Robin Lopez on a team needing some leadership, and due to the punch Bobby Portis threw to Nikola Mirotic Tuesday afternoon, it put Pondexter in position to get on the floor as a backup power forward behind rookie Lauri Markkanen.

If the Bulls were smart, they’d probably put Pondexter in a room to talk to his teammates about his struggles, especially the two teammates who may have to share the same floor in several weeks.

“The competitive nature of our team has been really terrific and we wouldn't want to trade that for anything,” Pondexter said. “It hurts those two guys aren't here right now. But we love them and we love what they brought to this team.

“I think my age on my ID solidifies me as one of the veterans. When you do things the right way, that's what it means to be a veteran. Show up first, last one there. That's what it means to be a veteran. Establishing myself there and doing things that are right, the guys have followed and listened and embraced me and I love it.”

No word on whether Pondexter got teary-eyed when he got a breakaway steal and dunk for his first points since the 2015 playoffs, when the Pelicans were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Warriors.

“I know I’m going to get emotional on the court later on and probably tear up,” Pondexter said after the morning shootaround. “I told Robin that a thousand times. People don’t know what you’ve been through. There are a lot of times they’re not there besides your close family and friends. I appreciate them carrying me through this whole process.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg can relate to Pondexter, with Hoiberg’s heart ailment cutting his career short. When the Bulls coach speaks about the frailty of the game and how precious things are in the NBA, Pondexter is living, breathing proof.

“I’m really really happy for Quincy. For a time there, his life was in danger with his infection. I know he’s really excited to get his career going again,” Hoiberg said. “I never got that opportunity to get back out there. I tell these guys to cherish it ever day. You never know when it can end. All of a sudden. For Quincy to get this chance, it’s awesome.”

Pondexter, with the straightest of faces, called basketball his “obsession” and he felt happy to get back on the floor, if even for a few minutes.

“I love it to death. It’s my life,” Pondexter said. “Basketball is what got me through it---my family and basketball. It was like, ‘How can I make this story even better? Do I quit?’ No. I watched so many inspirational movies, 'Hacksaw Ridge.' They get you through tough times because you say, ‘That’s going to be me.’ I’m going to be able to inspire someone down the road. That’s really helped me.”

A hamstring injury slowed Pondexter in training camp, which would explain his lack of explosive lift in the season opener.

No one was really sure if the Bulls would hold onto him for the season, but it’s clear he holds value beyond the box score. When he finished his media session, Lopez turned to Pondexter and said, “Now you’re stuck with me”, putting his arm around his teammate.

“Being able to play after two and a half years, it feels like hundreds of surgeries, getting traded to this organization. It's been a lot,” Pondexter said. “I wouldn't trade any of that for this moment right now and how I feel in my heart. I can't wait to get on this floor and play with my teammates and try to do something special. The journey is worth it.”