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.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.