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Rose, Bulls own second half in statement win

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Rose, Bulls own second half in statement win

Friday, March 11, 2011Posted: 9:25 PM Updated 10:50 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Its said that revenge is a dish best served cold and the Bulls served the visiting Hawks with a not-so-delectable treat Friday evening at the United Center, following a disappointing collapse in Atlanta last week.

Led by league MVP favorite Derrick Roses 34-point night, Luol Dengs co-starring effort while dinged up and a stifling defensive performance, Chicago (46-18) clipped Atlantas (37-28) wings, 94-76.

Tonight, they were just giving it to me, said Rose, who scored 18 of his points in the pivotal third quarter, afterwards. I always say Ive got to learn how to get fouled and me going to the hole just attacking, putting pressure on them made them decide whether to jump or just let me have a layup.

Chimed in Deng: Its fun playing with Derrick and were all glad hes on our side. When he gets it going, its tough to stop and it makes it easier for all of us out there.

The game began in a low-scoring affair as both teams got off to an abysmal start shooting the ball mostly due to Atlantas poor shot selection and Chicago simply struggling to find the mark.

Deng was a game-time decision because of a bruised left thigh suffered Wednesday in Charlotte and looked no worse for the wear with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, carrying the home teams offensive load.

Aging veteran Kurt Thomas (four points, 13 rebounds) made contributions on both ends after earning the starting nod with Carlos Boozer sidelined due to a sprained left ankle.

With Boozer out, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau tinkered with the rotation and rested both Rose (34 points, five assists, six rebounds) and Joakim Noah early, in addition to fellow starter Keith Bogans, who was typically replaced midway through the first period.

Dengs efforts and a stout team defensive effort offset a strong start by former Bulls fan favorite Kirk Hinrich (11 points) in his first game back in the United Center since being traded to the Hawks and Chicago held a 22-20 advantage after the first quarter.

As a leader, he stepped up. Thats what hes supposed to do. It shows what kind of player he is, what kind of teammate he is, said Rose of Deng, his fellow captain. He gave us all hes got.

One of the early substitutes, C.J. Watson, made his presence felt early in the second period, providing energy, instant offense, underrated playmaking and building upon his solid body of work the entire second half of the season as Roses understudy.

Rookie Omer Asik, who has been drawing more and more fan support, joined in the fun with a pair of monster two-handed slams, as if to further display the emergence of the entire Bulls bench. Still, the Hawks remained resilient and with instant offense from sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford (another former Bulls player) combined with forward Josh Smiths (15 points) interior efforts and Hinrichs timely scoring, the visitors erased Chicagos slim cushion and tied the contest midway through the quarter.

Upon the return of Rose and Noah (11 rebounds), the excitement quotient definitely went up. Roses swashbuckling penetration is always a crowd-pleaser, while Noah diving for a loose ball near the Bulls bench, with his body horizontal to the court, also garnered the approval of the United Center audience, but the Hawks kept it a tight-knit affair.

Despite a late scoring burst from Rose, the Bulls trailed 50-48 at the intermission, following a deep jumper by All-Star swingman Joe Johnson (16 points) before the halftime buzzer.

Chicago nursed a slight edge to begin the third quarter with Roses offensive assertiveness the catalyst and continued tough team defense supporting the All-Stars scoring efforts. Atlanta hit a major scoring drought, only scoring two points in the halfs first seven minutes, enabling the Bulls lead to balloon to double digits, with Roses determined drives and acrobatic finishes a constant.

My shot wasnt falling. I was just trying to get to the line, Rose explained. They were going over the screen and it left me with the big, one-on-one and I was trying to make their bigs into shot-blockers.

Rose had previously struggled to get to the free-throw line earlier in the season, but made up for an off night shooting from the field with his ability to draw fouls and manufacture points from the charity stripe while eventually finding his touch from the field.

With Deng as his offensive sidekick, Thomas and Noahs co-ownership of the backboards and energy off the bench from Gibson, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with a 72-60 advantage.

We just tightened things up, said Rose. All things were cooking for us in the second half on the defensive side.

Added Deng: Our bigs were amazing. Our bigs were great. Last time we played down there, they kind of bullied us around, they got their way.

Kurt Thomas was great on Al Horford, who had his way with us the last time, continued Deng, who said his thigh was a little tight after the game. The team, defensively, in the second half was great.

A typical push by the Bulls' reserves allowed the home team to extend the squads lead, as Dengs usual go-to guy presence with the second unit sparked the collective effort. The visitors tried to mount comeback attempts, but Chicago continued to deny them easy opportunities and in Thibodeau-speak, finished the defense, with defensive rebounding and any chance for sustained progress by Atlanta was futile at the periods midway point.

While the home fans requests for veteran reserve Brian Scalabrine may have been a bit premature, the tenor of the contest was such that it was understandable why the Chicago loyalists believed the game was in the bag, even if Thibodeau wasnt absolutely positive yet. Chipping into the deficit started to seem impossible for the Hawks, as their harried shots were more often than not off the mark and after a late scoring flurry by Rose, the gap widened even further.

Thibodeau eventually acknowledged victory and inserted newly-acquired swingman Rasual Butler, who knocked down a three-pointer off a Rose assist before the Chicago native exited the game. Also, the crowds wish was granted, as Scalabrine not only checked in, but hit a deep jumper, much to the delight of the entire United Center.

Afterwards, the Bulls were nonplussed when asked about gaining ground on the Celtics Boston lost to Philadelphia Friday night, putting Chicago within a half-game of the Eastern Conference leaders for the top spot in the East.

Bostons Boston. All those teams Miami, Boston theyre going to do what they do, said Deng. Were really focused on us.

Concurred Rose: If us winning games put us in the number-one spot, thats great. If not, were still trying to play hard.

Rose took it a step further, stating that the teams focus wouldnt be swayed by even Saturday nights celebration of the 20th anniversary of the franchises first title, an event that will bring Bulls legends like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant the latter pair was courtside for the evenings win back to the United Center.

I know tomorrows going to be a big celebration, but whats the celebration if we lose? Were not trying to do that, stated Rose. Were trying to focus on winning. The celebration is great, I hope that Im able to do that one day, but were just trying to focus on Utah.

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 visit Raptors in season opener

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Raptors in season opener

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Bulls' season opener against the Toronto Raptors tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. Pace and Space

The Bulls offense had a distinctly different feel to it this preseason than in years past. Yes, the lack of Jimmy Butler certainly had something to do with that. But it’s evident that Fred Hoiberg is getting closer to coaching the brand of basketball he’s most comfortable with. The proof is primarily in the 3-point shooting. To put it lightly, the Bulls have been chucking from deep.

Here are some of the raw numbers. The Bulls averaged 32.8 3-pointers per game in the preseason, which ranked fifth in the NBA. And it wasn’t just one or two players taking outside looks. The Bulls had seven players attempt 3.4 triples or more per game. They ranged from point guard (Grant) to shooting guard (Valentine) to small forward (Zipser and Holiday) to power forward (Mirotic, Portis and Markkanen). These long-distance shots are coming from all over.

That could be a reason that the Bulls’ pace was way up from last year’s regular season. Now, pace (how many possessions a team averages per game) doesn’t necessarily mean a team is running fast breaks and hoisting shots at the earliest opportunity. But what it does mean for the Bulls is they’re getting quick open looks from beyond the arc. Their pace in the preseason ranked 12th in the NBA, but at 105.2 possessions it was much quicker than a year ago (97.72). It’s still preseason, so all paces are up around the league, but you can tell this Bulls offense looks different.

2. The Holiday Season

You’ll probably be sick of “holiday” puns by the end of the month, but it’s Opening Night so let us slide by just this time. There was optimism when the Bulls signed Justin Holiday that the 28-year-old could be a rotation player and a fill-in while Zach LaVine recovered from ACL surgery. Never an efficient offensive player, the Knicks were much better defensively with him on the floor last season, and on a Bulls team losing Butler there was a need for a wing defender.

And if the preseason proved anything it’s that Holiday is going to be more than a rotation player. That’s not saying all that much on a Bulls roster void of premier talent, but Holiday is likely the Bulls’ best healthy player at this point. He was stellar in the preseason, averaging 17.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He shot 57 percent from beyond the arc and averaged a team-high 29.3 minutes. Holiday simply looked the part.

Expect Holiday to lead the Bulls in field goal attempts most nights, and expect him to defend the opposition’s best player (DeMar DeRozan tonight). Again, this isn’t to say he’s necessarily a building block for the future or is going to make fans forget about Jimmy G. Buckets. But it’s nice to know the Bulls seemed to have hit on a free agent this offseason. Holiday enters the regular season with plenty of confidence.

3. Looking for progress

Unless he explodes in a good way, it’ll be too early to tell this year whether Lauri Markkanen is a piece of the future. He’s 20 years old and needs to put on muscle and learn the NBA before we decide what he’ll be. The same can’t be said for the other Bulls’ first-round picks.

Valentine is just in his second season, but he’ll also be 24 years old in less than a month. Drafting a college senior in the first round means he needs to be ready to play right away. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Valentine had an up-and-down preseason: He made 46.2 percent of his 3-pointers, but he only took 16 2-pointers in 112 minutes, showing a lack of diversity to his game. The speed just isn’t there. Perhaps Kris Dunn’s injury will allow him to facilitate some. Defensively, he still needs to show improvement. This will be a big year for the second-year guard. Now is his time to show he can be part of the rebuild.

Lastly, Jerian Grant wasn’t a Bulls first-round pick but when you deal Derrick Rose (albeit the non-MVP version) you need to have something to show for it. Grant looked the part in preseason and probably would have won the job over Dunn even if Dunn didn’t dislocate his finger. But Grant, as a combo guard, could be part of the team’s future as a reserve that gives Hoiberg options in the backcourt going forward. He was good in the preseason and will get his chance to shine in a starting role. What he does with it will be something to watch for, and he gets a big test tonight against Kyle Lowry.

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.