Bulls

Rose lets his game do the talking in return to lineup

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Rose lets his game do the talking in return to lineup

Although Derrick Rose didnt address the media after Monday afternoons Bulls win over the Hawks he reportedly received treatment for his ailing back, then left the United Center his teammates had plenty to say about the reigning league MVPs return to the lineup after a five-game hiatus.

While Roses stat line of 23 points, six assists and five rebounds speaks for itself, the subtleties his presence brings to the table for the Bulls transformed the team from simply a blue-collar group reliant on only defense to win games to a squad with a game-changing player ready to be unleashed if needed.

Having Pooh back, it just opens up everything. He was very aggressive and when hes aggressive like that, it opens up everything for everybody and gives us a lot of confidence, observed Joakim Noah.

Were not going anywhere without that guy. Every game is different. Sometimes theyre going to blitz and trap Derrick. Our game plan changes when they do that. Derricks a great passer. He does a lot of things great, so some games, hes going to attack the rim. Hes going to take whatever the defense gives him and not force the issue or anything like that, so overall, I think having him playing is huge for us.

Carlos Boozer noted that Roses impact on the contest started from early in the opening period, after the Bulls started slowly, and extended through the waning moments of the affair.

Thibs called a great 20-second timeout and Pooh just picked the pace up for all of us. Next thing you know, it was drive to the bucket, and-one, free throws, jump shot. It was awesome to watch, said the power forward. He did the same thing in second half. Came out, was super-aggressive and his scoring ability got everybody in the right spots. His poise down the stretch gave us a great calm out there.

Reserve point guard John Lucas III who played major minutes alongside the superstar in crunch time Monday, but will most likely feel the impact of Roses return the most when backup point guard C.J. Watson comes back to the lineup spoke about how he knew in advance that Rose would be up to speed in his first game back.

Oh, its always good to have our whole team get healthy. Now, we just need to get Rip and well be full strength, but our whole thing is, when Derrick came back, we knew he was going to be ready. We kept telling him, Dont rush. Take your time. We got this. Well hold it down. Take your time because were going to need you in the long run. Right now, just get healthy, because weve got the second half of the season coming up after All-Star break, the diminutive scorer explained. When Derrick steps on that court, hes never tentative. This is what he does, this is what he loves. Even in practice the other day, when we were playing, I didnt want to hit him or bump him, but he was like, No, this isnt how its going to be in the game, so we went all-out. And I was like, Oh, youre ready. Youre going full speed, game speed. Go out there and do what youve got to do.

Thats the one thing thats good about our team. Everybody knows their role. Derrick comes back, that means minutes are going to be cut short for me, C.J., all of us, but were not complaining because we want to win. Thats the biggest thing, winning on this team and were happy that hes back and hes getting healthy. You all just saw a glimpse you all obviously know what he can do full strength but for him missing as many games as he did, it looked like he didnt miss any.

Luol Deng, the Bulls other All-Star, discussed how with Rose back, hes able to shoulder less of a burden as a playmaker and can get back to his traditional role on the team.

Its so much easier, man, with him being back, especially defensively. I really lock in defensively. I know offensively hes going to create for everyone and get everyone shots, he said. Its great. Having him back, I dont have to focus so much on creating and everything else. On offense, just get back to our regular roles, what makes us a great team. Defensively, focusing on hustle plays, rebounding and offensively, some nights theres going to be a lot of scoring from me. Some nights theres not, but thats the role and thats the way we play.

Its good to have Derrick back. Hopefully after the break, Rip will be back. Weve got one more game, Milwaukee, and hopefully from there on out, everyone will be back on the squad, Deng continued. He played well. Hes going to get more comfortable as he plays more, but its really great to have him back and we cant wait to get Rip back also.

Speaking of Hamilton, who Deng and Lucas seemed to be openly pining for, sources tell CSNChicago.com that hell likely return after the All-Star break, either in the Bulls Feb. 28th home game against the Hornets or on their subsequent three-game road trip.

There is also the slim possibility that the veteran shooting guard plays Wednesday against Milwaukee, as hes been increasing his activity level as of late while he recovers from his right thigh and groin injuries, in addition to mourning the passing of his grandmother.

But first things first, lets get back to Rose, who didnt look rusty in the least, though he obviously can raise his game to another level once hes back in the groove. Still, not bad for the first game hes played as Boozer said, Youve just got to keep watching him play, but he was pretty damn good today" when he hasnt looked hobbled since early this month.

His explosion was there. His drives were there," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "Conditioning-wise, hes not where he normally is. But thats to be expected. Overall, Im very pleased. He said he felt real good out there. The big thing was making sure he was 100 percent and pain-free. Then he had to be cleared medically. Then he had to feel very good about playing. We went step-by-step with him. He did his rehab. Then we did non-contact stuff. He didnt have problems with that. Then we went to contact and he didnt have problems with that. Who were playing didnt have anything to do with it. He felt he was 100 percent and could go. Well just go from here. He said he felt well out there.

You dont want him to change who he is. Thats the nature of the game. Guys are going to be aggressive and attack. Youre always concerned about health. But a guy could get hurt in practice or shootaround. Thats part of the game. Hes done a good job with his rehab. Our trainers have done a great job with him. We felt comfortable. As long as hes pain-free and feels 100 percent, we felt good with him playing. He met all the criteria that we were looking for him to meet before he played again. So were good with it.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”