Bulls

Rose's return fit for a King, gives Bulls winning trip

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Rose's return fit for a King, gives Bulls winning trip

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010
Updated 2:25 AM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Through the middle of the third quarter, it seemed as if the Bulls' positives strides on their current seven-game road trip were all for naught.

Then, the determination witnessed on the treacherous stretch kicked in, and buoyed by the return of Derrick Rose to the lineup, Chicago (9-6) utilized a sustained fourth-quarter run to get out of town with a 96-85 victory over the Kings (4-11).

Rose (30 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) returned to the lineup and picked off where he left off, making the game's first basket, as well as his next four shots.

"When I saw him walking around, he looked a lot better today. When I saw him walking around, he said he felt a lot better," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau about his star point guard, who was a game-time decision after sitting out Friday's buzzer-beater loss to Denver with a sore neck. "After he warmed up, I asked him again. He said he felt great, so I wasn't really concerned about it."

"I thought we were tired. Derrick really helped us a lot -- he had fresh legs -- he helped us a lot in the first half," added teammate Luol Deng. "I think Derrick is the best point guard in the league right now, as long as he just keeps playing like this. He carries us a lot and he's making a lot of us better."

Against the lowly Kings, it seemed as if the Bulls -- injury-riddled or not -- could cruise to an easy victory to close out their arduous road trip. However, Sacramento point guard Tyreke Evans (17 points, nine assists, six rebounds) -- Rose's fellow Rookie of the Year and successor at the University of Memphis -- had different ideas, matching his counterpart's effort with his own personal scoring binge to give the home team a slim winning margin.

Evans' smooth drives to the basket and transition scoring ability got a young Sacramento squad going, giving the sparse Arco Arena crowd something to cheer about. With momentum clearly working against them, Chicago trailed, 28-21, after a quarter of action, mostly by virtue of the Kings' aggressive play and inadequate Bulls defense.

Reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer (eight points, 10 rebounds, three assists) keyed a Bulls' second-quarter push with his aggressiveness and playmaking, capably aided by Joakim Noah's (17 points, eight rebounds, five assists) always-energetic interior play.

"I think he's in really good shape right now and the first half, he was the only one really on the board," Thibodeau said of Brewer. "They were knocking a lot of balls out of our hands and some stuff like that, but Ronnie, he was rebounding in traffic and his energy was real good. I wanted to get him quickly in the second half to get that energy back in the game.

"We have a number of players who have started a number of games in this league, so you know if you're down a guy or a guy gets into foul trouble, that whoever is going in is capable of playing well and I think it's been proven throughout the year so far."

Sloppy turnovers, however, led to the Kings countering their guests with easy fast-break opportunities, resulting in the home team maintaining their slight cushion and even extending it, despite Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau reinserting his regulars.

Behind the likes of frontcourt youngsters Jason Thompson (18 points, nine rebounds), Donte Greene (13 points, seven rebounds) and Omri Casspi -- as well as Evans in the backcourt and veteran center Samuel Dalembert (12 points, six rebounds) -- the Kings simply outworked Chicago, leading to a the visitors facing a 57-44 halftime disadvantage.

After intermission, the Bulls attempted to chip away at the double-digit deficit, but Sacramento's persistent energy and ability to get high-percentage looks made that task nearly impossible. In the midst of trying to build an identity as a defensive-oriented team, Chicago appeared to be taking a step back in that department, possibly due to tired legs from the long road swing.

In their typical fashion, the Bulls would make an inevitable run, using a quicker lineup and an increased tempo to decrease the gap against their inferior opponents, although Thompson and Dalembert, in particular, continued to play well for the Kings. The opportunistic Bulls, seemingly over the lethargy that plagued them through the first half, trailed, 76-69, after three quarters.

Chicago's charge resumed at the start of the final stanza, with Deng (22 points, nine rebounds, four assists) leading the way offensively and a much-improved defensive effort (the Bulls forced multiple 24-second violations) leaving Sacramento stymied.

An emphatic Noah dunk off a nifty spinning post move -- part of 7-0 run to start the quarter -- tied the game, and the atmosphere in the arena was noticeably different.

"In the first half, it was hard to really judge anything we were doing defensively because the intensity wasn't there and our technique wasn't there. In the second half, once the intensity picked up and the technique picked up, it was better," said Thibodeau. "I didn't think our pressure was good enough in the first half -- in the second half, our pressure was much better and Derrick was tremendous. I thought Ronnie Brewer played with great energy. I thought that was a big lift and then Luol got going a little bit in the second half."

The Bulls' lead was short-lived, as the Kings refused to relent, perhaps smelling a rare victory on the young season was in their grasp. The game developed into a chippy, tightly-knit affair with hard fouls galore on both ends of the court.

More experienced in those situations, the Bulls began coming up with a knack for making the majority of the contest's pivotal plays -- grabbing loose balls, taking charges, hitting free throws -- down the stretch, with usual suspects Rose and Noah contributing heavily.

Rose's razor-sharp ballhandling allowed him to get into the lane and score with ease, while Noah's grit, defensive presence and finishing ability made an equally significant impact.

"Noah's never gassed. He played tough. He played a lot of minutes and the breakaway -- normally, that's a dunk -- but I thought his defense in the second half was tremendous," Thibodeau remarked about the charismatic center. "Multiple effort -- he was everywhere, he's challenging at the rim, he made it hard and -- that's what we need from him every night."

Brewer's first-half success carried over, as the offseason acquisition showed an increased comfort level in creating opportunities for himself and others, and Deng's timely scoring only helped the Bulls widen the gap between themselves and the young Kings.

The tables had turned, and what had been a nip-and-tuck battle turned into a comfortable Bulls lead going away as Sacramento derailed down the stretch to go 4-3 on the circus trip -- the first winning record on the annual road swing since the 1997-98 season, the last year of the Bulls championship dynasty.

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.

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.