Bulls

Rose's return powers Bulls to victory

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Rose's return powers Bulls to victory

One player cant win a game alone, but if that one player is Derrick Rose, he certainly makes a big difference.

Roses return to the court Monday afternoon was a successful one, as the Bulls (26-8) bounced back from a lackluster outing Saturday and held off the Hawks (19-13), 90-79, at the United Center.

We just couldnt wait to play, said Carlos Boozer. Weve still got a long way to go, but we played much better than we did the other day.

Atlanta jumped out to a quick start, as All-Star snub Josh Smith (17 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) and shooting guard Willie Green got it going early, but after a quick timeout to regain focus, Tom Thibodeaus defense got back to its smothering ways.

The first few minutes, we didnt start off well and in the timeout, we kind of spoke about our defense a little bit, Luol Deng revealed. Once we played defense, we really got a lot of easy baskets.

After missing five consecutive games due to lower back spasms, Rose (23 points, six assists, five rebounds) wasted no time showing that he was the same as ever, knocking down two early triples and displaying his typically fearless nature on swashbuckling drives to the rim.

His explosion was there. His drives were there. 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, Thibodeau observed. 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.

Added Boozer: 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. 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.

Ronnie Brewer (13 points, six rebounds), who has struggled as of late, was productive at the outset, while Deng (10 points, eight rebounds, four assists), back in the role of secondary scorer and ballhandler after shouldering more of the load during Roses absence, also made a quick impact on both ends and Joakim Noah (16 rebounds) pounded the glass, as is his custom.

An emphasis on transition offense made easier with Roses return, though when he exited the contest, veteran point guard Mike James picked up right where he left off, tough driving finishes and all and efficient halfcourt offense propelled the Bulls to a 35-17 at the conclusion of the opening period.

James continued his solid play early in the second quarter, playing aggressively on the offensive end, though he had his hands full on defense with Chicago native and erstwhile Bull Jannero Pargo (19 points, five rebounds).

Still, the hosts maintained their double-digit edge over the Hawks by virtue of stout defense and dominant rebounding, most of which Noah was responsible for, as well as contributions from a variety of sources.

I thought his energy was good. He played extended minutes, made great effort. His defense was good. They were small at times, so that puts pressure on you. He made multiple efforts on several plays. That was encouraging, Thibodeau said of his center. Id like to see his offense come back around, get some easy baskets and I think he can do that.

Boozer chimed in: Jo was a monster tonight. Hes been a monster every night, really.

You saw how aggressive Jo was. He was awesome today.

Taj Gibson came off the bench to give the Bulls his usual boost of energy on the interior, while Deng Thibodeaus ironman didnt leave the court in the first half displayed his versatile all-around game, blanketing Hawks All-Star swingman Joe Johnson (12 points), helping out on the glass and distributing the ball.

Upon his return, Rose continued to dominate as a scorer, due to his familiar explosiveness off the dribble and much-improved outside touch, aiding the Bulls in taking a 55-37 advantage into the intermission.

The home teams huge cushion remained stable after the break, as a steady diet of Rose scoring and playmaking, a persistent effort on the boards and Carlos Boozers (16 points, five rebounds) emergence, highlighted by accurate mid-range shooting, led the way.

Although Johnson began to find his rhythm for Atlanta, the visitors didnt get much from his supporting cast, something assuredly exacerbated by the Bulls stingy defense.

The lead continued to balloon as the third period waned on and perhaps the Bulls, going with a mix of regulars and reserves, got a bit too comfortable because Pargo got hot and aided the guests in cutting the deficit to single digits with his outside marksmanship. The Englewood native and Robeson High School product knocked down a trio of long bombs to trim the Hawks deficit to 73-64 through three quarters of play.

Theyve got guys who can score. Theyve got guys whove proven they can score in this league and they made their run. Weve got to do a better job of defending those guys, Deng said about the Hawks, referring to his former teammate, Pargo, in particular. He played great for them. We all know JP. He can really score.

Thibodeau echoed: You have to play tough with a lead, especially with the three-point shot. A guy like Pargo, if you let him loose in a minute, he can make three threes. I know you think all leads are safe. But in a minute, three 3s can erase a 10-point lead. Its funny, every time I see him I think about it, particularly when Im coaching against him. Ive seen Tracy McGrady (Thibodeau coached the former All-Star, now with the Hawks, in Houston) score 13 points in 35 seconds. That always sits in your mind. You can never relax against a good NBA player.

In striking distance heading into the final stanza, Atlanta continued to be on the Bulls heels, even after Thibodeau reinserted the likes of Rose and Deng into the contest, though he kept third-stringer John Lucas III (10 points) in the game, pairing him with the reigning league MVP to utilize their speed in the backcourt and allowing Rose to play off the ball at times.

I feel we have four really good point guards. When Derrick plays, hes going to gobble up most of those minutes. C.J. is the backup. John and Mike, depending in the matchup, said Thibodeau. John has played terrific for us all year. Hes got a lot of confidence, not afraid to take the big shot. Defensively, he knows what were trying to get done.

Noah concurred: Those guys have been huge for us, especially Mike. Mike he just comes inwe havent seen him in three weeks and he gives us everything. Hes been huge for us, so were happy to have him back.

Said Lucas: I just bring energy, man. I love the game of basketball, so I just come out there and play hard every possession. I just want to win. I hate losing, so whatever I can contribute for us to win, whether its defensively, offensively or even in there just to foul somebody so we can put them to the free-throw line, Im with it.

My role is just to take pressure off Derrick. When you have two PGs in there, if theyre trying to pick him up full court, he doesnt get as tired. Now, you have somebody else bringing the ball up and also, I think theres more pick-and-rolls out there for us. Nobodys holding the ball, you have two ballhandlers who can create for others and get to the paint.

Lucas was effective as an instant-offense scorer, but the adjustments made no difference to the Hawks in the grand scheme of things, as they kept the pressure on the Bulls, though the game didnt get closer than a two-possession affair through the quarters midway mark.

As the contest headed into its stretch run, timely buckets from Lucas, Deng and Boozer gave the Bulls some breathing room and Rose's foul-line jumper with just over two minutes remaining gave the hosts their first double-digit cushion of the final frame.

It was all academic in the end, as Atlanta ran out of steam Johnson had to leave the game due to a knee injury and couldnt challenge the home team.

Were not in rhythm right now. Its real choppy. Part of it is not having the repetitions youd like to clean that up, your timing, spacing and screening. We have to correct that, remarked Thibodeau. These guys have played well together at times. Would you prefer to have the same group? Yes. But were capable of doing a lot better and weve shown that. We have to be careful not to be taking shortcuts. We have to execute, make the extra pass and do it for 48 minutes.

Deng concluded: We think were better than we played, but its a long season and at the end of the day, its about winning these games. Its not about how you won them. We want to play better.

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.