Bulls

Sam: Bulls React to Game 3 Win Over Cavaliers

Sam: Bulls React to Game 3 Win Over Cavaliers

Friday, April 23, 2010
1:40 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Referring to Joakim Noah as Chicagos heart and soul is now an overused clich, but with his 10 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and immeasurable non-statistical impact tonight, the charismatic center proved his value, backing up his so-called disparaging remarks about the city of Cleveland with not only a tremendous individual outing (as was also the case in the Bulls Game 2 loss), but a victory in front of an appreciative United Center audience. Sometimes I say things and sometimes it gets a little blown out of proportion, but I dont want people to think that Im some kind of circus freak, said Noah in his postgame press conference. Im going out there and playing my heart and my soul out, giving it everything Ive got out there on the court. Just because I say things like, Cleveland sucks, doesnt mean Im not going out there on the court and giving it everything Ive got. Thats why I didnt talk to you guys the media, following Bulls practice on Wednesday.

Noah also noted that he cant wait to go back to Cleveland for Game 5 of the series on Tuesday, but while he acknowledged Cavaliers star LeBron James talent, he was hesitant to praise the likely MVP too much. Hes very good. I dont want to give him too much credit, we do have to play them again, but he is very good.

Derrick Rose shied away from any comparisons between himself and the aforementioned James, although he relished their matchup when James was switched onto him late in the contest. It surprised me a little bit, but it was fun out there, Ill tell you, said Rose in his postgame press conference, before delving into his strategy against James. Just get him off balance. My speed usually gets people off balance. Hes big, but hes got the same quickness as Ive got, so its kind of hard, but I think I took a layup on him, but the rest were jump shots. I was just trying to keep pressure on him so he could get exhausted on the other end. Rose scored 31 points and dished out seven assistsa frighteningly normal performance for the precocious budding superstarbut he was most proud of his zero-turnover outing. "Bulls assistant coach Randy Brown usually tells me that after every game. Hes more excited than I am about turnovers. Thats a big part of the game, especially in my game. I tend to turn the ball over a little bit, but Ive been working on it, observed Rose. Ive been making smarter decisions and delivering the ball where its supposed to be. Rose, who missed Wednesdays practice and subsequently lost his uncle later in the day, was dismissivein his typically humble fashionof Chicago fans chanting, M-V-P, when he was at the foul line tonight. Dont listen to them, man. Do not listen to them. I almost passed out, joked Rose. Hopefully one day, but not this year. Im just worried about winning games right now. Rose had another humorous comment about notably slow-footed teammate Brad Miller, saying, Brad Millerwe tell him to shoot the ball every timethe slowest guy in the NBA and he wants to drive.

In light of James monster numbersthe Cavaliers franchise player finished with 39 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks on the eveningLuol Dengs stout defensive effort against him will likely again go under appreciated, but not only did the Bulls small forward make his Cleveland counterpart and former high school summer rival work hard for everything he got on the offensive end, Deng had two key playsa gorgeous behind-the-back move that left James grasping air and a key late-game charge in the waning moments of the contestdirectly against James.

"As far as the charge, I kind of felt like he was going to go to the basket. At that time, he was driving a lot. If he pulled up for the jump shot, he probably would have had it. I just wanted to get in front of him, said Deng, who had 20 points in tonights affair. The refs took a while. I was on the floor and I was like, I hope this is not another and-one.I was really happy to see the refs point the other way. Describing his offensive move, Deng said, Honestly, its not something I had in mind. It just happenedit was just a reaction. I tried to drive middle and he jumped in front of me, took away the middle and I put it behind the back and went to the basket.

LeBron James individual effort was obviously fantastic, but the Cleveland star expressed some concern about his squads overall performance tonight. We came into the game a little bit too lax, I dont know why. Not a sense of urgency to start the game and allowed them to get in a real comfort zone, said James. We didnt have a lot of energy to start the game and as much as we crawled back in the second half, it didnt matter. James commented on the crucial aforementioned charge taken by Deng, a call he disagreed with. What did I see? I saw me and Luol, and I see him backpedaling. Me, as a driver, Im watching the defenders feet and Im seeing if hes stationary or hes still moving. To me, I see hes still backpedaling. As soon as I see him backpedaling, thats when I decided to take off. They called a charge. I havent seen a replay, but I know exactly what I saw on the court with the defender right in front of me.

James also discussed his late-game switch onto Rose, foreshadowing perhaps that matchup again later in the series. He does a lot of ball handling, so we dont want to put me on him for a long period of time. But in a game like this, where we had an opportunity to win and he was playing particularly well, I wanted to match up with, said James, who noted, I put myself on him. Tremendous player, great game by him. Great game by their team, but well see as the series goes on if I do move on to him a lot or if I dont.

With the lack of production by Cavaliers starting center Shaquille ONeal (who tailed off significantly from his Game 1 showing), James was questioned about Clevelands success with a smaller lineup. I think thats something were going to look at in the next couple days, James said. Weve been really, really good this year when weve played small. We become more athletic, we become faster.

It doesnt take away from our big lineup because we can also go big, he continued. Its a really effective lineup for us. About ONeal specifically, James said, Im not concerned about himwe need him to pick up his play and he knows that also. No matter who you areif youre the best player in the worldif you take an eight-week layoff, it definitely takes a toll on you. Were looking for him to try to be as productive as he can with that layoff, be a force on the interior and helps us win these games, and help us win Game 4 because thats the most important game.

Dont forget to follow me on Twitter @CSNBullsInsider.

--Aggrey Sam

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

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USA TODAY

Miscues, miscommunications and missed shots: Bulls offense struggling all around

Denzel Valentine corralled a rebound and casually dribbled up the right side of the floor, unaware of the final 5 seconds ticking off the clock in the third quarter. The second-year shooting guard moved toward the basket as the buzzer sounded, only realizing his gaffe as the red lights behind the backboard lit up. It was that kind of night for the Bulls offense, and one that highlighted carelessness, a lack of talent and obvious growing pains as the rebuild begins.

Fred Hoiberg’s group finished with more turnovers (20) than assists (18), shot 38 percent from the field and were doubled up on points in the paint in an ugly 87-77 loss to the Spurs on Saturday night. Adding to the issues were only nine free-throw attempts and 28 percent shooting from deep on a night where the Bulls played well enough defensively to earn a win.

But they couldn’t take advantage of a Spurs team playing without Kawhi Leonard. The ball stopped for long periods of time in the halfcourt, the fast break was non-existent and miscommunications were frequent, even when they didn’t result in one of those 20 turnovers.

“We had 20 turnovers that led to 23 points…that’s what kills you,” Hoiberg said. “A team goes on a run and they get easy ones, pick-sixes, you’re all of a sudden in a big hole. And obviously did not shoot the ball well today.”

The struggles came from across the board. Only Cris Felicio was turnover-less of the nine Bulls who played. The backcourt tandem of Jerian Grant and Justin Holiday combined for 11 of 32 shooting. Rookie Lauri Markkanen showed flashes with eight first-half points, but finished 5 of 14 and committed three ugly turnovers. Robin Lopez made the first 3-pointer of his career 630 games in, but a 29-year-old leading the way for a young rebuilding group could be deemed bittersweet at best.

It capped off a whirlwind first week for the Bulls, who dealt on the fly with the fallout of the altercation between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Losing Mirotic and Portis hurt from a talent standpoint, but it also threw a wrench into Hoiberg’s rotation and scheme. It thrust 20-year-old Markkanen into the starting lineup; Paul Zipser has shifted to playing more power forward (while also starting at small forward); Lopez is being asked to score more than ever, and at times be the primary option.

“With everything we’ve had going on the past week, with playing guys different positions that they haven’t played yet,” Hoiberg said, “we’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to go out there and play. We’re getting stuck at times because guys are in the wrong spots.”

The Bulls opened Saturday night with a solid first quarter, scoring 21 points, assisting on nine of 12 baskets and committing just three turnovers.

The final three quarters couldn’t have been more different. The second unit again struggled like it did in allowing the Raptors a 20-2 second-quarter run on Tuesday. Even without Leonard the Spurs’ defensive length cut off passing and driving lanes, forcing the Bulls to dribble down the shot clock and turn to isolation basketball or contested 3-pointers.

The Spurs couldn’t pull away thanks to an inspired defensive effort by the Bulls, but the offensive stalling rendered it moot; the Bulls took 28 3-pointers and 37 shots in the paint, an ugly ratio when considering the nine free-throw attempts. The bench shot 7-for-19, but most of that came in garbage time.

“One thing we definitely need to work on is attacking the basket,” Lopez said. “I think there are times where we all get a little jumper-happy on the perimeter. I think we need to have a good balance.

We need to be aware of that. We’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of room for error so any time we concede the ball like that, we don’t get up a shot attempt, tat’s going to really hurt us.”

Kris Dunn may be closer than expected to returning to the lineup after dislocating his finger in the preseason. It would give the Bulls help on that dismayed second unit, knocking Kay Felder (3 turnovers in 15 minutes) out of the rotation. Once Mirotic and Portis return in November, Hoiberg will have more flexibility with his rotations as well as some insurance if frontcourt foul trouble arrives.

None are go-to scorers, and not even Zach LaVine's 19.8 points per game last season will save the Bulls once he's healthy. Season-long struggles like Saturday night are on the way for a young team searching for pieces of the future. That's expected, and in the long term it benefits them as more Lottery balls roll toward Chicago.

But in a season in which success will be judged not on wins and losses but improvement from game-to-game, but the Bulls have set the bar low in the season's first week.