Bulls

Short-handed Bulls nab sole possession of first

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Short-handed Bulls nab sole possession of first

Tuesday, March 15, 2011Posted: 9:31 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

It wasnt their best effort, but against their lowly opponent, it didnt have to be, as the Bulls (48-18) trounced the visiting Wizards (16-50), 98-79, Tuesday night at the United Center.

Led by the surprising scoring of Keith Bogans, Chicago overcame the absences of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer to seize first place in the Eastern Conference by a half-game over Boston.

I dont think Ive been in this position before," Luol Deng said. "Were playing great basketball, but honestly, I just feel weve got to keep goingI dont think were going to go out and have a party, now that were No. 1 in the East. Were hungry and were going to keep going. We didnt even talk about it. Its not even our goal. Our goal is bigger than that. I really think that we feel weve got something great that we can accomplish and I think everyone is focused on putting everything into the team.

The Bulls found their offensive groove early, with Taj Gibson feasting on the interior of Washingtons zone defense for a pair of quick dunks. A three-point barrage followed, as Derrick Rose (23 points, seven assists), Deng (20 points, seven rebounds, four assists) and Bogans all knocked down triples, with forward Yi Jianlian providing most of the early offense for the visitors.

Chicago then emphasized the transition game and Rose feasted as a result, finishing layups through contact for traditional three-point plays. Although Wizards rookie guards John Wall (17 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists) and Jordan Crawford (27 points) excelled in that setting, the Bulls stingy halfcourt defense limited them when the pace slowed. Swingman Ronnie Brewer (nine points, five rebounds, four assists) came off the bench to make a variety of plays and after the opening period, the home team held a 31-19 advantage.

The comfortable double-digit lead the Bulls built was easily maintained in the second quarter, although Thibodeau tweaked his rotation a bitfan favorite Brian Scalabrine played in the first quarter, due to the aforementioned absences of Noah and Boozerto adjust to his depleted lineup. Crawford became a virtual one-man gang for Washington, almost scoring at will in both transition and the halfcourt, albeit with a high number of shot attempts.

Brewers all-around effort persisted, but the Bulls overall play declined as the half went onturnovers, poor shot selection and defensive lapses were all issuesallowing the Wizards to gradually chip away at the deficit. Behind their first-year backcourt, Washington trailed by a narrow four-point margin at the intermission, 50-46, following a desperation three-point heave by Kurt Thomas (eight points, 15 rebounds) at the halftime buzzer.

We all knew what we had to do and we werent really happy with the way we played in the first half, said Deng. We had to play as hard as they were. We couldnt let them play harder than us the whole game.

Added Rose: Tonight, once again, we let them come back. We shouldnt be doing that, but well learn from it and hopefully get better from it.

Whatever Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau told his team in the locker room regarding their lackluster second-quarter effort apparently worked, as Chicago came out with much more energy and focus in the third quarter. Offensively, the Bulls still appeared disjointed, but increased their intensity on the defensive side of the court, aiding their cause in building the lead back to a double-digit winning margin.

Thibodeau will be on the Dan Patrick Show on CSN tomorrow morning at 9:05 a.m.

The energetic Gibson, back in a starting role with Noah out, played solid on both ends and the surprising offensive contributions from the normally light-scoring Bogans propelled the Bulls, who played stout defense against their impatient young guests. Deng also got into the scoring act and buoyed by Roses playmaking ability, Chicago led, 75-60, through three periods, even after Wall hit a fallaway jumper at the third-quarter buzzer.

Thibodeau kept Bogans (17 points, 5-for-10 three-point shooting, five rebounds, three assists) in the game to start the final stanzathe much-maligned starting shooting guard played the entire third quarter; hes usually replaced by Brewer midway through the periodand he responded by extending his relative offensive explosion.

I feel like I got more looks. I got more minutes tonight. My teammates did a good job of finding me in the offense, said Bogans. I just took my shot when it was there. I didnt do anything different than I normally do.

My job on this team is to defend first. I think people get caught up in the fact that Im a shooting guard and Im not shooting the ball, but when youve got Derrick, youve got Luol, youve got Carlos, they take the bulk of the shots. Im going to get us going defensively and when my shots there, I take it. I know my role on this team, he continued. We have a great team. Guys know that when one guys down, somebody else has to step up and do a little bit more. Weve understood that since having Booz out at the beginning of the season.

Its good that I had a good game, but weve still got a long way to go. Our goal is to get to the championship.

Chimed in Rose: I know its hard on him sometimes, but in practice, we have a lot of confidence when he shoots those shots.

During the game, we tell him to shoot, said the All-Star point guard about his backcourt mate and post-practice shooting partner. He passes up some shotshe passed up some tonight that hes supposed to shootbut right now, hes feeling it and Ive just got to make sure that I find him.

Chicagos intensity waned as the period persisted, but Washington simply couldnt muster up enough energy to mount any type of comeback, although Wizards center JaVale McGee (11 points, 12 rebounds, 12 blocked shots), who attended high school in Windy City, managed some awe-inspiring blocked shots and dunks.

Down the stretch, the Bulls cruised to the eventual win, with the only drama in the United Center being the fans desire for the team to reach 100 points, resulting in the ever-coveted prize of free Big Macs. Alas, Scalabrine, though beloved by Bulls loyalists, refused to take a shot as time wound down, disappointing the teams faithful.

One game at a time, very similar to what Thibs says, summed up Deng. Hes always reminding you to be at your best going out there and not to get too high. For as many games as we play, its really easy to relax.

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 might not be so easy for the Bulls to tank down the stretch

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It might not be so easy for the Bulls to tank down the stretch

And here you thought the Bulls wouldn't be competing for anything down the stretch. Yes, the Bulls will miss the postseason for a second consecutive season, and the post-Jimmy Butler rebuild is off and running with a Lottery selection (and potentially two) on the horizon.

And now the race for the top spot in the NBA Draft Lottery is on, with 23 to 27 games left in the regular season and a whopping seven teams within 1.5 games of each other for the worst record in the league. The Bulls are currently sitting 8th in the reverse standings at 20-37, 3.0 games behind the league-worst Suns and Hawks. And in what's largely considered a seven-man draft, Fred Hoiberg and the boys have some work to do to improve their chances of moving into the top-5 or top-3 of the draft.

Yes, the Bulls were sellers at the deadline, dealing leading scorer Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans. And they lost eight of their last 10 games before the All-Star Break while promising extended minutes for players like Paul Zipser, Cristiano Felicio and even Cameron Payne. All those signs point to a franchise with a full and clear understanding that losses right now mean much bigger wins in June. But it's not as easy as it sounds. The Bulls aren't the only team looking to secure losses, and those other teams may have easier paths of doing so. Here's why.

For starters, not all these clumped-together records were built equally. Yes, the wins and losses all count the same at the end of the day, but if we're projecting how each team may finish the Bulls are certainly poised to play better than the teams around them. In fact, the Bulls are still playing .500 basketball (17-17) since their infamous 3-20 start. Unsurprisingly all seven teams ahead of the Bulls have worse records, as do the New York Knicks (11-24 since Dec. 8), who are just two games behind the Bulls, have lost eight straight and are without All-Star Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL). Remember, there are teams chasing the Bulls, too.

The Bulls have a seven-game win streak to their name and won 10 games in December; of the teams with worse records than the Bulls, only the Mavericks have a seven-win month this season.

And let's remember, too, the Bulls have gone 17-17 while missing Zach LaVine in 20 of those, Kris Dunn in 11 others and Lauri Markkanen in three. Those three are all healthy now (LaVine likely won't play in back-to-backs, but the Bulls have just three of those sets left) and while they have an ugly -18.8 net rating in four games, the Bulls are 2-2 with all three on the floor and have losses against the top-seeded Raptors and defending champion Warriors. It's safe to assume Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen will all benefit and improve from playing with one another. And while Nikola Mirotic was a large part of the Bulls' success (they went 14-11 with him in the lineup), the trade has opened up more minutes for Bobby Portis, who's quietly averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds since the Mirotic trade. No, Portis isn't Mirotic, but the dropoff isn't all that significant, especially when considering the defensive end.

What's this all mean? That the Bulls have the best top-end talent of any team in these tank standings, and arguably the most talented overall roster. It sounds laughable, but we're not comparing them to the Rockets and Celtics. Perhaps Orlando's core of Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic (when healthy) comes close, but the Magic also just sold their starting point guard Elfrid Payton for pennies on the dollar. They're clearly in tank mode, and the rest of that roster is a nightmare. Dallas has some nice pieces, but also plenty of shutdown candidates as the season nears its end.

And that's another angle to this. The Bulls really don't have any players who may rest late in the season. Then again, phantom injuries could arise and LaVine might sit down the stretch for precautionary purposes. But Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, the team's elder statesmen at 29 and 28, respectively, aren't exactly tipping the scale between wins and losses. As long as LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen, Portis and Denzel Valentine are seeing 28+ minutes, the Bulls are going to be in good position. Teams like Atlanta and Sacramento are already resting veterans, and Memphis could do the same with Marc Gasol if the Lottery balls depend on it. It's a good thing the Bulls don't have this luxury, as they're leaning on their young talent, but it also means the team isn't going to get much worse.

The biggest hurdle for the Bulls, however, is going to be their remaining schedule. Marvin Bagley fans might want to stop reading. Only four teams in the NBA will face an easier remaining schedule than the Bulls, and none are ahead of them in the race for the top pick. The 76ers, Hornets, Warriors and Heat have easier schedules, and then it's the Bulls, with a remaining SOS of .474. Here's how that compares to the seven teams the Bulls are looking up at in the tank standings:

So the Bulls have an easier schedule than any team in front of them, and the Knicks. And looking at the Bulls' remaining schedule (far right column), it's clear that the three games against the Nets (which includes what should be a fun home-and-home in the season's final week) and two games against the Grizzlies will loom large. It also wouldn't surprise anyone if the Bulls picked up random victories over teams like Boston (March 5), Cleveland (March 17), Milwaukee (March 23) or Houston (March 27). They have a way of playing up to their opponents (see: Minnesota).

When it comes to discussing the league's worst teams, the Bulls might simply be too good. And their schedule might simply be too bad. That's certainly a good problem to have when considering the franchise's rebuild has gone quicker than most expected, even if it means fewer chances to secure a top-3 pick. Then again, the Bulls did fine selecting 7th overall last season in grabbing Markkanen, so perhaps a top-5 pick isn't necessary. It might not even be an option.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.