The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Cavaliers

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Cavaliers

Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011
4:20 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam

1. As much as Roses offensive game is lauded around the league, his individual defense has also improved under the guidance of Thibodeau, known for his expertise on the side of the ball. His defense looks a lot better to me. I think he's been very consistentI think he's much better on the ball, getting back in front of the ball and the way he's challenging shots right now, he's up on every shot and he's a hard guy to score over if he's up on the shot. He's getting better. His weak-side awareness is much better. Just his overall defense is vastly improved, said Thibodeau. It's not only individual, but it's team. It's tying everybody together. I think his individual defense has improved, but also his team defense and him giving help has improved alsoI think he's taking a lot of pride in it. I think he's really worked at it. Each day, he's come in and he's really worked at it. You can see it in practice. In practice, he's working extremely hard on his defense. Rose says the keys to his improvement have been Just making sure I get into the ball, fighting over screens, not giving up and contesting everybodys jump shot when they come off, although his perfectionist head coach holds him to an even higher standard. Its always, Try harder. It could be where the guys coming off a pick-and-roll and I just contest the shot, and they hit the shot. Ill look at him, hell look at me. Ill say, I contested it. Hell say, Try harder! Im like, Man, you come out here and try. Hes always making sure that Im always out there, giving my all, especially on the defensive end because thats where we really need to get it going, he quipped. One specific area in which hes used his athleticism to become a force is defending his man in pick-and-roll scenarios. Every time people come off picks, theyve got to look for me, especially when they have a little bit of room. Im making sure that Im getting out there, contesting their shot without fouling. Its kind of hard sometimes when theyre in front of you, but Ive j
ust got to find a way to make sure I dont foul them and send them to the line, said Rose. When guys game are usually coming off pick-and-rolls and shooting, when they do that only a couple times during quarters, that tells me Im getting to them.

2. In Luol Deng, while he doesnt garner the same attention as opposing defenses commit to Rose and power forward Carlos Boozer, the teams top two scorers, the Bulls have a luxury with a third scoring option capable of big offensive outputs, as evidenced by his last two games. Obviously Deng and Rose have developed on-court chemistry in their years together, but now Deng has a post-up threat in Boozer to deflect even more pressure away from himnot to mention much-improved effectiveness from 3-point range. Its been a while for me since Ive played with a low-post presence like that. I think the last guy I could say that about is really Eddy Curry, when I had him here my rookie year and my second year. Just getting back to the cutting game, the spotting up and just reading when Booz is being Booz and when the other team is double teaming him. I just feel like its going to come. Were going to get better as a team and were going to get better playing off him, said the small forward, who described playing with Boozer as really easy. He continued: Ive always had my 3-point shot. I always felt like spacing-wisea lot of times in the past, I was in the cornerbut now, Im finding myself floating into it. Im shooting it more in transition. I just know with Derricks penetration, I can widen out the floor for him and its something thats worked well for Derrick this year. Spacing out the floor, hes been able to attack. Teams just have to pick. Take out the threes and spread out the floor, Derrick will attack. A night like tonight, they tried to take it away and we hit shots. Rose acknowledged that when Deng is in his offensive groove, the team functions more smoothly on that end of the floor. We're great, knowing that he's got his flow going, got his game going and he's been doing a great job attacking the basket, where he's trying to get to the line, getting the rebounds. He's big for this team. Everybody comes into the game looking to stop me or Booz. Lu, you see where he'll have a couple of games where he'll score 20-something points or 30 points. That's huge for our team, said Rose. He's doing good, man. He's balling. He's comfortable, I'll say and that's the only thing he should be worried about, being comfortable. Thibodeau added: Lu has been terrific. He's averaging almost 18 points a game and again, I don't measure over one or two games, if a guy isn't making shots. I look at more the total season and 10 or more games, what's going on, but Lu has proven he can score in a lot of different ways for us, whether it's his post-up, the catch-and-shoot, slashing-cutting type game and he's a very efficient scorer, and adding the three, I think has made him even harder to guardYou want your team to play to its strengths and when you look at the strengths of our team--Carlos inside and in the pick-and-roll with Derrick, and of course, Luol has proven that he can score in the pick-and-roll also or catch-and-shoot--the important thing is to play to your strengths. When you look at the top teams in the league, most of them are broken down that way. Three primary scorers get the majority of the shots and often times, it comes down to your ability to get your three primary scorers better than your opponent can get their primary scorers.

3. Rose also discussed his ever-improving chemistry with Boozer, who has been a juggernaut since getting acclimated to his new squad. The duo has been extremely effective in pick-and-roll scenarios, as opposing defenses must choose between Roses devastating penetration ability and Boozers inside-outside offensive capabilities. It will be very tough for teams to stop it because their bigs have to make a choice whether to stop me with the ball and by that time, I'm close to the rim or Booz is going to have a jump shot, or if he's rolling, he's going to have a dunk, said Rose. He kind of rolls like Lakers star Pau Gasol. Gasol doesn't really go too far...usually, when you hit a big rolling, he's close to the basket, but Booz wants the ball a little bit off, so that he could shoot the shot or dribble--one dribble--and get to his left hand. So, it's kind of weird. That's the first big I've ever played with like that, but he's doing a good job at itIt's kind of weird where he catches it because there's a lot of commotion right there--a lot of people moving--but he finds a way to score. Thibodeau believes that the pair also benefits their teammates because of the attention they draw. When you put two primary scorers in the pick-and-roll, it also creates a lot of easy opportunities for others because if they commit to the double team, they put two on the ball and they're rotating quickly to Carlos, that means one guy's open. We have to make quick decisions, hit the open man and sustain our spacing, but I think they've gotten more comfortable with each other, I think it's a hard play to guard and Carlos does a lot of clever things on the pick-and-roll. Sometimes he's going all the way, sometimes he's rolling halfway and sometimes he's popping, so he knows how to read open areas.

4. After their last matchup with Clevelanda too-close-for-comfort affair in the midst of a snowstorm, the Bulls wont take the Cavaliers lightly. However, in the throes of a downward spiral that began with LeBron James return to his home state last month, the visitors have been struggling mightily. With a lineup devoid of a top-tier go-to scorerveteran forward Antawn Jamison appears to be past his prime and point guard Mo Williams is more of a complimentary playerand injuries also proving to be a major issue, Cleveland head coach Byron Scott might have bit off more than he can chew with his newest reclamation project. Still, its a Central Division rivalry game and although the Bulls are clearly superior, they havent been playing up to their potential lately, so another close call could be in order.

5.Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

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.

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

The statue doesn’t sit out front of the United Center anymore, but the statute remains the same for any player good enough to be on the marquee for the Chicago Bulls.

Zach LaVine, while awed by the specter of Michael Jordan, isn’t spooked by chasing a ghost. Weeks away from a debut as a Bull—returning from ACL surgery—LaVine is aware of the standard set by the man who called himself “Black Jesus”.

“Black Jesus played here for so long. I’m not putting myself in that category,” LaVine said, unaware Jordan gave himself that nickname as a young player in Chicago. “He lived up to it. They (fans) want to get back to that pinnacle.”

He hears the hopes and wishes of fans when he walks off the United Center floor two hours before every home game after getting shots up as part of his rehab. LaVine knows what’s expected from him—what’s more, he expects that from himself.

He’s a two-time slam dunk champion, certainly, but the Seattle area native wants to be known as a complete player, someone a franchise can build around.

And if it’s Black Jesus’ franchise, so be it.

“You try not to let it mess with you,” LaVine said. “I feel like I’m strong minded, I’m confident in myself. Everybody is gonna have their own opinions. All that matters is how you feel about yourself.”

Not that he’s not holding himself to the standard set by the standard bearer himself, but he’s aware the responsibility that comes with playing at Jordan’s position for a franchise still largely synonymous with Jordan—even though this spring will mark 20 years since Jordan actually wore Bulls red.

“No one’s trying to compare you to him, that’s out there,” LaVine said. “You’re just trying to be the best you, coming into this situation. You have the opportunity to be the face of the franchise. To be that guy. You want to embrace that. You want everybody to know you’re prepared and capable of doing that.”

Simply being identified as a player a franchise will commit to building around as opposed to the third wheel, as he was believed to be in Minnesota behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, is warming for him.

Derrick Rose believed he was up for the challenge until his body betrayed him. Jimmy Butler wanted it, but the Bulls thought otherwise leading to the chain of events that brought LaVine to Chicago.

In the first season of a full-fledged rebuild, LaVine knows the prevailing belief is that the next franchise carrier is more likely in the coming draft than on the Bulls roster.

“People gonna put a name on everything. I’m gonna hoop, do what I do,” LaVine said. “I know I’m talented, I think the Bulls organization knows I’m talented. Whatever we do with the pick or free agency, that’s their side of basketball operations. I’m gonna do what I do. I put in the work.”

He’ll return to full contact practice next week and if one had to guess, finally be introduced as an active player in the middle of December once he works the kinks out and gains confidence in taking real contact.

But then again, confidence has never been a problem for LaVine. Whether it was instilled in him by a vocal father who had him chart every shot he took as a high schooler or simply innate, LaVine isn’t shying away from the challenge.

“He had a plan, for sure,” LaVine said of his father, Paul, who once played linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. “I have binders of shots. I was doing workouts the day before games. I was doing professional workouts before (college). I embraced being a hard worker.”

Whether it’s the rehab or a road that’s had plenty of twists and turns for him to be 22, he’s experienced enough not to be naïve but young enough to have admirable wide-eyed optimism.

“You put in that much hard work, it can’t fail. It can’t.”

The Bulls first quarter was historically terrible


The Bulls first quarter was historically terrible

Rebuilds can be ugly, but the first quarter of Wednesday's Bulls-Thunder game was downright disgusting. 

The Bulls scored single digits(!) in the historically awful opening 12 minutes. Here's a closer look at the numbers: 

7 - Amount of points scored. That's the worst opening quarter in franchise history and just one point better than the worst overall quarter. 

8 - Number of turnovers, which included three shot clock violations. 

13 - The Bulls shot 13 percent from the field. Woof. 

2 - Consecutive games Fred Hoiberg's squad has trailed by 20 after the first. 

3 - Carmelo Anthony outscored the Bulls by three points in the opening quarter (10-7). 

It's safe to assume that the lineup of Jerian Grant, Kris Dunn, Quincy Pondexter, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez was not ready to play.