Bulls

Top-seeded Bulls not done yet

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Top-seeded Bulls not done yet

Sunday, April 10, 2011
Posted: 10:02 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

ORLANDOTheyre not done yet. Typically, a team thats locked into the top seed in the postseasonlet alone a team just guarantee of making the playoffs, periodwould go into shutdown mode now, with just three games left in the regular season. Not the Chicago Bulls.

Its a goal that we quietly had, said Carlos Boozer, adding, We have other goals, too. But were not done with the Spurs.

One game behind league-leading San Antonio in the loss column for the NBAs best overall record and home-court advantage throughout the entire playoffs, the Bulls plan to continue to go full throttle Saturday against the Magic, as well as for the foreseeable regular-season future, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Were just looking at the next game, explained the NBAs Coach of the Year award candidate. We want to stay consistent with what were doing.

You want them to be in rhythm and you want everyone playing their best. As the season winds down, the two things youre focused on is you want to be playing your best basketball and you want to be healthy, so if someones injured, well sit them down. If theyre not injured, theyre going to play, continued Thibodeau, who prepared just as seriously for Saturdays opponent, Orlandomissing All-Star center Dwight Howard, who was suspended for incurring his 18th technical foul of the seasonas he did for last Thursdays big win over the Celtics or last Fridays top-seed-clinching victory over the Cavaliers.

"The teams Ive been with, thats the way weve always approached it. You look at your team, you look at the make-up of your team and you determine how to pace your team. Thats one of the biggest things you have to think about all year long and you also do that when youre planning for your season.

Youre looking at can a guy handle minutes? Are they young? Are they old? Are they coming off injury? You look at all those things and then you look at how your teams functioning and playing. Sometimes you may feel that rest is more important, so you may not practice, but you have a film session, a meeting and a walk-through.

Or, as Joakim Noah put it, This is a dictatorship, guys.

All jokes aside, the Bulls dont chafe at Thibodeaus hard-driving ways because not only do they respect his decisions, but they actually want to play.

I really havent thought about it. If anything, I thought I was playing, so Im not disappointed or anything, said All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, in his usual, understated manner. Well have to see. Of course I want to play. Its not up to me. Its up to Coach.

Thats fine with me.

That mentality is what got them to this pointEastern Conference regular-season champions, a meaningless title if they dont augment it with a strong postseason showingbut if all goes according to plan, this is just another item on their checklist.

Thats the last goal of the regular season. We had a lot of goals. Weve checked off a lot of them, but thats the last one, said Kyle Korver. We had a lot to prove and I think weve worked really hard, weve put a lot into it and to be rewarded with this is big for us.

Were still going to try to catch the Spurs and were not done yet, but I think it speaks a lot about this team and the year that weve had.

Still, for the Bulls who were here for the past regime, they do feel a sense of accomplishment that stems from past mediocrity.

This is the best season Ive had in the NBA with the team and Im just proud that Im still here, and for the Chicago Bulls organization, said Luol Deng, the longest-tenured player on the team. Im a big believer that everything happens for a reason. I never want to go through struggles, so its all about how youre handling how youre coming out of those struggles. Thats what all makes it worth it and I believe Ive matured a lot as a man from what Ive seen and what I went through.

We want to be the best. We believe were capable of it, we put in work to try to be here and going into the postseason, thats going to be in the back of our minds.

Added Noahwho concurred with Thibodeaus sentiment that his right ankle is fine; I feel like Ive got a ways to go, but it feels good to be playing, he said after Fridays winabout the teams improvement: The growth has been formidable. Last year, we qualified on the last day and today, we are the No. 1 seed. That feels pretty good.

The 22-year-old Rose, in the midst of likely an MVP season, sounded determined to stay the course.

Weve got to keep playing good basketball and keep trying to get better, said the Chicago native. I know its definitely going to be different because everybodys going to be expecting us to win, but I think Thibs will have us ready for it.

It has something to do with the coaching staff. Thibs, man. Coach of the Year to me. Hes just been on us, holding everybody accountable every time we step on the court and with him, weve just been balling. Making sure that we go over everything and our preparation for the game is important, he continued. We took everybody by surprise. Thats from us winning games. It happened with the way that were playing under Thibs system. Its all because of him, giving us the opportunity to go out there and play. I think that were well-coached, but we can always get better.

While the first-year head coach and his staff have obviously been key to the teams success, its chemistry has also played a huge role.

In the beginning of the season, I told people that I thought we were going to be ready to play and thats what we showed this year. Were trying to keep playing, trying to stay humble, stay positive. Just trying to keep this thing going. Our fans have been great, traveling with us everywhere. Just bringing Chicago back, Rose explained.

We knew the guys that we were getting were guys that wanted to win. Thats what I always tell people. They dont care about their stats or anything. They just want to win games and its hard to be on a team like that, especially in the NBAwhere people have their own agenda, people have things going onbut were a very close team. We go out, anywhere to eat, whatever, theres five or six going out eating. Always calling each other, texting each other, BBMing texting via BlackBerry Messenger each other. Were pretty close on this team.

Communication, trusting each other and having confidence with each other, he went on to say. When youre on the court, the game is intense, even though it sounds like were yelling at each other sometimes, its nothing negative. Its just that were trying to win the game.

Whatever the formula, these Bulls need to stick to it. Who is anybody to doubt them at this point?

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.

Unbelievable performance, unexplainable failures leads to Bulls' collapse in New Orleans

Unbelievable performance, unexplainable failures leads to Bulls' collapse in New Orleans

Weird things tend to happen in New Orleans. Things filed under “unbelievable” or “unexplainable.”

The Bulls’ double-overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans doesn’t exactly fall under either, but the circumstances leading to it certainly do.

Justin Holiday, the reliable 84 percent free throw shooter missing the last of three freebies that would have ended the game in regulation after being fouled with 0.3 seconds left?

Unexplainable.

“Could’ve won the game with a free throw,” Holiday said, dismissing the notion of nerves. “Thought it was cash, it just didn’t go in. Wasn’t meant to happen, I guess. I was hyped. You get that opportunity, I don’t miss free throws. When you get an opportunity like that, that’s what was on my mind.”

Holiday raced to the 3-point line after the Bulls fell behind 114-112 with three seconds left, drawing a whistle on Darius Miller as the buzzer sounded—giving them a chance to win a game they had no business losing in the first place.

“He made the hard ones, which the first one is the hardest,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He made a great play to be fouled in the first place to even get himself to the line.”

It seemed so unlikely the Bulls would find themselves in their wildest game of the year after seemingly driving the Pelicans to insanity and frustration, taking a 17-point lead with 5 minutes left.

Zach LaVine looked comfortable in his fourth quarter minutes, while Denzel Valentine and Nikola Mirotic hit big shots to extend the Bulls lead—ignoring the irritated atmosphere at the Smoothie King Center as the Pelicans fans felt their team had gotten an unfair whistle.

Then the Pelicans—and their maddeningly talented star DeMarcus Cousins—got mad and took all his frustration out on the Bulls in a historic performance. He needed every bit of the 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists to put the Bulls away, as he bullied the game inside and finessed things from the outside (five 3-pointers) as his teammates finally caught up to his intensity in those frenetic five minutes.

His numbers put him in the company of Wilt Chamberlain—not surprising considering he did everything down the stretch including bringing the ball upcourt as if he were the world’s biggest point guard.

Unbelievable.

“It’s cool to be in company with a guy like Wilt (Chamberlain). He’s a guy that’s put up videogame numbers his entire career,” Cousins said. “Just to have a little game like his, that’s pretty cool.”

His alley-oop to Anthony Davis with 1:39 left in regulation gave him a triple-double and cut the Bulls lead to 110-107, and the Bulls seemed to be in full panic mode. Davis fouled out in the first overtime but not after inflicting 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists of damage in 43 minutes.

“The inability to get a rebound late cost us,” Hoiberg said. “Their pressure, getting into us, really lost all of our pace that we did a good job of for the most part all game. It really slowed us down. That’s what got their run started.”

Jerian Grant, who had performed solidly in Kris Dunn’s absence, then became a target for the Pelicans defense as they harassed Grant, taking the Bulls’ offense out of its rhythm.

Grant had six turnovers in 47 minutes and was visibly bothered by the pressure employed by the Pelicans’ defense, nearly negating his 22-point, 13-assist, five-rebound performance.

“I thought we had really good flow,” Hoiberg said. “I thought Jerian had a really good game. But the pressure really did bother us. Gotta do the things that got you the lead we had. A lot of pace, a lot of movement. A lot of good things.”

The good things certainly included Lauri Markkanen holding his own against Davis and making big defensive plays in the fourth quarter and overtime when the Pelicans foolishly tried to switch Markkanen onto their guards.

But Markkanen kept his composure, moved his feet and was never exploited. Although he shot just 5-for-12 and missed all four of his 3-point attempts, Markkanen took steps forward defensively as he finished with 14 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.

Robin Lopez went at Cousins on the other end, as both were exhausted at the end of the marathon. Lopez scored 22 points in 39 minutes, his only regret likely getting stripped by Cousins at midcourt during the Pelicans’ comeback, leading to free throws.

“We just decided to play defense,” Davis said. “It was tied up going into the fourth quarter. They went on a crazy run. There was like eight minutes left, we just said we going to play defense. Play defense one possession at a time and we are going to be able to come back here.”

Jrue Holiday, Justin’s younger brother, was the main irritant late, along with former Bull E’Twaun Moore, giving just enough support for Cousins and Davis. The Pelicans’ Holiday scored just 12 points with six assists, but had big baskets in the first overtime after Davis fouled out.

“They turned it up, physically,” Justin Holiday said. “My brother started guarding full court. They all starting pressuring us a little more. Sometimes, it’s tough. When they turn the pressure up like that and we have the lead, we don’t necessarily want to be in a rush to score. Then they’re scoring on the other end. We gotta get stops.”

It was hard to ignore how the pressure affected the Bulls. The composure and poise they’ve played with over the last several weeks gave them a level of confidence in hostile environments, but missing Dunn meant they were without a critical part of their offense.

“I don’t wanna say trouble but it bothered us for sure,” Holiday said. “We kinda got sped up. Forget about the offensive end but if we get stops and rebound, we win the game. Again, they have all-stars and things like that, supposed to do their job.”

Even then, though, everyone walking away from the Smoothie King Center knew they witnessed a historic, unbelievable performance as well as an unexplainable collapse.

DeMarcus Cousins made some serious history in the Pelicans' win over the Bulls

DeMarcus Cousins made some serious history in the Pelicans' win over the Bulls

DeMarcus Cousins made serious history on Monday night in New Orleans. And no, it wasn't that he played 52 minutes and didn't commit a technical foul.

No, Boogie put together one of the most impressive statlines in NBA history in the Pelicans' double-overtime win over the Bulls. Cousins finished with 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists in win. He became the first player with a 40-20-10 line since Wilt Chamberlain did so in 1968 playing for the 76ers. Chamberlain accomplished the feat four times, and Oscar Robertson did it once in 1965 with a 42-21-10 night for the Cincinnati Royals. 

In 1968 Chamberlain had himself a mammoth night, playing all 48 minutes and going for 53 points, 32 rebounds and 14 assists. In fact, in Chamberlain's four instances of accomplish the feat he averaged 44 points, 27 rebounds and 12.2 assists.

Back to Cousins, he did his damage all over. His wild night included 13-for-29 shooting, five 3-pointers, and he went 13-for-14 from the free throw line. He added four steals and a block and was a +13 in what turned out to be a four-point game.

Cousins played the final 18:36 (minus seven seconds late in the fourth on an offense-for-defense sub), entering the game with 8:36 to play in the fourth quarter and never coming out again. He scored 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Pelicans rallied back down 17 points to force the extra periods.

In the first overtime Cousins had four points and three rebounds, but it was assumed Cousins was going to be the focal point the rest of the night when teammate Anthony Davis fouled out with 2:05 to play.

In the second overtime Cousins gave his last burst, scoring the first five points of the second additional period to give New Orleans a lead. He wound up missing his next and final four shots, but his free throws with 8 seconds left iced the game and gave the Pelicans a four-point lead.

It's no wonder Cousins will start in next month's All-Star Game alongside Davis, who had 34 points, nine rebounds and five assists himself before fouling out in 43 minutes.

Combined the two All-Stars had 78 points, 31 rebounds and 15 assists.