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.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”