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Turn back the clock: Thomas gives Bulls big lift

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Turn back the clock: Thomas gives Bulls big lift

Monday, Jan. 24, 2011
Posted 9:21 p.m. Updated 11:04 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

It wasnt turn-back-the-clock night at the United Center, but Kurt Thomas certainly had a flashback. The second-oldest player in the NBA, Thomas is known for his defensive acumen and ability to knock down the occasional mid-range jumper, but Monday evening, he had an offensive explosion to help lead the Bulls (31-14) past Central Division rival Milwaukee (16-26), 92-83.

The Bulls were briefly hit with another case of the slow-start blues at the games outset, hitting just two of their first 10 shots and allowing Milwaukee to jump out to an early lead. Bucks center Andrew Bogut (eight points, 18 rebounds, three blocked shots), well aware of the wily ways of Thomas (22 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three blocks)ironically, Boguts replacement late last season after the Australian went down with a season-ending injurydominated the boards early on, but the veteran struck back by finding his touch and burning his former teammate with his trademark mid-range jumpers off pick-and-pop scenarios with Derrick Rose (21 points, 10 assists).

Coming off the pick, just being aggressive and trying to attack, that opened everything up, explained Rose, who told reporters afterwards that hes happy for the Bulls three days between games so he can get treatment on his gimpy back. Bogut had to jump at my jump shot or contest my layup, and he Thomas was right there by the free-throw line. We wanted him to shoot the shots that he was taking.

Speaking of Rose, while he did knock down an early 3-pointer, his newfound ability to get to the line was evident, as he helped keep the Bulls afloat with free throws. That, along with his playmaking and Thomas shooting, was Chicagos primary sources of offense initially. After storming back to overtake the visitors, the Bulls held a 19-18 advantage after the opening period.

WATCH: Rose having back problems?

Thomas continued to burn his ex-employers with his old-school gamehoop aficionados might remember he led all of college basketball in both scoring and rebounding as a senior at TCUand was the catalyst in the Bulls building a slim cushion by the midway point in the second quarter.

Derrick, he requires so much attention out there. He was able to find me and fortunately, I was able to knock down a few shots tonight, said Thomas. The open shot was there. The way that Milwaukee was playing defense tonight, they were really playing off of me. I knocked down the first two or three shots and the shot was just there, so I continued to fire away.

I think Ive been known as a guy who can hit that shot my whole career, he continued. If the shot is there, I definitely I have confidence in myself that I can make it.

They the Bucks definitely know that I can make that shot.

Added Rose: Kurt, we had to keep going to him. He was hitting every shot and my job was to get him the ball.

They were playing off of him. They were playing two people on me; when I drove the ball, Bogut was on me, he went on to say. He was wide open, so I was throwing it to him every time.

Thomas former coach and teammates acknowledged his success against them had a lot to do with not just the veterans ability, but knowledge of the game, not to mention their system.

Kurt had a great night for them. He knows our stuff backwards, said Bogut. He knows where to get to and where our help is going to come from.

Chimed in Bucks head coach Scott Skiles: No matter who was on him, we just didnt get back to him fast enough. Kurt is a really smart player.

In the first half, he was open, continued the former Bulls coach. In the second, he still hit some contested shots.

By the time O.G. (as his current teammates call him) headed to the bench for some much-deserved rest, the Bulls had found their groove. Behind the floor generalship of backup point guard C.J. Watson (eight points, three assists), the team was playing with tremendous energy and extended their lead to a comfortable double-digit winning margin, aided by designated sniper Kyle Korver (eight points, five rebounds, three assists) finding his groove.

Watsons play permitted Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to give Rose an extended breather and demonstrated his growing comfort level in Watsons style of running the show with the second unit and starters alike.

Rose and Thomas returned late in the period to find a group already playing active defense. Before the break, Rose gave the home fans a thrill with an acrobatic layup just prior to the halftime buzzer, sending his Bulls into the tunnel with a 48-32 lead.

Thomas resumed right where he left off, hitting his first two shot attempts of the third quarter before Bogut swatted his next jumper. With all the focus on Thomasthe fans and Milwaukees bench, as well as the Bucks on the floorit opened up things for Chicagos other players and both Rose and Carlos Boozer (14 points, nine rebounds), who had a quiet first half, took advantage.

Roses bursts of speed, dynamic change-of-direction moves and graceful yet powerful finishes at the rim electrified the crowd and although Chicago enjoyed a comfortable advantage, Bucks starting swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts (30 points)Roses college teammate in his lone season at the University of Memphiscontinued to torment the Bulls with his versatile scoring ability, almost doubling his first-half point total in the third period alone.

Tonight he got it going; its great when he does, said Skiles of Douglas-Roberts. The key for him is on a night when he doesnt have it going, how he can help us.

Added Douglas-Roberts: I just tried to bring energy to the game for us. I have to come out and be aggressive.

Once I got it going, my teammates did a great job of looking for me coming off screens.

Despite a lackluster end to the quarter, the home team maintained a 68-58 lead going into the games final frame.

The Bucks further sliced into their deficit in the fourth quarter, making it a single-digit contest before Luol Deng (nine points, seven rebounds) awoke from his offensive slumber. However, even with the contributions of Deng, reserve Taj Gibsons (six points, seven rebounds) interior activity and Boozers low-post presence, the collective efforts of Bogut, Douglas-Roberts, starting forward Ersan Ilyasova (17 points), veteran point guard Keyon Dooling (13 points, 10 assists; starting in place of injured second-year star Brandon Jennings) and reserve forward and defensive stopper Luc-Richard Mbah a Moute (eight points, seven rebounds) kept Milwaukee competitive.

As the games stretch run approached, the ever-persistent Bucksnot the most offensively-proficient squad, they made the necessary corrections on defense to limit the Bulls scoring; as Chicago fans are well aware, a Skiles-coached team never shies away from a grind-it-out gameinched closer, as the Bulls couldnt find an answer for Douglas-Roberts unorthodox yet fluid game.

With just under two minutes remaining, Rose managed to steal away a sure Bucks defensive rebound, then dish off the ball to Boozer to put the Bulls up by 11, prompting Skiles to call a timeout. The Bucks responded, as Ilyasova knocked down a 3-pointer on the subsequent possession.

But Rose wasnt done. The All-Star point guard crossed over a defender, then hit a tough shot in traffic, giving Chicago a double-digit lead once again. Milwaukee valiantly fought backIlyasova hit another long bomb with less than a minute to play, cutting the deficit to seven pointsbut time wasnt on the visitors side.

It was, however, on the side of Thomas, a 15-year veteran still capable of shouldering the offensive load, at least for one night.

Kurt had it going, said Thibodeau. All year, he has been ready to play and did a great job for us, especially since he stepped in.

Concurred Rose: Hes the reason why we won tonight.

After he hit like two or three shots, hes going to want it every time, so I just kept giving it to him, continued the 22-year-old, who exclaimed, Not playing! when asked if he even knew anybody as old as Thomas. He was feeling it tonight.

Although Thomas laughed off a reporters question about whether the United Center fans M-V-P chants were for him instead of Rose, in this victory, he was indeed the Bulls most valuable player.

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.

NBA Buzz: Will recent surge change the Bulls' front office plans on the fly?

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Will recent surge change the Bulls' front office plans on the fly?

When the Bulls announced the draft night trade sending three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, John Paxson said the front office would be "patient and methodical" in adding to their young roster with an emphasis on building through the draft.

Now, halfway through the 2017-18 season, will the Bulls’ decision makers decide to ramp up the rebuild based on what they've seen so far from the 3 players acquired in the Butler deal, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn?

Even though LaVine's only played two games, it's clear he won't have any psychological hurdles to overcome following ACL surgery on his left knee, and his physical skills are still off the charts. The 20-year-old Markkanen has been drawing rave reviews from players and coaches around the league for his combination of athleticism and elite shooting ability. If the 2017 draft had a do-over today, Markkanen would probably go no lower than 3rd. Meanwhile, Dunn currently ranks 3rd in the NBA in steals while showing some of the offensive skills that made him the 5th pick in the 2016 draft.

So, with three young building blocks already in place, should the Bulls continue to focus on patiently and methodically building through the draft, or should they try to get back into the playoffs next season by adding veteran talent through free agency?

Depending on what moves the front office makes before the February 8 trade deadline, the Bulls could have somewhere between $30 to 40 million available to spend in the free agent market this summer. We know LeBron James or Paul George aren't walking through the door to the Advocate Center, and the Bulls probably aren't interested in some of the other headliners in the 2018 free agent class, including DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul.

A good chunk of the Bulls’ cap space will go to re-signing LaVine to a max or near-max extension, but the Bulls can still be aggressive in free agency this summer by waiting to sign LaVine until they complete their other moves, meaning only LaVine's cap hold will be on the books.

Looking at the Bulls roster, Paxson and Gar Forman have done a good job of adding solid young players at just about every position. Small forward could probably use an upgrade, especially another explosive athlete who can create his own shot. With that in mind, how about Denver's Will Barton? He'll be an unrestricted free agent after the Nuggets failed to sign him to an extension last fall. The 6-foot-6 wing is averaging a career best 14.4 points and is ideally suited for the fast-paced offense Fred Hoiberg favors.

Other wing players who could be good fits for a young and improving team include Detroit's Avery Bradley, the Lakers' Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Philadelphia's J.J. Redick, Boston's Marcus Smart, Utah's Rodney Hood, San Antonio's Danny Green, the Clippers’ Lou Williams, Denver's Wilson Chandler and the Grizzlies' Tyreke Evans. Of course, the Bulls could also decide to keep their powder dry until 2019, when the $14.3 million salary of Robin Lopez comes off the books.

By now it's pretty clear the Bulls won't be adding a top-3 pick in the 2018 draft unless they get lucky in the lottery. There are definitely some talented players in the 5 to 12 range, including Texas big man Mo Bamba, Alabama point guard Collin Sexton, Villanova swingman Mikal Bridges, Kentucky's wing duo of Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo, and the Michigan St. forward tandem of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges. All of them look like NBA starters with high end potential, and would be nice additions to the Bulls’ rotation.

The real question is, when does free agency factor into the Bulls' rebuilding plan? If the front office is convinced they already have a potential Big 3 in place with LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn, the strategy for this summer may look a lot different than what Bulls fans envisioned on the night of the Butler trade.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

-- Monday night's Rockets-Clippers game might have raised the bar for NBA drama. Chris Paul making his return to Staples Center after being traded to Houston last summer for a package of role players. It became obvious from the outset that Paul wasn't very popular with his teammates on the way out of L.A. Clippers’ bench players were heckling Paul throughout the game, and Blake Griffin got in a couple after the whistle shoves on his former L.A. co-star.

Before the game was over, Griffin exchanged expletives with Rockets' coach Mike D'Antoni and later Griffin and Houston forward Trevor Ariza were ejected after Ariza menacingly marched towards the Clippers bench where injured guard Austin Rivers had been yelling at Houston players all night.

When the game ended, three Houston players reportedly tried to get into the Clippers locker room through a back entrance to go after Rivers and Griffin. Security was able to prevent the incident from escalating even further, but L.A. police were called in to make sure nothing happened when the Rockets walked to the team bus.

Clearly, Paul alienated a lot of his former Clipper teammates with his heavy-handed approach, but what happened at Staples Center on Monday came dangerously close to an incident that would have embarrassed the league for years.

-- We've clearly reached the dog days of the NBA season. Teams are tired at the halfway point, and the trade deadline is still over three weeks away. Still, it's hard to ignore what's happening in Cleveland right now with the 3-time defending Eastern Conference champs dropping 9 of their last 12 games.

The Cavs rank near the bottom of the league in all the major defensive metrics, and the return of Isaiah Thomas hasn't given the offense the jump-start everyone expected. Beat writers in Cleveland are now expecting first year general manager Koby Altman to make some kind of major deal to turn things around, but realistically, which players on the roster hold a lot of value in the trade market?

Cleveland would love to pry Paul George loose from Oklahoma City, but unless Thunder management is convinced George will bolt for Los Angeles this summer, it appears they're determined to ride out the season with their underachieving Big 3 of George, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.

The Cavs could probably swing a Tristan Thompson and their own 2018 1st round pick for Clippers' center DeAndre Jordan, but does that really improve their chances against Golden State in a possible Finals' rematch? Until the Cavs' players commit to working harder on the defensive end, this will be the most vulnerable playoff team we've seen in Cleveland since James returned for the 2014-15 season.

-- Finally, did you see the painful video of 76ers rookie guard Markelle Fultz trying to shoot at a recent practice? The No. 1 pick from the 2017 draft has played sparingly this season because of a mysterious shoulder ailment, but the team hasn't given many details about the injury, and it appears his problem might be more psychological than physical. Fultz now has a hitch in his shot, and releases the ball around chest level, which means he has no chance to be an effective scorer at the NBA level.

The 76ers know all about redshirt seasons after watching Nerlens Noel and Ben Simmons miss their rookie campaigns and Joel Embiid sit out his first two years. But if Fultz can't find his shooting form again it will be a huge loss for the organization after they traded a future lottery pick to long-time rival Boston to move up from 3rd to 1st last June.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen reached 100 career 3-pointers made faster than any player in NBA history. Our stats guru Chris Kamka came up with this interesting list of how long it took the top long distance shooters to reach the century mark.

8 players in NBA history have 2,000 or more 3-pointers made

Other notables...

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Back to the strange saga of 76ers rookie Markelle Fultz suddenly losing his shooting ability. Head Coach Brett Brown was asked whether Fultz had to be 100% recovered from his shoulder injury to return to the court, and his response indicated how serious Fultz's shooting problems have become.

“What he needs … to be, is able to shoot a basketball.” 

“It is my understanding there is still some discomfort from time to time, but that is part of recognizing there is still some sort of erratic shooting, and it is not where it used to be yet.”

Watching Fultz shoot a basketball right now is kind of like watching Charles Barkley swing a golf club, and that is not a comforting image for hoops fans in Philadelphia.

Bulls Talk Podcast: How big can the Bulls' Big 3 be?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: How big can the Bulls' Big 3 be?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski and Vincent Goodwill discuss Zach Lavine’s impressive Bulls debut and if the new ‘Big 3’ of Lavine, Markkanen, and Dunn can be the top players on a championship contender. Plus they’ll debate the Bulls immediate future and what it would take for the front office the to abandon the tank. And they’ll recap a wild night in Los Angeles with secret hallways, decoys, and why it trumped the conversation Vinnie heard while having dinner. Trust us, you don’t want to miss this story.