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Unconcerned with style, Bulls look to go up 3-0

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Unconcerned with style, Bulls look to go up 3-0

Thursday, April 21, 2011Posted: 12:35 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLISThe mood in the visiting locker room at Conseco Fieldhouse was one of weariness. After three off days between Games 2 and 3 of their first-round series, the Bulls were sick and tired.

Not literally, of course, but of the same general tone of reporters questions. To paraphrase the overall content: How come you havent dominated the Pacers?

Were not worried about that. We have our own belief. If we win the game, we win, said a testy Carlos Boozer before the teams Thursday morning shootaround. Obviously we want to play better, but at the end of the day, were up 2-0 and were looking forward to Game 3.

Added Joakim Noah: Ive never been up 2-0 in a playoff series in my lifeso, letdownI wouldnt call that a letdown at all. I understand that theres high expectations for this team, but at the end of the day, were up 2-0 and we have areas we can improve in, and we can do that and thats whats so exciting. We know that we can get better.

READ: Pacers' Collison a game-time decision

Were the No. 1 seed, but were still hunting. Weve never been in this position before, so I think it doesnt matter. I dont think anybodys lost their hunger because were a No. 1 seed, he continued. I feel like when you lose that hunger, youre never going to be in the hunt for a title. You dont make it far without hunger. You have to be a hungry group, regardless of the cards that are given.

The opinion of others doesnt matter. Its just people. Its just stories being written. At the end of the day, we understand what we need to do and we understand that were not playing our best basketball and the only thing that matters is what we think in this locker room. Theres a lot of speculation and things that are said, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what we think of each other and going out there and winning ballgames.

Now, nobodys truly doubting that the Bulls will conquer Indianaexcept the bold young Pacersbut the manner in which theyve performed thus far in the series doesnt exactly inspire confidence, let alone championship hopes.

The so-called issues that have emerged for the Bullsa lack of a second scoring option, a mild downturn on defense, inconsistent play from the post tandem of Noah and Boozer and less productivity from the second unitare certainly problematic for the time being, but observers dont seem to be taking into account that maybe the Pacers are actually better than their losing regular-season record indicates.

WATCH: Leaning big on Rose? Bulls shrug off criticism

To me, its crazy because if you look at all the other teams and I keep saying, Indianas a good team. I think people are not giving them respect because theyre the eighth seed, but I think people forget that a couple years ago, when we were the eighth seed, we took Boston to Game 7. Teams get better as the year goes on, just because a lot goes into the season. They could be a great seven-game team and not a great 82-game team. Its sometimes focus. A lot goes into that, Luol Deng told CSNChicago.com. Defensively, theyre making us work. A lot of teams, we stop their first option and theyre gone. This team is going into their third, fourth option and you cant ask for more.

Theyre looking to shock the world and let everyone know, but I think theyve showed us enough. Theyve showed everyone enough that they could play with us and theyve earned our respect, he went on to say. A lot of other teams could have lost those games or one of those games and I really think that even though people arent happy with the way were winning, I just want to win. I really dont care how it comes, buzzer-beater or whatever, at the end of the day, as long as I go home with the win, thats all that matters.

Earlier in the season, even when expectations for the Bulls werent as high, there was grumbling about the closeness of contests against supposedly inferior competition and it seemed that their blue-collar style wasnt fully appreciated. As the squad continued to win games, improve and go on to secure the best record in the league, that talk ceased.

Maybe its time to take a trip down memory lane. Better yet, pay closer attention to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, the ultimate pragmatist.

READ: Deng all about defense against Pacers

Each game is important and if you start looking at all the other things, thats where you lose your focus. The way we approach it is we just concentrate on exactly whats in front of us. Theyre a hard-playing team, they had to play well and hard down the stretch to get in and Im expecting a tough game tonight, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose streamlined approach has filtered into the subconscious of his players. This is the playoffs. If you study whats going on in the playoffs and you study whats gone on in the past few years, this is not uncommon. Teams are good. Theres going to be tight games, theres going to be tough situations. You have to endure through everything.

You look at last year. The Lakers had a tough first-round series and they ended up winning the championship. I know in 08 with the Celtics, we had a tough first-round series, so thats all part of it. You have to be able to get through those things, he continued. Im just concerned with winning. Others may be more concerned with aesthetics. Im concerned with winning. As long as we win and we learn, and we correct and we improve, thats all I want us concentrating on.

There you have it. Keep worrying about the nature of the Bulls wins, while they remain concerned about the final result.

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.”