Bulls

Bulls have slight edge in Game 6

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Bulls have slight edge in Game 6

It's no longer a stretch to think the Bulls can win Game 6 and go on to win this series even with Taj Gibson less than 100 percent and no Joakim Noah. Coach Tom Thibodeau wants to keep up guessing with Noah by calling him a game time decision, and Noah has indicated he's hopeful to return, but my sources say we won't be seeing Noah on the court again in this series.

Gibson said at Thursday's shoot around that he is definitely going to play. Now the question is whether his conviction is stronger than his sprained right ankle. Playing through pain and being productive through pain are two different things.

Still, there are five key factors in my mind that will determine who will win this Game 6. When I tally up the advantages, the Bulls come out ahead, but only slightly.

1. Luol Deng

Luol Deng has seen the light. Deng played with much more energy and aggressiveness in Game 5, freeing himself a bit from the shadow that has been Andre Iguodala's defense. Iguodala has been stuck to Deng like glue for much of this series. The two had been tied with 41 total points through the first four games, so the matchup has been a wash. But Game 5 changed things and Deng outscored Iguodala 19-11 by hitting four 3-pointers and shooting 10-19 from the field. Maybe Iguodala's sore anchilles tendon is slowing him down, or Deng has finally found a second gear. Whatever the reason, I'll trust that Deng, facing elimination again, can muster the same type of performance on Thursday.

Advantage: Bulls

2. Center court

Despite Coach Tom Thibodeau's 'game time decision' declaration on Joakim Noah, I don't expect to see the Bulls big man back on the court for Thursday's game, or the rest of the series for that matter. The Bulls will have to go without him again, which wasn't a problem in Game 5 given the play by Omar Asik and Taj Gibson. The problem is Gibson may be slowed down by that bum ankle and the Sixers' Spencer Hawes seems to be angry over the physical play from Tuesday night--Hawes got a gash across his face courtesy of Gibson and seems pretty miffed about it. He may be looking for revenge and wanting to redeem himself after scoring just 11 points in Game 5 after three straight 20-point performances. Only because of Asik's inconsistency and Gibson's compromised ankle will I give the edge to Philadelphia here.

Advantage: Sixers

3. Rip Hamilton

The fact that Rip Hamilton has played in more playoff games and has had more playoff success than anyone on the court in this series should give the Bulls a significant advantage, but instead, Rip looks completely lost and has been sitting on the bench during critical points in the game. He's averaging 11.8 points in just under 27 minutes while shooting 40 percent. The Bulls need more from him if they're going to win this series and be competitive in the second round. But it's not all Hamilton's fault, Philadelphia is playing great defense on him. Credit Jrue Holliday for sticking with Rip while he's running and cutting like crazy. There are also a timing issue between Rip and CJ Watson--Watson seems to deliver the ball a bit too late for the quick Hamilton. It's maddening how the Bulls haven't been able to figure this out and correct it. Instead, Thibodeau chooses to sit Hamilton for long stretches. To me this is the "X factor" of the series. I'll go out on a limb and say Hamilton will find a way to be more productive to help this team win. I'm putting faith in Thibodeau that he will use Rip the right way as well. I'm taking a deep breath on this one.

Advantage: Bulls

4. Charity Stripe

The trips to the free throw line have been a huge advantage for the Sixers. Philadelphia has a whopping 134-90 edge in free-throw attempts, good for a 45-point advantage. The disparity is no fluke. You can blame the referees all you want, and they deserve some flak, but the bottom line is the Sixers haven earned it. They've been more active and aggressive and the referees are rewarding them for it. Not only are the Sixers getting more free throws, but they are making more, shooting 75 percent from the line compared to 62 percent for Chicago. Free points will always give you an advantage over your opponent. I don't know if we can expect a fairly officiated game on Thursday, and if Marc Davis is on the crew, then I will definitely say no. Either way, trips to the line have been a major issue in this series and I don't think it's a trend that's going to change.

Advantage: Sixers
5. Mentality

The Bulls stopped the Sixers momentum with a victory in Game 5, but it did more than prolong the series--it cast doubt. The Bulls got in their opponent's head. Philadelphia is a young squad that isn't quite seasoned in handling big time pressure. Instead of being relaxed on their home court, the Sixers may treat Game 6 like it's a Game 7, making the rims at the Wells Fargo Center just a little bit smaller. Even their coach Doug Collins is thinking in a "don't lose way" instead of a going to "close it out way", saying after the loss Tuesday night, "I just don't want to come back to Chicago for a Game 7." Collins even told his team the cautionary tale of Rip Hamilton's '03 Pistons coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Orlando in the first round. Sounds like they're a team that is more concerned about losing than they are confident about knocking off the top seed. Don't get me wrong, the Bulls have plenty of pressure on them, having to win on the road just to get a chance to play one more game. A loss would be not only embarrassing for the Bulls but render the entire 2012 campaign a complete failure. But the Bulls are always up for a challenge and they proved that in Game 5. They don't want to go out like this and they will fight to stay alive. I like the Bulls resolve much more than what I've seen from Philadelphia so far.

Advantage: Bulls

Instant reaction: 4 takeaways from Bulls' preseason victory over Hawks

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USA Today

Instant reaction: 4 takeaways from Bulls' preseason victory over Hawks

The Bulls concluded their preseason schedule at 2-3 following Thursday’s 111-93 win over a Hawks team playing their regulars limited minutes at the United Center. Here are four takeaways:

Coby White is a baller

Those aren’t our words. They’re Jim Boylen’s.

“We’re developing Coby White as a basketball player,” Boylen said Wednesday. “We’re not going to put him in this situation where he’s a 1, a 2 or a 3. He’s a baller.”

White certainly was with a dominant second half in which he scored 21 of his 29 points and finished 6-for-8 from 3-point range.

At this point, it doesn’t matter if White ever passes the ball. This is the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina high school history and someone who even North Carolina coach Roy Williams didn’t expect to turn pro after one season.

White is clearly more a scorer than point guard at this point. And that’s fine. Give the Bulls credit for recognizing that and letting him play to his strengths rather than force-feed him.

Welcome to the preseason, Wendell Carter Jr.

With his status unknown until shortly before tipoff because he tweaked his surgically repaired left thumb, the second-year big man started and endured a slow first stretch in which he looked winded. Then, Carter made his presence known in a big way.

He blocked Brandon Goodwin’s driving layup and sprinted the floor to dunk off a Kris Dunn dish. He drew a taunting technical for dunking all over Bruno Fernando. He blocked Alex Len’s dunk attempt. He made a nice touch pass to Otto Porter Jr. for a basket.

In short, he showed why the organization remains so high on him. And in the process, he almost made people forget the sprained ankle, bruised tailbone and now tweaked thumb he has had this preseason.

Almost.

Carter still needs to prove he can stay on the floor. As coach Jim Boylen often says, reliability and availability are skills. But it’s a good sign for Carter to finish the preseason on a high note with eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Kris Dunn dominated defensively before enduring foul trouble

The guard continues to say all the right things about his reserve role, embracing his identity as a disruptive defensive force.

Whether it was motivation to do right by that or memories of Trae Young scoring 49 points in these teams’ epic, four-overtime thriller from last season, Young had a first-half stretch in which he was all over the court. He had three steals and two assists before sitting with three fouls.

“I’m a professional, as we all are in here,” Dunn said. “We have to approach it in a professional manner. I’m with the Bulls. I’m going to play hard each game and each practice and try to help the team win.”

Dunn’s three quick fouls isn’t an issue either. He’s now in a role where he can afford to be that aggressive defensively.

Jim Boylen used a regular-season rotation

Carter started alongside Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen. Dunn played with a second unit that featured Coby White, Ryan Arcidiacono, Thad Young and Luke Kornet.

That means, at least for now, Denzel Valentine is the odd man out. Chandler Hutchison and Shaq Harrison have yet to play this preseason because of hamstring injuries. So perhaps the rotation will change.

But Boylen said pregame that he planned to use the final preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Along those lines, the Bulls kept their newfound approach of launching 3-pointers intact. They took 46 overall, including Zach LaVine’s deep heave that beat the halftime buzzer as part of his 23 points in 25 minutes. LaVine continued to score almost effortlessly.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Trubisky help the Bears beat the Saints?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Trubisky help the Bears beat the Saints?

Hub Arkush, Sam Panayotovich and Ben Pope join Kelly Crull on the panel.

0:00- Mitch Trubisky practices again and he got all of the first-team reps. So will his return help the Bears upset the Saints on Sunday?

8:30- KC Johnson joins Kelly to discuss Luol Deng retiring a Bull, Wendell Carter, Jr.'s thumb injury and to preview the Bulls' preseason finale.

14:00- Ben has the latest on the Blackhawks including Jeremy Colliton's goaltender plans for the week. He also tells us if we should be worried about Jonathan Toews' slow start to the season.

21:00- Will Perdue joins the panel to talk about the importance of a good start this season for the Bulls. Plus, he has his

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

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