Bulls

Boozer-Thibodeau rift much ado about nothing

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Boozer-Thibodeau rift much ado about nothing

Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
12:28 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

PHILADELPHIANobody whos paying attention should be surprised. This was foreshadowed back in July.

When the Bulls hired Tom Thibodeau as head coach in June, then acquired Carlos Boozer in July, any astute NBA observer could have predicted that the defensive guru and the offensively gifted power forward would have growing pains as the latter, never known for his defense, adjusted to a new system.

But Wednesday nights loss to the lowly Nets, in which Boozer didnt see the floor in the fourth quarter, wasnt some rubber-hits-the-road situation. It was merely a teachable moment.

Asked about his lack of playing time after the game, an obviously frustrated Boozer told reporterstwiceYouve got to ask Thibs about that.

A multiple All-Star, gold medalist, college national champion and established playoff performer, if he didnt bristle at having to sit during the contests most crucial stretch, that would be the shocker. Of course, if the Bulls had won, hed say all the right things, as hes done consistentlyby all accounts, Boozers also walked the walk and been a model teammatesince arriving in Chicago.

But perhaps thats the issue. Since Boozers debut, the Bulls have justifiably received rave reviews. The easiest way to measure a teams performance is by wins and losses and at 23-11, the end results have been unimpeachable.

However, there have been chinks in the armor. The Bulls have beaten up on the teams theyre supposed to beat since Decembersave Wednesdays game and Vinny Del Negros triumphant return to Chicagobut, as anybody who's watched them play recently can attest to, it hasnt been pretty and with losses to the likes of the Knicks, Magic and Celtics (all likely playoff teams), theres a mild cause for concern.

Thats all big-picture stuff, however. Prior to Fridays shootaround at Philadelphias Wells Fargo Centerwhere the Bulls will take on the recently-improved 76ers, whom they beat by 45 in Chicago last monthBoozer spoke about the so-called incident.

Im looking forward to tonight and on to the next one. Like Jay rapper Jay-z said, you cant live in the past. Cant worry about what happened in New Jersey. We just know weve got to play better, have more energy, play better D and give us a chance to win tonight, Boozer told CSNChicago.com. We Boozer and Thibodeau squashed it. Its already over and done with. Im looking forward to tonight.

Thibodeau was just rolling with the guys that were making the comeback. Im not worried about it. Its not really an issue. Weve got Philly tonight and Im looking forward to a bounce-back game, Boozer told reporters. I was mad we lost. I was pissed we lost. And of course when you lose, you want to be out there to help your team playing as a competitor. I felt like if I was out there I would help my team win. Thats over and done with now. You cant go backwards. We have to move forward.

I dont worry about that being on the floor in crunch time. Thats not an issue to talk about. Im looking forward to the game tonight. Any more segues where I can get us to the game tonight? Great game tonight, he went on to joke. The starters were horrible. Thats why Coach was riding with the guys who were out there. The bench played great. They got us back in the game. The way C.J. played, the way Ronnie played, those guys got us back in. Kyle hit a couple 3s to get us going. It was a good decision. We almost won the game. Because we lost, I think everybody in the locker room was upset, not just me.

It was a tough night. No excuses. But we played the night before, we got in at 4 in the morning. Every team goes through that. It was one of those nights they got the better of us. They had three days rest. We didnt have too much of it. This is the NBA. Every team goes through that. We didnt step up to the challenge, Boozer continued, We know we didnt have the energy they had. They play better at home. They play fast. We didnt have the energy to compete with it. Looking back, we wish we could do it over again, but you cant go backwards.

Thibodeau stuck to his guns before shootaround, elaborating on his Wednesday-night explanation that the starters as a whole wasnt playing with energy and he stuck with his reserves because they gave the Bulls the best chance to beat New Jersey.

It wasnt necessarily Carlos. It was our whole team. We were low energy going into the fourth quarter, down 13 points, so we were looking to get more energy into the game and the second unit went in and they were playing well. We had to make up ground. We were down 13. They made up the 13 very quickly and I just decided to ride that group because they were playing well, said Thibodeau. It had more to do with we went small with Luol at the four to get another shooter onto the floor and again, it was more to try to keep that group together because I thought they had made up the ground. Most of the time, Carlos is certainly going to be on the floor at the end of games and I prefer to have our starters on the floor closing the game, but again, it was a game in which the third quarter wasnt a good quarter for us, the start of the game wasnt a good quarter for us, so we were just searching and thats what it boiled down to, what we felt would give us our best chance to win.

More than anything else, it was the ground we had to make up in the fourth quarter that led to, Okay, that group is playing well. How far do you ride them? Thats what we did, he continued. You have to weigh everything thats going on in the game and when we did that, it came down to we were struggling, we were slow, I wanted to get more energy into the game. I also wanted to try to make up ground, try to get more 3-point shooting on the floor and thats basically what we were trying to do.

At the same time, Boozers teammates have to notice that he isnt the best individual defender, not to mention Thibodeau and his staff. When the likes of Kris Humphries (best known for dating reality-television phenomenon Kim Kardashian) and raw rookie Derrick Favors are doing damage against Thibodeaus vaunted defense, something has to give.

While a grace period is acceptable for Boozer to raise his defensive effort to Thibodeaus high standards, the lapses witnessed in the Nets game were obvious and even could be considered somewhat of a regression, although any playeror teameven a high-profile star can be granted a bad day at work, just like the average Joe (or Josephine) doesnt give his or her best performance from nine to five daily. Thibodeau, however, wouldnt budge in his stance that the decision not to play Boozer was about sending any message.

Carlos has been great. The guys a winner and hes going to be on the floor most of the time. He and Derrick sat most of the fourth quarter and theyre cheering their teammates on and at that point, were just trying to find a way to get a win. Thats what that was all about. It wasnt about any other stuff and again, I thought our team, we were slow. We were low energy and thats what we were trying to change, said Thibodeau. I think hes doing fine and again, its not only individual defense and its easy to point, to say, Well, this guy didnt do this or that guy didnt do that, but we play team defense, so I thought we werent protecting our basketthats a team responsibilityin transition and in the halfcourt.

Its not just one guy, its the entire group, so that was the big thing about the energy. I knew we were low energy. Carlos has done a lot of good things defensively and his rebounding is terrific, but again, you have to evaluate the entire team and how its functioning.

Will this prove to be a season-long issue or a one-game hiccup and ultimately, much ado about nothing? In the words of Boozer, Youve got to ask Thibs about that.

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.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”