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Bulls hang on after long halftime, control East

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Bulls hang on after long halftime, control East

Friday, April 1, 2011Posted: 9:33 p.m. Updated: 10:48 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

AUBURN HILLS, MICH.On a night celebrating Dennis Rodmana champion in both Chicago and Detroittwo longtime divisional foes battled in Detroit. And while the game didnt exactly bring back memories of the rivalrys heyday, it did come down to the final minutes, with the Bulls pulling out a 101-96 win over the Pistons Friday night. Coupled with Miamis win and Bostons loss on the same night, the Bulls are now 2 games ahead of the Heat and three games ahead of the Celtics with seven games remaining in the regular season.

I take a win any day," observed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "Any way we can get it, Im taking a win. But its fools gold, too. Weve got to make the corrections. The three things we always look at on the road are the defense, the rebounding and the turnovers. We didnt rebound well, we didnt defend well and we turned the ball over.

Concurred Carlos Boozer: We didnt play our best basketball tonight, but well take the win.

Perhaps inspired by the packed housefans and basketball luminaries alike came in droves for the halftime ceremony to retire Rodmans Pistons jerseythe Pistons kept pace with their first-place Central Division and Eastern Conference historical rivals in the early going. Longtime Pistons bookend wings Tayshaun Prince (17 points) and Richard Hamilton (30 points), two of the last links to Detroits last NBA titlist, propelled the home team with their skilled perimeter games.

For the Bulls (55-20), All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (27 points, seven assists)named the Eastern Conference player of the month earlier in the dayLuol Deng (15 points) and Boozer (22 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) were the teams offensive catalysts. But, Thibodeau was dissatisfied with his teams defensive effort, which allowed Detroit (26-49) to keep the game close before tying it at 21-all. Toward the end of the opening period, however, Chicago played at a faster pace, forcing the Pistons into turnovers and capped a quarter-ending spurt with a Rose (13 first-quarter points) three-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining, giving the Bulls a 31-21 lead.

Even on a special night for Pistons fans, the visitors strong close of the opening period seemed to take some of the air out of the Palace and unlike the vehicles Motor City natives have so much pride in, Detroits offense sputtered. Conversely, the Bulls Bench Mob built upon the team's momentum, maintaining the double-digit lead while the Palace crowd could only take solace in video montages of the Bad Boys era.

But even after Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest, Detroit found its competitive spirit again and behind a balanced offensive attack led by Hamilton, the Pistons still attempted to claw their way back into the game, briefly making it a single-digit affair. The Bulls, however, again finished the quarter strong and at the break, they held a 58-47 advantage.

During halftime, the Pistons held an emotional ceremony during which Rodmans jersey was raised to the arena rafters. Afterwards, Rodman reportedly told assembled media that he was informed Thursday of his upcoming induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame at the NCAA Final Four in Houston.

Re-energized after halftime, Detroit scored the third quarters first six points and eventually cut the Bulls' lead to 60-57 at the 8:52 mark, at which point Bulls fans nearly had a collective heart attack, as Rose rolled his left ankle after landing on Boozers foot.

Its fine. I dont feel it right now. I told Jo, usually when guards do it, you bounce right back, but with themwith seven- footers and big menthats a bad injury for them, joked Rose afterwards, referencing his teammate Noahs sprained ankle, which kept him out of the lineup for the second consecutive game. At first, it was scary, but my will to play got me back in that game.

Its a tough game, especially to be on the road. We sat for like 30 or 40 minutes at halftime.

Added Boozer: We came out a little flat. We had the long halftime. We tried to talk about it, but for whatever reason, we couldnt overcome the inevitable. That long halftime took a little wind out of our sails, but we fought through it.

It became a game of who was going to win, who wanted it more.

Thibodeau, however, is a man who doesnt believe in excuses and didnt think the long intermission caused a competitive disadvantage.

Were faced with things like that throughout the course of the year. They had the same halftime. They came out more aggressive than us, said the NBAs Eastern Conference coach of the month for March. We were flat to start the third, then we got the lead and we got loose. We didnt play defense. That was a problem and Rip Hamilton was able to get to the line, so they made up ground on us and rebounding was poor. We had to scratch for it at the end.

Rose stayed in the game after a timeout, even incurring a technical foul, and the visitors rebuffed the hosts push with a 17-5 spurt led by Boozer, giving the Bulls some breathing room en route to creating double-digit separation between the teams again.

Carlos was outstanding. Post-up, making plays, praised Thibodeau. It makes us a different team. We have Carlos in the post, we have Derrick off the dribble and then pick-and-roll, it creates a lot of easy offense for you.

One thing about Carlos, if you cut and youre open, hes going to hit you every time, and I think our players know that. Were doing a better job searching him out, weve got to keep him in rhythm. Hes doing a better job running the floor, hes getting deeper into the paint and hes playing very well right now, so weve got to keep him going.

In addition to his scary moment, Rose also incurred a technical foulangered by not making trips to the foul line when he drew contact on shot attemptsbut that wasnt the least of his worries, as the Pistons battled back as the period waned on. Through three quarters, the Bulls clung to an 80-72 lead.

Detroit initially persisted with its rally in the final stanza, but Chicagos second unit met the challenge and solid play from the likes of Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson, the Bulls rebuilt their prior double-digit advantage midway through the period. The constant swings in momentum continued, as the Pistons repeatedly cut into the deficit, only to have their guests widen the gap.

A fast-break layup by Pistons guard Will Bynum (12 points), a Chicago native, with 2:37 remaining, however, made it a 90-87 contest, threatening the Bulls' once-safe lead in the midst of the games stretch run. After a timeout, the Bulls went to Boozer, who converted a traditional three-point play with 2:22 to play, giving the Bulls a six-point lead.

The teams exchanged turnovers on the next two possessions and after a pair of Hamilton free throws cut the Bulls lead to a four-point margin, veteran Kurt Thomas came up with a key offensive rebound, then knocked down a baseline jumper with 57.7 seconds left, making it a 95-89 contest in Chicagos favor.

When I was coming out, they called me Dennis Rodman with a jumpshot, joked Thomas, a native of the same Dallas neighborhood where Rodman was raised. Its definitely great to see his number retired, but the bottom line is we wanted to get the win.

Added Thibodeau: Hes just smart, tough. Hes going to make big plays, he plays great defense all the time for you, he sets great screens and is always ready. He had not been playing a lot, Jo goes down, throw him right in and hes ready to go.

An exchange of baskets ensued, leading to Hamilton nailing a triple with 24.1 seconds on the clock, once again cutting the Bulls lead to just three points. C.J. Watson hit a pair of foul shots with 20.5 seconds to go and although the teams exchanged turnovers on each of their next two possessions before a Bynum layup, Rose sealed the deal by hitting two attempts from the charity stripe.

It might sound crazy, but Im just worried about over here, said Rose, after being informed of the Celtics loss. Our destinys in our hands.

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.

Jim Boylen takes positive approach to injuries, Bulls' disappointing season

Jim Boylen takes positive approach to injuries, Bulls' disappointing season

One thing that has stood out throughout this disappointing Bulls season is Jim Boylen’s positivity.

Following most every game, he has highlighted in-game moments that he feels are signs of progress, even if they’re as basic as winning a quarter. He has praised players for their care factor and development.

The approach, like many of Boylen’s, has bothered some fans and observers. Perhaps not to the degree that his late-game timeout usage or rotational decisions or systems have, but the trait has caused some angst nonetheless.

It also stands in contrast to when Boylen first took over for the fired Fred Hoiberg. You remember his “shock and awe” campaign, the one where he openly questioned his players’ conditioning, made them do push-ups and in general sounded like a drill sergeant.

But the approach has at least served Boylen well as the Bulls have endured yet another stretch of injuries that has bordered on ridiculous. Wendell Carter Jr. is aiming for a Saturday return, while Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen are trending in the right direction.

But the Bulls weren’t expecting to be playing two-way player Adam Mokoka rotational minutes in February, particularly alongside Cristiano Felicio and Shaq Harrison.

“What I’ve learned to do from people I’ve worked for and from being in this business is I take it as it comes,” Boylen said following Thursday’s practice at Advocate Center. “I try to stay in the moment, do the best I can to help this team get better and grow. I do not worry about tomorrow and I try to stay right in where we’re at. And where we’re at right now is banged up.

“I cannot wallow in that negativity or the things I can’t control. Otherwise, I don’t do as good a job on that floor teaching the guys that are practicing and are playing and staying positive and upbeat. And that’s what I get paid to do. I take a lot of pride in my attitude in these moments. That’s what this league is about to me. It’s easy when your team is healthy and you’re playing good and you’re winning games. But a lot of us in the league right now are going through these moments. And that’s part of it.”

So Boylen will continue stressing whatever he sees as positive, trying to set an example for his young team. On Thursday, that featured more talk of the Bulls’ shot profile. The Bulls rank second in shots from 5 feet or less and ninth in 3-point attempts.

“We have areas on the floor that we really value. A rim-2, which is right at the rim in the restricted area, or a corner 3, those are your highest-valued shots. Then you have a mid shot and an above-the-break 3. There are four distinct areas that we talk about,” Boylen said. “You would like more of the rim-twos and the corner 3s because those are the most valuable shots.”

The next step is converting them. The Bulls rank 26th in shots from 5 feet or less and 22nd in 3-point percentage.

“You hope to make those good looks you get. You hope to finish plays at the rim. And we’re working to do that,” Boylen said. “And that’s strength and youth and toughness and all those things we’re developing, You would say Coby White’s finishing has improved dramatically as he’s grown in the system. Our shot profile is very good.”

At 19 games under .500, that’s more positivity from Boylen.

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Coby White's NBA future goes beyond positional values

Coby White's NBA future goes beyond positional values

Among the hot topics for Bulls’ fans during this disappointing season has been the development of rookie guard Coby White. The Bulls drafted White with the 7th overall pick last June with the hope that eventually he could take over the starting point guard job and hold it for the next decade-plus.

White burst on to the scene by scoring 42 points in his first two NBA games and followed that up with back to back games of 27 and 26 points in November. He set a franchise record by making 7 three-pointers in the 4th quarter of a home-court win over the Knicks with his college coach Roy Williams watching from the stands. White quickly became a fan favorite, bringing back memories of past streak shooters like Ben Gordon, Jamal Crawford, and Nate Robinson.

Still, White hasn’t been immune to the typical growing pains experienced by a 19-year-old NBA rookie. He went through a few stretches of sub-par shooting and inconsistent playing time, averaging just 9.4 points during the month of December while shooting 37.7% from the field. And January wasn’t a whole lot better, with White averaging 10.3 points on 39% shooting.

Part of the problem was White being asked to take on more playmaking responsibilities, which took away from his natural aggressiveness as a scorer. The Bulls’ coaching staff finally told Coby to go back to what made him so successful as a high scoring guard in high school and college: attack the basket in transition and use his quickness in pick and roll situations to create shots for himself and his teammates.

With Kris Dunn likely out for the rest of the season because of a knee injury, White began to play more minutes with Zach LaVine, and all of a sudden they’ve become a formidable 1-2 punch. White and LaVine just became the first Bulls’ duo since Bob Love and Chet Walker in 1969 to score 30-plus points apiece in consecutive games.

LaVine is no stranger to high scoring games, but the 6th year guard is genuinely excited about how good his young backcourt mate might turn out to be. “He’s coming into his own, and I’ve said this from day one, he’s special. He can score the ball like no other,” LaVine told reporters after the loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday. “He’s continuing to get better. He’s 20 years old. I think he’s starting to find his groove right now.”

So, back to the original point. What’s the best way to develop a young scoring guard like Coby White?

We’ve seen several teams in recent years trying to build their offense around a pair of dynamic guards, like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson with Golden State, John Wall and Bradley Beal with the Wizards, the former Toronto backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and James Harden teaming up with Chris Paul and now Russell Westbrook in Houston. Is that the model the Bulls will follow? Or do they need to have more of a facilitating point guard to play alongside LaVine?

Clearly, the old way of defining positions no longer applies in the world of professional basketball. Rather than force White to reign in his game to be more of a traditional point guard, the Bulls need to embrace the offensive firepower generated by two explosive backcourt scorers.

White’s recent offensive onslaught came in part because opposing defenses are focusing so much attention on slowing down LaVine. That duo should find even more operating room in the future when the starting frontcourt of Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. is back on the court, and next season there will likely be another lottery pick to add to the core.

Whether White starts for the rest of the season or not isn’t the issue. He’s playing starter’s minutes now and is on the court with LaVine in closing lineups.

Tomas Satoransky has only one fully guaranteed year left on his contract and has the versatility at 6-foot-7 to play all three perimeter positions. Ryan Arcidiacono will continue to be a depth option. Dunn will be a restricted free agent this summer and might not return. The Bulls need to continue to develop White’s passing and decision-making skills while understanding what really makes him special is the ability to score points in bunches. There’s no reason why White and LaVine can’t be effective playing together, especially since White is an active and willing defender with good size at 6-foot-5.

Very little has gone right for the Bulls this season, but if Coby White can continue to build off his recent flurry of 30+ scoring games, the backcourt will be a real problem for opposing teams in years to come.

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