Bulls Need to Build on Road Winning Streak


Bulls Need to Build on Road Winning Streak

Monday, Feb. 1, 2010
9:32 PM
By Mark Schanowski

Is it safe to assume the Bulls have finally turned the corner, and will put the .500 mark in their rear view mirror the rest of the season? Or, will they slide back to their inconsistent ways and fail to take advantage of a favorable schedule? As always, we welcome your opinions in the comments section below. The upcoming week should be telling. It's a stretch of 4 games in 5 nights, starting with VERY winnable games against the Clippers and 76'ers, followed by a day off, then a much tougher back-to-back against Atlanta and Miami. You'd love to say the Bulls should get 3 out of 4, but if we've learned anything this season, it's that this team is about as unpredictable as they come.

All kinds of positives coming out of the "Ice Show" trip, starting with Derrick Rose earning a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and playing at a level that is certainly All-Star worthy. Rose averaged over 23 points a game in January, shooting right around 50 percent from the field. He's also shown a willingness to try to take over late in close games, a trait that's shared by the biggest stars in the game. Rose making the All-Star team will only help the Bulls' prospects in this summer's free agent derby. The Bulls can now sell the opportunity to play with one of the NBA's best point guards to the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And, with the team also playing better, the argument can be made that the additon of a true superstar like the 3 guys we just named would vault the Bulls into immediate contention for the Eastern Conference crown.

But chasing superstar free agents is still a few months away. Let's get back to the Bulls and their sudden improvement. They're now 13-4 with Kirk HInrich in the starting line-up, and Captain Kirk has helped the team in so many ways. On the recent trip, he defended star point guards Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, allowing Rose to save his energy for the offensive end and avoid foul trouble. He's also improved his perimeter shooting, giving Rose an outlet against all the collapsing defenses he's been facing. Hinrich has been re-energized by his promotion to the starting line-up, and is playing with the kind of all-out intensity we saw a few seasons ago when the Bulls were considered one of the rising teams in the East.

Let's not forget about the frontcourt, either. Joakim Noah continues to make a strong case for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award, while Luol Deng has been the model of consistency, playing in all 45 games, despite a fractured left thumb injury. Meanwhile, rookie Taj Gibson is looking like one of the steals of last June's draft, playing solid defense and contributing big baskets and rebounds almost every night. Who would have guessed the guy picked 26th overall would be heading to All-Star weekend in Dallas as one of 9 players on the !st year squard for the annual Rookie-Sophomore game? The Bulls are also getting contributions off the bench from big men Brad Miller and Tyrus Thomas. Miller has found the fountain of youth, hitting big 3 points shots with consistency, and celebrating like a rookie. Thomas has been his usual inconsistent self, but on the nights he's focused, he can change the game with his shot blocking and ability to finish with resounding dunks on the fast break.

We're still waiting for Devin Brown's Bulls' debut, but Brown is a solid NBA defender, who is also a threat from 3 point range. Brown is expected to get some minutes against the Clippers, and his arrival probably means the end of John Salmons' short stay in Chicago. Salmons was one of the stars of the Bulls' near upset of Boston in last spring's playoffs, but his slow start this season, coupled with a 6.7 million dollar player option for next season that the Bulls want to unload probably means he'll be traded before the February 18th deadline.

The larger question remains, will the Bulls do something big before the deadline, or just try to move players who don't fit in the long term plan like Salmons and Thomas for expiring contracts andor draft picks? Phoenix All-Star forward Amare Stoudemire is very available in trade, but he's hardly looked like a player deserving a maximum contract. Hard to tell whether it's the effect of knee and eye surgeries, but Stoudemire has a tendency to drift in games, and he's never been a consistent rebounder. It seems very unlikely the Bulls would hitch their future hopes to an inconsistent player with a frightening history of injuries.

The latest name to surface in trade rumors is Boston shooting star Ray Allen. Allen is having a sub-par season, shooting only 35 percent from 3 point range, and some people are wondering if he's close to the end at the age of 33. Allen has an expiring 20 million dollar contract, and the Bulls might be able to get him for a package that would include Miller, Salmons and Jerome James. Is that something you'd be interested in? Allen probably could help the Bulls make a run for the 5th playoff spot in the East, but it's hard to picture him being a fit beyond this season. Still, as expiring contracts go, Allen is more capable of helping a team right now than Tracy McGrady, who continues to rehab here in Chicago, waiting for a trade.

We'll be hearing all kinds of rumors over the next 2 and a half weeks leading up to the deadline. Chances are the Bulls will do a smaller deal involving Salmons, and wait until this summer to make their recruiting pitch to Wade and Bosh. I'm guessing they won't even bother talking to James unless Cleveland makes an early exit from the playoffs, and the King gets restless.

I'll see you courtside Tuesday night to preview the Bulls-Clippers match-up with Kendall Gill during SportsNite at 6:30. You can watch the game on Comcast SportsNet starting at 7. Enjoy the hoops and let's hope the Bulls' rollercoaster ride will be replaced by a steady upwards climb towards the playoffs.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut


Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut

The Bulls couldn't have known it at the time, but when LeBron James blocked a Derrick Rose 3-point attempt in the final seconds of Game 5 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, it was the closest those Bulls would ever get to the promised land.

It happened on May 26, 2011, seven long, long, long years ago today.

The game was an ugly one and certainly a fourth quarter the Bulls would love to have back. They took a 12-point lead on a Ronnie Brewer 3-pointer with 3:53 remaining. The Heat closed the game on a 19-4 run, with James' emphatic block on Rose the lasting image of the series.

James finished with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds, and added six assists, three steals and two blocks in 46 minutes.

Rose went just 9-for-29, finishing the series shooting 35 percent from the field after being named league MVP over James.

It's probably unfair to say James and James alone shut the Bulls' championship window. Rose's ACL tear the following postseason realistically was the biggest culprit. But these Bulls had won 62 games, had homecourt advantage, had the MVP, the Coach of the Year and all the momentum. And still they couldn't get it done against James.

That win also sent James to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. He's been there every year since, though that could change as he faces the Celtics on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.