Bulls

Bulls: Noah easygoing about Cardale Jones, interaction with fan

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Bulls: Noah easygoing about Cardale Jones, interaction with fan

Joakim Noah seemed mightily amused at the small social media firestorm created by separate apparent actions during Game 2 of the Bulls-Cavaliers series at Quicken Loans Arena.

First, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones issued a couple threatening tweets at Noah last night, after Jones and his teammates were introduced to the crowd, roundly cheered for winning the national title in January.

Noah apparently mouthed to or at Jones, “You ain’t in the S.E.C.,” a nod to Noah’s University of Florida ties. When Jones was made aware of Noah’s words, he unleashed on twitter. 

Noah, never one to tweak an opponent, especially one with Cleveland ties, smiled his way out of things Thursday, saying he didn’t start anything.

[SHOP: Buy a Joakim Noah jersey]

“I heard about it this morning,” Noah said. “I didn't know who he was until this morning. I wish him nothing but the best. I like Urban Meyer, I guess?”

Meyer is currently the head coach at Ohio State and was the national-title winning coach at Florida when Noah helped lead the basketball team to back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.

When asked if he made a comment about the SEC, Noah said no — with a smile.

“I didn’t even know who he was until this morning,” he said. “I wish him nothing but the best.”

The other incident is slightly more serious, because it concerns a fan who apparently spat on Noah as he was walking off the floor and to the locker room with his teammates.

[MORE: Why the Bulls interior help defense must improve]

From a video, it appeared Noah swiped his arm in defense at the fan’s apparent action, but declined to discuss in detail with media — and didn’t want to say if NBA security contacted him about the incident.

“I don't want to talk about that. It's unnecessary,” he said.

When pressed about the interaction with the fan, Noah smiled again and said, “I was just saying hello.”

Noah’s light mood could be created by his struggles on offense, highlighted by scoring just four points in two games against the Cavaliers. He missed a wide-open layup in Game 1, and has shockingly gone 1-14 from the free-throw line in the postseason.

“It's disappointing,” Noah said. “I've just gotta keep working and make them tomorrow.”

Tom Thibodeau appears steadfast in his belief Noah’s stretch is just an anomaly, considering he’s a 71.6 percent free-throw shooter for his career (60 percent this season).

[RELATED: SEC vs. B1G -- Noah vs. Cardale Jones]

“Right now he’s going through a rough period with his free throw, but it will come around,” Thibodeau said. “Sometimes you just have to work your way through it. Last year, he shot his free throws great and he’ll find his rhythm, he’ll get back to it.’’

He denied his struggles at the line or elsewhere are mental, and didn’t want to hear anything about lacking confidence.

Noah shrugged off any notions of losing his offensive feel, which was never the prettiest at its height, anyways.

“Yeah, I'm confident,” he said.

Thibodeau isn’t ready to pull Noah from the lineup at this point, but the longer he goes while struggling with his game and ailing body, the questions will keep coming—especially if Thibodeau keeps Nikola Mirotic on the bench.

“No, not right now,” said Thibodeau when asked about benching Noah for Taj Gibson. “I mean also look at when Jo was on the floor we were a plus, so you gotta look at a lot of things. We’ll see how it unfolds, but Jo brings a lot to our team.’’

Noah was actually a minus-11 in the Bulls’ 106-91 Game 2 loss, and upon hearing his coach’s defense of him for the second straight day, Noah was again jovial.

“Thanks, Thibs,” he said.

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

We all know what Zach LaVine is capable of doing on the offensive side of things. But what about his defense?

It's no secret that LaVine has had his fair share of struggles on defense, but Kris Dunn thinks highly of his 23-year-old teammate and what his potential is at the other end.

"On the defensive end I just told him, 'You're as fast as me. You're more athletic than me. There's no way you shouldn't be a good defender in this league. You could be one of those guys who could be dynamic in the passing lanes because you're so athletic and fast.'" Dunn said of LaVine. "And personally, I like to score. If you get in a passing lane, that's a dunk for yourself and because you've got so much bounce that's when you get the crowd on their feet — maybe do a windmill, a 360, something.

"But I think he's been going a good job on the defensive end. It's not going to be easy. We all got to learn and I think we're all trying."

Improving his defense would obviously be a big step forward for LaVine (and the Bulls), and he knows it. 

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” LaVine said when assessing his preseason. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

LaVine and the Bulls travel to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Thursday night in their season opener. You can watch Bulls Pre- and Postgame Live on NBC Sports Chicago before and after the game for highlights and analysis.

3 keys for Bulls in season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers

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3 keys for Bulls in season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers

1. Provide help defense on Joel Embiid early and often. Embiid's high usage rate means going to score regardless, and has even added moves like a step-back jumper that he can go to comfortably from 15-feet. But if you make him see multiple defenders and force him to be unsettled, you can harass him into poor shooting nights like Boston did (Embiid shot 9-for-21 on Tuesday night). There were plays where as soon as Embiid took one or two dribbles, a help defender—even a guard—was flying in to go for block shot opportunities.

Wendell Carter Jr. earned the starting center job with his ahead-of-his-age defensive IQ, but no matter how ahead of the curve he is, stopping Embiid will take a group effort. He can become enamored with the 3-point shot, so the Bulls will have to work together to coax Embiid into taking poor shot attempts. Boston did a great job of denying him deep post position om Tuesday night, cutting off the Sixers' easiest source of offensive production.

Wendell Carter Jr. will get his first big defensive test on Thursday night, as he will have to use his lower body strength to prevent Embiid's low post dominance. We have seen Carter struggle with bigger low post scorers in the preseason, and if the Bulls don't provide help fast, Carter will be in trouble.

If Carter does what many rookies do, and tries to use his hands to stop Embiid from gaining ground, the referees will call a foul quickly, especially since he is a rookie learning the ropes. Helpside defense will be the difference in this game for the Bulls.

2. Get back quickly and build a wall on transition defense. Below is the combined shot chart of Embiid and Ben Simmons from Tuesday night against the Celtics. Notice where the attempts are mostly concentrated. 

Ben Simmons and Embiid like to put pressure on the opposing defense by putting pressure on the front of the basket, and with good reason. They are both dominant finishers in the paint and questionable outside shooters.

In 207-18 Embiid shot 57 percent when 0-3 feet from the basket, Simmons shot a staggering 83 percent in the 0-3 foot range, which is even more impressive when you consider that defenses are gameplanning for his drives. We all know that Simmons will likely never be an even average 3-point shooter, and Embiid shot a dreadful 25 percent from the 3-point line last season despite a career-high 214 attempts. But the above the break 3-point shot is a major part of the Philadelphia offense, with Embiid shooting a much better 30.4 percent on above the break 3-pointers. 

Chicago would be wise to let the Sixers get these shots. 

In transition Simmons (or Markelle Fultz) will run the break with Embiid trailing directly behind them, either looking for a straight-line drive to the basket or an above the break 3-pointer after their forward momentum has been stopped. 

If the Bulls can summon the words of former Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and form a wall around the restricted area, they can wall off aggressive drives from the Sixers young, dynamic duo. The Bulls need to force this game to be about turnovers and free throw makes, areas in which the Sixers have struggled last season (dead-last in the league in turnovers and 23rd in FT percentage).

3. Force the defense to move side-to-side. Philadelphia had a top-five defensive rating last season, and a big reason for that was that while the Sixers would often switch one through four, they wouldn't switch the five, meaning Embiid was often dropping back on pick-and-roll D and stationing himself near the basket. Staying as close as possibe to the rim is obviously beneficial to Embiid, who has averaged 2 blocks per game for his career. But when you get Philly's aggressive defense to shift, they try to jump passing lanes to ignite their fastbreak, which can lead to plays like this:

The above play contains the exact type of ball-movement and cutting principles that Fred Hoiberg has stressed throughout the preseason.

Zach LaVine is the type of quick, explosive guard that the Sixers can have trouble containing with their personnel, more so that they are depending on Fultz so much. But if the Bulls get bogged down into a bunch of one-on-one play, it will allow Embiid to sit back and be a huge deterrent at the rim.

Carter's ability to stretch the floor—along with Bobby Portis' shooting—should be enough of a threat to keep Embiid occupied, but if not he will not respect their shots, and simply clog up driving lanes.

Handoff plays contained some of Carter's best moments this preseason, so we should expect to see Hoiberg call for lots of plays that get a Bulls guard or wing attacking a backpedaling big.