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Bulls: Play must improve as series hits Indy

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Bulls: Play must improve as series hits Indy

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Posted: 11:14 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Judging from the downbeat tenor of their comments (in fairness, often guided by the tone of reporters questions) following each of the games in their first-round series against Indiana, one would never guess the Bulls hold a 2-0 series lead. It isnt like theyre not used to thisstruggling collectively offensively outside of Derrick Rose, playing down to competition early in contest, engaging in defensive slugfestsbut like the national audience that has eagerly joined their passionate Chicago fan base, the Bulls expect more out of themselves.

We did a good joba better jobbut again, I think we can do an even better job on defense. Our whole thing is improving as a team, so thats where are our mindset is at, to keep improving. Well get in the lab tomorrow, see what we did good, see what we didnt do so good and get ready for Thursdays game, said Carlos Boozer, described by Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau as a lightning rod due to his subpar Game 1 outing.

READ: Down but not out, Pacers look to corral Rose

I thought we improved from Game 1, continued Boozer, who bounced back with a 17-point, 16-rebound effort Monday. I think we can do better as a team. I think I can do better.

We try to strive for excellence. Youre not going to reach it, but you want to see how close you can get to it. We know we can play a lot better. We feel like we have the capability of improving throughout the coursed of the series. Weve got to put the work in, got to watch the tape, see our mistakes and try to correct them each game, and got to be a little bit more prepared.

Boozerwho helped hold Pacers power-forward counterpart Tyler Hansbrough in check after the second-year pro gave the Bulls fits, to quote sharpshooter Kyle Korver, in Game 1aside, Chicago has found the going tough against a confident young Indiana team that has competed neck and neck with the leagues top regular-season squad.

Im always concerned and I just want us to continue to improve, stated Thibodeau. Its the playoffs. Wins are hard to come by. Theyre a good team. I want us to play better, I want us to improve, but you have to give them credit also. Were not going to change our approach, so tomorrow, its back to improving and focus on the next game. Thats it.

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Thibodeau knows better than you or I the difficulty of being successful in the NBAs treacherous postseasonespecially this spring, where lower-seeded teams either pulled off upsets or took favored opponents to the wire in just about every game during the playoffs opening weekendbut after a 62-win season in which it seemed like the Bulls got contributions from multiple role players and secondary scorers on a nightly basis, it has now come down to the brilliance of one Derrick Rose for them to succeed.

Thats nothing new for Chicago, as the likely MVPthe votes are already in, just in case his teammates didnt know; theres no reason for them to put Rose in a position to prove his value to those who have already cast their ballots for Dwight Howard, LeBron James or othershas bailed them out plenty of times during the year. But now, more than ever, the Bulls are increasingly reliant on the Windy City native to come to the rescue, early, late and at all times in between.

The game dictates that. Hes a primary scorer, the balls in his hands a lot and we need him to score, so hes done it, said Thibodeau. But Im comfortable with his decision-making, too. Hes going to make the right play.

WATCH: Relive the Bulls' Game 2 win over the Pacers

Rose himselfever humble, selfless and more critical on himself than anybody (other than maybe Thibodeau) could hope to bewasnt awed by his Atlas-like performances in the series first two games. Instead, he focused on the negative from an individual aspect, while showing perspective that belied his youth.

The only thing Im worried about is my turnovers. Of course, I had six of them. That definitely changed the game. If anything, I can learn from it and do better next time. With the team, weve got to come out with an edge, got to take their confidence and we didnt do that tonight. It was still a pretty close game, all the way until the end, said Rose. Were very happy to be here, of course. We wouldnt take anything back, but our play has to get better. Weve got to be more smooth, more efficient, especially on the defensive end, where weve got to try a lot harder. But I feel like were going to get things together pretty quickly.

Im all right. These games are definitely tough. It takes a punishment to keep going in there and keep getting beat up. Tonight, I just tried to mix up my game, shoot jump shots a little bit. But Im going to still attack, play the way that I playaggressiveand that opens up my teammates, he continued, referring to the Pacers physicality, particularly when he drives to the basket. Im still learning myself. I have a little experience, but if anything, I think Thibs is getting us ready. My coaching staff has been doing a great job making sure that we know that these games are very important and every practice, every shootaround, every film session, guys have to be focused because we know that were trying to do something special.

But after narrowly avoiding the upstart Pacers losing not one, but two opportunities to beat them on their home court, Rose isnt taking anything for granted.

We know its going to be tough, he said, referencing the Bulls pair of upcoming games at Indianas Conseco Fieldhouse. Weve got to pull together. Coach always says, walk through the fire together and going there, were going to have to stay together. We cant have anybody coming in unprofessional, unfocused.

Echoed Boozer: This is what the playoffs are about. Playing, stakes are high, everybody wants to win. You dont want to give an inch.

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.

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Picture yourself at 19 years old.

Maybe you were in college. Maybe you hit the job market early.

What you likely weren’t doing was guarding one the NBA’s best centers in your first professional game.

That was the task charged to Wendell Carter Jr. in the Bulls’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.

Carter Jr. was the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft after just one season at Duke. He earned the start in his NBA debut after an impressive preseason, but nothing could’ve prepared him for going up against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Carter Jr. said when asked if Embiid was as impressive as he thought he’d be. “He’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of, or the best, big man in the league. Very skilled, very poised. He knows his spots on the court.

“I didn’t go out there with my best effort. It’s just a learning experience for me.”

Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 20 minutes. He also picked up four fouls, which the rookie attributed to the physicality and craftiness of Embiid.

But he did flash the impressive and varied skill set that made him a high pick and such a coveted prospect. He was also able to garner the praise of the Bulls’ veterans.

“Even though Wendell got in foul trouble he was still playing (Embiid) solid,” Zach LaVine, who scored a team-high 30 points, said. “That’s a tough first game right there. But he didn’t lack for confidence. Made him take some tough shots, but he’s going to make them. He’s that type of player.”

To his credit, Carter Jr. was candid about his performance. He admitted that his emotions ran the gamut from nervous to excited to happy.

In a season that will have its ups and downs as the young Bulls develop and learn, there will likely be more games like this against other elite NBA competition. It’ll be how Carter Jr. responds that will define his career.

“It’s the first game so I don’t want to put too much on myself,” Carter Jr. said. “It would be different if it was like the 50th game or 60th game. It’s the first game. We’re just going to move on from it. We’ve got our home opener on Saturday (vs. the Pistons). That’s where my mind is right now.”

See, he’s learning already.

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

The Bulls backup point guard situation will be in dire straits all season, with no established veteran behind Kris Dunn. And although the front office has seemingly committed to Cameron Payne as the backup PG (for at least this season), Ryan Arcidiacono showed enough in the season opener to justify giving him meaningful plying time in the rotation. 

Here are the stat lines of Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne from the season opener in Philadelphia:

Arcidiacono: 8 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line

Payne:           0 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 from the 3-point line

With so many capable ball handlers and score-first players on the Bulls, point and assist totals aren’t as important as the rebounds and 3-point attempts. To provide the necessary space needed for driving lanes, there has to be openings in the defense caused by defenders sticking close to player they believe are a threat to shoot.

And that is where the problem lies with Payne.

Ryan Arcidiacono—while by no means a dominant scorer—showed a willingness to attack off of the pick-and-roll, even showing off an impressive ball-fake:


Payne, despite coming into the league with the reputation of a scorer, has yet to be aggressive enough to make teams think twice about leaving him wide-open on the perimeter. And he is not one to attack the basket with purpose, averaging less than half a free throw per game for his career. Payne's general lack of aggressiveness when on the floor is often times made worse by his occasional poor post entry passes that seem predetermined:

Even if the above play was designed to get the ball to LaVine in the mid-post, Payne chooses a terrible time to make the pass. When he starts the motion to give the ball to LaVine, Ben Simmons is positioned in front of LaVine to force a tougher pass, as rookie Landry Shamet gambles over the backside to get the steal.

Had Payne chose to swing the ball around the perimeter, or give it to Bobby Ports and then get it back, he could have created an opening for the LaVine pass.

Obviously, the Bulls 19-point loss can’t be blamed on solely on Payne, the terrible defense was a group effort, as was the sometimes questionable shot selection. But with the defense already appearing to be perhaps one of the league's worst units, Fred Hoiberg would be wise to put Arcidiacono in more.

Hoiberg is in a crucial year where he needs to show that he can be the head coach of this team when they finally become competitive.

And for Hoiberg to show that type of growth as a coach, he needs to set the tone that minutes are earned not given, something he has already started with his moving of Jabari Parker to the bench. Payne only received 22 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for Arcidiacono, and it is tough to see that changing if things continue on like they did on Thursday night.