Bulls

Bulls: While his body recovers, Derrick Rose's mind stays intact

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Bulls: While his body recovers, Derrick Rose's mind stays intact

The ball rolled back near halfcourt with approximately three seconds left on the shot clock for Derrick Rose late in the fourth quarter, as his good eye was good enough to evaluate how much time was left to negotiate a score.

His eyes went up then down to Markel Brown’s feet, as that made the decision for him as far as whether he would drive or pull up for a jumper, never mind being 45 feet away from the basket.

Flat-footed Brown meant a Rose acceleration.

“That’s why I drove by him and saw no one was stepping up and I could get a shot up,” Rose said. “As soon as I got the ball I knew I was in attack mode.”

In the blink of an eye Rose darted to the basket, and dropped in a seven-foot floater before the shot clock buzzer even went off—and certainly before any woeful Brooklyn Net defender dared make a move.

Considering Rose still has trouble with double vision, one wonders how he could actually see the shot clock from such a distance.

“No, it wasn’t hard,” Rose said. “I don’t know why, but right when I saw it I looked at the clock and saw I had three seconds to get to the rim and I was trying to get fouled but they didn’t foul me.”

[MORE: Not pretty, but Bulls move to 2-0 with road win over Nets]

Considering his body has betrayed him in a cruel way, attempting to rob him of the blazing speed and athleticism that makes him so special, Rose’s basketball mind in the moment is razor sharp, not willing to yield an inch.

What does Rose think in those instances, where a millisecond can make the world of a difference?

“If it’s any defenders on the same side, thinking about what shot I can get off, thinking about if someone is open. I’m looking at the time,” said Rose calmly as he exited the visitor’s locker room at Barclays Center.

Rose brushed off the notion of that type of quick-twitched robotic thinking is exclusive to him or even professionals, while admitting the God-given ability grants him a step above most basketball mortals.

“I don’t know, it just comes with playing,” he said almost sheepishly. “Having the ability to do it, I think every hooper does it… I’m just able to get off certain times of shots.”

In his mind, the ability to do it on call hasn’t left him, even if that blur doesn’t happen as much as many or even he would like at this embryonic stage.

“It’s mind. The game, they say is 95 percent mental,” Rose said. “If you get into somebody’s mental it’s game over. It’s about reading the game, me being a point guard and making it easy for everybody.”

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Derrick Rose jersey]

Of all the things to consider: the defense, his teammates, the clock, his body, it’s tough to remember he’s playing with one eye, and he’s rebuilding his game from all the damage life has done to it.

“Right now I can’t see like that, so getting in the lane, being creative, getting floaters truing to get contact,” said Rose when asked what stage he was in as far as his personal rebuilding. “Defenses are so keyed into me, guys are open, so that’s why I say I want Jimmy (Butler) to shoot more 3’s. He can knock those shots down.”

Scoring 15 points and three assists certainly won’t lead anyone to think the days of 2011 are here again, but going to the basket in the first two games means his mind is starting to catch up with what everybody sees.

“It’s only two games. We always have room to improve,” Rose said. “We’ve had some ups and downs but we gotta get better.”

The “We” could be substituted for an “I”, as the likelihood of him rounding into a more consistent player seems more and more evident.

So if you’re flat-footed, you might have already lost, even before the body gets moving.

Because the mind never stops.

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 obviously is beneficial to the 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.