Bulls

LIVE: Bulls look to extend East lead vs. Raptors

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LIVE: Bulls look to extend East lead vs. Raptors

Saturday, April 2, 2011
Posted: 10:49 a.m.
Associated Press
While many believe Derrick Rose is assured the MVP award, the Chicago Bulls likely need more victories to obtain the Eastern Conference's top seed in the postseason.

A visit from the struggling Toronto Raptors may help boost their chances.

Chicago looks to extend its lead atop the conference Saturday night when it hosts last-place Toronto.

With a victory, the Bulls (55-20) can pick up one-half game on Miami and Boston, which are both idle. They lead the second-place Heat by 2 12 games and the Celtics by three after beating Detroit 101-96 on Friday.

"Destiny is in our hands," Rose said. "We're just trying to finish the season strong."

Rose, who once again received chants of "M-V-P" throughout the game, scored a team-high 27 points and added seven assists. Rose is averaging 27.8 points and 9.8 assists over his last four games and has helped the Bulls win 14 of 16.

Chicago had won 14 in a row at home before a 97-85 loss to Philadelphia on Monday.

Carlos Boozer, who scored 22 points Friday, had a season-high 34 points and 12 rebounds Dec. 15 in a 110-93 win at Toronto.

"Carlos was outstanding," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "When he's getting into the post, Derrick is getting shots off the dribble and we have the pick and roll, we've got a lot of ways to get easy offense."

Boozer missed the most recent meeting with an ankle injury as Toronto overcame Rose's 32 points for a surprising 118-113 victory Feb. 23 - one of only four losses for the Bulls since Feb. 9.

However, the Raptors have won only four times since that victory.

Toronto (20-54) has lost 12 of 16 since beating Chicago and is limping toward the finish of its disappointing season. The Raptors lost point guard Jose Calderon to a strained hamstring Wednesday during their fifth straight loss, 104-98 to visiting Milwaukee.

Calderon won't travel to Chicago and is doubtful for Sunday's game against Orlando, giving backup Jerryd Bayless an opportunity to earn more playing time as the starter.

Bayless is averaging 14.4 points and 7.4 assists in seven starts for the Raptors this season compared to 6.6 and 3.0 in 56 games coming off the bench, which includes 11 games with New Orleans. Bayless came over in a trade Nov. 20.

"You know you're going to play and you're going to play a lot freer," Bayless said after practice Friday. "It's just different. I've been happy here whether it's starting or coming off the bench but I think anybody's going to play a little bit better when they're starting."

Andrea Bargnani returned to the lineup and scored 22 points after missing last Saturday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers with a right ankle injury. Bargnani, averaging a career-high 21.8 points this season, scored 24 in the most recent win against the Bulls.

DeMar DeRozan, who scored 20 points Wednesday against the Bucks, also added 24 in the victory over Chicago.

The Bulls can tie San Antonio atop the league with their 33rd home victory, but Toronto has had some recent success at the United Center. The Raptors have won five of the last seven meetings in Chicago.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

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USA TODAY

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

In a five-game span Wendell Carter Jr. saw preseason action against Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Myles Turner. The 19-year-old rookie had his share of expected ups and downs but performed well enough that Fred Hoiberg officially announced him a starter for the team’s season opener tomorrow night.

His reward for all that hard work? A matchup against All-Pro center Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’ll be an eye-opening experience for the Duke product, who just a year ago was readying himself for his first season of college basketball and a season-opening matchup against Elon. It’s safe to assume Embiid will pose a few more problems than did Phoenix center Tyler Seibring.

“Joel Embiid was one of my role models growing up,” Embiid said before practice Wednesday. “He was someone I always wanted to pattern my game after. Just to go up against him is a remarkable feeling. He’s a very physical player. He’s a very talented player. I’m going to be able to stack up and see what all I need to work on to last in this league.”

While it’s no easy task against a talent like Embiid, who was named All-NBA Second Team last season, Carter’s most important job will be staying out of foul trouble. Carter piggy-backed an impressive Summer League with a preseason that included averages of 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.1 minutes. But those numbers also included 7.7 fouls per 48 minutes. He racked up 17 fouls in five games, and had at least three in each.

Embiid only went to the line five times in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Celtics, but that was primarily against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Al Horford. Embiid won’t face as much resistance against Carter, putting the pressure on the rookie to stay on the floor.

“He’s going to have to navigate that without using his hands,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to be all five aware. It’s just not a one-man problem with Embiid. We have to have great awareness of him and try and mix up coverages and hopefully make him take tough shots, knowing that he’s going to hit some of those. You just can’t get deflated when he does.’’

The decision was a mere formality – Bobby Portis will start at power forward – after the frontcourt combination played considerably better in the Bulls’ final two preseason games. Though Jabari Parker was initially slotted in at power forward following Lauri Markkanen’s elbow sprain, Portis’ impressive preseason forced Hoiberg’s hand. Portis averaged 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field in just 22.4 minutes.

“It’s all about combinations out there and we felt like Bobby gave us a great start with the way he was playing,” Hoiberg said. “And then we kind of changed things up with that second unit and put the ball in Jabari’s hands, so it was more that in trying to get guys out there with the right combinations.”

Lopez may have an expanded role if Carter gets into foul trouble early, while Parker will be the facilitator on a second unit that doesn’t have much in the way of a point guard. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the frontcourt will play out once Markkanen returns in roughly a month; if Portis and Carter continue playing well, Hoiberg could opt to keep them together on the second unit and put Lopez back in the starting lineup.

But for at least Opening Night – the Bulls also get Andre Drummond and the Pistons on Saturday – it’ll be the seventh overall pick getting his NBA feet wet with a matchup against arguably the best center in basketball. But’s it a role he’s earned, and on a Bulls defense looking for any sort of improvement, Carter is the player who can anchor it.

“His defense is always going to be important for us. He’s the guy that’s the anchor in that starting unit at the rim,” Hoiberg said, “and he’s done a really solid job of making perimeter guys taking contested shots when he gets switched off, or staying vertical at the rim and trying to make a big finish over the top of him, so yeah, again it’s a great challenge, great opportunity for Wendell.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: