Bulls

Never in doubt, Bulls demolish Nets

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Never in doubt, Bulls demolish Nets

NEWARK, N.J. Even with Derrick Rose playing a mere 11 minutes Monday evening, the overmatched Nets (8-18) were decimated by the Bulls (21-6), 108-87, at the Prudential Center.

The Bulls blitzed their short-handed hosts from the outset, with stifling, turnover-inducing defense and balanced, unselfish offense setting the tone. Carlos Boozer (24 points, six rebounds, five assists) played the role of facilitator in the early going, finding cutters for layups in the halfcourt, while the visitors also got their transition game in gear for more easy offense.

The ball is moving. Theres a lot of quick decisions being made, the extra pass, playing inside-out. I love the way the balls hopping and I thought we ran the floor well early in the game. I thought Carlos got some deep post-ups and that was good, and then we were able to drive and kick some, and everyones sharing the ball, so it was great, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Carlos is a terrific passer and he was deep in the paint, and forced them to help, then kicked out and hit the open man. Also, very good passer off the pick-and-roll," Thibodeau added. "When people are closing hard to him, hes got playmaking ability from that position and Jo does a very good job on the weak side, slashing to the open areas. I thought offensively, he was very, very good.

Added Boozer: Thats what we work on. We work on getting Option A and B, and if the defense is that good, we have Option C and D, too. Weve just been doing a really good job of making the extra pass. I think defenses do a good job of defending the first option because they have scouting reports, they scout you and we do a good job hitting the weak side. Tonight, you saw the ball move from one side of the court to the other. No pressure, we just shoot.

So many guys were open. Every time we did our initial action, the weak side was so open, we would just swing it to the weak side and you had Kyle, Ronnie, whoever, just getting great shots, so were just doing a good job of hitting the open man and swinging it, he continued.

Reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver chimed in: I think were playing really unselfish basketball and thats the main thing. No ones taking tough shots, the balls moving. Were hitting the first option. The first options taken away the next time, were hitting the second option. Were not turning the ball over a lot and when were doing that, and having the guys that we do, that are able to take on defense when they need to, it makes it really hard to guard.

Even Derrick Roses two quick fouls didnt slow down Chicagos torrid pacebackup point guard C.J. Watson (14 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds) came in and the guests didnt miss a beatas the Bulls made 11 of their first 12 shots.

Just a great team effort. Just tried to go out there and pick the tempo up, play great defense, and we got out and ran, teammates made shots and just tried to fill in for D-Rose and win the game, Watson explained. I just try to go in with the same mindset, be aggressive if I get eight minutes or however many minutes I played tonight, but my mindset doesnt change. If I play longer, I play longer.

While they cooled off, relatively speakingmaybe with the exception of Luol Deng (19 points), who hit all five of his attempts, including a trio from three-point range in his second game back from a left-wrist injuryat the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls held a commanding 35-14 lead, following a Johan Petro jumper to beat the first-quarter buzzer.

Readiness to play, said Thibodeau. The first quarter, I thought, defensively, offensively, it was very good. then, after the first quarter, I thought we traded baskets with them, but we had built up a big lead and a cushion, so we were playing from the lead.

Echoed Rose: Were learning. Thats a good thing. I think were finally getting the message that Thibs is telling us. In the beginning of games, were putting teams away and were not giving them any confidence is what we always say, and our energys just been great.

Nothing changed at the beginning of the second quarter, as the Bulls remained scorching hot, extending their lead even further behind Watsons typically aggressive scoring and Korvers precise outside marksmanship.

C.J., I thought, was terrific. Running the team, playing very good defense, he did a lot of great things for us, praised Thibodeau. Its a great luxury to have because its not only his ability to play extended minutes. Hes got confidence to start, hes got confidence to play extended minutes, but also his versatility, his ability to play with Derrick. C.J. does a little bit of everything. Hes a scoring point guard, very good pick-and-roll player and he also makes you play with pace, so the game usually picks up.

Observed Watson: I think thats what Thibs wants me to do, especially with the group off the bench. We run a lot more, try to at least. When we score more points, I think were a better team. It just shows the cohesiveness of our team in the second year that were all jelling together and see a lot more things that we didnt see last year.

Rose, initially paired in the backcourt with Watson to match up with smallish New Jersey, returned to the contest, but would leave for good with 2:54 remaining in the period with lower back spasms, though he was unconcerned with leaving the fate of the team in his understudys capable hands.

Played great, man. C.J. comes in and runs the team. We all know he can score the ball and thats what we have him out there for, lauded Rose. It makes me feel good. Were a good team. If I play or if I dont play, I know that were going to go out there and compete, and play hard every single second.

Korver said of his fellow Bench Mob member: C.J. is an excellent point guard. Its tough to always show that throughout the year because when youve got the MVP, the minutes arent always there, but I dont think theres any doubt that if Derrick doesnt play any games, C.J.s not going to get 20 points or not have a great game. We have a lot of confidence in C.J. Obviously wed prefer to have Derrick healthy, but we feel confident that C.J. can handle the point, too.

Added Boozer: Every night. Phenomenal. We had Pooh go down tonight and C.J., like every other game hes had to play, steps in and keeps our offense rolling, makes big plays on defense, does a good job of getting everybody involved.

Boozer switched into scoring mode upon his re-entry to the lopsided affair and took advantage of New Jerseys lack of depth, size, experience and understanding of defensive principles to add more fuel to the fire, mostly via open mid-range jumpers.

Despite floor general Deron Williams (25 points, five assists) acquitting himself well on an individual basis, much-maligned power forward Kris Humphries (10 points, nine rebounds) quietly having a solid first half and Keith Bogans displaying his usual toughness, the Bulls went into the intermission with a 62-37 edge.

After the break, the Bulls created more separation between them and the Nets, pushing it to a 32-point gap between the teams, as Boozer continued to drain jumpers, swingman Ronnie Brewer (12 points) did the same, picking up from where they both left off in the games first 24 minutes, and Joakim Noah (nine points, 12 rebounds, five assists) wreaked havoc inside with his energetic play and rebounding.

Chicago finally dipped below 60-percent shooting for the game, but with the festivities long established as a laugher, it didnt make much of a difference, as the visitors, while a bit sloppy in the third period, entered the final stanza leading, 83-64.

I thought we started the third quarter with good energy, said Thibodeau. Then, we sort of let up at the end of the third.

Agreed Watson: We kind of slacked off in the third and fourth quarters."

Thibodeau, never one to take anything for granted, left starters Deng and Noah in the game for the basically meaningless fourth quarterin actuality, it was good for Dengs conditioning after his layoff, while reasoning for leaving in other regulars could be chalked up to wanting to keep them sharp and show an improved effort from the lackluster previous periodwhich the Bulls predictably dominated against their hapless foes.

It feels great, Deng said about his wrist. You know, the weird thing is Im not tired. It was my wrist, so I did a lot of running while I was off, but conditioning-wise, Im still there. I might be a little bit, but Im not feeling it at all. The first game, my legs did get heavy, but no so much winded. But its been fine.

Thibodeau added: He said hes fine during the game. The concern was what he was going to be like the next day and he said he was fine when he practiced the day after the first game that he played, the Milwaukee game, and he said he felt really good, so that was very encouraging. So, were hopeful that itll continue to be that way.

Outside of Roses back, another Bull was an in-game casualty, as Boozerwho checked back into the game in the final periodsuffered a cut above his eye.

I had to get three or four stitches. The doctor had to get the stitches to bring them back. I would have came back sooner. That might have been a strategicthat might have been a thought plan; Im going to take my timeI would have came back sooner, though, he said. I didnt really see it. They told me I got hit with an elbow. I didnt know it was bleeding so much. I wanted to keep playing. I was hoping I was going to get some free throws, then they told me it wouldnt stop leaking, so we had to come back and get a couple stitches.

The highlight of the game for the apathetic Newark audience was a late-game appearance from deep reserve Brian Scalabrine, a former Net, which drew the biggest cheers of the evening.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”