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Rose, Bulls top Suns in battle of point guards

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Rose, Bulls top Suns in battle of point guards

Tuesday, April 5, 2011Posted 9:40 p.m. Updated 11:40 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Tuesday night's game at the United Center seemed in the bag as the Bulls built up a seemingly insurmountable lead, but let up and allowed the Suns to claw their way back into the game, before escaping with a 97-94 win.

The late heroics of Derrick Rose were Chicagos saving grace, as the All-Star point guard hit clutch shots to hold off Phoenix and maintain the Bulls three-game Eastern Conference first-place lead over both Miami and Boston.

We got the big lead, we got loose, we stopped defending and they hurt us on the boards, so we were fortunate in the end, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. We didnt play well and you have to give the Suns credit. They played well. They played hard, they played smart, they were unselfish and we didnt play tough with the lead. Our shot selection hurt us, our defensive transition hurt us. Were fortunate in the end to get the win, but weve got to do a lot better. Weve got to clean up a lot of things.

Overall, 94 points54 in the second halfthats not good enough.

With both teams welcoming back key players to the lineupBulls center Joakim Noah (12 points) returned after a four-game absence caused by a sprained right ankle; Phoenix point guard Steve Nash (16 assists) got over the flu in time for his annual visit to the Windy Cityeach squad was raring to go and the up-tempo style play early on favored the visitors.

As offensively capable as the Bulls (57-20) have occasionally proven to be with their full complement of players, the Suns (37-40) are regarded as the NBAs masters of run-and-gun basketball.

Behind a bouncy and active Noah, Roses newfound ability to get to the charity stripe, balanced scoring amongst the supporting cast and collectively buckling down on defense, Chicago slowed down Phoenixs rapid-fire attack.

I just came back from injury, so Im very happy to be out there, said Noah. I love this. This is great. Playing for the Chicago Bulls, No. 1 seed right now, about to go to the playoffs, playing in the best building in the world to play basketball in and trying to improve with a great group of guys, and be as good as we can be. I feel pretty good right now.

Despite the efforts of 38-year-old Grant Hill (13 points)a day younger than Bulls veteran Kurt Thomasand Nashs playmaking, the home team clung to a narrow 25-24 edge at the conclusion of the opening period.

The contest remained a close-knit affair early in the second quarter, but the Bulls Bench Mob, led by the high activity levels of Taj Gibson (10 points, nine rebounds) and Ronnie Brewer (10 points, six rebounds, four assists), managed to build a slim cushion by forcing turnovers and playing the gritty, selfless style of basketball Chicago fans have come to expect from the second unit this season.

The aforementioned pair continued to slash their way inside for easy buckets and coupled with the outside marksmanship of Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson, as well as solid transition defense, the Bulls' reserves extended the lead to double digits.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau eventually went back to his regulars and the Bulls ran their offense through Carlos Boozer (12 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) while others, such as Luol Deng (18 points), also got involved as the squad found a balance between solid defense and pushing the pace. At the halftime break, the Bulls maintained a 53-40 advantage.

Chicago was clicking on all cylinders early in the third quarter, as Noah continued to excel as an interior scorer and Rose began to assert himself as a scorer, prompting the Bulls lead to balloon to over 20 points.

Nash, however, was at his playmaking best and while he didnt look to be a scoring threatin some part due to Roses improved defensehe set up his teammates for open jumpers and easy finishes at the rim, causing the Bulls to incur the wrath of the intense Thibodeau, who was clearly unhappy with his teams slippage on the defensive end.

Explained Rose: Offensively, youre going to miss shots. defensively, we let them get in a groove shootingpick-and-pop, Steve rolled coming off screens, floaters, layupsand we cant let players like that get confidence.

After a timeout for instructional purposes, the Bulls widened the gap to previous standards. But Phoenix once again fought back, trimming the deficit via transition opportunities, many of which were created by Bulls turnovers.

Capped by a time-machine alley-oop by former All-Star swingman Vince Carter (21 points), the Suns closed to within 81-70 through three quarters.

Phoenix continued its charge early in the final stanza, battling within single digits behind a small-ball lineup that spread the Bulls out and then took advantage by ducking inside for easy buckets or corralling long rebounds and turning broken plays into ultimately successful possessions.

Carter was the Suns catalyst, scoring in variety of ways that harkened his Half Man, Half Amazing heyday and putting the visitors within striking distance, as it became a two-possession game midway through the period.

Defensively, we had to do a much better job than we did. Once we started coming up with stops, obviously we could get in the open court and run, said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. We have to play the way we played the second half when the game is even, not when were 22 down."

The visitors continued to test Chicagos mettle as the contests stretch run approached, as the two teams were separated by a single basket with two minutes remaining.

Rose, the favorite for this seasons MVP award, gave his team some breathing room by a converting a traditional three-point play with 1:52 to go, to the delight of his hometown fans.

I was just trying to attack, said Rose. They did a good job of containing me the whole game, just making sure I didnt get a lane. I saw a hole and just tried to penetrate.

Both Gentry and Hill both disagreed with the callRose, however, drew contact, but didnt go to the line on several previous second-half drives, perhaps to compensate for the frequency of his trips to the charity stripe in the first halfand voiced their opinions afterwards.

Grants done a good job and Steve did a good job on him. We tried to stop his dribble penetration and then, when he did, we tried to step in front of him for charges, to see if we could take a charge on him, said Gentry, emphasizing the word charge each time to show his disagreement with the blocking foul called on Hill.

Disputed Hill: I thought I was there and Derricks the MVP at home. Its not the first time that an MVP in this building down the stretch got that type of call, but it shouldnt come down to a play like that.

One of those calls that go either way.

But the Suns werent done just yet, as jump-shooting big man Channing Frye (13 points, nine rebounds) knocked down a triple with 1:41 left, making it a 94-92 game and prompting a Bulls timeout.

Rose again displayed nerves of steel, taking his man off the dribble and draining a pull-up jumper from the elbow with 33.2 seconds left, giving his Bulls a four-point lead.
Joakim Noah returned from his ankle injury to mixed reviews from head coach Tom Thibodeau. Noah knows he needs to focus on helping the Bulls improve their rebounding and continue to find chemistry with Carlos Boozer down low. (AP)
Im just trying to do whatever it takes to win, said Rose. At the end, if its me making a shotI never want to be in that position where I have to make a shot like thatif anything, Id rather win by 20 or 30 points, but Ill do whatever it takes to win.

Following a Suns timeout, Carter was efficient in hitting a driving layup on the ensuing possession, leaving 26.7 on the clock and a two-point deficit for Phoenix, plenty of time if the visitors played their cards right.

Chicago attempted to milk the clock before Korver was eventually fouled and while he surprisingly split a pair of free throws to leave the door open, the Suns were unable to get off a potentially game-tying three-point attempt, giving the Bulls a narrow escape.

We cant mess up at practice, we cant come in sluggish at the games, cautioned Rose, who appeared dissatisfied with the quality of the win, given Phoenixs near-comeback. We just cant do that right now.
Noah focused on rebounding in return

Noahs return after a four-game absence caused by a sprained right ankle was certainly a sight for sore eyes, but after missing nearly half of the season due to various injuries, its no surprise he wasnt completely on point.

Offensively, I thought, pretty good. Defensively, I think you could see his timings not quite there, said Thibodeau. Hes hurting a little bit.

Noahs 12-point, four-rebound, four-assist effort showed that his shooting touch and even court awareness offensively was there and while the fact that he guarded Suns face-up big man Channing Frye took him away from the basket some of the night, his rebounding and defense werent up to his usual standards.

Im concerned that he hasnt been able to get into rhythm because hes missed so much time. Hes missed almost half the season and he was just starting to come around, and he was getting his timing back, and then he sprains his ankle. Thibodeau explained. But we need his rebounding. For us to be the type of team we want to be, hes got to rebound big.

Noah himself acknowledged his rebounding could improve; in fact, so could the team as a whole. After dominating opponents on the glass throughout much of the season, the Bulls have come back to Earth, a fact illuminated by a finesse Phoenix team outrebounding them Tuesday.

We have to do a better job rebounding. Thats definitely on everybodyon meto step it up, said Noah. My rebounding is a little down right now, but Im going to work as hard as I can to get it back to where it used to be.

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.

Every move the Bulls make should be geared toward the summer of 2021

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AP

Every move the Bulls make should be geared toward the summer of 2021

The rebuilding Bulls continue to search for windows to contend, and one slammed in their face last Tuesday when they failed to move up in the NBA Draft Lottery and a chance to draft Duke’s Zion Williamson. Lost in the chaos of that evening – three teams moved up, pushing the Bulls back to No. 7 – was the reality that every effort and decision the front office and coaching staff makes should be geared toward looking for that next window.

And that next opportunity to begin building a contender in the LeBron James-less Eastern Conference will open back up in the summer of 2021.

VP John Paxson said all the right things in the wake of the team dealing for Otto Porter Jr. in February, that the two-way wing would fill a need, bring veteran leadership to a terribly inexperienced locker room and give the Bulls a talented player for the next two-plus seasons. The Bulls did their free agent bidding four months early, knowing that the Kyries, the Durants and the Leonards of the world weren’t going to join a team that eventually won 22 games a year after going 27-55.

But Porter also lined up perfectly with that all-important timeline. He’ll make more than $55 million the next two seasons, which is fine considering the Bulls weren’t going to be players in free agency until then. The Bulls will get to see what it’s like to play with a talented perimeter small forward, and core pieces in Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen can only get better with him in the lineup.

He’ll also be a free agent in July 2021. That’s the same time Cristiano Felicio’s four-year, $32 million deal runs out – yes, it’s tough to see the Bulls being able to move his contract at any point before then. Our own Kevin Anderson, renowned Bulls capologist, crunched some numbers on what the Bulls’ salary cap could look like on July 1, 2021.

A few things to point out before getting to the chart. The NBA hasn’t projected a salary cap for 2021 so we factored in an increase of $4 million, putting the estimated cap at $120 million. The Bulls will draft seventh in 2019, and for this hypothetical scenario included draft picks in 2020 (15th) and 2021 (20th) to their cap. Don’t get bogged down in the numbers or the slots the Bulls are picking. They’re just fillers. Including cap hits, the Bulls could have $63 million heading into free agency in 2021.

We’ll let you Google the names of unrestricted free agents in 2021 – and, yes, they’re pretty big names – but the point here is that the Bulls will have a much more enticing offer for prospective free agents when that summer rolls around. The current state of the roster doesn’t scream “come join us!” But by the time the Bulls sit down at the table of a tier one free agent in 2021, they’ll have:

- a 23-year-old Lauri Markkanen entering his fifth NBA season
- a 25-year-old Zach LaVine entering his eighth NBA season
- a 22-year-old Wendell Carter entering his fourth NBA season
- Lottery picks from 2019, 2020 and potentially 2021

They’ll have guys like Chandler Hutchison and perhaps a few holdovers from the current roster, but the above is the core that could entice a max player to, at the very least, consider Chicago.

The key for the Bulls over the next two seasons is to protect as much cap space as possible and add veterans that can help this young core grow. Three- and four-year deals should be off the table unless the Bulls are positive that player can be part of the next wave. Stopgaps are nice on paper and fill short-term needs, but the Bulls need to be looking long-term in every move they make. If a free agent deal signed the next two offseasons is going to spill into 2022 or later, it had better be a significant piece. That seems unlikely to happen, meaning the Bulls should target one- and two-year deals. Again, it's not what you want to hear but it's what needs to happen.

In terms of veterans, think Brooklyn signing Ed Davis, Philadelphia signing Amir Johnson and Atlanta signing Vince Carter (and the Kings doing so the previous year). None of those acquisitions produced much as far as on-court numbers were concerned, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any young talent on those teams who aren’t happy to have had them in the locker room.

It’s not a direct comparison, but the Bulls could follow the Brooklyn Nets’ model to get there. Brooklyn unearthed talent in players like Caris LeVert (20th overall), Jarrett Allen (22nd overall), Spencer Dinwiddie (G-League) and Joe Harris (two years, $16 million). That Nets team also took on the salaries of DeMarre Carroll and Kenneth Faried at a time when they weren’t contending to acquire draft assets that turned into significant pieces; the Nets took Rodions Kurucs with the second round pick included in the Faried deal, and they’ll have the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft thanks to the Faried deal.

The Nets also found their All-Star in D’Angelo Russell after acquiring him from the Lakers. Again, it’s not a perfect comparison, but LaVine could be the Russell of the Nets’ rebuild. Brooklyn went from 20 wins to 28 wins to 42 wins in large part because of his play. Russell could be on the way out if the Nets want to be in play for a max player – think Irving or Durant – this offseason, but if he yielded them a winning team that free agents are now interested in when they wouldn’t have been two years ago, that trade was a success for Brooklyn (they could also unload Allen Crabbe’s $18.5 million salary to be in play for two max players, and past assets to attach to that potential trade make it possible).

The Bulls should be looking for similar plays. They need to improve in the short-term but can do so in a way that leads to 2021. It’s not what fans want to hear after 27- and 22-win seasons, but short-term solutions make you a 41-win Pistons team without much real hope to actually contend.

The Bulls have identified three core players in Markkanen, LaVine and Carter, in addition to the draft picks they’ll have over the next three classes before free agency begins in 2021. Every move from them until now should be with that in mind, when the window opens next.

Thumb injury leaves Wendell Carter Jr. on the outside looking in at NBA All-Rookie teams

Thumb injury leaves Wendell Carter Jr. on the outside looking in at NBA All-Rookie teams

Wendell Carter Jr. was on his way to becoming the second consecutive Bulls player to make an All-Rookie Team, but a thumb injury that required surgery in January ultimately proved to be the deciding factor in his omission.

The All-Rookie Teams were announced on Tuesday afternoon and, as expected, Carter was not on either. The seventh overall pick had a promising rookie campaign in which he averaged 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Those marks ranked 10th, 4th and 2nd, respectively, among first-year players.

But Carter's thumb injury limited him to just 44 games. Of the 10 players who made the first and second teams, Memphis' Jaren Jackson Jr. played the fewest games (58) while the group averaged 72.8 games played.

Carter's thumb injury was initially diagnosed as a jam, but further testing revealed that surgery was the best course of action for the then-19-year-old (he turned 20 in April). The Bulls opted not to rush Carter back at the end of the season - a wise decision on multiple levels - and Carter, when he spoke with media members for the first time after undergoing surgery, said his goals had moved to the long-term.

“So many people have had this injury and they don’t get it taken care of and bones are coming out of their socket very easily,” Carter said. “I just wanted to eliminate all that. If I was to get in a cast and come back and the tendon didn’t come back out, then I’d have to wait another eight weeks and get the surgery. So I just went ahead and knocked it out to get it out of the way.

"It's all good. I'm just looking at the long-term now."

He was one of the league's youngest rookies but hardly played like it. He moved into the starting lineup for good just a few days into the preseason and wore multiple hats for the Bulls. Injuries to Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine thrust Carter into a significant scoring role for the Bulls, sometimes acting as the No. 2 option behind Zach LaVine early in the season.

He took on more of a traditional post-up role - with solid footwork making him a serviceable roll man - when those players returned and Jim Boylen took over, slowing down the offense. He shot a respectable 48.5% from the field and his 79.5% mark from the foul line showed a nice touch. But he also went 6 of 32 from beyond the arc in his rookie season. He'll need to find some more versatility on the offensive end, though there will be more floor spacing in his sophomore season after the Bulls added Otto Porter Jr. at the trade deadline.

He is one of five rookies over the last seven seasons to average at least 7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, joining Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid in that category. That's not to suggest that Carter will have the same career arc as those All-Stars plus Noel - he's got plenty to do on the defensive end - but in Carter the Bulls have found a defensive anchor and someone to complement Lauri Markkanen on that end of the floor.

He's a raw talent who showed promise as a rookie. And while it didn't result in an All-Rookie bid, the future is bright in the middle for the Bulls. Like many of his teammates, expectations will increase for Carter as they enter Year 3 of their rebuild.

Check out the All-Rookie Teams below.