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Rose at his best as Bulls leave west with win

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Rose at his best as Bulls leave west with win

Updated: Saturday, Dec. 31, 2:14 a.m.

LOS ANGELES Not only did Derrick Rose get the best of Chris Paul in a clash of two of the leagues best players, let alone point guards, in dishing out 16 assists, he was at his MVP best in propelling the Bulls (3-1) to a 114-101 win over the much-ballyhooed Clippers (1-2) Friday night at the Staples Center.

Of course, Rose had help in knocking off former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negros athletic squad, but the up-tempo visitors beat the Clippers at their own game, using a heavy dose of transition offense as well as Roses individual brilliance and Chicagos usual determination and defense thrilling a sellout crowd.

Were hopeful that he does that every night. The last two games, hes been very, very aggressive and our team has played with a lot more force offensively. We have to use that same force defensively, said a pragmatic Tom Thibodeau, who called the contest a well-officiated game, one night after bemoaning Roses lack of free-throw attempts in Sacramento.

The thing that I liked is he did everything tonight. Chris Paul is as tough a matchup as youre going to get. Its like two heavyweights going at it; punch after punch. We were fortunate to pull it out in the end. But theyre both fierce competitors. I thought Derrick got our team going. Offensively, we had some easy baskets. We had a good pace and his rebounding was terrific. Of course, the assists and the points.

Added Rose himself: I just wanted to win. That was the biggest thing. Whatever it takes to win, I was willing to do and tonight, it was kind of both, me attacking and passing the ball.

Im just happy that we won. Of course, hes a great player. They have great players on their team. Played them at home. There was a lot of hype going around it because it was their first home game. It showed us that we came a long way, especially as a team to be on the road, come in here with a hostile environment, with the players that they have and come out with a win.

The highly-anticipated Clippers home opener (yes, you read that correctly) lived up to the hype for L.A. fans at the outset, as reigning Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin (34 points, 13 rebounds) opened the scoring with one of his trademark monster dunks. The home team scored the games first seven points before Thibodeau had enough and called a quick timeout to rectify things.

Griffins an unbelievable player. He competes very hard and hes just going to keep getting better, said Bulls center Joakim Noah, who had the unenviable task of defending the budding superstar power forward. Unbelievable athlete and I give him a lot of credit.

The Coach of the Years adjustments didnt immediately take hold, as Lob City the nickname for the high-flying Clippers was in effect, as both Griffin and similarly-athletic young center DeAndre Jordan (12 points, five rebounds) threw down acrobatic alley-oop passes.

The visitors countered with their own transition offense (though under the rim), with Noah (19 points, 9-for-10 free-throw shooting, eight rebounds, four assists) benefiting the most, and Rip Hamilton (16 points, five rebounds) making his presence felt with both his patented mid-range game and conversions around the rim, but turnovers continued to plague the early-season edition of the Bulls, allowing the Clippers to initiate their potent fast-break attack.

Im getting better. Im still not where I want to be, but every game I get a little better, said Hamilton of his ongoing transition after so many years with Central Division rival Detroit. We didnt have a whole training camp, so every day is a learning experience for myself.

Opined Thibodeau on Hamiltons progress: I really like how hes playing defensively. I think hes back to really competing. Hes showing a lot and offensively, I think hes starting to get more comfortable. Hes learning his teammates, his teammates are learning him, so hes moving along fine.

Rose (29 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the field, 10-for-11 from the free-throw line, eight rebounds), however, would put his stamp on the game early and gradually helped the Bulls overtake their hosts one driving layup, plus the foul, left even Clippers small forward and former Bulls free-agent target Caron Butler (16 points) shaking his head.

Rose masterfully blended his playmaking and scoring, which included everything from deep three-pointers to the aforementioned strong drives to the basket. At the end of the opening period, Rose, matched up with fellow All-Star Paul (29 points, 14 assists), successfully hounded his point-guard counterpart into a stop, to solidify Chicagos 29-28 lead and capping a sterling 11-point, six-assist first-quarter individual effort.

Knowing that you took that challenge makes you feel good, Rose observed. If you watch their games, at the end of the quarters especially in the fourth quarter they always give him an isolation at the top of the key. He loves shooting at the top of the key, at the elbows and you really have to get into him.

Chimed in Thibodeau: The thing that I liked about Derrick tonight is he showed a good resolve and you have to have that when you go against a great player like Chris Paul because if he comes down and he makes a great play, you have to be able to have that determination and come back the next time and do it all over again, and I still think he can be a lot better. Hes moving in the right direction, but hes still not where wed like him to be.

A much more subdued second quarter, a product of less wide-open basketball and a focus on half-court execution on both ends, led to a close-knit affair, with reserves for each team most notably, Clippers guard Randy Foye and Bulls power forward Taj Gibson factoring into keeping their respective squads in the game, while the likes of Noah, charged with defending Griffin, yet playing more assertively on offense, and the versatile Butler, also made an impact.

My teammates just got me the ball around the rim, got some offensive rebounds, said Noah. It all depends on the game. Im just trying to find open spots and be aggressive.

Thibodeau praised his center: He had a tough matchup with Griffin. He battled, he rebounded the ball fairly well. I thought he made some excellent plays offensively. He had a couple tough foul calls, but overall, I thought he was very good.

Meanwhile, Chicagos transition game, led by the unselfish Rose who had 10 assists at the break, continued to blossom, and the visitors took a 57-52 edge into the tunnel.

After the intermission, Paul began to display the characteristics that once made him a MVP candidate in New Orleans showing off his ability to create for himself, but more importantly, distributing the ball to his array of weapons, such as Griffin and Jordan for thunderous dunks while Butler and Mo Williams (13 points), starting in place of the injured Chauncey Billups, benefited by raining down open three-pointers. The Bulls kept plugging away, however, scoring off solid ball movement, Roses penetration and offensive rebounds, to keep pace.

Even though Rose and Paul were both in pass-first mode, the battle of elite floor generals took center stage, as the pairs equally sublime passing, high-basketball I.Q. plays and one-on-one virtuoso displays evoked oohs and awes from the crowd.

Probably one of the best performances Ive ever been a part of, just the way he competed against Chris Paul tonight. It was pretty crazy, said Noah. The way he competed tonight, its pretty inspiring.

But in general, sloppy play (or inspired defense, if youre the glass half-full type) was the order of the day for the period, although a quietly-effective third quarter from slasher Luol Deng (19 points, eight rebounds) was perhaps the difference in the Bulls taking an 83-77 lead into the final stanza.

Chicago maintained a slim cushion early in the fourth quarter, as Thibodeau left the assist-minded Rose in the contest he hadnt rested since the second quarter; Del Negro elected to keep Paul in the game for an identical time span and when he wasnt setting up the likes of Deng or generally facilitating Bulls movement, the reigning MVP got to the foul line frequently.

He had help, however, with Deng and reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver hitting back-to-back triples, a shooting spree Rose capped with his own long bomb, to counter Pauls playmaking and Griffins interior dominance.

Despite Griffin alternately bulling his way to layups or rocking the rim off Paul feeds, the Bulls surreptitiously extended their lead, putting the Clippers in a double-digit hole as the game entered its stretch run.

Clutch plays from Rose and solid Bulls execution would send the so-called newfound Clippers fans who would chant M-V-P for Rose in the games waning moments including boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, Jr., home with a familiar loss, though they did get their moneys worth.

Defensively, weve got a long way to go, Thibodeau evaluated. The rebounding has been good, Ill say that. But from technique on the ball to help appropriate help to challenging shots, were capable of doing much better.

Weve got a long way to go. I think it revealed a lot of things. Its the start, it gives us a baseline, we know what things that we have to work on.

Added Noah: The NBA season is such a roller-coaster. One day, you feel youre on top of the world. You beat the Lakers and then, the next night, you end up losing to Golden State. But its all about bouncing back, having the mindset of just getting better every day. We know we have a ways to go, but it was definitely a good win.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.