Bulls

Rose shares Thibodeau's old-school mentalities

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Rose shares Thibodeau's old-school mentalities

Coming out of the mouth of a basketball purist, it was surprising.

I love it, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, when asked about the zone defense the Toronto Raptors played against his team a tactic other teams have employed, presumably to force players other than Derrick Rose to be scorers for a portion of Saturday nights win.

Thibodeau then elaborated about why he adores a strategy long believed to be the bane of most NBA coaches, though the Dallas Mavericks last years champions and the team for which new Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was an assistant success in utilizing it may well put it in vogue in a copycat league.

I love it because I think we have all the things to attack a zone. We can change. We can put more shooting on the floor, we have guys who can penetrate and we have great offensive rebounding, so whenever we see it, we like it and then we have some great cutters. We have Lu Luol Deng, who can cut from behind the zone. We have some guys that are very good attacking the zone from behind, so thats all part of it, he explained.

Thats all well and good, but defensively, would the guru of that end of the court ever consider it?

Well, we have zone principles. We really do. Were not a passing-lane steal team, were a hard ball-pressure type team, but then we protect the paint behind the ball and basically, thats a zone principle and we may play zone. I like it. I like the concept of it, said Thibodeau.

Going back to Saturdays victory, Thibodeaus postgame analysis showed that one of the aspect of his teams performance that he was dissatisfied with was the Bulls failure to play up-tempo basketball on a consistent basis.

I dont think we played with the type of pace we would have liked to tonight, from start to finish. The pace was OK in the first quarter and then we slowed down. Weve got to do a better job of continuing with the fast pace, particularly if were defending well and rebounding well, weve got to get out and weve got to throw ahead and weve got to run through, and weve got to run to the rim. Everyone says they want to be a running team, but to have the discipline on every possession, it takes a lot of work, he observed, even in the face of a shortened schedule with little time to rest. Well, its the challenge you face and if you want to be a quality team, a championship-caliber team, thats what you have to do.

So, to recap: Thibodeau continues to surprise people. Not only is he not adverse to zone defense though it remains to be seen if hed actually institute it but the perceived control freak wants his players to run more, something hes said since last season, but apparently isnt just paying lip service to.

The second-year head coach is considered to be so disciplined that the Bulls often ugly style of play is seen as a result of his lack of creativity on offense. However, hes actually an astute play-caller on the fly (not to mention possessing a textbook-thick offensive playbook) and encourages the Bulls to run as long as they tend to their defensive responsibilities.

Youre going to hear it every single day, every single practice, revealed Derrick Rose. He might text it to you, but youre going to hear it, no matter what.

Rose was joking, but the point guard has been drinking so much of the Thibodeau Kool-Aid that his postgame comments admittedly sometimes sound like his coachs.

Were still slacking. We can always get better. We can always get better. I know I sound like Thibs, but we can always get better, he said after Saturdays win, when asked how the Bulls can improve defensively. The Bulls can contest shots harder. Contesting harder and staying consistent towards the end of the games. I think we tend to let teams get open shots towards the end of the games, knowing that weve got the lead by so much and thats something that we cant do.

Rose has no illusions, however, that regardless of how stifling their defense can be, the Bulls dont play the most aesthetically-pleasing style of basketball.

We feel the same way you all feel. It was ugly, but were winning, Rose acknowledged. We dont have anything to complain about. Were just trying to get as many wins as possible.

Given Thibodeaus influence and his roots as a New York Knicks assistant coach, it shouldnt be a shocker to students of the game that the Bulls have an old-school sensibility to them, even with the departure of Kurt Thomas, who played for those late-90s Knicks squads.

Were definitely old school. Thats our whole mentality. Weve still got that old-school mentality, where we play hard. We dont care about our stats or anything. As long as we win, were good, said Rose. "Were physical, we play with a lot of emotion, a lot of confidence and thats what we need on this team. Thibodeau is always talking about his teams, how certain players, when they came to the locker room, how they concentrated on certain things to get their team involved and get their team ready, prepared for the game. He talks about Knicks center Patrick Ewing and all the other great players that he had, and it kind of rubs off on you.

But Rose, ever conscious of skipping steps, as Thibodeau would say, qualified his statement.

Were not near those teams. Those teams made great runs. Were just up-and-coming.

Meanwhile, Rose is ready for his return to Memphis - where he played his lone season of college basketball and remains a fan favorite - Monday for the Bulls afternoon-matinee game against the Grizzlies on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

It means a lot. Returning back to my old town, Memphis. Its a great city. I know that its going to be something special, said Rose, who visited the civil-rights museum in Memphis commemorating Dr. Kings assassination in the city, at the former Lorraine Motel. Its very nice. We went when we were college students. I think Coach Cal took us. Its super historic. It kind of makes you think about certain things when you go there. It was great, just seeing what went down, of course that tragedy, but just being there was something special.

What to watch for: Bulls face an uphill battle against Milwaukee Bucks

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USA Today

What to watch for: Bulls face an uphill battle against Milwaukee Bucks

On the heels of an epic comeback over the Cavaliers on Saturday, the Bulls visit the Bucks in search of a signature win. The game tips off at 4 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Bucks’ last five games: (5-0)

  • Jan. 18 — W at Nets: 117-97

  • Jan. 16 — W at Celtics: 128-123

  • Jan. 14 — W vs. Knicks: 128-102

  • Jan. 11 — W at Trail Blazers: 122-101

  • Jan. 10 — W at Kings: 127-106

Storyline(s) to watch

There’s a lot working against the Bulls in this one. On top of the Bucks being, far and away, the best team in the NBA so far this season (their current +12.6 point differential is almost two points better than the 2015-16 Warriors), they’re currently in the midst of a six-game win streak and own the league’s second-best home record at 20-2. These teams have met three times already this season, with the Bucks winning all three by an average margin of 14.7 points. The Bulls will be happy the fourth meeting is the last.

It’s another game against a winning team, famously the Bulls’ kryptonite. The comeback over Cleveland was great theater, but the Bucks represent the harshest of reality checks. In those aforementioned three matchups, Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.3 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while shooting 56.7%. As a team, the Bucks averaged 55 rebounds per games (to the Bulls' 46), blocked 6.3 shots per game and held the Bulls to a cumulative 39.4% shooting from the field in those three games.

On the flip side, pulling out a win, though unlikely, would be that much more of a confidence boost.

Player(s) to watch: The shooters

Antetokounmpo is unstoppable. The ever-looming threat of him getting rolling is the most pressing issue facing the Bulls today, especially without both of their top two centers. 

But the Bucks are truly devastating to match up with because of the shooting they’ve surrounded him with. As a team, Milwaukee attempts the fourth-most 3-pointers per game (38.8) and cans them at a 36% clip. That’s not mind-bending efficiency, but between *deep breath* George Hill (53.3% from deep, three attempts per game), Kyle Korver (42.6%, 3.9 attempts), Khris Middleton (41.5%, 5.2 attempts), Ersan Ilyasova (37%, 2.5 attempts), Wes Matthews (36%, 4.2 attempts), Eric Bledsoe (35.4%, 3.6 attempts) and others, they’re a threat to have at least one or more guys catch fire from deep every night. Even in a down shooting year, Brook Lopez (29.9%, 4.7 attempts) isn’t afraid to chuck, either, especially above the break.

The Bucks have made at least 10 3-pointers in all but three of their 44 games this season. The bright side? The Bulls are responsible for one of those and have outshot the Bucks from behind the arc in two of their three meet-ups — though, of course, none have resulted in wins.

Matchup to watch: Zach LaVine vs. the Bucks defense

LaVine is the engine behind most every competent offensive stretch of basketball for the Bulls this season, but he's struggled versus Milwaukee, averaging just 18.3 points and 32.2% shooting in their previous three meetings. This season, the Bulls own a 99.8 offensive rating with LaVine off the floor (per Cleaning the Glass) and are 3-10 in games in which he scores under 20 points. LaVine's 31 20-point games are leagues more than the rest of his teammates have combined (20), as are his 14 30-point outings (Lauri Markkanen has two of those).

LaVine is on a rare kind of tear of late, but the Bucks are multiple steps up from the quality of opponent he has been eviscerating. With the unique amount of length and athleticism they'll be able to throw at him (as a team, the Bucks own a 101.4 defensive rating, first in the NBA), the Bulls will have to be creative in finding ways to get LaVine going. If they can't, it will likely spell doom.

Trend to watch: A return to small-ball?

Against the Cavaliers, Boylen rode a new-look lineup of Kris Dunn, LaVine, Tomas Satoransky, Chandler Hutchison and Markkanen down the stretch to enormous success. Boylen has stated that he wants everyone on this team to be interchangeable relative a consistent style of play, but the Bulls deviated from their norm and switched a ton of pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter of that game, forcing 10 Cavaliers turnovers while holding them to 14 points and 26.7% shooting.

Yes, that was the Cavs and these are the Bucks. Still, LaVine and Dunn were both highly complimentary of that lineup’s speed and versatility after the game, and it’ll be interesting to see if Boylen goes back to the well with it — or at least starts switching more in pick-and-roll situations as a different look defensively.

Injury report


The Bulls are undermanned in the frontcourt, at present, so evading R. Lopez minutes off the bench is helpful.

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NBA Power Rankings: All-Star starter announcement could impact LaVine's chances to make east squad

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USA Today

NBA Power Rankings: All-Star starter announcement could impact LaVine's chances to make east squad

The NBA will announce the starters for next month’s All-Star game at the United Center before the nationally televised TNT doubleheader on Tuesday.

The choices are pretty obvious in the West with Luka Doncic and James Harden well ahead of the field in the backcourt and the frontline set with Kawhi Leonard joining Laker teammates Anthony Davis and LeBron James.

The East frontcourt also should be easy to choose with Joel Embiid at center, flanked by forwards Giannis Antetokounmpo and Pascal Siakam. You could make the argument for former Bull Jimmy Butler being named over Siakam since the Toronto forward missed 11 games because of injury, but Siakam was the driving force behind Toronto’s fast start after losing Leonard as a free agent last summer.

Embiid has missed 13 games because of knee maintenance and a dislocated finger, but he’s the most dominant center in the East, and should get a starting spot if healthy.

Now to the East backcourt, where there really aren’t any clear cut choices to start. I would give a spot to Atlanta’s Trae Young, despite the fact the Hawks are having a terrible season with the worst record in the East. His numbers are just too impressive to ignore. Young is fourth in the league in scoring at 28.8 and also fourth in assists at 8.5.

Boston’s Kemba Walker would be my other starter. HIs arrival has allowed young perimeter players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to thrive, but Walker is also the player with the ball in his hands at the end of close games. He brings so many of the intangible qualities that Kyrie Irving lacked in Boston.

Speaking of Irving, it’s unlikely he’ll get a spot after missing most of the first half of the season because of a shoulder injury. Eastern conference coaches will name two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild card selections as reserves, which means Zach LaVine’s fate is in their hands.

If the coaches decide to reward players from winning teams, look for Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry to get the two reserve guard spots, leaving Bradley Beal, LaVine, Spencer Dinwiddie, Derrick Rose and Malcolm Brogdon in the running for a possible wild card selection.

Will LaVine make it? The odds are against him right now, but he’s doing everything in his power to impact the coaches’ vote with a spectacular month of January. I’ll have my All-Star reserve picks next week.

Now on to the power rankings.