Bulls

Rose, Thibodeau have a special relationship

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Rose, Thibodeau have a special relationship

If the NBA lockout had gone on any longer, a secret meeting between Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau might have been in order. Not to flaunt league regulations, but simply to make sure the pair, winners of awards honoring them as the best in their respective fields last season, didn't go through withdrawal from being apart so long.

Seeing Rose at various times over the offseason, including Monday at his alma mater, Simeon Career Academy, he often asked how Thibodeau specifically was doing, seeming actually concerned about his well-being (such as his summer knee surgery) during the work stoppage. When I told him that I had run into Thibodeau a handful of times -- at a DePaul basketball game last month, for example -- he relaxed, knowing his coach might not be at peace with the labor situation, but at least he was keeping occupied, aside from watching film.

"I heard he's been going crazy. I heard he's been showing up at games, like DePaul games and things like that," Rose said Thursday. "But hopefully he's been coaching somebody."

At that DePaul game, I didn't ask Thibodeau any lockout questions in a casual, off-the-record conversation -- we mostly talked about local high school and college basketball -- and he didn't ask me about any of the Bulls players, but I did take his unsaid hint and voluntarily update him, including Rose, I had been in contact with during the long layoff. You could almost see him chomping at the bit to learn more, but the fact that Rose had basically stayed in the gym all summer -- not that he wasn't concerned about other players -- working out with other NBA players in California, was enough for the time being.

"At the end of last year, we didn't have a lot of time to spend with our players," Thibodeau said Thursday. "But the one thing about Derrick, you know he's going to be in the gym every day, you know he's going to study, watch film, he challenges himself. I expect him to be great this year. He showed last year how great he is and now the challenge is to do it again and to do it better, and I think he will. He's our leader."

Separately from the mutual admiration these two have for each other, best exemplified by their frequent post-practice one-on-one film sessions and late-night text-message exchanges to discuss strategy, is the fact they're constantly on the same page. Both independently uttered the same phrase, "last year is last year" Thursday, without the benefit of prior consultation, an excellent sign for Bulls fans and proof that neither plans on resting on their laurels.

"I'm not worried about it, knowing that Thibs, he's very comfortable with us, knowing he can talk to us any way and really practice any way that we want to," Rose said about the Bulls adjusting to the shortened season. "We have the same guys coming back, kind of veteran guys -- I'm becoming a vet, this being my fourth year -- and hopefully, we can just go out there and forget about last year. This is a whole other year."

"I think that last year, our training camp was pretty hard -- that was his first year coaching, too, being a head coach -- but this year, I think he knows us a little bit better. But you never know with Thibs. He'll probably has us running a lot," he continued. "I know he's going to be hard on us this year."

The thing is, Rose likes that. It might seem strange, but Rose was actually one of Thibodeau's whipping boys last season, something almost unheard of in this era of coddled superstars, but not only does Rose enjoy being treated as just another player, he thrives off the coach continually pushing him to reach new heights.

"I missed everything, man. The Berto, the people that work here, Thibs. Just talking to him every day, just picking his mind, him picking my mind, just everything about Thibs," he said. "Just pushing me as a player, me pushing him as a coach and I know he's going to have us prepared, definitely, when the season starts."

Added Thibodeau: "Can't be the MVP without being great, but the thing that I really admire about him is he's never satisfied; he always wants to do everything better. I think defensively, he made great strides last year. I expect him to make another step this year and then, I think his leadership improved and he has to be the leader of this team this year."

Under Thibodeau's guidance, expect Rose to continue his growth as both a player and a leader; the symmetry will be complete, as Thibodeau, already one of the league's top coaches, should also be even better with his elite point guard leading the way. A perfect pair, back together.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

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.”