Bulls

Rose's return powers Bulls to victory

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Rose's return powers Bulls to victory

One player cant win a game alone, but if that one player is Derrick Rose, he certainly makes a big difference.

Roses return to the court Monday afternoon was a successful one, as the Bulls (26-8) bounced back from a lackluster outing Saturday and held off the Hawks (19-13), 90-79, at the United Center.

We just couldnt wait to play, said Carlos Boozer. Weve still got a long way to go, but we played much better than we did the other day.

Atlanta jumped out to a quick start, as All-Star snub Josh Smith (17 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) and shooting guard Willie Green got it going early, but after a quick timeout to regain focus, Tom Thibodeaus defense got back to its smothering ways.

The first few minutes, we didnt start off well and in the timeout, we kind of spoke about our defense a little bit, Luol Deng revealed. Once we played defense, we really got a lot of easy baskets.

After missing five consecutive games due to lower back spasms, Rose (23 points, six assists, five rebounds) wasted no time showing that he was the same as ever, knocking down two early triples and displaying his typically fearless nature on swashbuckling drives to the rim.

His explosion was there. His drives were there. Conditioning-wise, hes not where he normally is. But thats to be expected. Overall, Im very pleased. He said he felt real good out there, Thibodeau observed. The big thing was making sure he was 100 percent and pain-free. Then he had to be cleared medically. Then he had to feel very good about playing. We went step by step with him. He did his rehab. Then we did non-contact stuff. He didnt have problems with that. Then we went to contact and he didnt have problems with that. Who were playing didnt have anything to do with it. He felt he was 100 percent and could go. Well just go from here. He said he felt well out there.

You dont want him to change who he is. Thats the nature of the game. Guys are going to be aggressive and attack. Youre always concerned about health. But a guy could get hurt in practice or shootaround. Thats part of the game. Hes done a good job with his rehab. Our trainers have done a great job with him. We felt comfortable. As long as hes pain-free and feels 100 percent, we felt good with him playing. He met all the criteria that we were looking for him to meet before he played again. So were good with it.

Added Boozer: Thibs called a great 20-second timeout and Pooh just picked the pace up for all of us. Next thing you know, it was drive to the bucket, and-one, free throws, jump shot. It was awesome to watch. He did the same thing in second half. Came out, was super-aggressive and his scoring ability got everybody in the right spots. His poise down the stretch gave us a great calm out there.

Ronnie Brewer (13 points, six rebounds), who has struggled as of late, was productive at the outset, while Deng (10 points, eight rebounds, four assists), back in the role of secondary scorer and ballhandler after shouldering more of the load during Roses absence, also made a quick impact on both ends and Joakim Noah (16 rebounds) pounded the glass, as is his custom.

An emphasis on transition offense made easier with Roses return, though when he exited the contest, veteran point guard Mike James picked up right where he left off, tough driving finishes and all and efficient halfcourt offense propelled the Bulls to a 35-17 at the conclusion of the opening period.

James continued his solid play early in the second quarter, playing aggressively on the offensive end, though he had his hands full on defense with Chicago native and erstwhile Bull Jannero Pargo (19 points, five rebounds).

Still, the hosts maintained their double-digit edge over the Hawks by virtue of stout defense and dominant rebounding, most of which Noah was responsible for, as well as contributions from a variety of sources.

I thought his energy was good. He played extended minutes, made great effort. His defense was good. They were small at times, so that puts pressure on you. He made multiple efforts on several plays. That was encouraging, Thibodeau said of his center. Id like to see his offense come back around, get some easy baskets and I think he can do that.

Boozer chimed in: Jo was a monster tonight. Hes been a monster every night, really.

You saw how aggressive Jo was. He was awesome today.

Taj Gibson came off the bench to give the Bulls his usual boost of energy on the interior, while Deng Thibodeaus ironman didnt leave the court in the first half displayed his versatile all-around game, blanketing Hawks All-Star swingman Joe Johnson (12 points), helping out on the glass and distributing the ball.

Upon his return, Rose continued to dominate as a scorer, due to his familiar explosiveness off the dribble and much-improved outside touch, aiding the Bulls in taking a 55-37 advantage into the intermission.

The home teams huge cushion remained stable after the break, as a steady diet of Rose scoring and playmaking, a persistent effort on the boards and Carlos Boozers (16 points, five rebounds) emergence, highlighted by accurate mid-range shooting, led the way.

Although Johnson began to find his rhythm for Atlanta, the visitors didnt get much from his supporting cast, something assuredly exacerbated by the Bulls stingy defense.

The lead continued to balloon as the third period waned on and perhaps the Bulls, going with a mix of regulars and reserves, got a bit too comfortable because Pargo got hot and aided the guests in cutting the deficit to single digits with his outside marksmanship. The Englewood native and Robeson High School product knocked down a trio of long bombs to trim the Hawks deficit to 73-64 through three quarters of play.

Theyve got guys who can score. Theyve got guys whove proven they can score in this league and they made their run. Weve got to do a better job of defending those guys, Deng said about the Hawks, referring to his former teammate, Pargo, in particular. He played great for them. We all know JP. He can really score.

Thibodeau echoed: You have to play tough with a lead, especially with the three-point shot. A guy like Pargo, if you let him loose in a minute, he can make three threes. I know you think all leads are safe. But in a minute, three 3s can erase a 10-point lead. Its funny, every time I see him I think about it, particularly when Im coaching against him. Ive seen Tracy McGrady (Thibodeau coached the former All-Star, now with the Hawks, in Houston) score 13 points in 35 seconds. That always sits in your mind. You can never relax against a good NBA player.

In striking distance heading into the final stanza, Atlanta continued to be on the Bulls heels, even after Thibodeau reinserted the likes of Rose and Deng into the contest, though he kept third-stringer John Lucas III (10 points) in the game, pairing him with the reigning league MVP to utilize their speed in the backcourt and allowing Rose to play off the ball at times.

I feel we have four really good point guards. When Derrick plays, hes going to gobble up most of those minutes. C.J. is the backup. John and Mike, depending in the matchup, said Thibodeau. John has played terrific for us all year. Hes got a lot of confidence, not afraid to take the big shot. Defensively, he knows what were trying to get done.

Noah concurred: Those guys have been huge for us, especially Mike. Mike he just comes inwe havent seen him in three weeks and he gives us everything. Hes been huge for us, so were happy to have him back.

Said Lucas: I just bring energy, man. I love the game of basketball, so I just come out there and play hard every possession. I just want to win. I hate losing, so whatever I can contribute for us to win, whether its defensively, offensively or even in there just to foul somebody so we can put them to the free-throw line, Im with it.

My role is just to take pressure off Derrick. When you have two PGs in there, if theyre trying to pick him up full court, he doesnt get as tired. Now, you have somebody else bringing the ball up and also, I think theres more pick-and-rolls out there for us. Nobodys holding the ball, you have two ballhandlers who can create for others and get to the paint.

Lucas was effective as an instant-offense scorer, but the adjustments made no difference to the Hawks in the grand scheme of things, as they kept the pressure on the Bulls, though the game didnt get closer than a two-possession affair through the quarters midway mark.

As the contest headed into its stretch run, timely buckets from Lucas, Deng and Boozer gave the Bulls some breathing room and Rose's foul-line jumper with just over two minutes remaining gave the hosts their first double-digit cushion of the final frame.

It was all academic in the end, as Atlanta ran out of steam Johnson had to leave the game due to a knee injury and couldnt challenge the home team.

Were not in rhythm right now. Its real choppy. Part of it is not having the repetitions youd like to clean that up, your timing, spacing and screening. We have to correct that, remarked Thibodeau. These guys have played well together at times. Would you prefer to have the same group? Yes. But were capable of doing a lot better and weve shown that. We have to be careful not to be taking shortcuts. We have to execute, make the extra pass and do it for 48 minutes.

Deng concluded: We think were better than we played, but its a long season and at the end of the day, its about winning these games. Its not about how you won them. We want to play better.

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.”