Bulls

Watson steady in Rose's absence

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Watson steady in Rose's absence

CLEVELANDJust the insinuation that John Lucas III was somehow playing above his head when both Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson were out of the lineup riled up Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Hes no more pleased with the implication that Watsons consistently excellent play in Roses now three-game absence is somehow surprising.

What you cant overlook is what C.J. is doing. C.J. is making us play with a pace and hes doing a great job of running the team. Then, John comes in and its the same thing, high energy, said Thibodeau after the Bulls Friday night laugher over the Cavaliers, when reporters tried to give shooting guard Rip Hamilton his share of the credit for the teams improved offensive flow. We felt C.J. had a great year for us last year, we really did, and he was the one guy who was certainly deserving of more minutes.

Every time that he had gotten extended minutes last year, he played at a very high level, and he played at a high level with the short minutes, he continued. He shot 39 percent from three, ran the team great, he and Derrick showed that they could play together. C.J. is a terrific player and hes a high-character guy. He does a great job with the second unit, hes the leader of the second unit and hes shown that he can lead the first unit. Hes a high-quality player and as I mentioned before the game, regardless of whos out, we feel we have more than enough to win with.

Thibodeau wasnt denying Hamilton his props his Rip is Rip postgame comment, akin to Derrick is Derrick or Lu is Lu, is perhaps his highest praise but he wanted to make sure the soft-spoken Watson was properly feted by the media. Because the normal backup point guard whos looked better than many starters when Rose has been out wont talk himself up.

Its a lot more comfortable this season. Thibs lets me call plays and he just lets me go out there and command the team, and play, really. So, I just go out there and have fun, said Watson, who responded with a little bit, when asked if Thibodeau gives him more freedom on the floor this season. I guess he trusts me a little more.

Whether or not Watson, who scored an efficient 15 points and dropped off seven assists in a head-to-head matchup with touted Cavaliers rookie point guard Kyrie Irving, wants to toot his own horn, his teammates are willing to do it for him.

Youve got to give C.J. a lot of credit. Hes coming off a sprained elbow that popped out of place. Hes been sitting for three weeks, got thrust into the starting lineup and hes been playing phenomenal, said Carlos Boozer, a major beneficiary of Watsons playmaking Friday.

Youve got to give him a lot of credit of stepping in and taking that challenge. Hes doing a great job of scoring the ball for us, hes doing a great job of playing D, hes doing a great job of getting everybody involved.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen stumps for Rudy Tomjanovich's Hall of Fame bid

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USA Today

Bulls coach Jim Boylen stumps for Rudy Tomjanovich's Hall of Fame bid

In case you forgot, Jim Boylen once worked for Rudy Tomjanovich. In fact, the former Rockets coach gave Boylen his NBA start, hiring him as an assistant coach and video coordinator way back in 1992.

Boylen saw first-hand the coaching chops and commitment Tomjanovich displayed as the Rockets won back-to-back NBA titles while Michael Jordan was playing baseball in the mid-1990s. So it's beyond loyalty when Boylen says he believes, like many others, that Tomjanovich belongs in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The organization named Tomjanovich a finalist over All-Star weekend in Chicago.

[RELATED: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett highlight Hall of Fame finalists]

"He's deserving," Boylen said. "I don't know why he's not in there yet. It doesn't make sense to me. Two championships, a gold medal."

That's a reference to Tomjanovich coaching USA Basketball's gold-medal winning team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Tomjanovich is an occasional visitor to the Advocate Center to watch Boylen.

"What he did with those Rockets teams and his playoff games — sixth seed in '95 — nobody's duplicated that. To win it from the sixth seed, play on the road like we did," Boylen said. "He has an unbelievable record in elimination games, which I think is a true test of your coaching and being able to communicate your message. I think he's getting in."

Does Boylen possess inside information?

"No," Boylen said, smiling. "He's due."

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Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Jim Boylen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. spent the majority of their time speaking to media after the team’s first post-All-Star break practice laying a trail of injury-related tea leaves.

Carter has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain since Jan. 6, and Porter hasn’t played since spraining his foot on Nov. 6. Both took part in practice (which featured “some contact” according to Boylen) and are inching closer to respective returns, though nothing is official as of yet.

"Otto participated in practice and got his legs underneath him. Wendell, we kinda put him in for two possessions, then take him out for two and kinda getting him back comfortable," Boylen said.

“Just taking it one day at a time,” said Carter, who said on the Friday of All-Star weekend that he was shooting for a return this Thursday (Feb. 20) against the Hornets. “I practiced today and it felt okay, so I'm just taking it slow. Don't want to rush anything, and end up hurting again, so that's where I'm at right now.

“Depending on the coaching staff, depending on how I'm feeling come game time, of course I want to play Thursday, but I'm [going to] do what's best for the team and for myself."

Boylen declined to say officially whether Carter will be available Thursday, also taking a “we’ll see” approach. Carter is about six weeks into his initial four-to-six week recovery timeline.

Porter, who said he’s “close” to 100 percent, doesn’t yet know when he’ll be back and that “time will tell” how many practices he needs before sliding back into the Bulls’ lineup. He remains without a timetable, and said he is unsure if he’ll be eased back in on a minutes restriction when he is able to return.

“I was able to do everything. I feel good,” Porter said. “I’ll continue it a day at a time, making sure my pain is free."

When asked, Boylen said he doesn’t yet have a clear idea of when Lauri Markkanen (who has been out with a pelvis injury since Jan. 24) might return to practice. This Friday marks four weeks into Markkanen’s initial four-to-six week timeline

There was also no update on Kris Dunn on the two-week anniversary of his initial two-week re-examination timeline for a sprained right MCL suffered against the Nets on Jan. 31.

[RELATED: Bulls preparing for possibility of losing Kris Dunn for rest of season]

Still, things are moving in the right direction for the Bulls on the injury front. The team entered the All-Star break on a six-game losing streak that ties a season-high, but Boylen maintained playing competitive basketball down the stretch remains a goal. At 19-36, they will resume play five games behind the Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

“I think doing both, I think that's what our challenge is this year,” Boylen said of the team’s dual objectives of winning and developing. “Part of development is you hope to play in some meaningful games, and we've had a couple of those situations this year compared to last year, and I'm hoping we can have more. I'm hoping.

"Health is part of that and just getting better. I got a good group of guys that play hard, and we gotta continue to do that, and hopefully improve as we go down the stretch here.”

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