Woeful: Portland painful for struggling Bulls


Woeful: Portland painful for struggling Bulls

Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011Posted: Feb. 7, 11:47 p.m. Updated: 1:57 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam

PORTLANDThe effort was there, Derrick Rose bounced back, but a career night from All-Star snub LaMarcus Aldridge and another departure from the suffocating defense that has propelled the Bulls (34-16) to their much-ballyhooed start to the season doomed them in Portland, as the Trail Blazers (28-24) triumphed, 109-103, Monday night at the Rose Garden.

This is two games in a row that we put ourselves in a bad position because were not guarding, said a clearly frustrated Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. We werent able to take anything away from them, so it was an easy game for them offensively.

Theres not one aspect of our defense were doing well right now, from defensive transition to post defense to pick-and-roll defense to catch-and-shoot defense. Once we correct that, well give ourselves a chance to win, he continued. Tonight, we came out and again, we let them to get going early, big scoring first quarter. They get their confidence early in the game, now its much harder to slow people down.

The visitors didnt let an inauspicious startPortland small forward Nicolas Batum (12 points, five rebounds, three assists) scored the Trail Blazers first four points, including two free throws after drawing a foul on Luol Deng (15 points) on the games first possession; the play was delayed but upheldderail them, as All-Star point guard Rose (36 points, six assists) didnt bide his time in impacting the game. Rose hit his first three shots (all pull-up jumpers) and totaled eight points by the midway mark of the first quarter.

On the Trail Blazers end of things, veteran point guard Andre Miller (27 points, 11 assists, six rebounds) was his typically deceptive self, mesmerizing the Bulls defense on an uncontested drive and layup, then suckering Rose into a foul off a head-and-shoulders fake down low.

I think our offense is there, but defensively, were terrible right now, said Rose afterwards. It seemed like we were just going point for point with them, especially at the beginning of the game. Thats where it started, then it just continued through the whole gameits killing us.

Rose also acknowledged, I did a terrible job with Millerjumping in the air, stupid fouls.

Speaking of fouls, Dengs first one was significant; he picked up a second in the early going and was forced to the pine.

The first foul, I tried to run him off the line and he made a good play. The second foul, he just bumped into me, but its still a foul, said Deng, whos rarely in foul trouble. The third one (which he picked up in the second quarter), he the referee came up to me at halftime and said he missed that one.

Do I get one back? he quipped. Hows it work?

Carlos Boozer (17 points, 11 rebounds) used a high activity level and precise shot-making to put his stamp on the opening period, while power forward counterpart Aldridge (career-high 42 points, eight rebounds)the erstwhile Bulls draft prospectgave Portlands guests fits on the other end of the floor. Reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver (11 points, six rebounds) came off the bench to give Chicago a boost late in the quarter, but the Bulls still trailed, 28-26, after the initial frame, a logical conclusion when allowing the opposing team to shoot 78.6 percent (11-for-14) from the floor.

Korvers hot hand carried over to the second quarter and with fellow reserves Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, backup point guard C.J. Watson and rookie center Omer Asik (nine points, five rebounds) playing with energy, Chicagos second unit separated themselves from the Blazers, despite not having the scoring presence of Deng, who usually stays on with the Bulls reserves to start the period. A missed wide-open transition by Brewer, however, snuffed out the visitors momentum for the time being and when Portland climbed back to within three points, Thibodeau called timeout to halt the proceedings.

The home team continued to surge, eventually overtaking their guests behind the play of Aldridge, versatile swingman Batum and instant-offense reserve Rudy Fernandez (18 points), putting the Bulls on their heels. Portlands gaudy shooting numbers (from the free-throw line, too) persisted, as they appeared to get uncontested drives on almost every other possession and were aided by Chicagos occasionally ragged play.

I dont know what they shot, but it felt like we didnt put stops together. They got what they wanted, said Deng. Portland is a very good team, but we could play a lot better defensively.

Still, the Bulls managed to survive the Blazers push and the game remained a taut, neck-and-neck affair leading up to the intermission, at which point the two teams were knotted up at 50 points apiece.

Rose asserted himself offensively to begin the third quarter, but so did Aldridgewidely regarded as an All-Star snubwho was the main reason Portland jumped out to a slim cushion. Defensive lapses and inefficient offense marked this stretch for the Bulls, and after Aldridge corralled two of his own misses before throwing down a dunk in traffic, Thibodeau called timeout to make adjustments.

Aldridge is tough because of his skill set. Hes a knockdown from 17, 18 feet, hes got a terrific post game, hes got a high release, its very difficult to get to his shot, praised Thibodeau.

Added Boozer: I think he just got a lot of easy ones. He ran the floor. We didnt do a good job of getting back. A lot of spin-out lobs. He might have had 15, 16 points running the floor and spinning out for lobs. And he shot a lot of free throws.

Chicago didnt allow the Blazers lead to swell to double figures, but they also were unable to significantly chip away at the deficit, as the home teams momentumbuoyed by the roaring Rose Garden spectatorswas simply too much to overcome in one fell swoop. There were too many miscues, blown assignments and moments when the Bulls got out-hustled by Portland, but a late-period push enabled the visitors to close to within 75-72 through three quarters.

The beginning of the final stanza was a tenuous portion of the contest for Chicago, which managed to stay afloat with its second-unit players, but couldnt remove the contest from the Blazers grasp. Eventually, the Bulls reserves pulled to within a point, prompting a timeout from Portland head coach Nate McMillan in an attempt to regain what was working for the home team earlier in the game.

Thibodeau filtered in his regulars midway through the quarter, but an untimely foul against his superstarRose fouled Fernandez on a three-point attempt; the Spaniard hit all three free throwsseemingly gave the Blazers new life and made Chicagos uphill battle even more difficult. Rose atoned for his sins soon afterwards with his patented two-hand, cock-back dunkin trafficthat silenced the loud audience and sent a buzz throughout the arena.

Thibodeau was faced with a dilemma as McMillan employed Portlands small-ball lineup: Boozer, not known as the strongest defender was forced to guard either Aldridge or Batum as the games stretch run approached. Aldridge was certainly the Blazers primary option, but Boozer guarding the perimeter-oriented Batum was a mismatch. And even with Gibson, a better defender guarding Aldridge, the Blazers power forward was able to spin for a alley-oop lob pass that brought down the house, leading to a Bulls timeout.

Chicago fought back valiantly, Portlandand especially Aldridgewas just too much in the end.

Our team effort on defense definitely has to improve. Teams shooting over 50 percent, thats not Bulls basketball, said veteran big man Kurt Thomas. Weve got to quit giving up so many fast-break points, wide-open jump shots. Weve just been breaking down defensively.

Opined Korver: I think its a combination of a lot of small things. Weve got to talk better, I think firstcommunication is key. Our pick-and-roll defense has kind of slipped a little bit and thats a whole lot of the NBA.

Concluded Thibodeau: We have to make some changes. We have to do a much better job. Our intensity has to be greater, our concentration has to be greater and weve got to challenge shots. If were not challenging shots, were not very good.

Things in this league change quickly, so you can go from playing well to playing poorly very quickly and you can change it from bad to good also. Were not playing our defense, so we have to make the necessary changes to our defense to correct the problems, he continued. If we keep doing the same things, were going to end up with the same results. Until we change our approach, the defense isnt going to change and we cant win unless we play defense.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Assessing Zach LaVine's chances in race for NBA All-Star reserve spot

USA Today

Assessing Zach LaVine's chances in race for NBA All-Star reserve spot

Zach LaVine is making his All-Star push.

In the Bulls’ past 33 contests, LaVine is averaging 28 points per game on 45.6-40.4-83.5 shooting splits, with historic performances against Charlotte (49 points, 13 3-pointers), Cleveland (44 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists; 42 points, 21 in the fourth quarter) and more. His current stat line of 25.2 points per game on 44.3% shooting, 38.8% from 3-point range and 19.7 field goal attempts per has only been achieved by once over a full season in Bulls franchise history — I’ll let you guess who did it

He's been sensational and has won the Bulls a handful of games near single-handedly. But will it all culminate in an appearance in his first career All-Star nod? That question looms over Chicago with the city set to host All-Star weekend for the first time since 1988. 

We already know LaVine won’t be a starter — that much was decided on Jan. 23, when the East’s top five of Kemba Walker, Trae Young, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid was announced. With the rest of the rosters set to be filled out this coming Thursday (Jan. 30), let’s take a realistic look at how LaVine stacks up against a crowded pool of candidates for seven reserve spots (which coaches will ultimately vote on):

The Locks

The guys with pretty much no chance of being excluded from the team. These are worth getting out of the way, so as to pare the competition down to who LaVine supporters should focus their attention on, and also offer a realistic look at how many spots are truly — albeit unofficially — up for grabs:

Ben Simmons, G: Simmons could have easily cracked the starting lineup, and I don’t think anyone would have complained. 16-8-8. Fifth in assists per game. League-leader in steals per game. And the Sixers are 6-3 since Joel Embiid went down in early January (30-17 overall), with wins over the Celtics and Lakers.

Khris Middleton, G: The Bucks are building an argument as one of the best regular season teams of all time with an unprecedented +12.6 point differential and +12.1 net rating. Middleton, averaging 19.4 points and 5.8 rebounds on nearly 50-40-90 splits (49.8-41.9-89.1) is far and away their second best player, and allows them to not just survive, but continue to flourish in non-Giannis minutes. Milwaukee needs two in there, and he’s their Robin.

Jimmy Butler, F: Not Butler’s best shooting season, but he brings All-Defense level intensity every night, is posting 20-7-6 averages and is the unquestioned leader of a Miami Heat team that has surged to a 32-14 record, second in the East. Book it.

Bam Adebayo, F/C: Adebayo has blossomed into a uniquely skilled two-way player this season — he’s currently second among centers in assists per game (4.8) and third in steals (1.1), while also averaging a double-double and 1.1 blocks per contest. He’s a wrecking ball down low and on the perimeter. The numbers are outstanding, yet still don’t do him justice.

The Favorites

With four of seven spots gone before you can say ‘NBA Stats’ we move on to guys that seem likely to nab a spot, but aren’t ‘stake-my-life-on-it’ level locks.

Domantas Sabonis, F/C: If you subscribe to the belief that the great and/or overachieving teams of the league need at least one selection, the Pacers, who are currently 30-17 without Victor Oladipo, certainly qualify. And Sabonis has been their best player; an offensive hub (18.1 ppg, 4.6 ast) and menace on the glass (12.8 reb) of a different era. He should almost certainly be a shoo-in.

Jayson Tatum, F: If Boston (30-15) is to get two All-Stars, Tatum’s case feels more compelling than Jaylen Brown’s. Averages of 21.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals on star volume (and respectable enough efficiency) pass the sniff test when considering the Celtics’ net rating plummets from +11.1 (112.9 ORtg; 101.8 DRtg) to -1.2 (106.3 ORtg; 107.5 DRtg) when he sits.

The Rest

Here’s where LaVine lies, and the competition remains stiff.

Kyle Lowry, G: The defending champion Raptors have hardly skipped a beat since losing Kawhi Leonard and Lowry is among the biggest reasons why. He's playing 37 minutes per game, ranks second on his team in scoring and is the unquestioned leader of a 32-14 squad that would only have one All-Star if he doesn’t make it. It hasn’t been his most efficient shooting season, but his two-way ability and all-around game (7.3 ast, 4.5 reb, 1.2 stl per) set him apart.

Malcolm Brogdon, G: Brogdon is a cool 17 and 7 every night, and a staple to that aforementioned, pleasant-surprise Pacers team. He’s a winning basketball player and is absolutely deserving (as all of these people are, frankly), but with just 33 games played this season, he’s probably a half-step below Lowry, Beal and LaVine.

Bradley Beal, G: Talk about an All-Star push — Beal is averaging 35.8 points and 6.3 assists per game on 59.6% shooting over his last four games, bringing his season averages up to 28.1 points and 6.3 assists on 45.4-31.4-84 splits. Staggering numbers. He’s on a ‘bad team’ (the Wizards are 15-30) but so is LaVine. Beal’s two prior All-Star appearances boost his cache, as well.

Derrick Rose, G: Great story. But at 26.6 minutes per game and on a 17-31 team, he simply doesn’t carry the load or impact winning like some of these guys.

Jaylen Brown, G: He’s been tremendous this season, but 41.9% shooting in January drops him a touch below Tatum as the Celtics’ No. 2. They’re probably not getting three.

Kyrie Irving/Spencer Dinwiddie, G: On here as a formality. Irving has played just 17 games this season, and despite gaudy scoring numbers, coaches likely won’t show out for him the way fans did. Dinwiddie has tapered off since a torrid start to the season — he’d be a good story, but doesn’t stack up. 

Andre Drummond, C: Another formality. Not quite there.

The Verdict

Assuming six of the seven spots are filled by the above locks and favorites, that leaves LaVine to contend for one opening with ‘the rest.’ And of ‘the rest’ the most compelling cases are certainly Lowry, Beal and Brogdon. Here’s how all compare statistically:

Lowry: 1,296 minutes (37 per); 20 points, 7.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals; 40.9% FG, 34.3% 3P; 23.1% usage rate; 4.5 win shares

Beal: 1,347 minutes (35.4 per); 28.1 points, 6.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1 steals; 45.4% FG, 31.4% 3P; 32.6% usage rate; 2.9 win shares

Brogdon: 994 minutes (30.1 per); 17.1 points, 7.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 0.7 steals; 43.9% FG, 34.3% 3P; 26.4% usage rate; 2.7 win shares

LaVine: 1,677 minutes (34.2 per); 25.2 points, 3.9 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals; 44.3% FG, 38.8% 3P; 31.7% usage rate; 3.8 win shares

Lowry’s case stands out as someone carrying a heavy load on both ends of the floor for a contending team. Brogdon’s minutes disparity looms large. LaVine and Beal’s high usages (LaVine is second in the league in total minutes) and prolific scoring are notable. And in spite of the Bulls’ 19-30 record, it’s hard to say LaVine hasn’t impacted winning — he’s eighth among qualified players in the NBA in fourth quarter scoring (7.1 points per) and fifth in fourth quarter usage (35.7%) without a drop in efficiency shooting the ball.

Still, if I’m being objective (and predictive), Lowry is the call — he profiles simliarly to Butler as a proven player leading a great team with solid enough stats. LaVine vs. Beal is a toss-up, with the hometown advantage working in LaVine’s favor and reputation working in Beal’s. From here, though, the reserves are for the coaches to determine.

The Loophole

If LaVine doesn’t get in straight up (probable, though not definitive), there is always a chance he could squeak in via injury replacement. If any selected players are unable to participate, NBA commissioner Adam Silver selects their understudy.

Tatum is currently batting a groin ailment — he’s missed the Celtics’ last two games and is doubtful for their impending matchup with Miami — but doesn’t yet seem in danger of sitting through the All-Star break. Embiid (torn ligament in left hand) has missed the Sixers’ last nine games, but is now listed as questionable on the team’s injury report, a sign that he is near a return. (That's not to root for anyone's harm, just an update.)

So, while LaVine’s chances at his first All-Star berth are more realistic than some might think, it will still be an uphill battle. Bulls fans can only hope opposing teams’ head coaches are in the mood for a bit of home-cooking this February.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Remembering Kobe Bryant


Bulls Talk Podcast: Remembering Kobe Bryant

In a heartfelt and emotional episode of the Bulls Talk podcast, Jason Goff is joined by NBC Sports Bulls insider KC Johnson and Bulls writer Rob Schaefer to discuss and remember the late great Kobe Bryant.

(1:20) - Feelings when the news were confirmed

(14:52) - Favorite memory of Kobe

(28:10) - Kobe and Michael Jordan

(35:50) - We don't get to see the victory lap of Kobe in life

(46:00) - Post NBA Kobe was going to be great

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Bulls Talk Podcast


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.