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The Starting Five: Bulls v. Jazz

The Starting Five: Bulls v. Jazz

Saturday, March 12, 2011Posted: 3:45 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

1. Following their deadline deal of All-Star floor general Deron Williams to New Jersey--which netted them point guard Devin Harris, rookie power forward Derrick Favors and two first-round draft picks--the Jazz have been struggling. New Utah head coach and former DePaul star Tyrone Corbin was placed in a tough position, having to fill the shoes of retired Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan in the middle of the season, and injuries (such as to power forward Paul Millsap, who is reportedly a game-time decision for Saturday's tilt, due to tendinitis in his knee) haven't helped the situation, causing the free-falling Jazz to sink to 10th in the Western Conference playoff race.

2. Friday's win over Atlanta put the Bulls within a half-game of Boston for first place in the Eastern Conference and with the Celtics off Saturday after falling to Philadelphia Friday, a win over Utah would put Chicago in possession of the East's top spot. However, the Bulls' potential reign alone at the top could be short-lived, as Boston faces Milwaukee Sunday, while Chicago will be idle. Looking ahead--something Thibodeau wouldn't approve of--if the Bulls and Celtics finish the regular season with identical records, April 7, the date when the two teams meet for the fourth and final time, will be very important. Boston was victorious in the season's first two meetings in Massachusetts, while the Bulls won at the United Center in January, meaning a Bulls' win would neutralize the first playoff-seeding tiebreaker criteria.

3. After not playing since Joakim Noah's first game back in the lineup, 38-year-old veteran Kurt Thomas started in Carlos Boozer's place Friday night--Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau made the decision to go with Thomas over Taj Gibson based on not wanting to break up the chemistry of the team's second unit--and finished the evening with 13 rebounds, while also limiting Hawks center Al Horford to six points after he burned the Bulls for 31 and 16 rebounds in a Chicago loss in Atlanta last week. "It can be difficult, but I've been playing a long time," Thomas told CSNChicago.com about being "put on ice," then being inserted into the starting lineup. "That's definitely the first time that's ever happened--the first time I've ever experienced that--but I just love to play. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I just want to go out there and be successful." Thomas added that he felt "a little bit" of rust, "but once the game got going, it's just like riding a bike."

4. When asked about Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf's comments about the team being capable of winning "at least four championships," in light of Saturday's celebration, Derrick Rose responded, "The only thing we can do is just play hard and try to put ourselves in a position to win. He's a great owner. We have great management, from Gar, Randy, Pax and everybody. The only thing we can do is push for it. We have a good core group and hopefully we get there one day."

5. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

Bill Belichick scoffs at Khalil Mack-Lawrence Taylor comparison

Bill Belichick scoffs at Khalil Mack-Lawrence Taylor comparison

All of the good graces Bill Belichick may have won on Tuesday afternoon -- when he compared the Bears' offense to Kansas City's -- are officially gone. 

Today, when talking to reporters, a Khalil Mack-Lawrence Taylor comparison came up. Belichick, who coached LT as the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator in the 1980s, was NOT having it: 

A bit harsh, Bill. 

For what it's worth, here's Khalil Mack's 2018 projection, assuming his latest ankle injury doesn't make him miss time: 

20 sacks, four interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries

That's .5 sacks less and four INTS, 16 FFs and 4 recoveries more than LT had in his 1986 MVP season. And yeah, maybe "they didn't record tackles/fumbles in 1986" and "16 forced fumbles would not only blow the current record (10) out of the water but is just plain unrealistic" but whatever, we're just sayin'. 

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

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USA TODAY

Trust the Rookie: Wendell Carter Jr. draws Opening Night start against Joel Embiid, Sixers

In a five-game span Wendell Carter Jr. saw preseason action against Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Myles Turner. The 19-year-old rookie had his share of expected ups and downs but performed well enough that Fred Hoiberg officially announced him a starter for the team’s season opener tomorrow night.

His reward for all that hard work? A matchup against All-Pro center Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.

It’ll be an eye-opening experience for the Duke product, who just a year ago was readying himself for his first season of college basketball and a season-opening matchup against Elon. It’s safe to assume Embiid will pose a few more problems than did Phoenix center Tyler Seibring.

“Joel Embiid was one of my role models growing up,” Embiid said before practice Wednesday. “He was someone I always wanted to pattern my game after. Just to go up against him is a remarkable feeling. He’s a very physical player. He’s a very talented player. I’m going to be able to stack up and see what all I need to work on to last in this league.”

While it’s no easy task against a talent like Embiid, who was named All-NBA Second Team last season, Carter’s most important job will be staying out of foul trouble. Carter piggy-backed an impressive Summer League with a preseason that included averages of 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.1 minutes. But those numbers also included 7.7 fouls per 48 minutes. He racked up 17 fouls in five games, and had at least three in each.

Embiid only went to the line five times in Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Celtics, but that was primarily against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Al Horford. Embiid won’t face as much resistance against Carter, putting the pressure on the rookie to stay on the floor.

“He’s going to have to navigate that without using his hands,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to be all five aware. It’s just not a one-man problem with Embiid. We have to have great awareness of him and try and mix up coverages and hopefully make him take tough shots, knowing that he’s going to hit some of those. You just can’t get deflated when he does.’’

The decision was a mere formality – Bobby Portis will start at power forward – after the frontcourt combination played considerably better in the Bulls’ final two preseason games. Though Jabari Parker was initially slotted in at power forward following Lauri Markkanen’s elbow sprain, Portis’ impressive preseason forced Hoiberg’s hand. Portis averaged 17.0 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field in just 22.4 minutes.

“It’s all about combinations out there and we felt like Bobby gave us a great start with the way he was playing,” Hoiberg said. “And then we kind of changed things up with that second unit and put the ball in Jabari’s hands, so it was more that in trying to get guys out there with the right combinations.”

Lopez may have an expanded role if Carter gets into foul trouble early, while Parker will be the facilitator on a second unit that doesn’t have much in the way of a point guard. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the frontcourt will play out once Markkanen returns in roughly a month; if Portis and Carter continue playing well, Hoiberg could opt to keep them together on the second unit and put Lopez back in the starting lineup.

But for at least Opening Night – the Bulls also get Andre Drummond and the Pistons on Saturday – it’ll be the seventh overall pick getting his NBA feet wet with a matchup against arguably the best center in basketball. But’s it a role he’s earned, and on a Bulls defense looking for any sort of improvement, Carter is the player who can anchor it.

“His defense is always going to be important for us. He’s the guy that’s the anchor in that starting unit at the rim,” Hoiberg said, “and he’s done a really solid job of making perimeter guys taking contested shots when he gets switched off, or staying vertical at the rim and trying to make a big finish over the top of him, so yeah, again it’s a great challenge, great opportunity for Wendell.”