Carmelo in town, Bulls taking on Nuggets


Carmelo in town, Bulls taking on Nuggets

Monday, Nov. 8, 2010
Updated 2:33 PM
By Aggrey Sam

Mention the Bulls' perceived offensive struggles to players and coaches, and don't be shocked if they, um, take offense. To a man, the team insists that while their work-in-progress offensive attack isn't yet quite up to snuff, point production isn't a primary issue of concern.

Lost in the feel-good reunion and thrilling overtime loss at Boston on Saturday was the fact that even without Boozer--who now participates in non-contact practice drills; albeit nothing involving his injured shooting hand--the interior tandem of Taj Gibson and league-leading rebounder Joakim Noah had a field day against the vaunted Celtics defense, which opted to focus heavily on curbing the exploits of Derrick Rose, the short-lived NBA scoring leader (he's now fifth in that category at an even 25 points per game, but fourth in the league in assists at 9.8 an evening). Upon the return of Boozer (after an adjustment period, that is), Chicago should become that much more dangerous offensively, particularly in the halfcourt, where Boozer can command double teams.

In the aftermath of Friday's emotional loss, Noah--who scored a season-high 26 points and snagged 11 rebounds to begin the season with five consecutive double-doubles, but committed a turnover late in overtime that effectively ended the Bulls' comeback hopes--cautioned opponents postgame Friday to not wait that long to afford the Bulls the proper respect.

Noah backed off his heat-of-the-moment sentiments a bit Sunday--"Just some players...nothing out of the usual" was his response to who or what "trash talk" he was referring to after the Boston loss--but elaborated on his offensive development, which has featured him becoming more consistent shooting the ball from the perimeter.

"Noah is a lot more confident. I think he's put a lot of work into it and I think he's gotten a lot of confidence in his jump shot. Sixteen, 17 feet, he can shoot that and if you close hard into him, he can blow by you. His jump hook game is very effective inside, he's very active on the offensive boards, he knows how to move without the ball, so he's scoring different ways--and I think in transition--he's running the floor great," said Thibodeau. "Quite honestly, he hasn't surprised Thibodeau because I saw him shoot all summer and consistently he's knocked that shot down. My thing is, as long as you're working on it that hard and it's going in, I have no problem with you shooting it if you're open. It looks a little different, but it goes in and that's the bottom line."

"It's a little unconventional, but if you watch the final phase of it, it's actually pretty good. the way he finishes--he has good follow-through, good extension--he's very accurate."

"I feel pretty confident. I don't want players to play off me like that and I worked on it pretty hard with Thibodeau in the offseason. To me, there's nothing better than making a 15-footer because a lot of people told me my whole life that I wouldn't be able to shoot it, so it feels great knocking them down," said Noah of his "artistic" shooting form. Right now, I'm just working on it and trying to make it as consistent as possible. At the end of the day, Derrick is getting a lot of attention offensively. It's on me and Taj to make a play when they get the ball out of his hands."

Noah also opined on the progress of tag-team partner and fellow New Yorker Taj Gibson.

"He's definitely more comfortable to the NBA game. Taj is playing very well, especially offensively. he's shooting the ball pretty good. He's playing very confident," observed Noah, who is averaging 16.2 points to go with his NBA-high average of 14.2 boards a night. "The thing we have to get better at is being mentally tougher--not in the sense that we're soft--but we just have to do a better job of knowing the plays, especially down the stretch. knowing exactly what we have to get done. I think that's something that me and Taj have to do a better job of, just getting better with the system."

Gibson, who bounced back from a woeful preseason to average 15 points an outing (on a team-high 64.2 percent from the floor), as well as 6.2 rebounds, has also been particularly aggressive. His baseline jumper, a burgeoning part of his arsenal as a rookie, has become increasingly effective, especially when opponents are slow to rotate after double-teaming Rose.

Added Gibson, who wore a shoulder sleeve at practice to combat the effects of a nagging injury from last season: "I worked on it his mid-range jumper for basically half the summer; I really had a short summer due to injury (lingering plantar fasciitis from his rookie campign), but Thibs and the rest of the coaching staff worked on it with me. I even shoot threes in my spare time; eventually I'll work on that. But the coaching staff wants me to take that shot. They mostly get mad when I don't take the open shot because they feel so comfortable with me making it," said Gibson.

"The chemistry's (with Noah) still there from battling up and down last year...I'm just real responsive to what I have to do on the court and he Noah helps me out," he added Gibson. "We can get better. It's a grind out there. I understand we have guys injured, but just being in those hostile environments, with playing in Oklahoma City and Boston, it was real tough. We really had a chance to win both of those games...but it's a long season. We understand we have a lot to work on, but the sky's the limit for this team."

"We already have captains...but it's my job to be vocal. If you're playing the four or five, you have to be vocal in the NBA because the crowds are so loud," continued the second-year player about his growing leadership role on the squad. "Calling out play calls, calling out our defensive sets because I don't want Derrick to get hurt on screen-and-rolls. Just being vocal is one of the main things I have to do to stay on the court."

So while a tantalizing potential offensive upgrade will exist in the United Center--in the form of Denver's Carmelo Anthony, arguably the NBA's purest scorer, but currently ranked sixth, a notch below Rose--Monday evening, it appears that the Bulls are presently satisfied with the weapons at their disposal.

"A couple years ago, we kind of had a similar situation with Kobe Bryant. He got a pretty good reception when he came to the United Center," said Noah. "We'll see how it goes."

Thibodeau confessed to that he privately fretted about Chicago's scoring prior to the season, at 104.6 points per game (on 49 percent field-goal shooting), fifth in the league heading into Monday's game, he's now pleased with the offensive flow, even if there are some galling, stand-around stretches for the time being and bench production outside of Kyle Korver's 8.2 points per game (Korver, along with the aforementioned Rose, Noah and Gibson, as well as Luol Deng's 19.8 points per game, are the only Chicago scorers producing more than five points a night) has been lacking. Now, the Bulls defense--which allows opponents 105 points a contest--that's another story.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms 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.

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Not all losses are created equal.

When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.

By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.

The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.

An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.

“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”

There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.

The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”

Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”

That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”

In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.

But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.

“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.

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