Mohammed ready for matchup with former team


Mohammed ready for matchup with former team

For Nazr Mohammed, the Bulls' preseason game Tuesday night against visiting Oklahoma City, his former team, won't be a bitter reunion. However, despite not having any bad feelings toward the Thunder, don't expect him to take it easy on his old teammates.

"It's preseason, no ill will towards them, but I'm a competitor and they're competitors, and we're going to compete like two brothers in the backyard. Sometimes you can't even tell if they're really brothers," he said after Monday's practice at the Berto Center. "It's the same as I take my approach for any other game. I'm going to come out there and play hard, and be physical and I know that I expect the same from them."

The South Side Chicago native is a well-traveled veteran, having played for eight different teams in his 15-year NBA career, but one can see he has a soft spot for the young Thunder. Led by the All-Star duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook -- neither of whom reportedly will play Tuesday -- Mohammed views Oklahoma City, the defending Western Conference champions, as one of the league's elite teams, even with many observers already anointing the star-studded Lakers as the best in the West.

"They're going to be a good team. They're going to be very good. They bring all the major pieces back. They're adding a guy like Eric Maynor the team's backup point guard, who was injured last season, who I'm a fan of, just from playing with him. They're going to be really tough out West," he explained. "First off, you've got to look at Kevin and 'Russ,' they're superstars in this game.

"Then, you've got James Harden, who's becoming a superstar in this game. In my mind, he's a superstar already, but I don't know how you guys feel. But you've got three legitimate superstars who can score 30 on a given night and score 30 together, and you've got unbelievable low-post play," he continued. "Kendrick Perkins with the 'D' and you've got the best shot-blocker in the league in Serge Ibaka, who can also knock down jump shots. They've got a strong bench and they can play different styles of play. They can play physical because of Kendrick's ability to play physical and then Serge. Then, you've got Nick Collison, who's my guy. Nick's a great guy off the bench and he just does everything right. So, they've got so many different pieces. They can play an up-and-down style, they can play a physical game and they can play defense, so there's really no holes in their team.

"But at the same time, I don't want to just harp on them. I feel like we can do those same things and I feel like we're a very good defensive team, so I think it's going to be a very interesting matchup."

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau agreed with his backup center's assessment of the opposition: "They're a very good team. They present a number of different challenges. We just want to keep improving every day. That's what we're striving for. They're a deep team. They have a number of guys who can go off the dribble. They're big, a shot-blocking team, so we're going to have to play well on both sides of the ball," the coach explained.

Thibodeau has been pleased with Mohammed's strong exhibition campaign thus far, but claims that he's not surprised by the 35-year-old's performance.

"I wouldn't say he's playing better because he came very highly recommended, so I was expecting a lot from him and I had spoken with a number of coaches that had him previously, and the story was the same. Every team, they said he's a great worker, totally committed to the team, keeps himself in great shape and he'll be ready. Whatever role you ask him to play, he's going to handle his role great," he said. "You can't play as long as he has played without every coach saying the same thing and also from observing, I know how I felt when he was on the floor when I was coaching against him. I'm very pleased with his conditioning, with his approach, veteran leadership, great teammate. I think he's added a lot to our team."

Mohammed has been similarly impressed with Thibodeau's operation and went as far to compare the coach, only in his third season as an NBA head coach, to the likes of Hall of Famer Larry Brown and the current dean of NBA head coaches, San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, both of whom previously coached him earlier in his career.

"It's definitely an intense training camp. You've got to come in focused and ready to work. We have a fast-paced camp. Coach Larry Brown who coached the Bobcats when Mohammed played in Charlotte was kind of similar; he wants it intense. But we have a fast-paced camp with transition from drill to drill pretty fast. It's pretty consistent, what he asks of every player. It's not like, 'You, I need this. You, I need that.' He wants the same from everybody, which is good and I've got to give credit to guys. Everybody came in shape and everybody came in ready to go, so we haven't had too many 'getting on the line,' running, things like that. Guys are ready to go," he said. "Thibodeau is very similar to Popovich because they have high expectations for the players. They ask for you to work extremely hard and they ask for you to be focused for a long period of time. Mental lapses just aren't accepted, but a guy like me, I like that because I like order. I like to know when I'm wrong and when I'm right, so when you have order, it's easier for guys like me, but everybody's different.

"Training camp is very important, especially when you're going to a new team. There's a lot of terminology thrown at you. New guys, you're trying to get a feel of what they can do and they're trying to get a feel for what you can do because even though you've been in the league and have seen guys on other teams, it's night and day when a guy's your teammate and you kind of inspect his game and see what kind of worker he is," he continued. "It's the most mentally demanding training camp I've been to. As far as physically, it's up there, but once it gets hard, it's hard. There's no 'extra hard'...because you're asked to stay sharp, at a high level, for a long period of time and mentally, not everybody can do that, but I know I'm capable because I'm doing it now. But it's not for everybody to try to do and we've got some great guys who have been doing a great job at it.

"From our standpoint, we know that we can beat any team in this league, but we also know that if we don't come and play the right way, we can also be beat by any team in this league, so we're focused on what Coach wants us to do and we understand where it's at."

Michael Carter-Williams learns on the fly, thrives in Bulls debut

Michael Carter-Williams learns on the fly, thrives in Bulls debut

Ten days ago Michael Carter-Williams was the starting point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Circumstances can change quickly in the NBA, as the 2013 Rookie of the Year found out when he was traded two weeks ago for the second time in his four-year NBA career. But Carter-Williams also realized just as quickly the value in carving out a role, and he made a great first impression on his coaches and teammates Thursday night in the Bulls’ 105-99 win over the Celtics.

The 6-foot-6 guard played a crucial role in the second half in slowing down a potent Celtics offense, and he provided an offensive jolt midway through the fourth quarter that helped push the Bulls to their first win of the season.

His numbers in 17 minutes won’t jump off the score sheet – he tallied five points, six rebounds and three assists – but his impact on the game was felt on both ends, and in his three stints he cemented himself as a key part of the Bulls’ rotation moving forward.

Carter-Williamas was thrown into unfamiliar territory late in the second quarter. Isaiah Canaan was the first guard off the bench for Fred Hoiberg, but after he missed all three of his 3-point attempts and the Celtics reeled off a 14-4 run to pull within three, 43-40, Hoiberg deployed Carter-Williams alongside starting point guard Rajon Rondo.

In the 10 days since Carter-Williams had joined the Bulls, his time in practice had been spent learning the point guard position. But with Rajon Rondo playing well in the first half, Hoiberg kept his starter in and substituted in Carter-Williams, a natural point guard, into a three-guard lineup with Rondo and Jimmy Butler.

Having Rondo next to him, Carter-Williams said, helped him ease into the Bulls’ offensive sets that wound up making a difference in the fourth quarter.

“He definitely helps me out a lot,” he said of Rondo. “He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever talked to about basketball, he knows everybody’s position, he’s a great point guard and I’m glad I get to learn from someone like him.”

Carter-Williams’ impact was felt immediately. The Celtics missed their next four shots, with their only points coming off free throws after Nikola Mirotic fouled Jae Crowder on a 3-point attempt. The Bulls pushed their second-quarter lead back to nine by the end of the half as Carter-Williams defended both Avery Bradley and Gerald Green.

That same substitution pattern followed late in the third quarter after the Celtics used a 14-5 run to pull within a possession of the Bulls. The Celtics took their first and only lead of the night on an Isaiah Thomas 3-pointer, but with Carter-Williams again playing next to Rondo the Bulls reeled off seven straight points to push the lead back to six, 75-69.

Carter-Williams opened the fourth quarter on the floor without Rondo, though Wade initiated most of the offense. Playing off the ball, Carter-Williams continued to press defensively while waiting for his opportunity to contribute on the other end.

And when he got his chance, he made the most of it. After missing his first four attempts, Carter-Williams was left alone on the left wing for a 3-pointer that he connected on. Butler then stole an Avery Bradley pass in transition and found Carter-Williams, whose floater in the lane pushed the Bulls’ lead back 12, 93-81, with less than 8 minutes to play.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

When Thomas reeled off five quick points to pull the Celtics within five Hoiberg pulled Carter-Williams for Wade, who assisted on two consecutive Taj Gibson baskets before connecting on a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left to seal the Bulls’ home opener victory.

It was as successful a debut as a reserve point guard could have, with Carter-Williams logging the only positive rating (+3) among the five players who came off the bench for the Bulls. A 30-point first quarter allowed Hoiberg to play Carter-Williams alongside Rondo in the second and third quarters, and the results were evident, even with Carter-Williams playing a “new” position.

“I think it was tough for me because when I was first in there I was with Rondo, and so when he’s in there he runs the 1 and I play the 2,” he said after the game. “So a lot of times in practice I was learning the 1, and it’s pretty hard to learn everybody’s position in one week. So I was just looking for anybody to tell me where to go, what to do, and just try to make the best of it.”

Despite the unfamiliar spot on the floor, Carter-Williams did make the best of it. In nine minutes alongside Rondo, the Bulls’ defensive rating (points per 100 possessions allowed) was 99.1, an improvement from the 103.6 rating the team logged on the night. Carter-Williams’ individual defensive rating was 95.1, the second best number among guards behind Wade (89.8).

The numbers weren’t as solid on the offensive end, with Rondo and Carter-Williams together managing just 93.5 points per 100 possessions. But the Bulls’ surprisingly hot night from beyond the arc – 11-for-25 – allowed Hoiberg to focus more on the defensive end, where the Bulls wound up holding the Celtics to 99 points a night after they tallied 122 against the Nets.

And Carter-Williams still came up with two key passes late in the third quarter as the Celtics threatened. First he found Mirotic open for an 18-foot jumper on the left baseline. Then he grabbed a missed Wade layup and kicked it back out to Mirotic, who buried a 3-pointer in the final minute of the third quarter to push the Bulls’ lead to six heading into the fourth quarter.

“I love Michael’s game. He had a couple times where he had no idea what he was doing when I called the play, but that’s going to happen. He’s only been around the team a few days. But he played with a lot of poise,” Hoiberg said. “I like how he can get into the paint. He can get downhill. That’s something that every team wants.”

It’s an important year for Carter-Williams. In addition to him learning a new system on the fly, he’s in a contract year and said it’s a personal goal of his to cement himself as the backup behind Rondo.

With Jerian Grant inactive and Canaan sitting the final three quarters, Thursday night may have done just that. And whatever his playing time looks like going forward, or who he’s playing with, Carter-Williams is hoping to make the same impact he did Thursday night.

“I think I can really lead us no matter who’s on the court,” he said. “Whatever Fred thinks is best he’s going to do, and of course it’s a personal goal of mine to just be on the floor as much as I can.

“I was able to find my rhythm a little bit (in the second half) and just try to help the team. Defensively, whether it’s rebounding, getting steals; offensively, scoring or making the right pass or the right play.”

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