Reunion with familiar foe Philadelphia on deck for Bulls

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Reunion with familiar foe Philadelphia on deck for Bulls

DEERFIELD, ILL. The Bulls next opponent is a familiar foe, Philadelphia, the team that ousted them in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last spring.

Like the Bulls, the 76ers experienced an offseason of change, losing All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala, leading scorer Louis Williams, veteran power forward Elton Brand and shooting guard Jodie Meeks.

The circumstances of each departure was different Iguodala was traded to Denver in a blockbuster deal, Williams and Meeks each left via free agency (Williams, regarded as one of the leagues top sixth men, signed with his hometown Hawks, while Meeks reached an agreement with the Lakers) and Brand, the former Bull, was amnestied and subsequently acquired by the Mavericks but based on the organizations busy summer, this season was supposed to bring new hope.

Along with short-term deals given to free-agent acquisitions Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Kwame Brown, as well as retaining big men Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen, the Sixers received All-Star center Andrew Bynum, in addition to veteran Jason Richardson, in the Iguodala deal.

However, while Bynum hasnt suited up in Philadelphia due to ongoing knee problems, the Sixers are making the best of it, as former Bulls head coach Doug Collins continues to get the most out of a gritty defensive-oriented team with no superstar scoring threat, but a lot of heart.

Those attributes have earned the respect of the Bulls current head coach, Tom Thibodeau.

Theyre good, hard-playing, different. Added a lot of shooting. Kwame Brown is an underrated addition. Jrue Holidays playing great, Evan Turners playing great for them. Theyre playing well, Thibodeau said Friday, following the teams afternoon practice session at the Berto Center.

Thibodeau isnt dwelling on the Bulls series loss to Philadelphia, which saw Derrick Rose suffer a devastating ACL injury and Joakim Noah severely sprain his ankle en route to losing in six games. But the coach is conscious of the fact that players like Holiday, who signed a four-year, 41-million contract extension on the opening day of the NBA season, and Turner, a Chicago native and former No. 2 overall draft pick, have improved.

Its in the past. You learn from every situation, we move on. Theyre our next opponent, so we have to know them well. Theyre different in terms of some of their personnel, but philosophically, theyre the same. Dougs their coach -- a great coach -- he always gets his teams to play to their strengths and cover their weaknesses, so we have to be ready, he explained. I think Turner and Holiday continue to improve each year, significantly, and then when you add in some of their additions Nick Young, Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright theyve added a lot of three-point shooting to their team.

Then, Kwame Brown gives them a lot of toughness up front. Hes a guy thats sort of under the radar, but hes a good defensive player. Spencer Hawes is a guy who can spread you out, great touch. Lavoy Allen, great touch. Their bigs are skilled. Thaddeus Young is a tough matchup, he can out-quick you at the four, can overpower threes, hes tough in transition. So, I think they put pressure on you, they play together and defensively, theyve always been tough.

After a resounding victory Wednesday over Dallas at the United Center, Thibodeau wants the Bulls to keep building on the positive momentum. As solid as the Bulls were from top to bottom in that game, the detail-oriented coach still found some areas the team needs to address.

Just continue to improve every aspect of your defense, from defensive transition to challenging shots, to finishing with the rebound to your pick-and-roll defense, catch-and-shoot defense, low-post defense, help defense, so you never have it fully solved and you can always do better. So, thats the mindset that we want to have. We want to be moving in the right direction, Thibodeau said.

We have to be a 48-minute team. There were stretches where I thought we probably didnt play as well as I would have liked. The thing I did like was offensively, getting to the free-throw line, which allowed us to get our defense set. We have to continue to cut down our turnovers. Thats critical for us, but regardless of what happens on offense, youve got to make sure youre taking care of all your responsibilities defensively and then, the offensive end, I want us to continue to play the way we did the other night. I thought we had a lot of very unselfish plays and the ball was moving, bodies were moving and we got into the paint.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."