Banged-up Bulls hold off Bobcats

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Banged-up Bulls hold off Bobcats

Despite missing four players due to injurythree were hurt during the previous evenings blowout victory in Clevelandthe Bulls (15-3) held off the Bobcats (3-13), 95-89, Saturday night at the United Center. Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton each scored over 20 points on the evening as selfless offense and accurate marksmanship were the hallmarks of the win, which ran the teams home record to an undefeated 7-0 on the season.

We just play. We dont know whats going to happen when the game starts. We just know were playing our style of basketball, said Boozer. Moving the ball, sharing the ball, rebounding, playing defense, trying to have low turnovers and obviously, just trying to win. Thats our whole mindset.

Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Ive said all along: We have the right guys. No matter whos out, we have more than enough to win with. The next guy steps up, he knows what he has to do, knows what his role is. These guys all play for each other and they play to win, and when you have a group like that, good things are going to happen.

The short-handed Bulls jumped out early against a young, smallish Bobcats squad, again using unselfish play and balanced scoring to create a slim cushion. C.J. Watson (11 points, nine assists), building off his recent strong performances, had a productive opening period as a scorer, while Duke products and starting forwards Boozer (23 points, nine rebounds) and Deng (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists) each asserted themselves, as well.

I just try to take my time and be patient, and let the game come to me. Theyre so many scorers around meLu, Booz, Ripthat I dont have to score. I can rest on offense and just try to play hard on defense, and then sometimes, basically still stay aggressive and look for my shot, too, Watson told CSNChicago.com. Weve got to just keep playing hard. Thats what Thibs expects of us and thats what weve got to do. Whoevers out, weve got to keep the level up and basically, just try to win games.

However, center Omer Asik (15 rebounds, three blocked shots, two steals), starting in place of the injured Joakim Noahthe usual starting center was a late scratch after suffering a left ankle sprain Friday night, joining fellow victims of the Cleveland game Taj Gibson (high left ankle sprain) and John Lucas III strained left groin), not to mention Derrick Rose, who missed his fourth consecutive contest with turf toe)picked up two quick fouls, forcing Thibodeau to turn to usual deep reserve Brian Scalabrine, a fan favorite, for frontcourt help. Charlotte starting center Byron Mullens (17 points, five rebounds) was effective for the visitors in the early going, but the Bulls still held a 27-23 lead after a quarter of play.

Our defense was very poor tonight, so thats something that were going to have to clean up, said Thibodeau. Our rebounding was poor, but the offense was good.

Watson picked up his own second foul early in the second stanza, giving recent acquisition Mike James (nine points, 10 assists), a veteran pro floor general who most recently played for Erie of the D-League, a chance to show Bulls fans what hes capable of doing on the court. The game evolved into a back-and-forth affair, as an energetic Bobcats team countered its inexperience with hustle and athleticism, perhaps best exemplified by Mullens and slashing young swingman Gerald Henderson, Jr.

The scoring of Watson and Deng, who logged some minutes at power forward, led the way for the Bulls, whose defense was often bailed out by the basket protection of Asik, in his debut NBA starting appearance, in the paint. With the added bonus of Hamilton (20 points) also providing firepower from the perimeter, the home team went into the intermission with a 50-43 advantage, following a Deng put-back dunk to thrill the United Center crowd, just before halftime.

Thats the value of Lu. He really is the glue to our team. Theres nothing that he doesnt do well, Thibodeau said of Deng, who injured his left wrist later in the game. You can post him, he cuts, he moves without the ball, he can shoot, he slashes, plays great defense, guards multiple positions, play-makes and he plays to win. Hes smart, he knows how to read things. You cant say enough about what he does here, what he brings to winning.

Concurred Deng himself: I understand what hes saying, but it just fits me well. I just try to play the game the right way and just knowing that every night, playing the way that we play, not trying to step out of who I am. Having guys out, just playing the same game and it worked.
Chicago maintained its slight edge after the break, as Hamilton continued to score efficiently and Watsons underrated playmaking ability created easy opportunities for others, while Asiks rebounding and interior defense helped keep things steady on the other end of the floor.

I thought he was great. Thirty-eight minutes, which is a lot for him. His rebounding effort was very, very good. he had a tough cover with Mullens playing away from the basket, Thibodeau said of Asik. Hes geared towards help, so he made a lot of multiple-effort plays, tagging cutters, showing, closing out, rebounding. He had the ability to go from one thing to the next. Again, I think his attitude and approach are tremendous. That guy comes to work every day and he just keeps getting better and better.

The injured Noah was also pleased with his understudys performance.

I think he played very well. Im very proud of him. Hes a rebounding machine and hes playing great defense out there. You know whats crazy is I think he has a lot of areas he can improve in as well, and hes a big part of what were doing, he said afterwards. He knows what he brings. I think that hes a very capable player and he played great for us tonight.

Meanwhile, the Bobcats duo of Henderson (22 points, nine rebounds) and Mullens kept the guests within striking distance against their banged-up hosts.

Boozer and Deng also picked up their production, helping the Bulls lead balloon to double digits as the period waned on. James ability to distribute the basketball while giving Watson some rest, was a major factor in Boozers success, in particular, and at the end of three quarters, the home team was up, 80-69.

Mike was great. I thought Mike played extremely well, as did C.J. I thought both guys were terrific and Mike got us into rhythm, Carlos was knocking down shots, said Thibodeau. We felt confident because obviously, this guy has done it before. Veteran, experienced, you know he James can run the pick-and-roll. Hes going to get a good shot for you in most cases. I thought he played really hard. Carlos got into rhythm, Omers rebounding was terrific and Rip was, to me, sensational.

Chimed in James: The way they were playing me, the passes were there, so our guys were just knocking them down. They made me look good and it was easy when guys were knocking down shots, and youre playing with such good ballplayers. They make the game easy.

Thats just me. Being able to make plays, being able to knock down shots, but also being able to create for others. This game is aboutespecially at the point guard, in this era nowyou have to be able to make plays, not just for yourself, but make plays for others.

Scoring was the name of James game at the outset of the final period, as the 36-year-old showcased his ability to both penetrate and knock down open jumpers from deep range while Thibodeau continued to rest Watson. Surprisingly, Thibodeau reinserted Watson, Hamilton and other regularssans Deng and Asik, who had earned well-deserved breathersand even more shocking, the Bobcats, paced by rookie guard Cory Higgins (10 points), son of Bobcats general manager and former Bull Rod Higgins, began to trim the Bulls comfortable cushion to a single-digit deficit as the contest entered its stretch run.

But with all of the starters back in the game, the home team managed to stave off Charlottes late comeback attempt, despite a spirited effort from the scrappy visitors. The win bodes well for a weeklong home stretch of four contests at the United Center before beginning an arduous nine-game road trip next weekend.

Said Hamilton:It just showed that guys on this team want to play. When guys went down, we just came together and just said, Well just have their back, with Jo being a game-time decisionhe didnt play tonightwe knew we wouldnt have Taj and Derrick and Luke. It was tough, but guys really came together and we did what we had to do to get a win.

Fred Hoiberg, Jimmy Butler rave about Rajon Rondo's voice, basketball IQ

Fred Hoiberg, Jimmy Butler rave about Rajon Rondo's voice, basketball IQ

With one Bulls practice in the books and one more to go in the night session, it was evident from the primary parties that Rajon Rondo has earned instant trust and credibility with his play.

Or more pointedly, his brain and his mouth.

“He’s got the best voice on the team,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “When you have point guard out there who can get you into something and talk the way he does, that sets the tone for everybody.”

Apparently the ultra-intelligent point guard has been a galvanizing force since the team starting convening last month for informal workouts, as Hoiberg believes Rondo has grasped his system instantly and brought some of the younger teammates along.

“The biggest thing that I’ve been most impressed with with Rajon is the minute he stepped on this floor when he got back here in August is he pulled everybody together,” Hoiberg said. “If you have a guy not only offensively getting you into something but defensively making sure guys are pointing and talking and making sure guys are pointing and talking and getting back and matched up in transition, that’s where it starts. He’s been here. He’s been great. He’s a guy who you can watch film with in September before we got rolling here in camp. He got us off to a great start.”

Needing Rondo to be vocal will be a plus for Hoiberg considering the coach’s soft-spoken approach, and those two being on one accord will be a key considering Rondo’s history with coaches over time.

Rondo’s intelligence, which most consider to be genius-like, has already come in handy and will help with the perimeter adjustment of fitting himself, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade together.

“Like I always say, when you put good basketball players out there on the floor you just go,” Butler said. “Everything just falls into place, falls into line. You don’t have to worry about too much of anything. And with him he’s an incredible leader. He just wants everybody to be successful. He’s going to put you in position to be just that.”

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Rondo has led the league in assists three times and his career 8.7 assists-per-game average is third among active players behind Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers) and John Wall (Washington Wizards).

“He has been around the league a long time,” Hoiberg said. “He studies the league. If he sees a small guy guarding Jimmy, he’s going to find a way to get him the ball on the block. The more you can have those guys recognizing things on the floor---if Robin Lopez is coming down and I have to yell, ‘Get the ball to Robin’ then we have issues -- and Rondo obviously will be a big help with that.”

So yeah, he’ll have the ball in his hands plenty.

“He’s super-smart. He really sees things before they even develop out there on the basketball floor, so it makes everybody’s job a lot easier," Butler said. "And not only is he leading the team on offense, but he’s constantly talking on defense, so he’s letting everybody know where they have to be. Wade’s the same way, so he makes everybody’s job easier as well, and you learn from that, so you just follow suit for the most part.’’

Butler joked that there will often be times where a Rondo pass zigs while he’ll be zagging early in camp while chemistry is developing, saying “I’m sorry, Rajon, because you’re going to definitely get a turnover from me one game,” and that he won’t be opposed to Rondo getting on him or anybody else in the meantime.

“I’m good with that,” Butler said. “I’ll challenge him right back if I see something that he’s not doing correctly. I want him to hold me accountable, me hold him accountable, everybody holding everybody accountable, because then everybody is going to learn from their mistakes and not to it again.”

Stan Bowman mum on Artemi Panarin contract talks

Stan Bowman mum on Artemi Panarin contract talks

In July, when asked how contract talks were going with star forward Artemi Panarin, general manager Stan Bowman said he wouldn’t negotiate through the media.

He reiterated that on Tuesday.

“Obviously Artemi's a big part of our team. We're excited for the season he had. We're looking forward to him building on that as well. Then the negotiations will be what they are between his agent and myself,” I respect Tom [Lynn, Panarin’s agent]. He's a very knowledgeable guy, and Artemi put a lot of faith in him. And Tom and I will work to get something done.”

Panarin is entering the final year of his current contract and is coming off a monster rookie season in which he recorded 77 points and took home the Calder Trophy. Panarin took home plenty of bonus money thanks to that season, too.

The 24-year-old could certainly command a hefty price, which would once again be a major concern to the cash-strapped Blackhawks. The salary cap is at $73 million for this season, a small increase from 2015-16 ($71.4 million). Factor in another likely small increase next season and the large contracts the Blackhawks are already doling out – Brent Seabrook’s eight-year deal with a cap hit of $6.875 kicks in this season – and could Panarin be another one that gets away?

But Bowman remains optimistic.

“We're always confident,” he said. “You go into a negotiation expecting to get a deal done. That's the way I've been in the past and that's the way I am now.”