Deng returns, Bulls cruise to win in Milwaukee

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Deng returns, Bulls cruise to win in Milwaukee

After sitting out seven games, Luol Deng returned to the Bulls (20-6) starting lineup and his presence -- along with a mostly pro-Bulls contingent filling the Bradley Center helped fuel them to a 113-90 win over the Milwaukee Bucks (10-13).

The game was nothing short of outright domination of their Central Division rivals as the Bulls shot 14 of 30 from the three-point range, controlled the boards, outrebounding Milwaukee 53 to 39 and gave their home town fans that made the drive a show.

Rose led four Bulls who scored in double figures with 26 points to go along with 13 assists and seven rebounds.

Kyle Korver scored 18 points off the bench, knocking down four of his eight three-point attempts. Joakim Noah contributed 14 points and nine rebounds, and in his return, Deng finished with 21 points and nine rebounds in 41 minutes.

Rose set the tone early, scoring 16 of the teams first 18 points nailing three three-pointers in the process totaling the Bucks first quarter output as Chicagos hot shooting put the game out of reach in the first half as Chicago pushed to a 67 to 43 cushion in the first half.

Derrick remembers things, said Korver. The last time we played Milwaukee, Brandon Jennings really went at him in the first quarter and Derrick, he looks for anything and he really wanted to attack.

I thought the crowd tonight was amazing, he continued. It was like a college crowd, it was rowdy, for all for us. A couple of guys hit shots and it kinds of snowballs and then everyones playing with confidence. I thought the ball moved really well, we made the extra pass all night and its just fun basketball.

The Bulls shot 62 percent in the opening half, going 9 of 13 on threes.

I was just taking what they were giving me, said Rose. They were giving me my shot and I was taking it. Thank God, tonight, they were going in.

With the lessons learned in past games of putting a team away when theyre down, Chicago didnt have to apply to hard of pressure on the accelerator in the second half as the hole for Milwaukee was too big to dig themselves out of.

Deng played the entire second half, unti Tom Thibodeau pulled him along with Noah, Rose and Korver at the 1:35 mark of the fourth.

He was great, cant say enough about him, said Thibodeau about Deng. He stays in great shape, got out there and did everything; played defense, rebounded the ball, made shots, made plays, made us function well as a team, moved great without the ball ,so very encouraging.

After admitting to being a bit hesitant to start the game, Deng found a rhythm in the second quarter, scoring eight points.

I felt a little hesitant, I was worried about getting a bump and falling in the beginning of the game and I kind of missed those layups, but I took the hit in the fourth quarter so just keep that in my mind that the wrist is fine.

Im going to feel it. As the game goes on, I forgot about it. I was cautious at the start of the game. As the game went on, just playing basketball, I didnt even think about it until I fell in the fourth quarter.

The true test for Deng will be to see how the wrist responds in the morning;

I thought he was aggressive, wasnt shying away from contact and he was rebounding the ball in traffic and the big thing is, well see how he feels tomorrow. In terms of how he was in the game, he said he felt great so thats a very encouraging sign.

Bulls' Jimmy Butler voted All-Star Game starter

Bulls' Jimmy Butler voted All-Star Game starter

Jimmy Butler is heading to his third straight All-Star Game, and for the first time he'll be in the Eastern Conference's starting lineup.

CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill reported that Butler was voted an All-Star starter.

Butler has been sensational this season, averaging a career-best 24.8 points (tied for the 10th-best mark in the league entering Thursday's games), 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest through 41 games. He's shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from 3-point range.

Butler previously made Eastern Conference All-Star squads in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, though this is his first time in the starting five.

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

Taj Gibson began working on his 3-point shot as early as this past offseason. That work in the gym from beyond the arc continued into training camp, the preseason and eventually the regular season.

The eight-year veteran didn't attempt his first 3-pointer until the 21st game of the season, and that came in the final minute as the Bulls trailed by nine against the Pistons. Gibson's 27-foot heave from the left wing was off, and he proceeded to play the next 17 games without attempting another.

But recently Gibson had a conversation with head coach Fred Hoiberg, who knew the 31-year-old power forward had been putting in additional time to work on his corner 3-pointers. Hoiberg told Gibson he believed in his corner 3-pointer and that he'd allow the Bulls' forward to shoot them in games.

On Jan. 10, Gibson took a pass from Rajon Rondo midway through the first quarter and hoisted a 3-pointer from the left corner. He connected, marking just the second made 3-pointer of his career, and his first since the 2010-11 season.

Between triples Gibson, always a reliable midrange shooter, attempted and missed 22 3-pointers. But with the added practice time and confidence, and a blessing from his head coach, Gibson believes the 3-pointer can become an asset, going as far to say he’d like to shoot two triples per game.

There is, however, one aspect of the shot still standing in his way.

"When you get out there you never really realize how far it is until you're lined up and the crowd is like, 'Shoot it!'" Gibson said after Thursday's practice at the Advocate Center. "Your teammates are behind you, but it's fun. Hopefully (I) look forward to trying to make some in the future."

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Gibson attempted two more triples in Saturday's win over the Hornets and another in Sunday's win over the Grizzlies. All three were off-target, but just seeing Gibson step into the attempts and fire with confidence was a sight for sore eyes on a Bulls team lacking from outside.

Through the season's first half the Bulls rank last in both 3-point field goal percentage (31.7 percent) and 3-pointers made (6.4 per game). Their 276 total made 3-pointers as a team are less than two pairs of teammates (Houston’s Eric Gordon and James Harden, 301; Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, 283).

The Bulls' expected top 3-point shooters – Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Denzel Valentine – have combined to go 114-for-350, or 32.5 percent. Starters Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade haven’t fared much better, albeit on fewer attempts, while Chicago's trio of point guards have made 29 percent of their 144 3-point attempts. Simply put, there's ample opportunity to see what Gibson can do from deep without messing up the team's current perimeter shooting.

"It's something that he worked on a lot in the offseason. So yeah if he's open in the corner we want those shots," Hoiberg said. "It’s obviously a huge part of today's game. The 3-point shot, to have multiple players that can stretch the floor out there, those teams are really hard to guard."

Gibson's not the only Bulls big man experimenting. Robin Lopez said he, too, has been working on his outside shot in practice. Gibson joked that Hoiberg hasn't yet given Lopez permission to fire away from deep, while Hoiberg cracked that Lopez might be jealous of the 5.2 3-pointers his twin brother, Brook, is attempting this season in Brooklyn.

Lopez, like Gibson, has always had a dependable midrange shot. Per NBA.com, his 44.4 field goal percentage on midrange shots is fifth among centers this season.

"That’s something I've been working on more this season. I don't know if it's game-ready yet. That's more of a confidence issue," said Lopez, who added he's been working with assistant coach Pete Myers on the shot. "I think the way the NBA is going, I don't see why not. If Brook can do it, I definitely can."

Lopez is 0-for-5 from distance in his nine-year career, including 0-for-1 with the Bulls this season. But the defensive-minded center knows the ever-changing NBA game now includes teams wanting to get as many perimeter shooters on the floor at once. If he and/or Gibson can eventually be part of that, he knows the difference it could make.

"I think it's wonderful for the game. I think there's a real premium on skill at all positions on the court. I think that's going to continue. You're going to have more skilled and more talented big men," he said. "There's always a new breed of big men right around the corner."