Focused Bulls blow out Cavs with ease

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Focused Bulls blow out Cavs with ease

CLEVELANDThe killer instinct required to be the last team standing at the end of the season was on full display Friday night, as the Bulls (30-8) handily dispatched the Cavaliers (13-21), 112-91, at Quicken Loans Arena.

Though the Central Division rival presented a challenge early in the contest, they wilted under the Bulls defensive pressure and offensive efficiency, as five Chicago players scored in double figures on the evening.

With Cavaliers starting point guard Kyrie Irvingthe No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and Rookie of the Year front-runnerout with a bug he caught during All-Star weekend in Orlando, it appeared the Bulls would win in a rout. Particularly, with a fully-intact starting lineup, as compared to the two teams last matchup near the shores of Lake Erie, which Derrick Rose (19 points, nine assists) missed.

However, Cleveland had other ideas, as fill-in starter Ramon Sessions (16 points, seven assists) more than made up for Irvings absence, while veteran forward Antawn Jamison (22 points) had a flashback to his All-Star past, helping to erase the visitors early lead.

Theres things we can do better and were going to have to do better. I dont think we started the game out the way were capable of. I thought they got going, they got some confidence, so we want start a lot better than we did, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Offensively, of course, I thought we played very unselfishly31 assists, high percentageso Im pleased with that, but our defense, we can do a lot better with that.

Ineffectiveness from the tandem of post duo Carlos Boozer (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Joakim Noahthe latter picked up two quick foulsled Thibodeau to go to reserve big men Omer Asik and Taj Gibson, but even the defensive-minded pair couldnt slow down the home teams offensive pace.

Chicago was bailed out by first-time All-Star Luol Deng (24 points, 4-for- three-point shooting, six rebounds, four assists), who knocked down three shots from behind the arc, shouldering the scoring load as the guests led, 30-28, after the opening period.

Its how the game went. We moved the ball well, guys made some good plays and my shot was falling, so I stayed aggressive, Deng explained. The last game against San Antonio, I didnt come out aggressive. I made it a point to myself tonight that I was going to come out aggressive and we moved the ball well, and knocked down shots and it kind of opened up the game, and guys were making smart plays. Jo was all over the boards, Boozer was making his shots, Rip was moving real well, keeping the defense occupied and I was open, and Derrick was penetrating. We all connected tonight.

I said it about Derrick, I said it about Rip, having everyone makes everyones job easier. You look at the way we played tonight. Its so much easier. You dont have to overdo it. With me, my game, when I try to overdo it, I struggle. Keeping it simple and being smart out there is my game, the games high scorer continued. I said it from the start of the year: I think weve just got to find a way to win. I really dont care, at the end of the night, what my line looks like. Im just lucky and blessed to be on a team that all we care about is winning. At the end of the night, we won, were happy, we get on the bus, we leave. When we lose, thats when you start thinking, What could I have done better? But as long as youre out there playing hard, we get the win, thats what its about.

Thibodeau, who described his ironman small forward as a good winning veteran added: He was very aggressive right from the start. He spaced the floor great. I thought our guys made very unselfish plays, either kicking the ball out from the double team and the post-up or in the pick-and-rolls, making the extra pass, and that got him going.

Rose chimed in: Shooting with confidence. There were some shots that I got on him about and we need him to shoot it. If he doesnt shoot it, our offense becomes stagnant and thats something that we cant look forward to.

The game remained close knit at the outset of the second quarter, as neither team could muster up consistent scoring, though the Cavs continued to plug away behind Jamison and Sessions.

But the Bulls reserves began to wear away at their hosts, as sharpshooter Kyle Korver drilled a trio of triples, while swingman Ronnie Brewer (13 points) made an impact with his energetic defense, twice stealing inbound passes, as well as making an impact as a scorer.

Whatever my role is on this team, when my name is called, Ive got to do it to the best of abilities. Weve got Rip back. Hes an excellent scorer, one of the best in the history of the game at moving without the basketball and he adds another asset to this team, so with him in the lineup and me back to the Bench Mob, I feel comfortable with those guys, moving and getting the ball, being more aggressive. I just try to do my job, night in and night out, Brewer, who Boozer described as like an octopus, told CSNChicago.com.

It makes my job a lot easier when youve got guys like Taj Gibson and Omer inside holding it down, rebounding, blocking shots. It allows me to be more aggressiveJoakim in there, rebounding, blocking shotsIm able to play the passing lanes, be more aggressive, run the floor because were getting defensive stops. All those guys getting a lot of attention, especially Derrick, it makes my job a lot easier.

Praised Rose: Brew changed the game with stealshuge stealsplaying defense, knocking down his shot. He has a lot of confidence in his shot now and we just need him to keep playing like that.

Thibodeau concurred: Ronnie has really played at a high level all year long, whether its been as a starter, bench guy, in all areashis defense, his offense, running the floor, making hustle plays, like he came up with those stealshes uncanny with just reading things, so hes playing very well right now.

Chicago gradually opened up a double-digit winning margin, as Rose was in cruise-control mode, Boozer started to find his groove and the teams defense stifled the once-efficient Cleveland offense. At the intermission, the Bulls held a 56-44 advantage and had sapped whatever energy was left from the audience.

The ball movement was great. The ball didnt stick. Everyone was conscious of making the extra pass, hitting the open man, said Thibodeau. In the second quarter, Kyle got us going. We had good ball movement, inside-out and he got some good looks at the basket, so that gave us a little bit of a cushion. Our second unit, their defense was really good and that sort of turned things around for us.

Added Rip Hamilton: Its hard to guard. If we continue to do that, well be tough to beat because you really cant lock in on anything and I think thats the biggest part.

The thing about it is we care about each other so much, so when a guys got it rolling, we make a conscious effort to get him the ball and that tells you what type of great team we have, he continued. Nobodys selfish or anything like that. You see a guy rolling and you try to keep it going.

Echoed Brewer to CSNChicago.com: We have a lot of unselfish guys on this team. Youve got a guy flying at you and you see a guy open in the corner, you make the extra pass, so it shows that weve got good guys on this team, willing to make the extra plays to win games.

Rose and Boozer asserted themselves even further after the break, enabling the Bulls to widen the gap even more against the largely inexperienced home team, which had little offensive firepower to speak of.

Another positive to the Bulls ongoing onslaught was Hamiltons (10 points) solid outingthe veteran played the entire first quarter and eight minutes of the thirdas the shooting guard was efficient and scored within the flow of the offense.

After the back-to-back, he was feeling fine, said Thibodeau, who admitted that he didnt intend to play Hamilton for the entire first quarter, but couldnt get a substitute into the game due to a lack of stoppage of play.

He felt great in the shootaround and he moves so well without the ball that it helps to create good opportunities for us and just the poise that he plays withhes hard to guard off the screens, he reads things extremely wellso were encouraged by that.

Said Hamilton himself: I felt a lot better today. Moving around and getting to my spot, I was fine the last two nights. That was the biggest thing to me. Today was to make cuts and things like that. tonight I felt good. My rhythms coming back; it was better tonight. My timing was great, so it was good.

Noah, who wasnt in rhythm due to early foul trouble, also began to contribute, hitting a jumper from the elbowfollowed by his trademark finger guns celebration, then converting a transition layup off a feed from Rose. Rose himself dominated the action as a scorer as the period waned on and heading into the final stanza, the Bulls had a 94-71 edge.

I just played aggressive, said Rose. I think, the first half, just getting guys into the game until we got the lead and just picking my spots.

Added Thibodeau: Thats the way he plays. Hes not going to force anything. Hes aggressive. I think he reads situations really well and if playmaking is what he has to do, thats what he does.

The pattern continued in the fourth quarter, as Chicago scored with remarkable ease against the sieve-like Cavaliers defense, then turned around on the other end and smothered the opposing scorers, with the lead ballooning as time ticked away.

The entire period was extended garbage time, allowing rookie wing Jimmy Butler and fan favorite Brian Scalabrinewho scored toward the end of the game, drawing cheers from the crowdto see action in the lopsided affair.

Timberwolves' Tom Thibodeau appreciative of time with Bulls

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Timberwolves' Tom Thibodeau appreciative of time with Bulls

There's likely a lot Tom Thibodeau would love to get off his chest.

But the newest head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves continued to take the high road on his tumultous ending with the Bulls when he spoke to David Kaplan Monday morning on ESPN 1000.

Thibodeau, who was hired by the Timberwolves in April as head coach and president of basketball operations, said he was appreciative of his five seasons with the Bulls.

"I felt I had a great job here and I had great guys to coach," he told Kaplan. "That part, you're disappointed that it's going to end, but you know if you're in pro sports. These things happen. I was disappointed that we weren't able to win the championship, not only for our players, but for the fans here and for Jerry (Reinsdorf). Jerry took a chance on me and I'll always appreciate that he did that. I enjoyed my time here.

"Obviously I loved living here and appreciate all the support we received for our team over the five years I was here," he added. "I know what the Bulls mean to this city and I know how the organization feels about the support that they receive from the fans. This is a great, great sports city and I certainly appreciate all they did for me as well."

Thibodeau's departure coincided with Fred Hoiberg's arrival at the helm. The Bulls struggled in their first year post-Thibodeau, missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Thibodeau alluded to myriad injuries the team faced, including the season-ending shoulder injury to emotional leader Joakim Noah.

"Jo (Noah) is a big hit. You can't underestimate that, but along with Jo going down I felt that the East had gotten a lot better," Thibodeau said. "When you combine those things, and sometimes that happens. They're still a really good team. I think Fred is an excellent coach. They have to be healthy. That's a big thing for the organization, and unfortunately that hasn't been the case for the last few years."

The Bulls and Timberwolves will play twice next season.

Tom Thibodeau all smiles after seizing all the power in Minnesota

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Tom Thibodeau all smiles after seizing all the power in Minnesota

With the controversy behind him and a future that’s envied by virtually every team not in the playoffs, former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau embraced his introduction as Minnesota Timberwolves coach as a new beginning.

Of course, the smile was a little wider considering the title he’s also walking into the door with, as President of basketball operations. He’ll be able to create and establish his own culture as basketball czar, with comrade Scott Layden as general manager.

Layden will do the daily, dirty work, but Thibodeau will have final say in basketball matters—a responsibility he craved in this year away from the sidelines, and also evidenced by his partnership with the popular firm Korn Ferry, the firm that helped place Stan Van Gundy in Detroit.

"For me, personally, this is about alignment," Thibodeau said at his introduction. "It's not about power. It's not about any of that stuff. I've known Scott a long time. We've shared philosophies with each other about certain things. He was the person that I really wanted. So I'm glad we had the opportunity to get him."

Like Van Gundy, Thibodeau had a rocky relationship with his previous employer before turning the tables in his next stop to become the all-knowing basketball being.

Scathing comments after his firing last spring from Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf stung Thibodeau, according to reports, but was offset by Thibodeau thanking Reinsdorf for taking the chance on hiring him, not the ugly, forgettable ending.

“I don’t want to keep going back to Chicago, that’s gone,” he said afterward. “When I look back in totality, there was a lot more good than bad. That’s the way I prefer to view it. The next time you go around, you want to do it better. You analyze different teams, see the synergy between front office and coach and you try to emulate that.”

It’s easy to take the high road when two of the league’s brightest and youngest talents—Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins—are in your stead, healthy and ready to bust out.

And it’s easy to take the high road when there’s no barrier between what you want to happen and what will happen inside the building—a tricky proposition, it should be said.

The natural conflict that often exists between a front office and coach—one takes a more immediate view of matters while the other must consider the long-term effects of the franchise as a whole—won’t exist at all with Thibodeau and Layden because the hierarchy is clear.

It’s Thibodeau at the top and everyone and everything must bend to his will, per se. Considering the way he felt about the way things transpired in Chicago, where he reportedly clashed with Gar Forman and John Paxson over myriad issues, no one can be too surprised he followed the model laid out by Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Van Gundy, among others.

And like Van Gundy, Thibodeau has the task of getting the team with the longest conference playoff-less streak back to the land of the living—a feat Van Gundy accomplished this season with the Pistons, his second. The Timberwolves haven’t made the postseason since 2004, when Kevin Garnett won MVP.

It was four years before Garnett and Thibodeau connected in Boston in the 2007-08 season, helping the Celtics end a 22-year titleless drought. It’s Garnett, and players like Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah who helped Thibodeau earn this reputation as a master motivator and defensive wizard.

He thanked those players among others, as well as late Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, who drafted the likes of Towns and Wiggins with the long-term view of having them develop at their own pace with the likes of veterans like Garnett and Tayshaun Prince there to guide them.

Thibodeau the coach will be there to prod, poke and push the greatness they’re expected to possess, the same way he did with Rose, Noah and Butler to varying degrees.

Thibodeau the coach won’t have much patience for mistakes, but Thibodeau the executive must resist the “trade everybody” emotions many coaches have when players go through down periods.

Having perspective was never one of his strong points, as he squeezed every ounce of productivity from his teams, but perspective must be his greatest ally in his second act in the spotlight.

Taking a long-term approach in a season when it came to minutes and players’ bodies was something he reportedly bristled at—and even if the narrative was somewhat exaggerated, the rap remains on him, unlikely to shake until proven otherwise.

Now he must take a long-term view in everything, and has to deal with the politics that come with being a top executive in the NBA, a task much easier done in fantasy than application.

Perhaps he gained that perspective in 11 months off after being fired from the Bulls, and using the time to gain insight into other franchises operations while watching the Bulls crumble from the inside.

The Bulls got what they wanted with his ouster, and it was a case of “be careful what you wish for”.

Eleven months from now, one wonders if the same mantra will apply to the coach who wanted it all and got it all.

Marc Gasol thinks brother Pau should sign with Spurs

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Marc Gasol thinks brother Pau should sign with Spurs

Pau Gasol has long been expected to opt out of the final deal of his contract with the Bulls this offseason.

And while there was a time when the interest in Gasol returning to the Bulls on a new deal appeared mutual, the liklihood is now that Gasol plays his 16th NBA season in a different uniform.

His brother, Marc Gasol, seems to think so, too.

When Gasol signed with the Bulls in 2014, he was also considering the Spurs, who at the time were the defending champions. Gasol chose Chicago over San Antonio and Oklahoma City, where he was twice named an All-Star and averaged 17.6 points and 11.4 rebounds in 150 games.

But he didn't have the success he expected when he signed. The Bulls were knocked out in the second round last year and missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons this year.

Gasol would make sense with the Spurs, who both tout a long track record with international players and veterans. It would also give him one last shot at earning a third NBA title, something he wasn't able to accomplish in two seasons with the Bulls.