Minus Rose, Bulls can't keep up with Grizzlies

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Minus Rose, Bulls can't keep up with Grizzlies

MEMPHISPayback is a well, you know the rest (this is a family-friendly site) and the Grizzlies (6-6) exacted it upon the Bulls (12-3), sans Derrick Rose, in a 102-86 whipping Monday afternoon at FedEx Forum, ending Chicago's five-game winning streak.

At one point, Memphis threatened to put a similar beatdown on the visitors that they received in Chicago (a 40-point drubbing), but despite experiencing severe shooting woes in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday-matinee game, the Bulls second-half pride prevented it from being quite the same level of embarrassment, despite the lopsided final score.

They got great shots, they killed us on the boards, they turned us over, so if you dont defend, you dont rebound and you turn it over, you dont give yourself a chance to win, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. You cant say overall lack of energy because second half, the energy was good, so I think readiness to play, early start. Weve got to be ready. Ive got to do a better job of getting them ready.

When you allow easy shots early on, it allows them to get confidence. Once a player has a confidence in this league, now its much harder to slow them down. They made some tough shots later in the game, but that was after they got a ton of easy shots. And they played well. I give them credit. Conley was great, Speights played extremely well, Gasol played well, Gay played well. We didnt really take anything away from them, he continued. I thought it was a compilation of things. No defensive intensity, ball pressure, poor help, lack of a multiple effort. Offensively, the same held true. We werent running, we werent running through, we werent sustaining our spacing when the ball went into the post, so we made the game hard on ourselves.

Interior defense, something Rose who was ruled out shortly before the game because of complications from his sprained left big toe couldnt be held responsible for, even if he was healthy, was the Bulls biggest issue at the outset of the contest, as Marreese Speights (16 points, 12 rebounds) attacked fellow former Florida Gator Joakim Noah in the early going.

Without the services of Rose, the visitors relied upon Carlos Boozer (13 points, seven rebounds), who responded with a high activity level and versatile scoring, including a fast-break steal and layup, albeit on the lumbering side.

After allowing the Grizzlies to jump out to an early lead, the Bulls quickly closed the gap, though a spate of turnovers enabled Memphis to get easy transition opportunities, to the delight of the FedEx Forum crowd. With high-flying small forward Rudy Gay (24 points, five rebounds, five assists) also displaying his scoring prowess, Chicago trailed, 28-21, after the opening period.

While Rose was sidelined for the lone contest of the season in the city and arena where he played his college basketball, the Bulls were buoyed by the return to the lineup of another point guard, backup C.J. Watson (17 points), who promptly launched and connected on a jumper on the teams first possession of the second quarter.

However, continued ball-security issues, poor shot selection, the inability to defend Memphis back-door cuts, prevent scoring in the paint or control the defensive glass troubled the guests, leading to the Grizzlies maintaining a comfortable cushion, despite an immediate influx of energy off the bench from Taj Gibson (16 points).

The deficit swelled to double digits as point guard Mike Conley (20 points on 9-for-13 shooting, eight assists, seven rebounds) set up his Grizzlies teammates for multiple easy buckets. The Bulls, while they attempted to push the tempo, simply didnt have consistent scoring options and appeared to react slower to loose balls than the hosts.

Although Luol Deng (20 points, six rebounds) finally got on track, the home teams onslaught persisted and at the intermission, Chicago was on the wrong end of a 58-38 score.

We started off slow. We were a step slow that first half. They came out aggressive and made their run, said Deng. Today, for a mental game, I dont think we did a good job. I dont think we did a good job mentally, just preparing for that. I think we should have been ready for them. We should have known that anytime you beat a team like that in the NBA, next time they cant wait to see you and we should have been more prepared. I thought in the second half, we did a better job of fighting harder, but we should have fought like that the whole game.

Things didnt improve for the Bulls after the break, as the leagues top-rebounding team was subpar on the boards and the sellout crowd many of them undoubtedly in attendance to see Rose appreciated the home teams consistent effort.

Memphis lead continued to balloon, as turnovers plagued the visitors and a lack of production from starters Noah and Ronnie Brewer were troublesome, particularly with the absence of Roses potent scoring ability.

Deng, battling through increased defensive attention, and Watson, who was adept in getting to the charity stripe in his first game back from a sprained left elbow, shouldered Chicagos offensive load and with pressure defense leading the way, the Bulls gradually chipped away at the deficit.

Anytime youre missing D-Rose, its tough. But I thought C.J. played great coming in for his first game back and gave us a huge lift, made a great run, gave us a slight chance to have a chance to win the game at the end, but our second unit got a little tired. They made some plays and to their credit, though we had a chance but give them credit. Give Memphis credit. We knew they were going to be ready to play and we just didnt match their intensity to start the game, said Boozer. We both had it a noon start, though. We cant use any excuses. Theyre going through the same stuff were going through. Every team is going through it and they were more ready to play.

Energy, in the form of Gibson and fellow backup big man Omer Asik, propelled the visitors, and at the end of three periods, the Grizzlies lead was down to 77-66.

Just needed a little bit of a spark. Weve been in this situation many times. We have a good-caliber type team. At times, its just tough to get going. Just trying to get guys motivated. Just try to play strong defensively, get any type of energy stop, play strong-minded and our second unit just plays well together. We had a shot late in the final quarter, but we just came up short, explained Gibson. We didnt really play any defense as a team. We let them get their confidence up real early. Like Coach said, we understand we beat this team pretty bad the first time, but we came out lackadaisical and they took advantage of it, hitting a lot of tough shots and their confidence grew as the game went on.

Added Thibodeau: He provided some really good energy. C.J. provided energy. That whole group, I thought, played well. We were scrambling around and usually you make a run, but it was too big of a hole to get out of, though.

Youre taking more risk, so youre also vulnerable to giving them easier shots, but its also an opportunity to get some turnovers and try to convert to some quick scores. But I thought they were really aggressive, more aggressive than we were to start the game, continued the coach, who correctly anticipated whether again using Gibson and Asik instead of starters Boozer and Noah would be interpreted as a more ominous sign. Actually, I thought Carlos, offensively, was very good, at least to start the game. It was just that we were in a scramble situation and the press, we were getting something out of it, so that all factored into what was going on. Omer gave us the shot-blocking at the rim and Taj was the guy who was doing the trapping.

In lieu of Roses presence, Conley and Watson staged a mini-duel at point guard, though Gibson stole the show for the Bulls, scoring in the post and via the offensive glass.

But Conleys blend of penetrating, passing, point production and poise were overwhelming and coupled with the timely scoring of Gay and burly center Marc Gasol (19 points, 10 rebounds), the Grizzlies once again created a sizeable gap between themselves and their comeback-weary guests.

With the lead again approaching the 20-point mark, Thibodeau finally cut his losses after the final stanzas midway point, sending in the likes of rookie Jimmy Butler, fan favorite Brian Scalabrine and John Lucas III who started the game at point guard in place of Rose, although Watson received the bulk of the minutes at the position prompting Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins to follow suit and rest his regulars.

The extended garbage time was basically played to a draw, leaving the Bulls to head back to Chicago in advance of their home matchup Tuesday night against visiting Phoenix, preferably with a healthy Rose back in the lineup.

They got a lot of easy shots in the first half. Second half, we played a lot tougher, but we couldnt really stop them. They had their confidence running high, said Watson. Theres no excuses, really. We just didnt come out to play very well. We knew they were going to come out tough because we beat them by 40 and they were trying to make a statement.

Chimed in Gibson: Youre a pro. Youre supposed to be ready from the jump ball and we just didnt have that mindset early, and it hurt us. We have to learn from it. Were lucky we have a back-to-back tomorrow.

Position battles to watch for at Bulls camp

Position battles to watch for at Bulls camp

After the Bulls traded for veteran center Robin Lopez and signed guards Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in free agency,  the starting lineup for the 2016-17 season was 80 percent complete with Jimmy Butler moving over to small forward. The only real question remained: will Nikola Mirotic or Taj Gibson start at power forward?

Arguments can be made for both players, but early in camp it appears Mirotic will have the edge, based on his three-point shooting ability. The Bulls need to create floor spacing for their wing players (Wade and Butler) who are most effective driving to the basket, and Mirotic has the ability to knock down the three (.355 for his career, .390 last season). Mirotic is also an underrated defensive rebounder with decent size at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds.

Mirotic got off to a fast start last season in a starting role, but eventually went to the bench after a late November-early December shooting slump. His second NBA season was also sidetracked by an emergency appendectomy in late January that caused him to miss almost six weeks of action. Mirotic finished the season strong, and went on to play a lead role with his former Bulls teammate, Pau Gasol, on Spain’s national team at the Rio Olympics. Mirotic will be a restricted free agent at season’s end, so he has a lot riding on establishing himself as a bonafide NBA starter.

It's a similar story for Gibson, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and is looking to land one more big contract when he turns 32-years-old next June. Gibson is known for his relentless work on the boards and his ability to defend power forwards and centers. He’s also 100 percent healthy after dealing with the after-effects of ankle surgery last season. But given the Bulls’ spacing issues, it makes sense for the coaching staff to go with Mirotic alongside Wade, Rondo and Butler, and to pair Gibson with young perimeter threats like Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine and Isaiah Canaan on the second unit. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg could use Gibson in a backup center role, with McDermott getting minutes at power forward in small ball lineups. Gibson will play, but don’t be surprised to see his name come up again in midseason trade rumors.

So, where does that leave 2015 first-round draft pick Bobby Portis? Portis looked good in Las Vegas Summer League play, showing off improved low-post skills and a consistent three-point shot. But unless Portis has a big preseason, it’s hard to imagine him getting consistent rotation minutes early in the season. Portis could earn some time as a stretch five backing up Lopez, but those minutes might also go to Gibson or second-year center Cristiano Felicio. Portis worked hard all summer, and should be a better all-around player in his sophomore season, but he faces an uphill battle to earn regular minutes. It will be interesting to see how many of the Bulls young players wind up logging time with the Bulls’ new D-League team in Hoffman Estates. Portis might not be involved as a No. 1 draft pick, but Felicio and second-round selection Paul Zipser might want to get familiar with the trip out to the Sears Center.

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The other major training camp battle involves the backup point guard spot behind Rondo. The coaches have a wide variety of options, starting with former Notre Dame star Jerian Grant, who came over in the Derrick Rose trade with the Knicks. The soon to be 24-year-old Grant is the son of long-time NBA player Harvey Grant and nephew of former Bulls star Horace Grant. The Bulls were interested in selecting Jerian Grant in the 2015 draft, but he went off the board a few picks before their turn in the first round.

Grant was a big-time scorer at Notre Dame, but struggled to get on the court in his rookie season with the Knicks. After Kurt Rambis replaced Derek Fisher as head coach of the Knicks, Grant finally got some consistent playing time, averaging 16.8 ppg over the last four games of the season. He’s not a great three-point shooter, hitting just 22 percent from beyond the arc as a rookie, but his ability to get to the basket and create open shots for teammates would give the Bulls consistent point guard play throughout the game.

Canaan was signed late in free agency to give the Bulls another long-range shooting option. He hit 36 percent of his 3’s with Philadelphia last season, averaging 11 points a game. The 25-year-old Canaan figures to be specialist with the Bulls, much like Aaron Brooks who could score points in bunches, but didn’t excel at running a half-court offense. Even though Canaan only stands 6 feet tall, he’s really a shooting guard in a point guard’s body, much like Brooks, D.J. Augustin, Nate Robinson and C.J. Watson who proceeded him.

6-foot-6 Spencer Dinwiddie was considered a potential lottery pick at Colorado before suffering a devastating knee injury that dropped him into the second round. Dinwiddie didn’t get a lot of playing time for Stan Van Gundy in Detroit, but he’s completely healthy now and showed during Summer League play he’s capable of scoring over smaller point guards in the post. His size, scoring ability and defensive skills might push him ahead of the other candidates when all is said and done.

The wild card in the backup point guard derby is this year’s first-round pick Denzel Valentine. Even though he played a wing spot at Michigan State, Valentine was the floor general for Tom Izzo, and is an exceptional passer with outstanding court vision. Since playing time behind Wade & Butler might be limited, Valentine could wind up running the point on the second unit, with Butler on the court as the primary initiator on offense. Valentine’s shooting ability gives the Bulls another floor spacer, and at 6-foot-5, he’ll have size advantage over smaller backup point guards.

Boiling it all down, Hoiberg and his assistants figure to do a lot of experimenting during the preseason to find out which players execute best together. But once the ball goes up for real on Oct. 27, Hoiberg has to decide on his best 9 or 10 players for a consistent regular-season rotation. Matchups could dictate which backup point guards find the floor, but even this early in camp it’s pretty obvious the Bulls are intrigued by Valentine’s potential, and he should get consistent playing time in his rookie season.

Joakim Noah appreciative of time with Bulls despite 'low blow'

Joakim Noah appreciative of time with Bulls despite 'low blow'

Joakim Noah may be wearing a different uniform, but he's still wearing the same heart on his sleeve.

That much was made clear in his comments made to the New York media on Wednesday.

Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Knicks after eight seasons with the Bulls, was asked about comments Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf questioning Noah's future as a main contributor on a team.

Reinsdorf told the Chicago Tribune earlier this month that Noah was "not a frontline player," referencing the team's decision not to bring him back in free agency.

Noah responded to those comments in classy fashion - while also getting his true thoughts across:

“He’s entitled to his opinion,’’ Noah said. “I feel I have no regrets about my time in Chicago. I gave it everything I had. To me that’s all that matters. I did everything I could for that organization. I thought it was a little bit of a low blow, but at the end of the day I have nothing but respect for that organization. I’m just excited for this new chapter of my career.”

No one would ever question Noah's heart, but it's undeniable that his body is beginning to show wear, and his performance has reflected it.

Noah played in just 29 games last season before a season-ending shoulder injury, averaging career-lows in points (4.3), field goal percentage (38.3%), free throw percentage (48.9%) and steals (0.6). That came on the heels of a 2015 season in which he missed 15 games and averaged 7.2 points, the lowest since his second season in the league.

But the Knicks are hoping a rejuvenated Noah, playing in his hometown, will find some magic in his 31-year-old body and be able to get the Knicks back to the playoffs.

Noah, Derrick Rose and the Knicks will square off against the Bulls at the United Center on Nov. 4.