Belinelli, Bulls hold off Wizards

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Belinelli, Bulls hold off Wizards

A win is a win, the old axiom goes and it certainly applied Saturday night, as the Bulls (16-12) held on to beat the woeful Wizards (4-24), 87-77, at the United Center, snapping a two-game losing streak.

It wasnt a textbook victory by any means and in terms of performances, a superior opponent could have probably overcome the hosts listless effort, but no matter the Bulls simply needed to get off the schneid and sometimes the best cure for what ails a team is facing off with the most inept foe possible, especially when the game ends on a stellar defensive note.

MORE: No contact yet, but Rose returns to practice; set to travel

The veteran backcourt of Kirk Hinrich (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds) and Rip Hamilton (nine points in 14 minutes) the latter returned to the lineup after missing nearly a month due to a torn left plantar fascia, though he exited the contest midway through the period started the game with an aggressive offensive mindset, but the Bulls were countered by a confident Wizards group coming off one of their four wins on the season.

MORE: Hamilton makes his return to Bulls' lineup

Buoyed by a victory the previous evening, the likes of veteran big man Nene, rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal (14 points) and reserve post player Kevin Seraphin (12 points) originally a Bulls draft pick, he was sent to Washington along with Hinrich back in 2010 were effective and efficient scoring threats.

Luol Deng (11 points, six rebounds, four assists), who sprained his right ankle in the hosts Christmas Day loss to Houston, also made his presence felt in the early going, but two quick fouls on Joakim Noah (nine points, 11 rebound, five assists) hurt their cause, further allowing the visiting big men to establish themselves and the Wizards to build a slim cushion. At the conclusion of the first quarter, the Bulls trailed the team with the NBAs worst record, 26-22.

Deng continued his positive early play and was complemented by reserves Taj Gibson and Marco Belinelli (17 points), who replaced Hamilton earlier from his previous role off the bench, but maintained his confidence and appeared to be poised to become a second-unit spark.

Still, it remained a close-knit affair, as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to be experimenting with different lineups, given that he finally had a healthier rotation at his disposal.

Gradually, the Bulls gained some separation and propelled by the energetic play of backup point guard Nate Robinson, as well as Noah providing a lift upon his return and Carlos Boozer (15 points, 12 rebounds) being active on the glass, the game bore a closer resemblance to what could have been expected.

But by no means were the Bulls running away with the contest and at the intermission, they held a 45-39 lead, following a jumper by Shelvin Mack, called up from the D-League by Washington recently, at the halftime buzzer.

After the break, a balanced offensive attack resulted in the Bulls building a double-digit lead, as improved defense, Wizards turnovers and a greater sense of urgency were all factors. Hamilton looked to be back to his usual form, while Boozer and Noah found their grooves as scorers, allowing Hinrich to focus on playmaking and defense.

However, that stretch didnt last, as Washington, led by the likes of veteran Emeka Okafor (11 points, 18 rebounds) and starting point guard Garrett Temple, another D-League call-up, helped the visitors severely cut into the deficit, eventually making it a two-point game after an 11-0 run as the third quarter wore on.

But the Bulls recovered from their temporary bout of malaise and behind the combination of Hinrich and Belinelli, they headed into the final stanza with a 70-63 advantage, after Mack hit yet another improbable buzzer-beater to end the period.

Belinelli emerged as the Bulls catalyst at the outset of the fourth quarter, helping the home team maintain their edge, but the Wizards continued to battle and remained within striking distance, as Okafor and Beal made positive impacts for the visitors. The pattern of Washington narrowing the gap and the Bulls subsequently pulling away persisted, as Boozer joined Belinelli as an offensive focal point.

Heading into the games stretch run, the Bulls cushion stayed intact, partially due to the fact that Washington couldnt muster up enough offense to stay in close contact, but it was also notable that Thibodeau opted to go with Jimmy Butler the second-year swingman previously looked like the odd man out of the wing rotation with Hamiltons return over Deng, the leagues minutes-per-game-leader in the clutch, during which the Wizards were scoreless over the final 5:18.

In the end, the devil is in the details and at the conclusion of the 82-game season, the hard-to-watch proceedings will simply go down as a Bulls victory in the standings.

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.