Bulls' hold off Mavs in Rose's return

741278.png

Bulls' hold off Mavs in Rose's return

Following the sky is falling aftermath to a loss at the hands of rival Miami Thursday, all is well in the Windy City again, as Derrick Rose made a solid, if not spectacular return to the lineup after missing three consecutive games due to a right-ankle injury and the Bulls held off the short-handed, defending-champion Mavericks, 93-83, Saturday night at the United Center.

With the victory, in which starting wings Rip Hamilton and Luol Deng played a major partHamilton at the beginning and Deng at the endcoupled with the Heats loss to the lowly Wizards on the same evening, albeit without the Big Three, the Bulls (48-16) are now a game away from clinching the top seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs.

Facing a playoff-bound opponent resting two veteran mainstays in future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd and sixth-man extraordinaire Jason Terry, the Bulls jumped all over their guests from the outset. Hamilton (19 points on 9-for-16 shooting) was extremely effective, as the veteran shooting guard showcased his offensive versatility, as his trademark mid-range game, post-up ability and transition scoring were all on display.

Carlos Boozer (12 points, 10 rebounds) was also a force in the early going, as the soft touch on his jumper gave the Bulls an inside-outside combination. Meanwhile, stifling defense limited Dallas (36-29) to 4-for-19 shooting in the opening period, leading to a season-low eight points in a quarter for the visitors and a 21-8 lead for the Bulls.

In the second quarter, last seasons NBA Finals MVP, Dirk Nowitzki (17 points, seven rebounds), came alive, knocking down a variety of degree-of-difficulty shots and helping the Mavericks get within striking distance.

Dallas bench was also key in cutting the deficit to single digits, as former All-Star swingman Vince Carter (15 points) repeatedly got to the charity stripe, fill-in starting point guard Rodrigue Beaubois (16 points, five assists, six rebounds)who briefly left the contest with a dislocated fingerwas a solid playmaker and big man Brandan Wright provided energy off the bench.

Rose (11 points, eight assists in 32 minutes) got his offense in gear, hitting a triple to get on the board, then proving he could still penetrate at will, as well as distribute the ball.

Deng (22 points, six rebounds), the squads other All-Star, also got his game in gear in the period, making a pair of triples, while Joakim Noah (eight points, 14 rebounds, eight assists) and Boozer were big on the boards, aiding the Bulls in taking a 44-38 advantage into the intermission.

Dallas kept it close after the break, as Nowitzki continued to go to work and shooting guard Delonte West (13 points) gave the Bulls problems with his versatility, toughness and underrated scoring. Hamilton resumed his productive ways to maintain the hosts slim cushion, although he earned a technical foul for a brief tete-a-tete with Nowitzki, which also resulted in a double foul on both veterans.

The visitors went on to take their first lead of the contest on a West jumper with three minutes remaining in the period and perhaps that sparked the Bulls, as they dominated the rest of the quarter, shutting down the Mavericks on defense and playing with increased energy on the offensive end of the court.

The games third frame culminated with a Deng buzzer-beating three to give the Bulls a 66-56 edge heading into the final stanza.

Led by a resurgent Deng, the playmaking of backup point guard C.J. Watson, the rebounding efforts of Taj Gibson and the sharpshooting of Kyle Korver (11 points), the Bulls kept the Mavericks in a hole at the beginning of the fourth quarter, despite Carters best attempts at harkening back to his Half Man, Half Amazing days, at least as a scorer, if not a superior athlete.

However, one of the home teams periodic offensive droughts struck again and Dallas again made the game too close for comfort behind the aggressive play of youngsters Beaubois and reserve shooting guard Dominique Jones.

But with Deng, a hot-shooting Korver and an efficient Rose setting the tone, the Bulls managed to put enough distance between themselves and the Mavericks as the game entered its stretch run, with a Deng triple with just under two minutes to go giving the hosts a double-digit lead.

A reserve-heavy Dallas lineup continued to make a push toward the end, but Chicago held on, as Deng helped close it out and the appreciative home crowd showed their love, especially after the PA announcer let them know of the Heat loss.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Rangers tonight on CSN

Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Joe Maddon breaks down Wade Davis vs. Aroldis Chapman as Cubs ramp up for another World Series run

Rick Hahn: White Sox 'still thoroughly, deeply engaged' in trade talks as meetings close

Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook out vs. Rangers

Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls

Bears, Lions have been totally different teams in fourth quarters

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Cubs unveil championship Trophy Tour