Bulls notes: Getting back on track at home

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Bulls notes: Getting back on track at home

Dont count Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau among those who were surprised by the Bobcats 81-71 win over his Bulls on New Years Eve. Though the road win broke the Bobcats 18-game losing streak and dropped the Bulls to 9-8 at home, Thibodeau said no perceived upset in the NBA surprises him any longer.

If youre a team in the NBA, youve got great players and often times when you dig deeper you see that really the result of their record is mostly injury. And when you look at the guys that theyve had out, you know that thats been a big part of it, he said at this mornings shoot-around. So everyone in this league is capable of beating you. Thats why readiness to play is so important. And its not just readiness to play but you have to play well. You have to be able to execute on both offense and defense, but when you study their roster you see they have a lot of accomplished players.

Those accomplished players Thibodeau noted included leading scorer Kemba Walker, former Bulls sharpshooter Ben Gordon, this year No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, defensive specialist Bismack Biyombo and shooting guard Gerald Henderson. And while the Bobcats record (11-32) pits them in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, the Bulls wont be looking past them this time around.

I feel like theyre good enough to beat anybody in this league. Theyve got a lot of really good players who do a lot of key things for their team so were gonna have to stick to what we know, swingman Jimmy Butler said, and keep the ball out of the paint and do what we have to do on defense. I think thats the biggest key for tonight.

Home, road splits starting to even out

Since a 10-10 start at the United Center, the Bulls have won four of their last five at home.

Butler wouldnt attribute the improved record to anything in particular, noting that its more of a given that teams need to play their best basketball in the confines of their home arena.

This is our city, thats our court, so we dont want teams to come in and feel like its easy, he said. People have been getting wins there, but were trying to turn it around. Of course we dont want to lose any games, but definitely none at home.

And despite a loss Saturday night in Washington, the Bulls still maintain the NBAs best road record at 12-6. Butler agreed with Joakim Noahs comments earlier in the year, that the team thrives on walking into harsh environments and competing.

Backs up against the wall on somebody elses court, I feel like other teams feel the same way whenever they go to the other teams court, he said. Its a challenge, and who doesnt like a challenge in this league?

In the same light, Butler did note that the Bulls need to play with that same intensity at home when there may not be as much motivation to come out with a hot start.

On the road its everything against us, so we play a lot harder and we come out of the gates firing, he said. And sometimes at home we take it for granted and then we come out slow and dig ourselves a hole and we try to fight back as the game goes along but its always tough to do that.

The home record has improved and the Bulls find themselves atop the Central Division, but Thibodeau said the last mentality his team can afford to have is complacency with recent success.

We still have a long way to go. I think if you look at it and you feel like youve done well or youve got it figured out, youre setting yourself up for a fall, he said. And what I want our guys to do is continue focusing on improvement. Our road is gonna get tougher, theres a lot of things we can do better but I want them to focus in on the task at hand: have a good practice every day, be ready for our opponents, go out and execute on offense and defense and do it as a team.

Thibodeau feels for Rondo, still believes in Celtics

The Boston Celtics revealed yesterday that Rajon Rondo had suffered a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.

Thibodeau, who coached Rondo during his time as an assistant in Boston, said he felt for Rondo but would not count out the Celtics just yet.

As a team theyre still going to be very dangerous, he said. I think if you overlook them youre making a big mistake. In terms of how I feel about Rajon, Rajon is a true superstar and hes a great guy. And I feel terrible for him but Im sure hell overcome it.

Hes a mentally tough guy but you hate to see any guy go down with any type of injury but I have great respect for what hes done, he added.

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.”

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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

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