Bulls won't take lowly Hornets for a joke

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Bulls won't take lowly Hornets for a joke

NEW ORLEANSTom Thibodeaus comparison of the 4-21 Hornets to the Bill Russell-era Celtics dynasty aside -- unless its just lip service -- the Bulls are preparing for Wednesdays opponent as if theyre as good as any team theyve faced on their current nine-game road trip, which has already featured foes as varied as the title-contending Heat and upstart 76ers to lowly New Jersey and Washington. Although league-owned New Orleans is banged up and mostly devoid of top-quality talent -- their one potential star, shooting guard Eric Gordon, is sidelined -- Chicago understands that in order for it to reach its championship potential, at least under Thibodeaus hard-charging style, they have to treat the Hornets as if theyre an elite team.

Hell no, said Derrick Rose, when asked if he would consider taking off Wednesdays contest to rest his ailing back because of the quality of the Bulls opponent. We still know that weve still got to go out here and play this game. Theyre an NBA team. That means they have good players on their team ... got some people thats nicked up on their team, but they might come back -- so weve still got to go out here and play this game.

When Im on the court, I dont pace myself like that, he continued. If anything, when Im out there, Im trying to create or do something to lead us in the right direction to get that win and pacing yourself, I think Thibs wouldnt allow you to do that anyway.

Added Luol Deng: The Bulls' mindset really doesnt change because of the opponent. I think our mindsets got to be 'everyones back tonight.' Its been that kind of season. Whether its us or other teams, it gives somebody an opportunity to step up. Its the NBA, so youve got to come ready to play.

Even if the Bulls are up big on a team, such as in Mondays win over the Nets, their quest is to continue to keep pressure on the opposition or, in Thibodeaus terms, play 48 minutes of basketball.

Its something that we have to learn to do better. I think weve been coming out with great energy to start the games. Weve just got to keep that up, but it is a 48-minute game and weve just got to play better, I guess, Joakim Noah said after Mondays blowout victory. Every games going to be different. Basketballs a game of momentum, but were trying to control what we can control as best as possible. I think overall, our energys been pretty good. Youre not going to just have unbelievable starts all the time. Sometimes, shots arent falling, things like that, but at the same time, you have to come out with great focus and good energy. I think we did a pretty good job with that tonight.

Reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver added: Well, its human nature, I suppose, to let up a little bit, but obviously were trying to play 48-minute games and Thibs preaches it every day, so its something weve got to get better at. But its a good problem to have, I suppose. But its something that weve got to keep working on.

Deng explained that, as of late -- whether he intended it or not, referring to his return to the lineup from torn ligaments in his left wrist last Saturday in Milwaukee -- the Bulls have been putting pressure on the opposition from early in the game and as Thibodeau likes to say, playing from a lead and able to sustain a cushion, even when the other team makes an inevitable run.

I think were just coming out with a lot of energy, not waiting to pick it up. Coming out, our defense has been great in the first quarter. Weve just got to keep doing that and weve been playing very unselfish on the offensive end, Deng said Monday. Its been there all year. We want to play like that every day. Theres times when you have a lot of energy, times when you dont have energy, but I think right now, were not just playing hard. Were also playing smart and thats the difference.

Chimed in C.J. Watson: Its kind of hard. We try not to play the score, just keep attacking, play the way that weve been playing and thats what we did for a little bit.

As impressive as Chicagos performance in wins over elite-level competition has been, its level of focus against the dregs of the league has been equally eye-opening, especially in this lockout-shortened campaign, which has yielded some surprising results around the NBA. Thus, even though funnyman Will Ferrell will be present at Wednesdays game -- the actor-comedian, whos filming a movie in New Orleans, will announce the starting lineups -- playing the Hornets, or any opponent of their ilk, are no laughing matter to the Bulls.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."