Despite inconsistency, Bulls have plenty of heart

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Despite inconsistency, Bulls have plenty of heart

NEW YORKKirk Hinrich battled through his right-elbow injury to play nearly 38 minutes in the Bulls 108-101 win Friday night over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Hinrich explained to CSNChicago.com that while he wasnt in painthough he did admit to feeling tired from the heavy workload after not playing or practicing since he was injured in Mondays home win over Clevelandthe decision to play wasnt cut and dry.

Ive felt fine the whole time. It was more of a risk. They were worried I was going to have an infection, he told CSNChicago.com. I think everybody had my best interests in mind. There was obviously some sort of risk, but just do the best I can to keep it clean and try to let it heal up. But its going to be hard because its his bursa sac going to keep popping. Ive got a hole in my elbow. Its a bad spot.

Still, Hinrich was pleased with the victory, though he cautioned that the Bulls cant take their collective foot off the gas.

Weve just got to tighten some things up. Weve been getting out to these big leads and having trouble finishing things up, Hinrich said. For us, we just cant take any steps back. Weve had big wins this year and then, we kind of lay an egg somewhere along the line. Weve got to step it up at home. Thats where our focus is. We dont have the record at home that we should and because of that, our record is what it is.

Joakim Noah concurred: Its weird. Weve been a dominant team at home. I dont know, something about the road. We come together, focus. We play in front of great fans at home. Weve got to do better and give a better effort at home.

Luol Deng added: Weve got to get better at home. We do a good job of just focusing. We love our fans, but at the same time, weve got to show up at home. I think we relax a little bit, knowing that were at home and our fans are cheering for us. When were on the road and teams are going against us, we seem to focus a lot more and play harder, and weve got to change that.

Deng, who scored a season-high 33 points, while forcing Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony into a 14-for-32 shooting nightAnthony scored 39 points, but 19 of them came during New Yorks furious fourth-quarter rallycarried the Bulls throughout the evening, starting with him making seven of his first eight shot attempts, including knocking down his first three shots from long distance.

Tonight, my focus was to come out and just play as hard as I can defensively on Melo. I had it going offensively, had a lot of open looks and just kept going, he explained afterwards. But at the same time, I just wanted to stay focused on my defense and not let my offense be my game.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau chimed in about his workhorses stellar two-way play: He got going early. He got the hot hand, made a lot of good plays. I thought he guarded Carmelo about as well as you can guard him. Carmelo is the ultimate scorer. Youve got to make him work for his points, but he finds a way to score.

When Dengs name was brought up, Noah exclaimed: Louie!

That was an unbelievable performance. He really did his thing out there. Whats great about Louies scoring is its all within the system. Hes been playing great basketball for us all year and theres no way wed be in the position were in right now20 winswithout Luol Deng. Whether its scoring, his defense, his rebounding, hes a very versatile player and I love playing with him, he added. Lu played very well for us, but it was a team effort.

Everybodys locked in every time we play the Knicks. Its easy to get up for games like this. Big stage, playing at the Garden. I wish there were more games here.

Thibodeau partially agreed with Noahs assessment, though he wasnt pleased by his team giving up a 25-point lead due to the Knicks deep-ball barrage. One would imagine that hed be livid about the near-surrender, particularly after losing to Milwaukee in their previous outing, after being up by 15 points, but the coach rationalized the Bulls performance.

For the most part, I thought we played very well for three-and-a-half quarters and then, we didnt close out the game the way we should have. We gave up a lot of points in the fourth quarter and we opened up the three-point line, and a team that shoots the three like that, they can make up a lot of ground quickly on you. But overall, I was very pleased, Thibodeau said.

I want to look at the game in totality. When you look at what happened, there were a lot of good things to build the lead like that and when you build a cushion like that, you can withstand sometimes, things not going your way and we did that. But the most important thing is getting the win, which we did, and theyre a terrific team, so theres constant pressure on you and when youre playing against them, no lead is safe. So, you cant let your guard down. Theyre capable of putting a lot of points up in a short amount of time, so we have to learn and improve, but I thought we did a lot of things well.

Deng added: The whole year, weve been working on playing the whole 48 minutes and I think were getting better, to a point that with a lead like today, we were still able to win the game, but we cant always do that. We cant give up leads like thatI just think we match up well, but also, our game plan against them has been great. They hit late threes, but weve been doing a good job of taking away their threes.

No matter how hand-wringing the final moments, the Bulls have swept their two road games in the Worlds Most Famous Arena, against a team above them in the standings and with whom a bit of a rivalry is developing.

Now only if they can duplicate the well-rounded, cohesive and structured effort and maintain that level of play on a consistent basisonly for the first three quarters, of coursethen maybe the the Bulls will be dangerous when Derrick Rose gets back talk thats circulating around the league will turn into simply, the Bulls are dangerous, now.

2016-17 NBA Preseason Primer: Offseason winners

2016-17 NBA Preseason Primer: Offseason winners

Leading up to Bulls' preseason opener and beyond, Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Strotman will preview the upcoming NBA season with daily features on everything related to the Association. Today the pair analyze which team had the most impressive offseasons.

Mark Strotman: So we're not beginning our nine-day NBA primer with the most difficult discussion, but we'll delve deeper than the top of the class to go over the league's offseason winners. Still, it's not difficult to peg the Golden State Warriors at the top of the class. All Steve Kerr's group did a year ago was rewrite the NBA history books with an offensive onslaught, win 73 games in the regular season and tout the sport's first unanimous MVP. They had a near-perfect season before LeBron James became Optimus Prime and kept them from back-to-back titles.

So what did they do in July? They went and signed this generation's greatest scorer, Kevin Durant, to a max deal (not to mention they replaced Harrison Barnes with him). It's not as simple as plugging Durant and his numbers from a year ago into the Warriors' system, as there will clearly be some sacrificing in the form of touches and shot attempts (looking at you, Klay Thompson). But Kerr and his coaching staff will figure it all out and turn an already all-time great offense into an unimaginable force.

Past Durant, they swapped out Andrew Bogut with Zaza Pachulia. It's an upgrade in talent but I'm not sure it's an upgrade in fit. The Warriors needed to deal Bogut to make room for the Durant signing, and taking a hit at center was well worth it. Adding David West will help a second unit that lost Mo Buckets, and it adds another veteran presence who's chasing a ring a year after signing with the Spurs. I also loved their draft selection of UNLV shooting guard Patrick McCaw, a potential 3-and-D guy down the road who will get ample time to learn behind one of the league's best two-way players in Thompson.

OK, Vinnie. I took the softball toss and chose the Warriors as the offseason winner. Take the brunt on this one and give me a team whose offseason will propel them to a significant difference in 2016-17.

Vinnie Goodwill: Yes, you definitely took the easy road and I won’t disagree with you on the Warriors being most improved. Anytime you have the last three regular-season MVP’s on your roster, you win the offseason. Do they have questions, serious questions? Yes. No more Andrew Bogut is big. See the freeway down the lane in Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals without him there, and he won’t easily be replaced.

But since the Warriors were taken, I’ll take an under the radar team that should challenge for a playoff spot this season, the Orlando Magic. For the last three years they’ve been slowly building with pieces and draft picks in the wake of Dwight Howard’s departure and they’ve cashed a few in for some veterans to grow up and speed up the rebuild.

Serge Ibaka seemed like the odd man out in Oklahoma City and although his play has plateaued, he doesn’t seem like the type that will suffer a precipitous fall in the near future. Adding Bismack Biyombo means they’ll have a long, shot-blocking group on the backside of the defense that can cover baseline to baseline. Trading Victor Oladipo, as painful as it probably was, frees things up for Evan Fournier and Mario Hezonja on the perimeter. Expecting Aaron Gordon to take another step in his development, while sliding to small forward, can be a slight concern but he’s got star potential.

More than anything, though, they got rid of the toxic presence known as Scott Skiles and replaced him with a real coach who has a history of developing young talent while not simultaneously spontaneously combusting in Frank Vogel, who was let go in Indiana. Vogel earned the trust of his young guys as they went through being have-nots to contenders until Paul George’s devastating injury before the 2014-15 season.

They have a good combination of youth, scoring and although it could take 30 games to mesh, I’m pretty confident the Magic will be a force in the East this season.

MS: I'm also interested to see what Vogel can do with Elfrid Payton. Skiles never seemed to fully give him the keys to the offense, and his minutes per game last season somehow went down from his rookie campaign. I see a bright future for Payton, and Vogel should help move that along.

I began the discussion with the Warriors, so naturally I'm going to shift gears and throw out the Sixers as another team that made significant strides. Wait, what? Seriously. The Process finally yielded a first overall pick, and they wisely used it on a player in Ben Simmons who I believe can be transcendent for the franchise. He's that talented. Forget concerns about his lack of a killer instinct or jumper. I'm not worried about his attitude. There's not another player like him in the league with a combination of interior moves, transition ability and passing acumen. I'm giddy to watch him.

But Philadelphia didn't stop with Simmons. Grabbing Timothe Luwawu (24th overall) and Furkan Korkmaz (26th) are both wings with plenty of upside; Luwawu showed flashes in Summer League. They'll also finally get to see what their 2014 draft class can do when a (fingers crossed) healthy Joel Embiid takes the floor for the first time. And Dario Saric, who went No. 10 that year, is finally coming over. In 24 Euroleague games last season he went 50/40/90 and was his team's second-leading scorer.

With so many youngsters in the fold it was great to see them (relatively) active in free agency by signing Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson. They also added Elton Brand, who should act more as a mentor for their trio of talented bigs in Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel -- while we're on that topic, they'll have to deal one of them at some point. Robert Covington is also one of the more underrated players in the East.

Brett Brown is the right man for the job, and while they're still a few years away from thinking playoffs you can finally see the pieces starting to come together. They've got their face of the franchise in Simmons, and if Embiid can get past his severe injury troubles the Sixers might also have a dominant big down the road.

The bar was set pretty low for the Sixers to improve on what they've done the last four years, but this was a massive offseason. If only Sam Hinkie were still around to see it through...

VG: Did you just say Philly? I might've forgotten the 76ers as the biggest offseason winners of all! Do we know if Ben Simmons will be the next LeBron James, or even the next Lamar Odom? No. Do we know if Joel Embiid will stay healthy enough to show what made him the object of affection before the draft a couple years ago? No.

But what we do know is the ill-fated "Process", no matter how it's framed by defenders (not pointing any fingers in your direction, Mr. Deerfield), was an abject embarrassment to the league and one of its flagship franchises. Getting rid of Sam Hinkie makes the 76ers a winner in every way that counts, before they even win a game. We won't see if his residue will trickle down to other teams that want to try a hand at this "tanking for years" strategy but the pain the 76ers have felt won't automatically turn around.

But they do have a plan, and it's something that revolves around being a respectable franchise compared to rigging the system in a way that felt Ponzi-esque. Just having mere competence is a step up, and some of the actual pieces can play so they'll start moving in the right direction.

Another offseason winner? The Minnesota Timberwolves. No, they didn't pull off a trade for Jimmy Butler (and good for the Bulls on resisting the less-than offers), but in getting Tom Thibodeau to coach and mold those young pieces could be considered a coup. And it's more about the maturity of the pieces than Thibs himself, as Karl-Anthony Towns is a top-25 player in his second season, Andrew Wiggins is getting closer to realizing his vast potential and Kris Dunn has Rookie of the Year written all over him.

Nobody's saying they'll make the postseason this time around, and the way things were done with Thibs at the helm of basketball operations doesn't leave the best of tastes, as it'll be an adjustment for a coach who craved having total control, actually getting total control.

The best part? The pieces are so young, there's no danger of the "Thibs miles" effect on Towns and Wiggins. What are "Thibs miles"? Think of city miles on your car, running over and hitting every pothole, every morning on the way to work and back home. Thibs miles don't affect young guys, right Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose?

Wait, can we start this over?

Today on CSN, CSNChicago.com: Bulls Media Day

Today on CSN, CSNChicago.com: Bulls Media Day

A new era of Bulls basketball begins this afternoon at the team's official media day, and CSN Chicago will have you covered throughout the day.

Tune in or catch a live stream right here on CSNChicago.com from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue will host the day's festivities, and we'll have coverage of press conferences Gar Forman, Fred Hoiberg, Jimmy Butler, newcomers Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and more!

You'll also hear from Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill who will give his take on this year's Bulls team and look ahead to expectations for the re-tooled group.

And be sure to follow these accounts for live updates on media day: @vgoodwill, @MarkSchanowski, @markstrot, @CSNBulls, @KendallG13, and @Will_Perdue32.