Despite inconsistency, Bulls have plenty of heart


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 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 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.

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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