Finally at full strength, Bulls making progress

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Finally at full strength, Bulls making progress

AUBURN HILLS, Mich.Now that the Bulls are finally at full strength, its almost as if observersfans and media alikeexpect more from them. Granted, excluding the Easter Sunday overtime loss to the Knicks, after which Derrick Rose missed the home rematch with a sprained right ankle, theres only been a two-game sample size to evaluate.

At the same time, as theyve done all season long, the Bulls are simply finding ways to win, whether its a role player like C.J. Watson coming up big in a high-profile affair like Thursday nights win over the Heat or on the backnot literally, as thats still a sore (again, not literally) subjectof the reigning league MVP against the inferior-caliber Pistons Sunday.

On top of that, theyre starting to jell as a cohesive unit, with Rose back in his scoring and playmaking alpha-dog role and his supporting cast knowing exactly where they fit in, with the added confidence of knowing they can do even more if called upon, due to having enhanced roles during his various absences.

Im not sure how we won that game. Ill be honest with you. Every night, its someone else. C.J. hits it the other night, Derrick hits it tonight obviously. Lots of guys have hit big shots and made big plays for us. That says a lot about our team, but we dont want to keep putting ourselves in this position. The odds arent really in your favor to keep pulling out the wins, said Kyle Korver. Were taking advantage of the opportunities that are given to us, but weve got to play a better 48-minute game.

I dont think were there yet, but I think were getting better. I think were going to need these last two games. A lot of teams are probably going to start resting some guys when their positions are locked in and I dont think thatll really happen with us. Maybe a little bit, but just because weve had so many guys out this year, we kind of need these last few games. I think were getting there, were getting better. I thought out start tonight in the first quarter was great. we havent had a great first quarter in a while. I thought that was a really good sign, he continued.

Its like a walk in the park now. Four in five nights is nothing. Its the nine in 12. Those are tough. Weve got a deep team. Were going to use everybody. It is a tough stretch, but we know that weve got days off coming up, too. So, lets focus in, lock in, take care of these four games in five nights and then weve got a good four or five days before our last back-to-back, and then the playoffs start. I think the beginning of our season was really tough, really a grind, but its been good this last month. Had a few more off days.

Indeed, the fact the Bulls have faced so much adversity between injuries and scheduling this season, yet have still thrived en route to having the leagues best record speaks volumes. Thats why, although they didnt have a great overall performance against Detroit, theyll take the win and move on.

Were coming along good. Kind of rusty a little bit, but trying to smooth out everything, the wrinkles. Passing the ballthats the one thing, the passesthrowing where guys are, where they should go. Just give it to them in the right place, so they can make the right play, said Rose. Its coming along quick. Im not worried about that. Ive got amnesia. This game is done already. Im on to Washington.

Added Joakim Noah: Theyre all tough. We know that we didnt play our best basketball. We gave up a pretty big lead going into the fourth and we know we have to play better, but at this point of the year, every win is important and when Derrick hit that three, that just gave our team new life and we just handled our business in the overtime.

Even Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who examines even blowout victories with a fine-tooth comb, was relatively satisfied with his teams progress.

We struggled most of the game and then in the end, just found a way to win it. I thought Joakim was unbelievable with his activity, offensive rebounding. Derrick, huge shot. We were a step behind on everything, but I thought the defense was pretty good. The rebounding was outstanding. Offensively, we werent as sharp as wed like to be. The turnovers are really hurting us, so weve got to shore that up, he explained.

We know we have to continue to improve and we want to be playing well down the stretch. We want to be healthy and weve had a number of guys that have been out for a good chunk of the season, so were trying to get those guys in rhythm. Thats a priority, but more importantly, having our team play well is something we want to get done.

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After loss to Mavs, Wade says Bulls 'keep putting (their) hand on the hot stove every day'

Dwyane Wade sounded every bit like a frustrated 35-year old father when talking about the repeated ills and so-called growing pains of his Bulls, as they surrendered yet another game against a sub-.500 team.

Sometimes it's the New York Knicks whom the Bulls are offering temporary refuge. Or maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves as they are all-too-generous to roll out the welcome mat for returning figures to Chicago.

Tuesday it was the Dallas Mavericks, the second-worst team in the Western Conference, who stormed into the United Center and escaped with a 99-98 win, courtesy of Wesley Matthews' triple with 11.7 seconds left followed by him locking down Jimmy Butler on the ensuing possession.

Wade was forced to take a contested 21-footer that went awry, but the Bulls' ills went far beyond the last two possessions, when the Mavericks exploited their strategy yet again.

"Either you learn the lesson or figure out," Wade said. "Keep putting your hand on the hot stove every day.

"We just gotta figure out not to put our hands on that stove. And understand when we come in the kitchen, that stove is hot, don't touch it. As I continue to say, this is a very young team and they have to play in these games and have to go through these moments. The one thing you want, whether it's this year or next year, is to not make the same mistakes."

The Bulls are apparently insistent on touching the stove and keep burning themselves, the most recent time with the confusion or the bad strategy in defending the Mavericks' final offensive possession.

Deron Williams found himself with Nikola Mirotic defending him off a switch from Jimmy Butler. Not the quickest afoot, Mirotic gave Williams an easy path to the basket and Wade was the backside help, not wanting to leave Matthews on the wing for a triple.

But with the bench commanding Wade to help, Williams easily found Matthews for an open 3 as Wade had no help for his man. With the Bulls up two, one could see how Wade didn't want to leave Matthews.

"I'll have to go back and watch, but it looks like Deron got downcourt, Wade went over to help and we didn’t rotate accordingly," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We obviously need to do a better job of staying in front of the other end."

Mirotic was supposed to be brought back slowly in his return from strep throat, but he played the entire fourth quarter and 22 minutes overall, having lost eight pounds with his illness that had him miss four games.

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Their issues were game-long and have been seasonlong as the Mavericks were supposed to absorb a shellacking from a Bulls team that felt a 25-point beatdown in Texas last month.

Instead, they would've been happy with settling for an escape when Butler rose up over his college teammate Matthews for a 20-foot wing jumper with 22.8 seconds left.

Butler nearly added a triple-double and clutch moment to his growing resume with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds but was dogged by Matthews all night, the defender who wouldn't give him airspace, went chest-to-chest and even earned a technical foul when he felt Butler exaggerated some contact in the third quarter.

"He took away my space, wouldn't let me get to my spot," Butler said of Matthews. "Good for him. I should've did something different."

Wade missed 13 of his 21 shots, scoring 17 with five rebounds on his 35th birthday

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 21 points being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki — and they were necessary considering the Bulls were without Taj Gibson (ankle injury) and Doug McDermott couldn't repeat his 30-point showing from Sunday in Memphis.

Rick Carlisle has long been regarded as one of the top strategic coaches, and though he doesn't have the usual personnel from the Mavericks' salad days, he had enough tricks up his sleeve to throw the Bulls off.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 points and Seth Curry's 18, as Barnes, Matthews and Curry combined for eight triples — spreading the Bulls out and picking them apart defensively.

The Mavericks started Nowitzki at center, going to an almost all-small lineup. And though Lopez scored 14 points in the first half, trying to feed him seemed to take the Bulls out of it in the second half.

The energy was tardy to the party, as they shot just 41 percent in the first half but woke up a little in the third quarter — continuing their all-too familiar trend of half-hearted efforts against lesser teams.

And it looks like the ever-optimistic Wade is dishing out some realism, probably something that comes with the perspective of turning 35.

"You can't keep getting stressed out or frustrated. We've been going through this all year. We'll get back in in the morning.

"Once you realize who you are, you're better off. I sleep better at night. Once we want to be a better team and start winning games, we will. I'm not mad, I'm not frustrated, I'm not stressed. Just taking the hits."