Short-handed Bulls nab sole possession of first

Short-handed Bulls nab sole possession of first
March 16, 2011, 2:17 am
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011Posted: 9:31 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

It wasnt their best effort, but against their lowly opponent, it didnt have to be, as the Bulls (48-18) trounced the visiting Wizards (16-50), 98-79, Tuesday night at the United Center.

Led by the surprising scoring of Keith Bogans, Chicago overcame the absences of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer to seize first place in the Eastern Conference by a half-game over Boston.

I dont think Ive been in this position before," Luol Deng said. "Were playing great basketball, but honestly, I just feel weve got to keep goingI dont think were going to go out and have a party, now that were No. 1 in the East. Were hungry and were going to keep going. We didnt even talk about it. Its not even our goal. Our goal is bigger than that. I really think that we feel weve got something great that we can accomplish and I think everyone is focused on putting everything into the team.

The Bulls found their offensive groove early, with Taj Gibson feasting on the interior of Washingtons zone defense for a pair of quick dunks. A three-point barrage followed, as Derrick Rose (23 points, seven assists), Deng (20 points, seven rebounds, four assists) and Bogans all knocked down triples, with forward Yi Jianlian providing most of the early offense for the visitors.

Chicago then emphasized the transition game and Rose feasted as a result, finishing layups through contact for traditional three-point plays. Although Wizards rookie guards John Wall (17 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists) and Jordan Crawford (27 points) excelled in that setting, the Bulls stingy halfcourt defense limited them when the pace slowed. Swingman Ronnie Brewer (nine points, five rebounds, four assists) came off the bench to make a variety of plays and after the opening period, the home team held a 31-19 advantage.

The comfortable double-digit lead the Bulls built was easily maintained in the second quarter, although Thibodeau tweaked his rotation a bitfan favorite Brian Scalabrine played in the first quarter, due to the aforementioned absences of Noah and Boozerto adjust to his depleted lineup. Crawford became a virtual one-man gang for Washington, almost scoring at will in both transition and the halfcourt, albeit with a high number of shot attempts.

Brewers all-around effort persisted, but the Bulls overall play declined as the half went onturnovers, poor shot selection and defensive lapses were all issuesallowing the Wizards to gradually chip away at the deficit. Behind their first-year backcourt, Washington trailed by a narrow four-point margin at the intermission, 50-46, following a desperation three-point heave by Kurt Thomas (eight points, 15 rebounds) at the halftime buzzer.

We all knew what we had to do and we werent really happy with the way we played in the first half, said Deng. We had to play as hard as they were. We couldnt let them play harder than us the whole game.

Added Rose: Tonight, once again, we let them come back. We shouldnt be doing that, but well learn from it and hopefully get better from it.

Whatever Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau told his team in the locker room regarding their lackluster second-quarter effort apparently worked, as Chicago came out with much more energy and focus in the third quarter. Offensively, the Bulls still appeared disjointed, but increased their intensity on the defensive side of the court, aiding their cause in building the lead back to a double-digit winning margin.

Thibodeau will be on the Dan Patrick Show on CSN tomorrow morning at 9:05 a.m.

The energetic Gibson, back in a starting role with Noah out, played solid on both ends and the surprising offensive contributions from the normally light-scoring Bogans propelled the Bulls, who played stout defense against their impatient young guests. Deng also got into the scoring act and buoyed by Roses playmaking ability, Chicago led, 75-60, through three periods, even after Wall hit a fallaway jumper at the third-quarter buzzer.

Thibodeau kept Bogans (17 points, 5-for-10 three-point shooting, five rebounds, three assists) in the game to start the final stanzathe much-maligned starting shooting guard played the entire third quarter; hes usually replaced by Brewer midway through the periodand he responded by extending his relative offensive explosion.

I feel like I got more looks. I got more minutes tonight. My teammates did a good job of finding me in the offense, said Bogans. I just took my shot when it was there. I didnt do anything different than I normally do.

My job on this team is to defend first. I think people get caught up in the fact that Im a shooting guard and Im not shooting the ball, but when youve got Derrick, youve got Luol, youve got Carlos, they take the bulk of the shots. Im going to get us going defensively and when my shots there, I take it. I know my role on this team, he continued. We have a great team. Guys know that when one guys down, somebody else has to step up and do a little bit more. Weve understood that since having Booz out at the beginning of the season.

Its good that I had a good game, but weve still got a long way to go. Our goal is to get to the championship.

Chimed in Rose: I know its hard on him sometimes, but in practice, we have a lot of confidence when he shoots those shots.

During the game, we tell him to shoot, said the All-Star point guard about his backcourt mate and post-practice shooting partner. He passes up some shotshe passed up some tonight that hes supposed to shootbut right now, hes feeling it and Ive just got to make sure that I find him.

Chicagos intensity waned as the period persisted, but Washington simply couldnt muster up enough energy to mount any type of comeback, although Wizards center JaVale McGee (11 points, 12 rebounds, 12 blocked shots), who attended high school in Windy City, managed some awe-inspiring blocked shots and dunks.

Down the stretch, the Bulls cruised to the eventual win, with the only drama in the United Center being the fans desire for the team to reach 100 points, resulting in the ever-coveted prize of free Big Macs. Alas, Scalabrine, though beloved by Bulls loyalists, refused to take a shot as time wound down, disappointing the teams faithful.

One game at a time, very similar to what Thibs says, summed up Deng. Hes always reminding you to be at your best going out there and not to get too high. For as many games as we play, its really easy to relax.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.