AUBURN HILLS, Mich. As the regular season winds down, its getting closer to the time when NBA writers are tabbed to select season-ending league awards. While I wont share which honors Ive been selected to vote on, it just so happened that one strong candidate for the Most Improved Player Award was in action against the Bulls Sunday night. He didnt have his best performance -- 13 points and eight rebounds, in comparison to his season averages of 15.8 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game, up from his rookie-year averages of 9.4 and 7.5 in the same categories -- but second-year Detroit big man Greg Monroe, as usual, was solid.In the interest of full disclosure, I lived in New Orleans during Monroes senior year of high school and watched him play in person, then followed him during his two seasons with the Georgetown Hoyas, a program Ive always rooted for. I caught up with the versatile, fundamentally-sound lefty prior to the Bulls overtime win to discuss his development.Just continuing to work on my post game, trying to get better. Work on my jump shot a whole lot. I wanted to be stronger, he told me about his offseason goals before the season. Knocking down that jump shot just opened up my game a little bit. It opens up anybodys game when you can make a jump shot, so I just try to focus on being consistent with that.Monroe acknowledged that after a decent rookie campaign, he knew opponents would focus on his dominant left hand, but even with increased defensive attention, he felt hed be able to exploit double teams with his passing ability. Ive definitely gotten better with my right hand, a lot more confident, he explained to me. Ive always had good vision. Ive always looked for my teammates. My main focus is to make the right play, whether its scoring or passing.Not that Monroes game Sunday will dissuade me or others from considering him as a viable candidate for the award, but there are certainly others worthy of consideration, from more-established players like the Lakers Andrew Bynum to more under-the-radar types, such as Milwaukees Ersan Ilyasova. Anyway, theres plenty of other stuff going on throughout the league and certainly with the Bulls, so on to this weeks mailbag.Where does this year's Bench Mob rank in terms of the best bench in NBA history? -- Tyler C.Tyler, as far as NBA history goes, wed be getting a little ahead of ourselves by comparing the Bulls to all-time benches. For instance, thinking of the Bulls opponent Sunday, both the Bad Boy Pistons teams and the 2004 Detroit title winner were extremely deep. If the Bulls win a championship, then the Bench Mob could reach similar status, as history is often kinder to squads that win it all. This season alone, however, Id certainly put the Bulls reserves among the top benches in the league, alongside the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies and Philadelphia 76ers, though the latter hasnt been as potent since a lineup shake-up. Regardless, when we look back years later, the completeness of the Bench Mob and the way they seemingly never fail to rise to the occasion will be remembered fondly.What is the Bulls record for matinee games this season? It seems like they don't play as well during the day. -- Scott S.Scott, the Bulls are a woeful 2-6 in matinee games this season, with the two victories being the season-opening Christmas Day win over the Lakers and a home triumph over the Hawks. Youre right in saying they havent dealt with early starts very well this season, something Thibs discussed after last Sundays loss at New York (he joked -- at least I think he was joking; there was an awkward silence among the assembled media afterwards -- about wishing the Bulls had more matinee games at home), calling it a big concern, and putting some of the onus on himself for not having the team fully prepared. I wont downplay it and call it a coincidence, but I do think that if theyre faced with the prospect of an early start in the postseason, theyll be ready to play, especially with Thibs gently reminding them how they fared in the regular season.In your opinion, how has the lockout affected this season? Other than the number of games, of course.-- Neil A.Neil, thats an easy one: Injuries. From Derrick and Rip missing so many games for the Bulls to durable players like Dwight Howard-- say what you want about the All-Star center, but hes rarely injured and his current back problems appear to be serious-- being sidelined, its clear that the compressed schedule and shortened training camp have taken a toll on the leagues workforce. Sure, I could point to sloppy play early in the season, but for the most part, thats rectified itself as the season has gone on. But for players who came into the season out of shape or have played heavy minutes, its obvious the work stoppage has been a major factor. I havent studied the numbers-- the Bulls have enough going on to look at the league as a whole-- but even the number of freak injuries seems higher this season, something evidenced by the Bulls litany of various ailments. Other than injuries and the schedule itself, as time has gone on, its been more or less a normal NBA campaign.Just realized that Charlotte hasjust sevenwins this season, is there any hope for them? -- Joey N.Joey, good question. Even if the Bobcats land the No. 1 pick -- no guarantee, as Bulls fans are aware that the top pick doesnt always go to the worst team. Some observers, such as Charles Barkley, have suggested that with the Nets moving to Brooklyn, missing out on the aforementioned Howard this season and likely to lose Deron Williams, the draft lottery will be rigged for them to get the top choice -- Im not sure Chicago native Anthony Davis, assuming the Kentucky freshman declares for the draft, will guarantee them an instant turnaround. They do have a few pieces, namely swingman Gerald Henderson, point guard D.J. Augustin, center Byron Mullens and rookies Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, but in general, the Michael Jordan-owned franchise has an underwhelming collection of talent. That said, they do have plenty of cap space for free agents, but with speculation that there will be a coaching change, Jordans reputation as a penny-pincher, dwindling crowds and that less-than-attractive talent base, its unlikely that marquee players will look to relocate to Charlotte. That said, theyre capable of turning things around in the long-term future, but it wont be easy.Keep the questions -- whether theyre about the Bulls, the rest of the NBA, other levels of basketball or life in general -- coming. Youll get a much better explanation, though not as instant, than you would via Twitter with only 140 characters. You can submit a question by commenting on this article below or by clicking here.
Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue break down the Bulls' upcoming schedule in the latest edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.
TNT Bulls are back this week as the team heads into a crucial stretch.
Currently, the Bulls sit half a game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and with just eight games remaining on the schedule, each contest is essentially a must-win.
So, yes, Thursday would be a great time for Jimmy Butler and company to summon their TNT alter ego. The Bulls have sealed 18 straight victories when playing on TNT Thursday, an improbable feat considering those games are usually reserved for two of the NBA's best.
To continue that run, they'll have to down Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also fighting for playoff positioning -- albeit at the top of the conference. Good thing the Bulls have a tendency to get up for big games.
"The Bulls play up and down to their competition," Bulls Pregame and Postgame analyst Kendall Gill said. "They've been doing that the whole season."
After Cleveland, the Bulls get set to battle another playoff squad, the Atlanta Hawks.
Watch the video above to see Schanowski, Gill and Perdue break down the matchups.
Whacked on his ailing left hand by Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler shook off the pain to hit a rare triple in transition while Middleton was complaining for a foul a couple possessions later.
Butler then darted into the passing lane for a pass intended for Jason Terry like a linebacker jumping into the flat for an interception, then trotted down for an uncontested dunk to give the Bulls an unlikely 17-point lead.
For the man who claims he’s the best football player in the NBA, playing through the pain and doing so with his team’s playoff hopes dwindling, Butler may finally have some believers to his boasts.
Not only did the Bulls avoid a season sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks with a resounding 109-94 win at the BMO Bradley Center Sunday afternoon, they restored a slight sense of pride after looking like they had none of it Friday night in their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I give them credit for bouncing back after a tough home loss,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We have to understand what makes us successful. When we’re committed to following the game plan and executing…It’s the little things we have to do that add up to give ourselves a chance to win.
Butler scored 20 with a career-high 14 assists in a grinding 39 minutes, but he could play the role of a semi-closer, making those big plays in the fourth when the Bulls pulled away, and pulled to within a game of the eighth playoff spot in the East.
But the Bulls’ defense, one that held the Bucks to just 39 points in the second half, caught his eye.
“I could actually say we played some legitimate defense,” Butler said. “Got back in transition, we always helped. We came out, stuck to the gameplan of getting back.”
He didn’t have to carry a heavy load offensively, though, leading to his being fresh down the stretch as he started the fourth quarter on the floor as opposed to the bench.
Instead, it was March Madness as Nikola Mirotic played up to his career numbers in his favorite month on the calendar, drilling five triples on his way to 28 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes.
It helped the Bulls shoot 54 percent overall, bringing their mark to 10-1 when they cross that threshold.
“I’ve been playing with a lot of confidence,” Mirotic said. “I’ve spent a lot of hours before practice and after. I know you guys have been asking about consistency, so I’m working on that and trying to be more consistent.”
Mirotic and Rajon Rondo helped the Bulls to a decisive double-digit lead in the third quarter with Rondo scoring 14 of his 18 points in the period, hitting a triple, getting into the lane for layups and dishing out a few of his eight assists.
It was an offensive masterpiece for the Bulls, a prospect that seemed highly unlikely given the opponent and the way they played coming into Sunday’s contest. And with the Bucks getting Giannis Antetokounmpo going early along with Middleton, it looked like a nightmare of a different kind was in store for the Bulls.
Antetokounmpo scored 22 with eight rebounds and seven assists, but 12 of those points happened in the first quarter. Middleton scored 14 but shot six of 17.
“When we get slapped in the face and punched in the mouth, adversity hits and we have to handle it and get through it,” Hoiberg said. “I didn’t see any head-hanging when it didn’t start off great.”
But Hoiberg wasn’t about to let an instant replay occur, having seen his own version of a “Nightmare on Madison Street” Friday night against the woeful 76ers when his backups let time stand still for minutes at a time, squandering a double-digit lead.
Hoiberg decided not to mess around with the second unit as the Bucks began pulling away in the same manner the 76ers did Friday night. He brought the starters right back in when the lead ballooned to 45-33 at the 8:29 mark.
“We were ready in case that happened,” Hoiberg said. “We felt we had to do everything possible to give ourselves a chance. We were ready to play our guys big minutes tonight and we’ll have to do that in the next eight games.”
Then the Bulls went to work to finish the half, with a 23-10 run, along with starting off the third as efficient as they had been in awhile against a worthwhile opponent, shooting 14 of 21 in the period to take a 91-79 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Mirotic was seven of eight from the field before halftime and his first miss of the third—a 30-foot triple that went wide right, wound up in a 3-point opportunity for Rondo, who scooped the ball and scored on a layup while being fouled.
It was that kind of afternoon for the Bulls, a team that can’t seem to decide who they want to be on a nightly basis—making it that much harder for an opponent to predict, that much more difficult to eliminate from the playoff conversation.