Banged-up Bulls hold off Bobcats

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Banged-up Bulls hold off Bobcats

Despite missing four players due to injurythree were hurt during the previous evenings blowout victory in Clevelandthe Bulls (15-3) held off the Bobcats (3-13), 95-89, Saturday night at the United Center. Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton each scored over 20 points on the evening as selfless offense and accurate marksmanship were the hallmarks of the win, which ran the teams home record to an undefeated 7-0 on the season.

We just play. We dont know whats going to happen when the game starts. We just know were playing our style of basketball, said Boozer. Moving the ball, sharing the ball, rebounding, playing defense, trying to have low turnovers and obviously, just trying to win. Thats our whole mindset.

Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Ive said all along: We have the right guys. No matter whos out, we have more than enough to win with. The next guy steps up, he knows what he has to do, knows what his role is. These guys all play for each other and they play to win, and when you have a group like that, good things are going to happen.

The short-handed Bulls jumped out early against a young, smallish Bobcats squad, again using unselfish play and balanced scoring to create a slim cushion. C.J. Watson (11 points, nine assists), building off his recent strong performances, had a productive opening period as a scorer, while Duke products and starting forwards Boozer (23 points, nine rebounds) and Deng (22 points, eight rebounds, four assists) each asserted themselves, as well.

I just try to take my time and be patient, and let the game come to me. Theyre so many scorers around meLu, Booz, Ripthat I dont have to score. I can rest on offense and just try to play hard on defense, and then sometimes, basically still stay aggressive and look for my shot, too, Watson told CSNChicago.com. Weve got to just keep playing hard. Thats what Thibs expects of us and thats what weve got to do. Whoevers out, weve got to keep the level up and basically, just try to win games.

However, center Omer Asik (15 rebounds, three blocked shots, two steals), starting in place of the injured Joakim Noahthe usual starting center was a late scratch after suffering a left ankle sprain Friday night, joining fellow victims of the Cleveland game Taj Gibson (high left ankle sprain) and John Lucas III strained left groin), not to mention Derrick Rose, who missed his fourth consecutive contest with turf toe)picked up two quick fouls, forcing Thibodeau to turn to usual deep reserve Brian Scalabrine, a fan favorite, for frontcourt help. Charlotte starting center Byron Mullens (17 points, five rebounds) was effective for the visitors in the early going, but the Bulls still held a 27-23 lead after a quarter of play.

Our defense was very poor tonight, so thats something that were going to have to clean up, said Thibodeau. Our rebounding was poor, but the offense was good.

Watson picked up his own second foul early in the second stanza, giving recent acquisition Mike James (nine points, 10 assists), a veteran pro floor general who most recently played for Erie of the D-League, a chance to show Bulls fans what hes capable of doing on the court. The game evolved into a back-and-forth affair, as an energetic Bobcats team countered its inexperience with hustle and athleticism, perhaps best exemplified by Mullens and slashing young swingman Gerald Henderson, Jr.

The scoring of Watson and Deng, who logged some minutes at power forward, led the way for the Bulls, whose defense was often bailed out by the basket protection of Asik, in his debut NBA starting appearance, in the paint. With the added bonus of Hamilton (20 points) also providing firepower from the perimeter, the home team went into the intermission with a 50-43 advantage, following a Deng put-back dunk to thrill the United Center crowd, just before halftime.

Thats the value of Lu. He really is the glue to our team. Theres nothing that he doesnt do well, Thibodeau said of Deng, who injured his left wrist later in the game. You can post him, he cuts, he moves without the ball, he can shoot, he slashes, plays great defense, guards multiple positions, play-makes and he plays to win. Hes smart, he knows how to read things. You cant say enough about what he does here, what he brings to winning.

Concurred Deng himself: I understand what hes saying, but it just fits me well. I just try to play the game the right way and just knowing that every night, playing the way that we play, not trying to step out of who I am. Having guys out, just playing the same game and it worked.
Chicago maintained its slight edge after the break, as Hamilton continued to score efficiently and Watsons underrated playmaking ability created easy opportunities for others, while Asiks rebounding and interior defense helped keep things steady on the other end of the floor.

I thought he was great. Thirty-eight minutes, which is a lot for him. His rebounding effort was very, very good. he had a tough cover with Mullens playing away from the basket, Thibodeau said of Asik. Hes geared towards help, so he made a lot of multiple-effort plays, tagging cutters, showing, closing out, rebounding. He had the ability to go from one thing to the next. Again, I think his attitude and approach are tremendous. That guy comes to work every day and he just keeps getting better and better.

The injured Noah was also pleased with his understudys performance.

I think he played very well. Im very proud of him. Hes a rebounding machine and hes playing great defense out there. You know whats crazy is I think he has a lot of areas he can improve in as well, and hes a big part of what were doing, he said afterwards. He knows what he brings. I think that hes a very capable player and he played great for us tonight.

Meanwhile, the Bobcats duo of Henderson (22 points, nine rebounds) and Mullens kept the guests within striking distance against their banged-up hosts.

Boozer and Deng also picked up their production, helping the Bulls lead balloon to double digits as the period waned on. James ability to distribute the basketball while giving Watson some rest, was a major factor in Boozers success, in particular, and at the end of three quarters, the home team was up, 80-69.

Mike was great. I thought Mike played extremely well, as did C.J. I thought both guys were terrific and Mike got us into rhythm, Carlos was knocking down shots, said Thibodeau. We felt confident because obviously, this guy has done it before. Veteran, experienced, you know he James can run the pick-and-roll. Hes going to get a good shot for you in most cases. I thought he played really hard. Carlos got into rhythm, Omers rebounding was terrific and Rip was, to me, sensational.

Chimed in James: The way they were playing me, the passes were there, so our guys were just knocking them down. They made me look good and it was easy when guys were knocking down shots, and youre playing with such good ballplayers. They make the game easy.

Thats just me. Being able to make plays, being able to knock down shots, but also being able to create for others. This game is aboutespecially at the point guard, in this era nowyou have to be able to make plays, not just for yourself, but make plays for others.

Scoring was the name of James game at the outset of the final period, as the 36-year-old showcased his ability to both penetrate and knock down open jumpers from deep range while Thibodeau continued to rest Watson. Surprisingly, Thibodeau reinserted Watson, Hamilton and other regularssans Deng and Asik, who had earned well-deserved breathersand even more shocking, the Bobcats, paced by rookie guard Cory Higgins (10 points), son of Bobcats general manager and former Bull Rod Higgins, began to trim the Bulls comfortable cushion to a single-digit deficit as the contest entered its stretch run.

But with all of the starters back in the game, the home team managed to stave off Charlottes late comeback attempt, despite a spirited effort from the scrappy visitors. The win bodes well for a weeklong home stretch of four contests at the United Center before beginning an arduous nine-game road trip next weekend.

Said Hamilton:It just showed that guys on this team want to play. When guys went down, we just came together and just said, Well just have their back, with Jo being a game-time decisionhe didnt play tonightwe knew we wouldnt have Taj and Derrick and Luke. It was tough, but guys really came together and we did what we had to do to get a win.

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA offseason gone wild as league executives go into overdrive to compete with Golden State

NBA free agency doesn't officially begin until 11 p.m. Chicago time on Friday, but league executives have already gone into overdrive in their race to create the next super-team to compete with the Golden State Warriors.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey hinted he had a big move up his sleeve last week, suggesting the Warriors "aren't unbeatable." Well, Morey unveiled that big move on Wednesday, rounding up a bunch of non-guaranteed contracts from all over the league to help him acquire Clippers' All-Star point guard Chris Paul before free agency even begins.

Paul met with Clippers officials on Tuesday, and basically told Doc Rivers he was going to sign with Houston as a free agent, so if the Clippers wanted to get anything for him, they better work out a trade right away. The return L.A. got in the 7-for-1 deal was hardly overwhelming, headlined by Chicago native Patrick Beverley and super-sub Lou Williams, and it showed once again how league executives are powerless if a star player decides he wants a chance of scenery.

Paul and James Harden wanted to play together, and Morey and his staff came up with a creative way to get it done. And, by all reports, Morey isn't done yet. The Rockets are hoping to swing a deal for either Paul George or Carmelo Anthony as a third star in the frontcourt, giving them a shooter's chance against the champion Warriors.

George is one of the biggest chess pieces being moved around boards in executive offices all around the league. Ever since George informed Pacers management he isn't interested in re-signing with the team, GM Kevin Pritchard has been searching for the best possible deal.

The Cavaliers would love to add George as the new third star on their super-team with LeBron and Kyrie Irving and send Kevin Love to the Pacers or to a third team that would provide Indiana with young players and/or draft picks.

Boston is hoping to trade some of Danny Ainge's treasure-trove of draft picks to bring George in, but only after they make a free agent run at Utah All-Star swingman Gordon Hayward, who played his college ball for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler. Remember, making a trade for George carries a lot of risk, since he's eligible to become a free agent next summer and could wind up being a one-year rental.

George has told anyone who will listen he plans to sign on with the Lakers in the summer of 2018, but will new Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson get antsy with all the trade interest in George and try to bring him in now? Is it worth it for Magic to give up young players like Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson if he can just wait a year and sign George without giving up any assets?

We're already hearing reports of George trying to recruit Warriors sharp-shooter Klay Thompson to join him on the Lakers when Klay becomes a free agent in 2019. And, speculation continues about LeBron heading west to join the Lakers if the Cavs come up short of a championship again next season.

So many questions as we approach the start of free agency. Where will Derrick Rose end up after a fourth knee surgery? Will the Clippers be interested in bringing Rose in to play with Blake Griffin and keep Lob City going? And what about veterans like Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, George Hill, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague? What kind of market will they find with fewer teams having the kind of cap space we saw last summer?

And, where will Carmelo Anthony wind up now that Phil Jackson is out as Knicks President? Jackson might be the greatest coach in NBA history after winning 11 championships with the Bulls and Lakers, but it was clear the Zen Master was overmatched as a front office executive. Phil didn't want to travel to scout top college prospects, didn't stay on top of day to day roster moves around the league, and insisted on saddling his coaches with running an offense that didn't translate in today's game.

Maybe now Jeff Hornacek will be able to run his up-tempo offense that had some success in Phoenix instead of Phil's beloved triangle. But don't count on Anthony being a part of next season's Knicks team. Reports out of New York suggest the organization is still intent on dealing Melo, problem is that nasty no-trade clause that Phil gave Anthony on top of a $127 million contract back in 2014.

In the coming weeks, you can count on hearing all kinds of Anthony-related rumors. Maybe a trade to Houston, Boston or even Philadelphia. And, if Melo is able to convince the Knicks to buy out the remainder of his contract, look for him to join forces with LeBron in Cleveland for a shot at that elusive championship ring.

The Knicks may have rid themselves of Phil’s front office mismanagement, but their roster is still a mess with no easy solutions in sight.

The great thing for NBA fans is the buzz created by all the speculation. NBA offseasons are the most impactful of any sport since the acquisition of a star player can cause a major shift in any team's fortunes. Unfortunately here in Chicago, don't expect any free agent buzz this year, unless you're excited about the possibility of a Dwyane Wade buyout.

Bulls Executive VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson made it clear the Bulls are going in a new direction and will be patient and disciplined in their rebuild. That means no spending on veterans this summer as the front office keeps its power dry for some time in the future when the Bulls are closer to being a playoff contender again.

Player development will be the focus of the next couple seasons as Fred Hoiberg and his staff try to find out exactly what they have in young players like Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Cameron Payne, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant, Cris Felicio and Niko Mirotic.

Ideally, the Bulls will lose enough games next season to put themselves into position to land a top-3 pick in next year's top-heavy draft. Paxson talked about building a contending team through the draft, and that will require a lot of patience from everyone involved. Adding a Michael Porter, Jr. or Luka Doncic to a young backcourt of Dunn and Zach LaVine and a promising "stretch 4" in Markkanen could be the foundation of the next Bulls playoff team.

So, while the league's top teams engage in a massive arms race to try to close the gap on the Warriors over the next few weeks, all will be quiet in the city of Chicago. The buzzword for Bulls fans for the foreseeable future is PATIENCE.

Bulls Talk Podcast: An NBA gone wild and Zach LaVine sit down interview

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: An NBA gone wild and Zach LaVine sit down interview

On the latest BullsTalk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Vincent Goodwill delve into the blockbuster news of Chris Paul being traded to the Rockets. Will any other teams try to go all-in?

With Phil Jackson parting ways with the Knicks, Goodwill shares the behind-the-scenes story of how James Dolan hired Jackson to run his franchise. 

Then, Schanowski sits down with the newest Bull Zach LaVine to discuss recovering from his ACL tear, his love of Space Jam and moving to Chicago.

Plus, the guys break down their first impressions of LaVine and his potential in a Bulls uniform, and how the new CBA is actually leading to teams getting rid of their stars rather than keeping them.

Finally, what will the Bulls do with Dwyane Wade, and where will Derrick Rose end up?

Check out the latest Bulls Talk Podcast right here: