Belinelli, Bulls hold off Wizards

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Belinelli, Bulls hold off Wizards

A win is a win, the old axiom goes and it certainly applied Saturday night, as the Bulls (16-12) held on to beat the woeful Wizards (4-24), 87-77, at the United Center, snapping a two-game losing streak.

It wasnt a textbook victory by any means and in terms of performances, a superior opponent could have probably overcome the hosts listless effort, but no matter the Bulls simply needed to get off the schneid and sometimes the best cure for what ails a team is facing off with the most inept foe possible, especially when the game ends on a stellar defensive note.

MORE: No contact yet, but Rose returns to practice; set to travel

The veteran backcourt of Kirk Hinrich (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds) and Rip Hamilton (nine points in 14 minutes) the latter returned to the lineup after missing nearly a month due to a torn left plantar fascia, though he exited the contest midway through the period started the game with an aggressive offensive mindset, but the Bulls were countered by a confident Wizards group coming off one of their four wins on the season.

MORE: Hamilton makes his return to Bulls' lineup

Buoyed by a victory the previous evening, the likes of veteran big man Nene, rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal (14 points) and reserve post player Kevin Seraphin (12 points) originally a Bulls draft pick, he was sent to Washington along with Hinrich back in 2010 were effective and efficient scoring threats.

Luol Deng (11 points, six rebounds, four assists), who sprained his right ankle in the hosts Christmas Day loss to Houston, also made his presence felt in the early going, but two quick fouls on Joakim Noah (nine points, 11 rebound, five assists) hurt their cause, further allowing the visiting big men to establish themselves and the Wizards to build a slim cushion. At the conclusion of the first quarter, the Bulls trailed the team with the NBAs worst record, 26-22.

Deng continued his positive early play and was complemented by reserves Taj Gibson and Marco Belinelli (17 points), who replaced Hamilton earlier from his previous role off the bench, but maintained his confidence and appeared to be poised to become a second-unit spark.

Still, it remained a close-knit affair, as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to be experimenting with different lineups, given that he finally had a healthier rotation at his disposal.

Gradually, the Bulls gained some separation and propelled by the energetic play of backup point guard Nate Robinson, as well as Noah providing a lift upon his return and Carlos Boozer (15 points, 12 rebounds) being active on the glass, the game bore a closer resemblance to what could have been expected.

But by no means were the Bulls running away with the contest and at the intermission, they held a 45-39 lead, following a jumper by Shelvin Mack, called up from the D-League by Washington recently, at the halftime buzzer.

After the break, a balanced offensive attack resulted in the Bulls building a double-digit lead, as improved defense, Wizards turnovers and a greater sense of urgency were all factors. Hamilton looked to be back to his usual form, while Boozer and Noah found their grooves as scorers, allowing Hinrich to focus on playmaking and defense.

However, that stretch didnt last, as Washington, led by the likes of veteran Emeka Okafor (11 points, 18 rebounds) and starting point guard Garrett Temple, another D-League call-up, helped the visitors severely cut into the deficit, eventually making it a two-point game after an 11-0 run as the third quarter wore on.

But the Bulls recovered from their temporary bout of malaise and behind the combination of Hinrich and Belinelli, they headed into the final stanza with a 70-63 advantage, after Mack hit yet another improbable buzzer-beater to end the period.

Belinelli emerged as the Bulls catalyst at the outset of the fourth quarter, helping the home team maintain their edge, but the Wizards continued to battle and remained within striking distance, as Okafor and Beal made positive impacts for the visitors. The pattern of Washington narrowing the gap and the Bulls subsequently pulling away persisted, as Boozer joined Belinelli as an offensive focal point.

Heading into the games stretch run, the Bulls cushion stayed intact, partially due to the fact that Washington couldnt muster up enough offense to stay in close contact, but it was also notable that Thibodeau opted to go with Jimmy Butler the second-year swingman previously looked like the odd man out of the wing rotation with Hamiltons return over Deng, the leagues minutes-per-game-leader in the clutch, during which the Wizards were scoreless over the final 5:18.

In the end, the devil is in the details and at the conclusion of the 82-game season, the hard-to-watch proceedings will simply go down as a Bulls victory in the standings.

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: