Beyond the Arc: Quest for top seed starts now

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Beyond the Arc: Quest for top seed starts now

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
6:23 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

So, raise your hand if you thought the Bulls would be battling Boston for the top seed in the East over the final six weeks of the regular season.

Its been an amazing ride watching Derrick Rose lead the Bulls into the ranks of the NBAs elite teams. Right now, a lot of national writers with M.V.P. votes are proclaiming Derrick is their choice to win the award. So, I guess Derrick knew what he was talking about when he responded to my question about personal goals back on Media Day in September with Why cant I be the M.V.P., why cant I be the best player in the league?

Led by Rose and the ultra-thorough approach of first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls have taken the league by storm. They rank 1st in the NBA in opponents field goal percentage and 1st in points allowed, and when a team is that good on the defensive end, theyre going to have a chance to win every game.

Since the return of Joakim Noah, the Bulls have been even better on the defensive end, holding opponents under 90 points almost every time out. Noahs ability to block shots and rebound in traffic gives the Bulls a last line of defense they didnt have when Kurt Thomas was starting at center.

And, the improvement of rookie center Omer Asik has given the second unit that same ability to change games with defensive play. Ronnie Brewer has been more aggressive playing the passing lanes, knowing he has Asik and Taj Gibson behind him to erase any mistakes.

The question is, can the Bulls catch Boston for the number one seed in the East?

There are obvious advantages to finishing first, starting with earning home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs. And, the chance to play a team with a losing record in the first round like Indiana or Charlotte, instead of the star-studded Knicks or Doug Collins dangerous 76ers. And, the likelihood of avoiding Miami in the conference semifinals.

But will the Bulls go all out to finish 1st?

A lot depends on what the standings look like on April 1. If theyre still within two or three games of the lead, look for Thibodeau to go for the top spot. The Bulls have a head-to-head matchup with the Celtics at the United Center on April 7, which could go a long way to deciding which team claims first place. Looking at the Bulls final 20 games, 10 are at home and 10 are on the road. Nine of the teams have winning records, while 11 are under .500.

Getting the top seed would be a huge accomplishment for the Bulls, but realistically, the Bulls will be keeping a close eye on Miami in their rear-view mirror. A potential second round series against the Heat would be an NBA instant classic, and the Bulls want to make sure any Game Seven would be played at the United Center instead of South Beach.

Is Rose wearing down?

One potential concern down the stretch is the demands being placed on Derrick Rose to direct the offense and take over as the crunch-time scorer. Roses shooting percentage from 3-point range has been falling like a rock over the last five weeks. He connected on just 25 percent of his tries from beyond the arc in February, and missed his first 16 tries in March.

I had a chance to talk with my studio partner, Kendall Gill, about Derricks mini-shooting slump. He recommends Rose go back to his driving game and try to scale back on the long-range jumpers.

NBA players routinely wear down over the course of a long regular season, and the best way to get your rhythm back is attack the basket and try to get more free throw attempts. Thibodeau says hes not concerned about Roses recent struggles from long distance. Thibs says Rose continues to put in extra work at practice, and as long as he does that, he has the green light to shoot them in games.

The larger concern for me is how heavily the team relies on Rose to break down the defense late in close games. Granted, Derrick is the best offensive player and gives the Bulls the best chance to get a basket or a trip to the free throw line. But I would like to see the Bulls run more post-ups for Carlos Boozer to give defenses something else to think about. When the Bulls get the ball to Boozer in the post, opponents have to decide whether to send a quick double team, or allow Carlos to back his defender into the paint. And, when the double team comes, Boozer is a willing passer who will get the ball to the open man.

Kyle Korver struggled with his outside shot in the fourth quarter against New Orleans, but he shot an NBA record 53 percent from 3-point range last season, and teams have to honor him as a threat to score on any possession. Thibodeau likes to use Korver down the stretch of close games for just that reason. As we head into the stretch run towards the playoffs, its all about figuring out how to tighten rotations for games that matter the most. Look for Korver to be on the court when the Bulls need a big basket late.

Right now, the Bulls are playing 10 guys every night, and its possible that will continue into the playoffs. But Thibodeau stuck with Rose at the beginning of the fourth quarter against New Orleans instead of going to his usual substitution pattern of bringing in C.J. Watson. That means five or six extra minutes for your best player, and the Bulls have to be careful not to wear Rose down before the grueling playoff chase even begins.

As always, we love to get your feedback. Please post your comments on the race for the top seed and the scoring burden placed on Rose in the section below. And, most of all, enjoy the way the Bulls are playing right now. The fun is only beginning!

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

Bulls introduce Dwyane Wade today on CSN+, streaming on CSNChicago.com

Bulls introduce Dwyane Wade today on CSN+, streaming on CSNChicago.com

Dwyane Wade makes his official return to Chicago on Friday, and you can hear everything the Windy City native has to say.

The Bulls are set to introduce their biggest free-agent addition on Friday afternoon, with CSN+ airing and CSNChicago.com streaming the press conference starting at 2 p.m.

If you're watching on TV, check out the channel finder to locate CSN+.

If you're watching online, click this link for the live stream.

Both Wade and general manager Gar Forman are expected to address the media.

Dwyane Wade makes surprise appearance at Lollapalooza

Dwyane Wade makes surprise appearance at Lollapalooza

Dwyane Wade is going to officially be introduced as a Chicago Bull on Friday, but that didn't stop Wade from going out in Chicago on Thursday.

Wade made a surprise appearance at Lollapalooza Thursday night at the Flosstradamus show, walking on the stage to the classic Bulls intro song Sirius by The Alan Parsons Project.

It sure seems like Wade is enjoying his return to Chicago so far.

Tom Thibodeau on Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah leaving Bulls: 'It doesn't last forever'

Tom Thibodeau on Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah leaving Bulls: 'It doesn't last forever'

The winds of change are becoming as constant in the NBA as it is in the NFL, as players and coaches are seemingly more associated with their own brands than they are their employers.

Former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is living proof of that and wasn’t surprised the winds caught his former bookends Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, as both will start next season as members of the New York Knicks.

Rose was traded before the draft in a multi-player deal while Noah signed a $72 million deal in free agency to go back to his native city.

“It’s sort of the nature of the league. It doesn’t last forever,” said Thibodeau, as the USA Men’s National Basketball team prepares for the Olympics with an exhibition contest against Venezuela Friday night at the United Center. “That was a special group of guys. From where they started, and unfortunately the injuries derailed it some but it was a very prideful group, a proud group.”

Rose and Noah’s best years were with Thibodeau on the sidelines, with Rose winning Most Valuable Player in 2011 and Noah finishing fourth in voting in 2014 before injuries caught them both.

“They never gave up, never succumbed to the circumstances,” Thibodeau said. “They found different ways to win, different guys stepped up. That’s the way the league works. Over time, people leave with free agency, change teams. I’m happy for those guys that they’re gonna get another opportunity. They’ve earned it.”

[MORE: Jimmy Butler says he no longer wears a chip on his shoulder]

Thibodeau’s five-year run in Chicago certainly ended controversially and definitely left many wondering “what if”, but it he knew it wouldn’t be long before taking another position like the one he accepted to become coach and president of the Minnesota Timberwolves this spring.

As usual, he was gracious about the time he spent in Chicago, and the city itself.

“A lot of great memories. Five years coaching and I stayed last year,” Thibodeau said. “I love the city, the fans were great to me the whole time. You look back, you think of all the great memories you have. Great history, great tradition and we had great guys. It was very enjoyable to coach that team.”

Surprisingly, the workaholic coach said the time off was good for him, as it likely gave him a chance for reflection and an opportunity to rejuvenate himself physically and mentally from the unforgiving NBA grind.

“When you take a step back, and you don’t have the next team to worry about, you take a broader view of things,” Thibodeau said. “You get a lot of new ideas, it’s a chance to recharge. You learn a lot. Sometimes taking a step back is a good thing.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans]

The next time Thibodeau walks across the United Center floor after Friday night, he’ll be in gametime mode as head coach of the Timberwolves, doing everything he can to get a win.

The smiles will dissipate and the general ease in which he interacts with the media and other personnel will disappear. But for right now, he’s an assistant to USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski for another Olympic run, hoping to help keep the United States on top of the global basketball world.

“This has been an incredible experience for me, to be around the great players and the hall of fame basketball people you’re around,” Thibodeau said