Big O: Asik powers Bulls to eighth straight win

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Big O: Asik powers Bulls to eighth straight win

Thursday, March 17, 2011
Posted 8:35 p.m. Updated 9:39 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

NEWARK Despite a spirited comeback, the Bulls (49-18) managed to hold off the Nets (22-44), 84-73, Thursday night at the Prudential Center, extending the winning streak of the Eastern Conferences top squad to a season-high eight games - its longest streak since the spring of 2005.

This was a great game for us, playing a team thats won five in a rowour defense came through. We got stops when we needed to. We dont want to be in that situation, but its a good test for us, said Luol Deng. Were getting better at that. The beginning of the year a game like thiseven the one that we lost herewe kind of panicked a little bit at the end. There was none of that today. We were just calm, we got stops. We got baskets when we needed to.

Nets sharpshooter Anthony Morrow got New Jersey off to a quick start with his proficient outside marksmanship, putting the Bulls into catch-up mode from the games outset. New Jersey center Brook Lopez (22 points, eight rebounds) also got into the act, using his shooting range and skills to not only score the basketball, but draw a pair of quick fouls on Bulls veteran starter Kurt Thomas, sending him to the pine in exchange for rookie Omer Asik (11 points, career-high 16 rebounds).

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau also inserted Taj Gibson and behind the young frontline duo, the visitors scratched and clawed their way back into the contest. Although All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (21 points, four assists) wasnt having a great shooting night initially, he willed his way to the foul line to manufacture points, aiding Chicago in turning the tables on the Nets, resulting in a 24-20 lead at the conclusion of the opening period.

Asiks strong interior play persisted and with Deng (19 points) in his customary role as early second quarter go-to guy, the Bulls maintained their slight cushion. Thibodeau eventually filtered his regulars back into the contest, but even with a powerful Rose tomahawk dunk thrilling the Prudential Center fans, the visitors didnt gain much more separation between themselves and their hosts.

Still, tough defense as usual, was the order of the day for Chicago , causing New Jerseys field-goal percentage to drop significantly. Center Joakim Noah (five points, 10 rebounds, six assists) back after a one-game absence due to flu-like symptoms subsequently served as a more than adequate secondary ballhandler.

His timings still not there offensively, in terms of that 15-to-17-foot shot, but it will be and hes capable of making that shot. Hes a very good playmaker. When you put two on the ball and you hit Jo in the middle of the floor, his decision-making is excellent, Thibodeau said of Noah. Hes a terrific playmaker for a guy that size. You just throw it near him and hell get it. He can put it on the floor and he makes great plays, so we have a lot of confidence in him.

Hes not quite 100 percent, but today, he just battled through it and Ive got a lot of respect for that. Thats great leadership for us.

At halftime, the Bulls held a 43-36 advantage.

While Nets power forward Kris Humphries (13 points, 16 rebounds) beastly efforts in the paint on both ends were impressive, his activity on the inside wasnt enough for New Jersey, as the Bulls gradually pulled away.

Rose got the better of his matchup with fellow elite floor general Deron Williams (five points, 11 assists), limiting the All-Stars scoring with his improved defense and patiently running Chicagos offense by either picking apart the defense himself or facilitating good ball movement when the Nets extended their pressure.

It was important because it was our next game. It was nothing individual or anything, said Rose of the duel afterwards. Of course, every time you play in this league, youre playing against somebody good, especially at the point guard position and I just wanted to go out there and play hard.

Chimed in Thibodeau: Two fierce competitors. Both strong, quick. Derricks defense is improving. Hes gotten a lot better, hes doing a great job of challenging shots, he continued. Thats a big part of who we are. When youre not shooting the ball well, you want to be able to win, and our defensive, our rebounding and taking care of the ball put us in position to win.

Despite subpar shooting numbers as a team, the Bulls increased their lead to double digits, with stifling defense, Dengs scoring and Asiks dominance around the rim being major factors. Through three quarters, the Bulls were up, 60-50.

Omer gave us a huge lift off the bench, praised Thibodeau. Even the past two games, he struggled a little bit, but his work has been so consistent and I think hes gotten a lot of confidence.

Today, he had that great rebounding rhythm again and it seemed like anything that was near him, he was getting. The thing that I liked was that he was going up strongthat energy, I thought it really inspired us, too.

Added Noah: Thats the beauty of this team. Weve got a lot of weapons. Omers somebody who lives in the gym, improving. His confidence is getting better and better. Hes understanding how he can score in the offense. Hes playing at a really high level and we need that to do what we want to do.

New Jersey didnt wilt, however; and an early fourth-quarter spurt led by backup forward Travis Outlaw affected Chicagos comfort level. The home team spurred by a suddenly supportive crowd kept pushing and the game became a tight-knit affair midway through the final stanza, as contributions from the likes of Lopez and backup guard Sasha Vujacic (13 points, five rebounds) helped them cut the deficit.

They pressured us some, Thibodeau noted. We played at a pace we didnt want to play at and once we settled down, recognized the second passer and made that second pass, we got a high-percentage shot and that opened things up.

With under six minutes to play, a deep Lopez two-point jumper tied the contest at 65 and both teams exchanged baskets for a stretch Deng and Rose were Chicagos offensive catalysts irking the decidedly defensive-minded Thibodeau.

Ball security became an issue for the Nets, as turnovers Rose picked off a lazy Williams cross-court pass, which was subsequently converted into a fast-break layup mishandles and poor shot selection plagued the hosts down the stretch, as did general unforced miscues, such as defensive three-second violations at key moments.

Conversely, the Bulls scored timely baskets to create some breathing room late, forcing the home fans to acknowledge the reality of the situation: New Jersey wouldnt pull off the upset of an upper-echelon conference rival.

Chicago corralled important rebounds, and generally played mistake-free basketball late, capitalizing on the Nets mistakes.

A three-pointer from Kyle Korver (12 points) with 1:16 to go pretty much sealed the deal, dashing any remaining hopes of the New Jersey faithful in the arena that the Nets would extend the five-game winning streak they came into the game enjoying.

Thats what weve been doing the whole year, playing defense if our offense isnt going. That rarely happens, but if its not, well rely on our defense and thats what we did tonight, just make it tough on them, said Rose, an important cog in a defensive unit that has held opponents to a final tally in the 70s 12 times this season.

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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Kevin Anderson, Vincent Goodwill and Kendall Gill welcome in SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to discuss the Celtics' motivation to trade for Jimmy Butler. 

The guys also break down whether the league is undervaluing the Bulls All-Star. 

Later, they debate the contant Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan comparison and ask if it's fair after the King's poor showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. O'Donnell also analyzes the NBA Draft. He believes Terrance Ferguson is the right pick for GarPax. 

Finally, a behind the scenes look at Goodwill vs. Kendall on the court, and Kendall on the right way to parent a young athlete. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st. 

Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.

Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?

If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.

Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.

The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.

So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.

The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.

Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.

Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up. 

Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.

Around the Association

Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston. 

Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season. 

Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA. 

Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.

Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options. 

But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.

In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.

Quotes of the Week

The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.

This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."

Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."  

Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!