Boozer practices as Bulls gear up for Hawks

440789.jpg

Boozer practices as Bulls gear up for Hawks

Sunday, May 1, 2011Posted: 3:10 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Hell be ready to go, claimed Joakim Noah when asked about the status of his teammate, Carlos Boozer, after the Bulls Sunday afternoon practice at the Berto Center.

For sure, added Derrick Rose. Hes going to play in that game Mondays Game 1 of Chicagos Eastern Conference semifinal series against Atlanta.

While he declined to talk to reporters, Boozer participatedreportedly on a limited basisin his first practice since suffering a turf-toe injury in the Bulls Game 5 first-round win over the Pacers. Prior to Sunday, Boozer had only been lifting weights, but hadnt spent any time on the court, with the exception of some light individual shooting.

Hes going to be good," Rose said. "From looking at film, watching film on him, seeing how in some of the games, how aggressive he was and thats all we try to tell him to do, is be aggressive while hes on the court and just play his game.

"Hes been in this league long enough where hell be able to get himself out of a little slump. Hes still coming in, talking, shooting the ball, doing his routine and nothing has changed.

While the Bulls expect Boozer to play in the teams second-round opener MondayChicago head coach Tom Thibodeau hasnt decided whether Taj Gibson or Kurt Thomas would start if he didnt playthey could be facing a short-handed opponent. Former Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, Atlantas starting point guard, is listed as doubtful with a strained right hamstring, which he suffered late in the Hawks Game 6 victory over the Orlando Magic.

Knowing that he was my veteran and I was his rook, yeah, I feel bad about the injury, but Im sorry to say that Im just worried about whats going on over here, said Derrick Rose of his former backcourt mate.

Chimed in Noah: I wish Kirk nothing but the best. Obviously Ive been there. Its tough to be in that position, to be injured.

If Hinrich is limited or out for the series, candidates to replace him include second-year point guard Jeff Teague and another former Bull, sixth man Jamal Crawford, who led the team in scoring in the Orlando series. Teague received scant playing time against Orlando and has been generally out of first-year head coach Larry Drews rotation since Atlanta acquired Hinrich from Washington at the trade deadline.

They have quality depth. Crawford has played a lot of minutes. Teague has played extremely well when hes been in their rotation, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau after Saturdays practice. Joe Johnson has the ability to handle the ball and make plays. Theyve got a lot of depth in their backcourt and their perimeter guys are really skilled, so youve got to be ready for everybody.

At the end of games, the ball is primarily in Joe Johnsons hands or Jamal Crawfords hands, so their end-of-game stuff will be exactly the same. But they also have Marvin Williams, who didnt play quite as much as he normally does because of the matchup that they had with Orlando, so now hes back on the floor. Theyve got a lot of weapons they can throw at you and I think Teague is really a good player also, so theyre fortunate to have that type of depth at the point-guard position.

Added Rose: It doesnt change at all. Weve got to go out there and play. Teague or whoever starts out there in his spot, theyre good players. Jamal, you know hes a scorer, keeps them going, keeps them in games and theyre a real athletic team with a lot of spots where they can change pick-and-rolls.

Crawford is tough. One of the best scorers in the league. Every team that he goes on, he knows his role, which is to score the ball. If anything, try to stick him as a team and make everything tough on him.

While Crawford is capable of handling the point, hes more of a designated instant-offense scorer for the Hawks, as evidenced by his team-leading scoring average against the Magic. Both Johnson and Crawford often play one-on-one, isolation-type basketball within the Hawks sets and although they have decent court vision, neither is known for their playmaking ability.

Overall, the Hawks have proved to be an inconsistent squad, capable of looking like world-beaters and lottery-bound in consecutive games. After surrendering a huge halftime lead in the two teams first matchup, Chicago dominated Atlanta in their final two meetings. But the Bulls still believe the Hawks will give them a battle in the second round.

Its going to be a tough series. Theyre a good team, they play hard together and theyve got everything going for them right now, Rose explained. I think its going to be tougher than the first-round series against Indiana. Theyve got guys that can really jump and contest my shot. Really big guys like Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford are tough players.

Its all confidence. They play the same way, but they believe that they can win games, that they can go far and when youve got everybody on a team believing that, its hard to slow a team down, he continued. Theyre playing with confidence. They let a team sweep them the previous year, then to come out and play against that team and beat them in a series, it means a lot. Theyre playing with a lot of confidence, they believe in each other and they believe they can win."

Concurred Thibodeau: The regular season, theres a lot of things that go into that, so you have to judge it by a how a team is playing right now. Not that youre not looking at the matchup in those games, but youre looking at how theyre performing right now and thats what weve got to be ready for. Theyre playing at a very high level right now.

During the Orlando series, the Hawks started backup Jason Collins at center, pushing Horford to power forward and Josh Smith to small forward, in order to better defend All-Star center Dwight Howard, who was defended one-on-one by Collins and other reserves. Although it's unlikely Atlanta will use the same lineup, the Bulls are preparing for all possibilities, including Hinrichs absence, Horfords interior scoring and the Hawks ability to switch matchups with their long, athletic and versatile defenders.

Youre trying to clean up some of the things that you need to work on and youre preparing for your opponent, said Thibodeau, who said he believes Atlanta will most likely go back to starting Marvin Williams at small forward. That was the matchup that they used for Howard, but we have to be ready for them to go big or go small, so I think the plan is to plan for both.

Theyve done less of that switching on defense this year, but they still have the capability of doing that at the two, three and four, so you have your counters to attack it. Putting different people into pick-and-rolls to negate it. You can also create the mismatch that you want. Youve just got to have the ability to read those defenses.

Thibodeau is worried about Horford in particular.

"His athleticism, his ability to run the floor, his activity on the offensive boards, his ability to shoot the 15 to 17-foot shothes a hard guy to match up with," he said. "I think because of the skill set of Joe Johnson and Crawford, that puts a lot of pressure on you, so you have to have a multiple-effort mentality. When we do give help, we have to make sure we get back to him and we dont give him clean looks at the basket. We just have to help appropriately.

Atlanta is regarded as more of a finesse team than the physical young Pacers, but the Bulls wont be surprised if the Hawks opt to utilize a similar strategy.

Thats playoff basketball," Thibodeau said. "Theres also a price to pay for that. We shot a lot of free throws. We shot it at a very good percentage. We got into the penalty early in the fourth quarter. Whenever you put two on the ballwhich they really didnt do until the fourth quarterbut that was also our best quarter. Youve got to be ready for everything. it could be size on him, they could be physical. Its nothing that we havent seen. Youve got to be ready to fight. These playoff games, theyre not going to be easy. Theyre going to be tough, hard-fought games.

Echoed Noah: I expect it to be very physical.

This is the time of year where theres not a lot of teams lefttheres only eight teams leftthis is what its all about. Everybody on the court only wants one thing and thats a championship.

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.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls trade Gibson, McDermott; Blackhawks beat Coyotes

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls trade Gibson, McDermott; Blackhawks beat Coyotes

CSN to carry live coverage of Class 1A-4A IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships

CSN Chicago expands regional broadcast plans for Fire

Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes

NBA Trade Deadline: Bulls deal Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott to Thunder

White Sox will retire Mark Buehrle's number in June

Why Joe Maddon sees Kyle Schwarber as the leadoff guy in Cubs lineup

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

Braves Way: How Cubs are still focused on next wave of young talent

What the Bulls are getting in point guard Cameron Payne

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

Thursday's trade with Oklahoma City points out the problem with trying to stay in playoff contention while also rebuilding the roster with more young and athletic players.

The Bulls obviously hurt their postseason chances by dealing locker-room leader and rock-solid pro Taj Gibson and their best 3-point shooter in Doug McDermott. And, at first glance, the players they got back don't look very impressive.

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson made it clear that one of the objectives in Thursday's deal was to free up playing time for his last two first-round draft picks, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis. He also made it clear that newly acquired point guard Cameron Payne would play a lot over the final 25 games of the season.

So, how does Fred Hoiberg now deal with an unwieldy number of players expecting to get minutes? If Payne is going to play, that probably means Rajon Rondo is out of the rotation. But will Rondo sit by quietly so the Bulls can preserve his $14 million salary slot for possible trades this summer? Or will the front office be forced to offer him a contract buyout?

And what about the other two players acquired in the Oklahoma City deal? Long-range specialist Anthony Morrow is suffering through one of the worst seasons of his career, hitting just 29 percent of his attempts from 3-point range. Will he get the minutes previously given to McDermott, or is he a candidate for a buyout? Paxson cryptically said Morrow's role is "still to be defined."

Joffrey Lauvergne, a 6-foot-11 center, has some ability, but he's a restricted free agent at season's end and it's hard to project him getting any meaningful playing time behind Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio.

So let's add it all up. Hoiberg now has four point guards — five if you count Isaiah Canaan — and three centers to juggle, plus he'll have to find minutes for Valentine, Morrow and Paul Zipser at the wing spots behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

How will Portis fare as the new starting power forward? And what to do with Nikola Mirotic? His fading confidence is probably at a new low after the team's failed efforts to find him a new home before the deadline.

It will be fascinating to see if this team can manage to hold onto a playoff spot after losing Gibson and McDermott, to say nothing of the maddening inconsistency we've witnessed over the first 57 games of the season.

Good health will be critical, with the team's two best players, Butler and Wade, each enduring some bumps and bruises in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break. We've seen what the Bulls look like without Butler, and it's not pretty. They're 1-5 in the games Butler missed because of illness and a right heel contusion.

The story is different when Wade has been out. The Bulls are 5-4 in the games he's missed because of illness, injury or just plain rest. Still, the 12-time All Star has shown the ability to raise the level of his play when the games matter most, and you can expect he'll be a big factor for the Bulls down the stretch. Don't forget, Wade almost single-handedly took an undermanned Miami team to within a win of the Eastern Conference Finals last season with a turn-back-the-clock playoff performance.

Hard to gain much from looking at the remaining schedule. Only 11 of the remaining 25 opponents have winning records, but we've all seen how that's gone in the past. If the Bulls can head into April around .500, they should be in position to make a strong closing run with a pair of matchups against the NBA's worst team, Brooklyn, along with games against the Pelicans, Knicks, 76ers and Magic to close out the regular season.

Of course, since Hoiberg has been told to give significant minutes to Portis, Valentine and Payne the rest of the way, it's possible making the playoffs isn't quite as important as it was at the start of the season. Questions about Butler's future will start up again as we approach the NBA Draft in June since Paxson wouldn't commit to trying to build around the three-time All Star, and if Butler goes, it's a pretty safe bet that Wade follows him out the door.

Life's never easy in the NBA when you're stuck in the middle. Maybe the trade with Oklahoma City is the signal we've been waiting for that a full rebuild is on the horizon.

[MORE BULLS: What the Bulls are getting in point guard Cameron Payne]

Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.

Off to see the Wizards

The Wizards have been on fire since Dec. 12, putting together a 25-12 record. In case you haven't noticed, fourth-year forward Otto Porter is among the league leaders in 3-point percentage, shooting 46.5 percent to go along with 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. It's going to cost the Wizards a small fortune to sign the restricted free agent this summer.

Washington's backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is finally starting to reach the potential everyone saw when the Wizards upset the Bulls in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. The two are combining for an average of 45 points and 14 assists per game, with Wall now a perennial All Star capable of taking over games with his scoring and playmaking. Beal probably should have made the Eastern Conference All-Star team as well with his 22.2 points per game scoring average, shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from behind the 3-point line.

The Wizards also made an under-the-radar pick-up, getting Bojan Bogdanovic from Brooklyn for a first-round pick in this summer's draft. You probably haven't watched a lot of Brooklyn Nets basketball over the last couple years, but Bogdanovic is a good 3-point shooter who can also score off the dribble, averaging 14 points a game this season, while shooting 44 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range. Bogdanovic will be a major upgrade for a Wizards bench that's struggled this season.

Moving to Canada

Toronto made two good moves before the deadline, acquiring a starting power forward in Serge Ibaka and a backup small forward in P.J. Tucker. Ibaka's ability to block shots and stretch the floor from the 3-point line should help the Raptors on both ends, while Tucker gives them another strong perimeter defender to go along with DeMarre Carroll in a possible playoff series against LeBron James and the Cavs.

LeBron loading up

Speaking of the Cavs, they're expected to add former Illini star Deron Williams to their bench once he clears waivers and completes a buyout with Dallas. Williams gives Cleveland the additional playmaker James has been demanding for the last couple months and sets up a potentially epic Finals matchup against Golden State. Williams gets a chance to compete for a championship late in his career, and he's still capable of being a difference maker in big games, averaging 13 points and seven assists per game. Cleveland is now loaded in the backcourt with Kyrie Irving, Williams, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and swingman Kyle Korver.

No luck for the Celtics

The one contending team that didn't make a move at the deadline is Boston. Danny Ainge talked trade with the Bulls about Butler and with Indiana about Paul George, but in the end he wasn't willing to give up those precious Brooklyn first-round draft picks he's been hoarding for years. Keep in mind the Celtics reportedly love University of Washington guard Markelle Fultz, who's expected to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, and they'll have enough cap room to make a run at free-agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler.

Even with the addition of Butler or George, the Celtics might not have been able to take down King James and the Cavs in this year's playoffs, but they are still lurking as the rising power in the East. Now, we'll all have to wait to see what Ainge does in the days leading up to the draft.

Quote of the week

Gibson gave the Chicago media one last lengthy session before boarding a private jet with McDermott to their new home in Oklahoma City.

On his time in Chicago: "Every day I came to the locker room just seeing my name on the back of a Bulls jersey was a dream come true."

So what will it be like to join a new team after eight and a half seasons in Chicago? "I'm like a kid going to a new school. I don't know where to sit on the bus."

Something tells me Russell Westbrook and the Thunder will let Gibson have any seat he wants.

Good luck in Oklahoma City, Taj (and Doug). You will be missed by Bulls fans and media.