Boozer practices as Bulls gear up for Hawks

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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.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”