Buckle Up for Bulls' Roller Coaster Ride

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Buckle Up for Bulls' Roller Coaster Ride

Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010
7:28 PM

by Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

Okay, so my prediction of a 3-4 road trip for the Bulls is still looking good, but I never would have guessed they would find a way to beat the Suns and Rockets after looking so bad in losing the first two games to Golden State and the Clippers.

Does anyone out there have an idea of what to expect from the Bulls from game to game? Frankly, I have no idea whether this is a good team that sometimes plays down to the level of its competition, or a bad team that sometimes catches the opposition on the right night or looking ahead to more important games on their schedules. The Bulls 20-22 record accurately shows what we've seen so far.......some great wins over NBA heavyweights like Boston, Cleveland, Orlando, Atlanta and San Antonio to go along with maddening defeats to the likes of New Jersey, Sacramento, the Clippers and Golden State.

Saturday's win over Houston may have been the most unlikely of the season. The Bulls didn't get to their hotel until around 4:30 a.m. after their win in Phoenix late Friday night, and they found out 10 minutes before tip-off that they would be without the services of their number one energy guy, Joakim Noah, who's battling a case of plantar fasciitis. But somehow, Brad Miller, who's having a terrible season, found a way to turn back the clock and score 25 points against his old coach in Sacramento, Rick Adelman. Miller made big play after big play down the stretch, hitting two huge three pointers, and making a beautiful feed to Taj Gibson for an important dunk. Gibson, the rookie from USC who's also been hampered by plantar fasciitis lately, picked up the slack for Noah by posting Joakim-like totals of 14 points and 16 rebounds.

And, let's not forget about Derrick Rose, who followed up his 32-point performance in Phoenix by scoring 20 against the Rockets, including a clutch jumper with about 30 seconds to go that pretty much sealed the win. Rose certainly improved his All-Star prospects with that big game on national television in Phoenix, including what might have been the best dunk of his young career over Goran Dragic late in the game. Rose still faces an uphill battle to get to the game in Dallas on February 14th now that Allen Iverson has reversed his position, and says he will play in the game. That leaves only two or three spots for back-up guards in the East and Atlanta's Joe Johnson is sure to get one of them. That could mean conference coaches will have to choose between Rose and Rajan Rondo, but if it were up to me, I'd find spots for both players on the East team.

Back to the Bulls, who knows what to expect in this week's games at San Antonio, Oklahoma City and New Orleans? The Bulls beat the Spurs in the regular season opener at the United Center back on October 29th, and San Antonio has been inconsistent all season while battling injuries to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. The guess is the Spurs have too much firepower for Vinny's guys, but if the Bulls play like they did in Phoenix and Houston, they certainly have a chance to steal another win. Noah says he will play before the trip is over, and knowing his desire and work ethic, I wouldn't be surprised to see him out on the floor against Tim Duncan Monday night.

In years past, a game in Oklahoma City would look like a great chance to grab a "W". But the Thunder are one of the league's biggest surprises, led by scoring sensation Kevin Durant and versatile point guard Russell Westbrook. OKC beat the Bulls at the UC earlier this month with Westbrook getting the better of his match-up with Rose. Thunder coach Scott Brooks shifted 6'7 former Bull Thabo Sefolosha on to Rose in the 2nd half of that game, and Thabo did an excellent defensive job on the Bulls' young star. Look for more of that strategy on Wednesday night. The Bulls will probably try a variety of players on Durant, starting with Luol Deng and then possibly going to Tyrus Thomas or John Salmons.

The finale in New Orleans will give the Bulls a chance for another win. Chris Paul is back at full strength after an early season ankle injury, and Emeka Okafor is starting to play better in the middle after a rough adjustment early in the season. The Hornets also have 2-time all-star David West and a streaky shooter in guard Devin Brown. But the Bulls totally outplayed New Orleans in a win at the UC last month, and if they're not worn out from nearly two weeks on the road, they should have a good chance to beat the Hornets again.

Bottom line, forget about trying to figure out this Bulls' team.......they are totally unpredictable. That can make for some agonizing nights when they lose to bad teams, but it's also a lot of fun when the offense is clicking and they outscore teams like the Suns and Rockets.

I'll see you Monday night at 7:00 for Bulls Pre-game Live, just ahead of the Bulls-Spurs game on Comcast SportsNet at 7:30. You can watch all three games this week on CSN. Win or lose, this team is a never-ending roller coaster ride............ so just buckle up and enjoy the hoops!

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome.

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

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

Here are some of Friday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

Dwyane Wade, Bulls take first blood with LeBron James, Cavs

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Jonathan Toews practices but won’t play vs. Flyers

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

White Sox reportedly asking for No. 1 prospect plus more in trade return for Chris Sale

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

LeBron James pays off bet, rocks Cubs uniform to the United Center

High School Lites basketball roundup: Week 1

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

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USA TODAY

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

Two nights after managing just 90 points in a lackluster home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls entered Friday night’s tilt against the defending-champion Cavaliers with a specific offensive game plan.

Attack, head coach Fred Hoiberg told his team, the interior of the Cleveland defense early to establish a presence in the paint. Knowing the Cavs, for all their strengths that made them NBA champions five months earlier, lacked a true rim protector, the Bulls made it a point to get Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez going.

The Bulls managed to do exactly that, tallying a season-high 78 points in the paint in their 111-105 victory over the Cavaliers. And while Lopez was again his usual efficient self and Gibson turned in his best performance of the season – the two scored 33 points on 15-for-23 shooting – it was point guard Rajon Rondo who proved to be the kick-starter for a Bulls offense that needed to be at its best to match Cleveland’s star power.

Rondo logged his first triple-double with the Bulls in the victory, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. But looking past the raw numbers, it was the shots Rondo took, and the passes he made, that allowed the Bulls to play so efficiently on offense and ultimately come away with their most impressive victory of the year.

Of Rondo’s 12 assists, all but two of the made shots off those passes came from a distance farther than 7 feet. Ten of Rondo’s assists resulted in baskets in the paint, of which the Bulls had 39 as a team. Squaring off against a subpar defender in Kyrie Irving, Rondo was active in knifing into the paint and finding open bigs inside. Rondo had six assists in the first quarter, and all but one resulted in baskets within 3 feet of the hoop.

All four of his made field goals in the first half were layups, as was his only bucket in the third quarter. His putback midway through the fourth quarter was also at the rim, and gave him his tenth rebound to secure the triple-double. Two possessions later he connected on a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls an eight-point lead; Cleveland never got closer than four the rest of the way. Rondo only took three shots outside of the paint. Friday marked the first time in a month Rondo had shot better than 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games.

Past Rondo’s own numbers, Gibson said that the Bulls’ point guard was instrumental in leading the Bulls’ offense to match up against a Cavaliers offense that entered the night second in the league in efficiency.

“He’s like a quarterback. Even though he never really played any contact football the way he always gathers the huddle, he always sees what’s going on in the game,” Gibson said. “He’s always encouraging. He’s pushing it. He’s a great teammate and I know he got a lot of criticism before the year, a lot of people talk about the negative that’s in it, but he’s been showing me nothing but great stuff on and off the court.”

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere to it simply because of the matchup between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, as well as the defending champs coming to town, the veteran Rondo took it upon himself to lead the Bulls offense. Though the Bulls wanted to avoid getting into a track meet against the fast-paced Cavs, Rondo didn’t allow the offense to become stagnant when it was apparent they could get into the paint at will.

“I thought Rondo was great all night long,” Fred Hoiberg said, “getting guys out and running, pushing them. You can hear him yelling “run with me” to get the guys down the floor. Rajon was a huge factor.”

His defense will continue to be a liability – Irving had an off-night shooting more than anything – and he won’t score 15 points each night, but his leadership and ability to run an offense with precision has the Bulls behind their floor general as they head into the season’s second month.

“He’s always inspiring. He’s one of those guys you want to go to war with. He’s one of those guys that’s in the huddle, you know that every time down the court if it’s a wrong call, a foul, a scuffle, if you not feeling right he’s always going to have your back no matter what.”