Bulls blaze past Portland on Deng's career night

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Bulls blaze past Portland on Deng's career night

Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010
Updated 12:08 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Something was missing in the first two games of the Bulls' season. No, not Carlos Boozer; that's a given. Rather, Luol Deng, after a promising preseason, faded into the background in the team's first two contests.

That wouldn't be the case Monday evening, as Deng's career-high 40 points and a stout defense would spark a wire-to-wire 110-98 Chicago victory over visiting Portland at the United Center.

"Even in the first two games, I didn't think that he shot the ball well, but I thought he played well, because of all the things that he's doing. He's moving without the ball, he's cutting hard, he's making the extra pass and he's playing really good defense. Tonight, he was terrific offensively, just body was in motion, got out and ran the floor, so he did a number of different things," said Thibodeau about Deng afterwards. "Sometimes players will allow their offense to dictate their defense. You know that you're not going to shoot well every night. Maybe you have a tough matchup. Maybe you're being guarded well, you're being trapped. So, that night might be harder on you offensively, but there's other ways you can help and I think you want to be a defensive team first.

"Luol, from the start of camp, has been that way. He goes hard on defense every day in practice, so I was glad in the first two games, he didn't get down. He just kept working on his game, got in early, stayed late, getting a lot of shots up, so I was very confident he would come around."

A focused Bulls team took the United Center floor with bad intentions, as an aggressive offense produced results and head coach Tom Thibodeau's inside-out game plan was executed. Deng bounced back from a subpar game offensively, as his defense has been underrated; Deng at least made life difficult for Kevin Durant in the season-opening loss at Oklahoma City and absolutely hounded Ben Gordon after he was switched onto his former teammate in the second half of Chicago's successful home opener start to the season with an efficient (6-for-7 shooting, 16 points) opening quarter.

Taj Gibson was effective before returning to his pattern of quick foul trouble, as he was saddled with a pair early, leading to the insertion of rookie center Omer Asik. Fellow reserve James Johnson (playing shooting guard, and guarding Blazers star Brandon Roy and giving the Bulls a huge lineup with Asik's presence) was similarly rewarded for his strong play in Chicago's last win, receiving early playing time in return.

Unlikely secondary ballhandler Joakim Noah, the center was pressed into duty from the outset, when Portland took to full-court pressure of point guard Derrick Rose, who still managed to impact the contest with his slashing and playmaking repertoire didn't make much of a dent in the way of scoring, but made several nifty passes to provide opportunities for others and was responsible with the ball in his hands. Suffocating team defense, versatile power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, originally a Bulls draft choice in 2006 (he was swapped for the departed Tyrus Thomas in a draft-day deal), was the only Trailblazer to produce from a scoring standpoint also played a large part in Chicago leading, 32-21, after a quarter of play.

"I made shots, but we moved the ball really well. We had a lot of open shots the way they played our pick-and-roll, trying to blitz D.Rose," said the modest Deng. "When they're blitzing and we move the ball well, you've got players sometimes, you could play great "D" and guys still hit shots.

"I didn't really shoot the ball well the first two games. I shot the ball well tonight, but every night is going to be different. We've got a lot of new players on this team and we've just got to understand that. We've just got to find ways to win, but every night, your role will be different," he continued. "It's just the way the game goes sometimes and tonight, it was just the way the game went. I had a lot of open shots and a few easy layups early."

The second period would see the Bulls cruise early on, as a largely uninspired Trailblazers team seemingly walked through the motions. Utah expatriates Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer made positive contributions, as the reserve wings continue to attempt to integrate themselves into Thibodeau's system. Korver, in particular, looked to be in the flow, active and engaged, and his shooting would give Chicago a boost.

Rose, under much scrutiny for his high volume of shot attempts in the season's early going, functioned as a distributor primarily, demonstrating that any shoot-first tendencies were more out of necessity than choice. Portland crept back in the game, capitalizing on rushed shots by the home team and eventually cutting its sizable deficit to single digits, mostly by virtue of Aldridge's varied scoring methods. Despite the visitors finally appearing to be fully engaged by midway through the quarter, the Bulls maintained a 56-47 advantage going into the half.

"I'm the type of person where if I've got something going, I'm going to stick with it. If it's scoring, I'm going to stick with it if it's helping us and tonight, it was passing the ball. It might sound crazy as a point guard, but I'm different. They were hitting the shots and I had to keep feeding them, and I think they were knocking down shots that they were supposed to,' said Rose, who finished with a career-high tying 13 assists, as well as 16 points (on 11 shots) and five rebounds. "Anything easy, where my teammates were getting off. They played great, man, and we put them away pretty early.

"Coming into the game, I knew I could pass the ball. They were double-teaming me. I think I was making the right plays," continued Rose, who said he stayed in close contact with Deng to boost his spirits after his disappointing first two games of the season. "Deng's confidence is sky-high. He didn't even have a second guess about whether he was going to shoot or not. He was letting the ball go and that's what we need him to do, be that other threat for this team. He's one of them, he's put in a lot of work, so I think that it's paying off."

"Derrick was terrific. He got us a fast pace to the game, got us some easy scoring opportunities and I thought he was great with the pass tonight. I thought he was reading what's happening. They trapped him more and he made the right play," said Thibodeau. "It's important to make the right play. Derrick has the responsibility of running the team and some nights, a guy can get hot, he has a favorable matchup. He has to read that and the responsibility of a primary scorer is when the second defender comes, to hit the open man, and I think that he's done that."

Thibodeau added: "When he's been in single coverage, Derrick has attacked and he's been very effective. I think the better our defense is, the better we rebound, the more he's in the open floor and that's where I've said this many times he's impossible to guard, if he has a head of steam and he's coming at you. That's where we get going, there's easy scoring opportunities for everybody in transition."

Deng's hot shooting persisted into the third quarter, as the veteran small forward was torrid from the field. In turn, however, the Bulls had no answer for Aldridge, who gave them fits with his combination of shooting range, agility and back-to-the-basket moves. But in general, Chicago's defensive effort continued to fluster the Trailblazers, who were both cold from the outside and unable to get quality shots on the interior, especially with the pairing of Noah and Asik on the defensive end.

The Bulls held a comfortable winning margin, although Thibodeau was visibly displeased with the team's bugaboo on the short season repeatedly putting its opponent on the foul line; in contrast, Chicago was inefficient at the charity stripe themselves which ensured the contest wasn't a laugher just yet. After three periods, the Bulls led, 88-73.

While not visually appealing, Chicago maintained its comfortable cushion by way of stout defense early in the final stanza, although they struggled to find the basket themselves. Foul difficulties, however, would plague the Bulls and a subtle race to beat the clock before interior stalwarts Noah and Gibson, as well as Johnson and Asik, were disqualified ensued, while they simultaneously attempted to prevent a Portland comeback.

Deng's offensive brilliance continued, but in a stretch where Chicago relaxed a bit, the home team's grasp on the contest was strong enough that the tempo was slowed an all-reserve Portland lineup would pose a late challenge, but the game was already well in hand.

"We're not where we want to be yet, but we're getting there. I think we're moving in the right direction I thought overall, we did a lot of good things defensively, but we still have a lot of things to clean up," said Thibodeau. "Portland is a quality team, so I thought we did a lot of good things to get the win."

"I like the way we're playing. If someone gets hot, we're going to continue to go to that guy and I thought Derrick made a lot of great reads in the game," he continued. "Each night, I'm hopeful that it's going to be somebody different to take the scoring load off Rose. It's going to be more than one; we're going to need two, three, four guys."

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Brian Hedger (nhl.com) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel.  The Bulls beat the Pistons in a game with huge playoff implication.  So could they actually make the postseason?

The Blackhawks are closing in one division title but what’s their biggest weakness?

Plus Theo Epstein’s a really great leader, Kyle Hendricks is going to have to wait a while to pitch plus DeShone Kizer loves the band “Chicago” but will he play here?

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

If you've been watching the NCAA Tournament closely, it's apparent this June's draft will include a number of elite prospects, maybe the best top 10 talent since the LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Wade draft in 2003. 

Washington didn't qualify for the tournament, but NBA scouts seem to be in agreement that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz will be the No. 1 pick. The 6-foot-4 freshman has the size and ball-handling ability to play either guard spot, and word out of Boston is Fultz will be the pick if the Celtics get the first choice in the draft lottery.

UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball put on quite a show in the Bruins' win over Cincinnati on Sunday, finishing with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-6 Ball reminds scouts of a young Jason Kidd, showing amazing court vision and passing skills with the size to see over the top of smaller defenders. And don't caught up in his unusual shooting form. Ball can knock down shots, hitting almost 56 percent from the field this season and 42 percent beyond the 3-point line.

The other consensus top-3 prospect is Kansas small forward Josh Jackson. The 6-foot-8 Jackson is an Andrew Wiggins clone who has amazing quickness and finishing ability. Jackson improved his draft stock with a sensational performance in the first two games of the tournament. If the Bulls decide to trade Jimmy Butler in a deal for one of the top picks this June, the rangy 20-year-old Jackson would be an ideal replacement. If he ever gets a consistent jump shot, look out. We could be talking about a 25 points per game scorer.

Since Fultz, Ball and Jackson appear to be the kind of players NBA teams build around, the Bulls could potentially negotiate with the teams holding the top 3 picks for the best possible Butler deal. Right now, the Nets (pick will be swapped with Boston), Lakers and Suns own the worst records, and if the order isn't changed by the lottery, the Bulls could obtain a quality package centered around this year's first-round pick and a quality young player from any of the three teams.

Here's a look at how the lottery selections could fall based on the draft order as of March 23.

1. CELTICS (from Brooklyn)  Markelle Fultz  PG   Washington
2. LAKERS                              Lonzo Ball        PG    UCLA
3. SUNS                                  Josh Jackson   SF    Kansas
4. MAGIC                                Jayson Tatum   SF     Duke
5. 76'ers                                  De'Aaron Fox     PG    Kentucky
6. KINGS                                  Malik Monk         SG    Kentucky
7. KNICKS                               Dennis Smith      PG   N. Carolina St.
8. TIMBERWOLVES              Lauri Markkanen  PF    Arizona
9. KINGS (from Pelicans)       Frank Ntilikina      PG    France
10. MAVS                                 Miles Bridges    SF    Michigan St.
11. HORNETS                         Jonathan Isaac   SF    Florida St.
12. BLAZERS                          Justin Jackson   SF    N. Carolina
13. PISTONS                           John Collins      PF     Wake Forest       
14. BULLS                                OG Anunoby     SG-SF   Indiana  

Alright Bulls fans, I'm sure you're asking, why would the Bulls want to draft a player coming off a serious knee injury? Well, the Bulls haven't done all that well drafting productive older players from major programs, so why not roll the dice on a 19-year-old who could develop into the next Butler?

Scouts raved about Anunoby's potential heading into his sophomore season at Indiana. At 6-foot-8, Anunoby has good positional size to play both the small forward and shooting guard spots and figures to be a plus-defender from Day 1 in the NBA. Right now, his rehab from right knee surgery and lack of a consistent jump shot are the biggest concerns, but looking at mock drafts in the 13-20 range, do the Bulls really want to take a project big man or a mystery international player? 

Even if it takes a couple years for Anunoby to reach his ultimate potential, he seems like a good choice in today's position-less NBA. Plus, in the Bulls' current position, they need to take some chances and try to get lucky in landing a future star.

Two other athletic possibilities who are projected as late 1st round picks right now are SMU junior swingman Semi Ojeleye, a 6-foot-7 bundle of energy and muscle who should be able to contribute right away, and Oklahoma St. point guard Jawun Evans, one of the fastest players in the college game who could ignite the Bulls' fast break after Rajon Rondo moves on.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

If the Bulls are going to make a late season run to the playoffs, they'll have to find a way to pass two of the league's hottest teams. Milwaukee has won eight of its last 10 games to pull into a 6th place tie with the Pacers, while Miami has been one of the league's biggest surprises over the last two months, going from an 11-30 record on January 13 to 35-36, and a game and a half lead over the Bulls and Pistons for the final playoff spot.

Both late surges are surprising, especially the job Erik Spoelstra has done in Miami. After the controversial departure of Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley decided to hedge his bets for the future and signed a number of journeyman veteran types like Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Derrick Williams and Willie Reed to short-term contracts.

Williams was released and signed on with Cleveland, but Spoelstra and his staff have done a masterful job in piecing together a roster with a lot of duplication into a consistent winning team. Hassan Whiteside has continued to improve, averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds, while the guard rotation of Waiters, Goran Dragic, Ellington and Tyler Johnson has been especially effective.

Bulls fans will remember James Johnson as a guy who arrived from Wake Forest with a lot of potential, but went on to bounce around the league with little success. Now that he's finally in optimal physical shape, Johnson is averaging 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists off the bench while doing a strong job on the defensive end.

Spoelstra probably won't win the Coach of the Year award, but it might be his best job yet after losing Wade and Chris Bosh, then seeing promising second-year forward Justise Winslow go out with a season-ending shoulder injury.

It's been a different story in Milwaukee, where the Bucks got off to a fast start behind the amazing rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo to All-Star status. A mid-season slump dropped the Bucks out of the top 8 in the East, and when Chicago native Jabari Parker suffered another devastating ACL injury, it appeared Milwaukee was heading towards another trip to the lottery.

But Bucks' coach Jason Kidd got Khris Middleton back from a hamstring injury, and inserted rookies Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon into the starting lineup. All of a sudden, the Bucks took off with Antetokounmpo getting back to his early season production, and the bench unit of Greg Monroe, John Henson, Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry becoming a real strength.

It's unlikely either Milwaukee or Miami will be a threat to Cleveland and Boston in the opening round of the playoffs, but the hard work and persistence of those coaching staffs should not be overlooked.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Yet another example of the Bulls' maddening inconsistency under Fred Hoiberg over the last 2 seasons is the number of impressive wins offset by blowout losses.

These numbers courtesy of CSN's stats cruncher, Chris Kamka.

Bulls 20+ point wins and 20+ point losses

(with Fred Hoiberg as Head Coach)

                 20+ point wins             20+ point losses

2016-17              6                           7
2015-16              3                           7

total                      9                          14
========================================
(With Tom Thibodeau as Head Coach)

2014-15              7                           1
2013-14              7                           4
2012-13              5                           5
2011-12             14                          0
2010-11              8                          1

total                     41                         11

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

I'm pretty sure Hoiberg was being sarcastic when asked early in the week if battling for one of the final playoff spots in the East is "fun".

The coach's response? "It's miserable." 

Hoiberg won't get a lot of argument from Bulls fans who see their team stuck in the middle among the 30 NBA franchises right now. That's the worst place to be in professional sports, with no hope of contending for championships and little chance of getting a franchise-changing talent in the draft.