Bulls capture NBA's best record with victory

445192.jpg

Bulls capture NBA's best record with victory

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 9:42 p.m. Updated: 11:58 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Although the Bulls (62-20) didnt win their regular-season finale in classic fashion, the 97-92 victory over the visiting Nets at the United Center Wednesday night did demonstrate one of their strengths all season: their depth, in the form of the Bench Mob, the nickname for Chicagos reserves. In a game featuring unlikely protagonists on both sides, the Bulls withstood a strong challenge from the visiting Nets to hold on late and clinch the NBAs best overall record heading into Saturdays playoff opener against the Indiana Pacers.

WATCH: Rose shares his thoughts on Indiana

Of course, thats always good, but our next step is getting prepared for the playoffs. We knew that we made this game tonight harder than what it was, Derrick Rose acknowledged of the teams 62-win season. It took our bench to come in and play great for us to win. Now were looking forward to the playoffs.

With an inferior opponent in town, it first appeared as if the Bulls had finally gone mainstream, feeding into the notion that these types of affairs were better for resting than actual performance. The lowly Nets were competitive at the outsetthe likes of Sasha Vujacic (10 points) and Stephen Graham (11 points) were de facto go-to guysputting the Bulls on their heels early in the first quarter.

But Chicago hadnt come all this way to wave the white flag and created some breathing room, overpowering the visitors with their considerable advantage in star power, particularly low-post duo Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah (10 points, 10 rebounds).

Noahwho started despite tweaking his ankle the previous evening, continued to show progress by playing with his usual high energy level. Despite his protests to the contrary, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau substituted some of his starterssuch as Rose (15 points) and Luol Deng (11 points), who both typically play heavy minutesand behind balanced scoring, the Bulls ended the opening period with a 26-20 lead.

WATCH: Deng discusses the Bulls mindset

The Bulls positive trend continued in the second quarter, as they increased their winning margin to double digits, with Thibodeau giving his reserves ample playing time. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver (19 points) and little-used midseason acquisition Rasual Butler (10 points) each made it rain from the outside, while Chicagos stingy defense caused the Nets misery on the other end.

As has been customary, however, the Bulls intensity decreased and their guests capitalized, gradually coming back behind point guard Jordan Farmar (21 points, 12 assists)superstar floor general Deron Williams was out due to wrist surgeryand backup big man Johan Petro (13 points, eight rebounds). At the half, however, the Bulls were able to maintain a 50-43 advantage.

After the intermission, New Jersey shocked the United Center crowd by jumping out to a double-digit lead, sparked by a 13-0 run that raised the question of whether the two teams had changed identities. Brook Lopez (19 points) came alive for the Nets and with the talented center playing in a motivated fashion, the visitors stunned their hosts in taking control of the contest.

READ: Bulls-Pacers 1st round schedule

At the start of the third, as a team, we were low energy and thats when we got into a hole, so we were looking to change things up from there, said Thibodeau. I didnt want to put the starters back in.

Deng concurred: The guys were big. The starters, we were out there trying. Were digging deep, were trying. It was a tough game, physically and mentally, but our bench has been there all year and they were ready.

Adding injury to insult, Noah bumped knees and was forced to leave the contestworse, in the midst of one his trademark double-double outingssending Bulls fans into a state of panic.
WATCH: Noah says he's feeling fine

Im fine, Noah said afterwards. This is so exciting right now I think that once you step on to the court, youre numb to all that stuff.

I just felt like I was running the floor better today and I was just moving a lot better. Im still a work in process, the center went on to say. Im still not where I want to be, but Im hoping that when the playoffs start, the environment gets me going a little bit more.

Added Thibodeau: I think hes fine.

I thought he played very well in the first half. I thought his energy was extremely high, he was active, offensive rebounding, blocking shots, running the post, sprinting the floor, high energy, he continued. To me, that was a great sign. Thats two games in a row where his activity was really high.

WATCH: Thibodeau on a "new season"

But led by Rose, Chicago put a halt to the Nets spurt, tying the contest at 68 apiece after three quarters, following a jumper by Korver in the waning seconds of the period.

The Bulls Bench Mob (sans the injured Ronnie Brewer, who sprained his right thumb Tuesday in New York) couldnt pull away from the Nets in the close-knit affair, despite the efforts of Korver, who carried the offensive load for Chicago. By tightening up their defenseor New Jersey playing to their usual standardsthe Bulls were primed to salvage the contest as the stretch run approached.

The bench was great, really good and I think it says a lot about Rasual. Hes been a great pro, stays ready, practices hard, great teammate and made a lot of big plays for us, said Thibodeau, highlighting the play of Butler, who has already become popular in Chicagos locker room. I wanted to play our bench more today and cut back on the starters minutes a little bit, but just the way the game was unfolding, we were looking for a group that could give us something.

Chimed in Noah: The Bench Mob has been saving us and playing great all year. We wouldnt have 62 wins and had the season that we had if wasnt for them.

WATCH: Boozer feeling proud

With both Korver and Butler coming up big late in the back-and-forth affair, the Bulls trailed by a point before Butler knocked down a corner triple with 46.1 seconds remaining to give the home team a 92-90 lead. While New Jersey would threaten the late leadincluding a muffed Taj Gibson (nine points, eight rebounds) jump ballthe Bulls survived and kept their positive momentum heading into Saturdays playoff opener.

Sixty-two is a great number and were definitely happy about it, but were not satisfied. We dont want it to end here. Now its a new season, said Noah. I dont think it changes anything. At the end of the day, the best record doesnt help you win a basketball game. Youve got to go in there with the mindset of being on edge for 48 minutes, be really focused and understand that its going to be tough, and were going to go through a lot togethergood times, hard timesand through all of it, weve got to stick together. When we realize that, we can do something special.

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.

Wake-up Call: Bulls rebuild begins; Montero calls out Arrieta; Sox walk-off Yankees

Wake-up Call: Bulls rebuild begins; Montero calls out Arrieta; Sox walk-off Yankees

White Sox come back to beat Yankees on walk-off single by Jose Abreu

Cubs catcher Miguel Montero drops truth bomb, throws Jake Arrieta under the bus after Nationals run wild

Zach LaVine's recovery and performance will either inspire confidence in Bulls rebuild or doom it

#Back2BackOneDay: What is Bryce Harper trying to say about his future, Kris Bryant and the Cubs?

Confident Jose Quintana gets 'back to who he's always been'

What will Bulls do with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade?

Fire to resume U.S. Open Cup at packed house in Cincinnati

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Preview: Cubs continue series with Nationals tonight on CSN

Preview: Carlos Rodon makes season debut as White Sox face Yankees on CSN

What will Bulls do with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade?

What will Bulls do with Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade?

The Bulls have made their biggest decision of the offseason but the future of Rajon Rondo and to a lesser extent, Dwyane Wade, is still in the air.

Due to the trade for Kris Dunn and the Bulls having acquired Cameron Payne at the trade deadline last season, it doesn’t appear to be much room for Rondo. Even moreso, considering Dunn and Payne’s lack of production, one would think the Bulls would easily guarantee Rondo’s $13.3 million for next season.

But with the June 30th deadline approaching, it seems more and more like the Bulls will buy Rondo out for $3 million and go with a total youth movement, despite Rondo’s success with guiding some of the young players on the roster.

If not for Rondo’s wrist injury in Game 2 of the Bulls’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics, the Bulls could’ve advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Instead, they’re embarking on what could be a long process that may take years to recover from.

“He’s always been a great teammate and nurturer of the young guys,” said Bill Duffy, Rondo’s agent. Duffy also serves as Zach LaVine’s agent, so he was in attendance for LaVine’s introduction at the United Center.

The handling of Rondo’s benching, re-emergence and subsequent importance to the Bulls this past season has helped Rondo, in a sense. Rondo proved to be a galvanizing force to a degree after being shuffled in and out of the starting lineup.

“I think it’s fair to say he definitely showed a different persona that what had existed but like I said, he’s always been that way, I think it’s more publicized,” Duffy said. “I think he just loves to develop people, always managing and directing. So I think that’s always the case with the younger guys.”

If Rondo is released—and it certainly appears matters are trending in that direction, the 31-year old could have suitors in the New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers, sources tell CSNChicago.com. One would think the Bulls could use Rondo’s type of straightforward but encouraging brand of leadership in the locker room, but the Bulls have yet to guarantee his contract for next season.

“That’s still to be determined,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’re going to sit down with Bill and talk it through. We do understand that veterans are important for a young basketball team, the right veterans – guys that are good teammates, are supportive of the young guys and can continue to teach them how to be pros. Those are things we’ll be addressing.”

“The proof’s always in the pudding and I think if you talk to the front office and coaches, they really love what he brought and how he handled the challenges last year,” Duffy said. “I think we all mature over time and he’s been in the league a long time. He wants to win but he loves the game. I think he appreciates it more, he’s kinda of in his twilight years or approaching it.”

As for Wade, he exercised his $23.8 million option for next season as he was expected to, but that was before the Jimmy Butler trade that ushered in a new day of change.

There’s been speculation Wade would seek a buyout from the Bulls at the start of free agency but so far, those conversations haven’t been held and Paxson intimated Wade would have to give back a significant amount of that money to become a free agent.

There’s been speculation of Wade joining LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as Carmelo Anthony getting a buyout from the Knicks and following suit.

But the Cavaliers will have very little to offer in the way of cap space, so it’s tough to see Wade giving back a large sum then going to Cleveland for the veterans’ minimum—which would not make up the difference of a “significant” amount.

“I know Gar has spoken with Leon Rose, Dwyane’s agent, As far as the buyout, that has not been broached,” Paxson said. “I would say this: In this type of scenario, it would have to benefit us. It would have to benefit us. Dwyane was a great pro last year, and he’s been around a lot of different situations.”

But with Wade’s history of giving up large sums of money in the name of team, it’s harder to predict his moves. As strong as his relationship with Butler is, the possibility of Butler being moved didn’t affect him picking up his option, so his desire to play competitive or at least meaningful basketball could be weighed against wanting to keep his family comfortable after relocating to Chicago last year and collecting every dollar of his deal.

“He was in Miami when they had a couple rebuilding years as well,” Paxson said. “So right now we’re operating under assumption that he’ll be here. But like I said, if that subject is ever broached by them, it would have to be advantageous for us."