Bulls conjure up some Magic in Orlando


Bulls conjure up some Magic in Orlando

Friday, March 4, 2011
Posted: 8:49 PM Updated: 10:05 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam

ORLANDOTo a man, the Bulls and their coaching staff constantly preach that the teams depth is one of the squads primary strengths, as they believe any player is capable of stepping up on any given evening to carry them to victory. Friday night was Omer Asiks turn, as the rookie center battled Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard effectively, sparking Chicago (42-18) to an 89-81 win over Orlando (39-23) in a defensive-themed performance.

Chicago, perhaps suffering from a hangover in the aftermath of their collapse in Atlanta Wednesday, got off to a rough start at the sparkling-new Amway Center. The interior presence of Howard (20 points, 8-for-8 field-goal shooting, 10 rebounds, four blocked shots) proved to be an effective deterrent to drives to the basket, ball security didnt seem to be a priority and Orlando scored effectively, whether in transition, from the perimeter or Howard asserting his power at the rim, the latter of which caused Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to make an early adjustment, subbing Joakim Noah for the defensive-minded Asik.

The playmaking of Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson (14 points, six assists)who was injured early in the teams last contest, a Bulls win at the United Centerand outside shooting of veteran Jason Richardson (16 points, five rebounds) were catalysts, but while the visitors early offering didnt look pretty, they kept within striking distance of the home team. Orlando, however, didnt exploit Chicagos early missteps, and the scoring of Derrick Rose (24 points, four assists, four rebounds, two steals) and Luol Deng (16 points, six rebounds, three assists) kept the visitors afloat against the trigger-happy hosts and through the opening period, the score was knotted up at 21 apiece.

After the first five minutes of the game, once we settled down, I thought we played real solid defense and the rebounding was great, Thibodeau observed. Our bench came in and played great. The starters, they settled down, after about five minutes. I thought we were really anxious and we were breaking down because of what we were doing.

When the bench came in, they gave us a huge lift. Actually, the second quarter, because they were going so well, I probably held on to the starters a little longer than usual, but they were playing very well and theyve been playing well for a while, so I wanted to keep playing them.

Dengs hot hand persisted through the early second quarter, but it was countered by the unexpected offensive contributions of Orlandos Brandon Bass (16 points), as both starting forwards transitioned into primary scoring options while playing with their respective teams second units, keeping the contest a tightly-knit affair. Upon Carlos Boozers (12 points, nine rebounds) return to the contest, Chicago seized its first lead of the game on a putback by the Alaskan power forward, then subsequently extended it to create some breathing room as part of a 14-0 run by a mostly-reserve lineup to give the visitors a double-digit lead.

Toward the end of the half, Howard was fouled by Noah and then wildly swung an elbow when tangled up with Kyle Korver (10 points, 3-for-4 three-point shooting), resulting in a technical foul with 1:41 remaining in the period, his 16th of the season, which is punishable by a one-game suspension. A late scoring burst by Rose piled on to the Magics woes and the Bulls went into intermission with a 49-35 advantage.

A pair of quick fouls on Noah early in the third quarter put him on the bench with four personals, but with Asik (five points, career-high 13 rebounds, five of which were offensive, two blocks) in his stead, the Bulls maintained their cushion, as neither team was especially efficient offensively, although both Boozer and Nelson had their moments. Orlandos scoring woes persistedthe Magics reliance on three-point shooting betrayed themand with Chicago controlling the glass, the visitors didnt let the home team have an opportunity to get the crowds momentum behind them.

Behind Howard, however, the Magic gradually chipped away and made it a single-digit contest as the periods midway mark passed, sparked by improved defense and timely scoring, particularly two crowd-energizing triples by reserve sharpshooters Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick, the erstwhile offseason Bulls free-agent target. But Chicago persevered and despite Asik fouling Gilbert Arenas on a three-point attemptthe former All-Star guard hit the entire trio of free throws with 0.5 seconds left in the quarterthe Bulls took a 65-57 lead into the final stanza.

Chicagos reserves kept things going in the visitors favor, but when Asikwho clearly had become Thibodeaus preferred option in defending Howard and thusly played the bulk of thepicked up his fifth foul, the Magic went on a quick run, again threatening to shift the games course. Noah, who struggled mightily to score, came back in, but promptly accrued his fifth, too, forcing Thibodeau to play musical chairs with his two seven-footers.

Still, the Bulls defense and strong offensive rebounding ensured the visitors kept the hosts on their heels and a traditional Rose three-point play in transition once again gave Chicago a double-digit winning margin midway through the period. Asik keyed the Bulls with his savvy defense against Howard, infectious energy on the boards and refusal to be cowed by a big stage before fouling out with 1:37 to go after playing a career-high 31 minutes.

Its really fun to play against the best center in the league. I tried to do just do my job, tried to defend him, Asik told CSNChicago.com afterwards. I just tried to defend and take the rebounds. The team needs me at that position, so I tried to do my job. Thats it.

Omers been playing huge for us lately and I think that hes playing more and more confident every game and he played huge for us tonight, and we needed it. I was in foul trouble and hes been bringing a lot of energy for us off the bench and hes been a huge presence for us at the rim. He played awesome, said Joakim Noah, who was visibly pleasedboth during and after the gameto see his backup excel. Omer is somebodyfirst of all, just watching him play this summer in the World ChampionshipsI knew he was going to be somebody that was going to help us right away and hes somebody, apparently, in Europe whos very known for his play. Im glad that hes with us because hes helping us win ballgames right now.

Added Thibodeau: Omer was great, from his individual post defense to his rebounding, shot-blocking and then offensively, he helps you execute. He sets great screens, keeps the ball moving, gets you extra possessions and he and Taj play extremely well together.

Hes stronger than he looks and hes a range rebounder. He can go and get the ball out of his area. And his shot-blockingnot only his shot-blocking, but his lane intimidationhis ability to go up and not foul, and make guys finish over him. I think its a testament to his work and his drive, he continued. Hes really worked hard and hes improved. In the beginning of the year, those were fouls and now hes learned to hold his hands back. Hes using his chest well, hes jumping straight up and hes a hard guy to score over, and hes got a quick second jump. Hes doing a lot of great things for us.

Korvers marksmanship was also a factor for the guests, as he seemingly came up with dagger-like triples at the most important moments, including one with 1:06 on the clock, giving the Bulls an 86-73 lead.

Praised Thibodeau: I thought Kyle made a lot of good plays for us also. When Kyle comes off a pin-down, he usually gets double-teamed and he makes the right play every time.

For Korver, it was a bit of redemption after airballing a three-pointer that would have sent Wednesdays loss in Atlanta into overtime, especially after witnessing Orlandos impressive comeback win over the Bulls next opponent, Miami, Thursday night.

I just wanted to be aggressive. I wanted to step into my shots and hit them. I definitely felt bad about the other night. I couldnt sleep until like five in the morning after Wednesdays game. It was a tough one, Korver, who hit all three of his three-pointers in the fourth quarter, told CSNChicago.com. Youve got to block it out and be ready to shoot the next one.

The NBA is a game of runs and thats just the way its always been. Obviously we all watched the game last nightand we saw them come back, and we gave one away the other night in Atlanta after the big leadand so, at halftime, we talked about it a lot, he continued. I thought we came out with a better focus in the second half.

The reality is, in the playoffs, you have to win on the road and its games like this that kind of build the confidence that you need to do that later on. If you go into the playoffs and you havent won any big road games, in the back of your mind, that kind of wears on you.

Chimed in Noah: I think we rebounded the ball pretty well tonight and I think that it was a great team effort.

Our bench has been playing great for us. I feel like we just come in waves. Weve just got to keep it up, keep improving and not be satisfied with this win, but this was definitely a huge win. This was my first time winning here!

To be a great team, you have to be able to deal with adversity and weve dealt with a lot of adversity so far this year, he continued. We try not to get too high and we try not to get too low, just try to stay as consistent as possible and just focus on the next task, and thats the Miami Heat.
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.

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.”

Position battles to watch for at Bulls camp

Position battles to watch for at Bulls camp

After the Bulls traded for veteran center Robin Lopez and signed guards Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in free agency,  the starting lineup for the 2016-17 season was 80 percent complete with Jimmy Butler moving over to small forward. The only real question remained: will Nikola Mirotic or Taj Gibson start at power forward?

Arguments can be made for both players, but early in camp it appears Mirotic will have the edge, based on his three-point shooting ability. The Bulls need to create floor spacing for their wing players (Wade and Butler) who are most effective driving to the basket, and Mirotic has the ability to knock down the three (.355 for his career, .390 last season). Mirotic is also an underrated defensive rebounder with decent size at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds.

Mirotic got off to a fast start last season in a starting role, but eventually went to the bench after a late November-early December shooting slump. His second NBA season was also sidetracked by an emergency appendectomy in late January that caused him to miss almost six weeks of action. Mirotic finished the season strong, and went on to play a lead role with his former Bulls teammate, Pau Gasol, on Spain’s national team at the Rio Olympics. Mirotic will be a restricted free agent at season’s end, so he has a lot riding on establishing himself as a bonafide NBA starter.

It's a similar story for Gibson, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and is looking to land one more big contract when he turns 32-years-old next June. Gibson is known for his relentless work on the boards and his ability to defend power forwards and centers. He’s also 100 percent healthy after dealing with the after-effects of ankle surgery last season. But given the Bulls’ spacing issues, it makes sense for the coaching staff to go with Mirotic alongside Wade, Rondo and Butler, and to pair Gibson with young perimeter threats like Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine and Isaiah Canaan on the second unit. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg could use Gibson in a backup center role, with McDermott getting minutes at power forward in small ball lineups. Gibson will play, but don’t be surprised to see his name come up again in midseason trade rumors.

So, where does that leave 2015 first-round draft pick Bobby Portis? Portis looked good in Las Vegas Summer League play, showing off improved low-post skills and a consistent three-point shot. But unless Portis has a big preseason, it’s hard to imagine him getting consistent rotation minutes early in the season. Portis could earn some time as a stretch five backing up Lopez, but those minutes might also go to Gibson or second-year center Cristiano Felicio. Portis worked hard all summer, and should be a better all-around player in his sophomore season, but he faces an uphill battle to earn regular minutes. It will be interesting to see how many of the Bulls young players wind up logging time with the Bulls’ new D-League team in Hoffman Estates. Portis might not be involved as a No. 1 draft pick, but Felicio and second-round selection Paul Zipser might want to get familiar with the trip out to the Sears Center.

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The other major training camp battle involves the backup point guard spot behind Rondo. The coaches have a wide variety of options, starting with former Notre Dame star Jerian Grant, who came over in the Derrick Rose trade with the Knicks. The soon to be 24-year-old Grant is the son of long-time NBA player Harvey Grant and nephew of former Bulls star Horace Grant. The Bulls were interested in selecting Jerian Grant in the 2015 draft, but he went off the board a few picks before their turn in the first round.

Grant was a big-time scorer at Notre Dame, but struggled to get on the court in his rookie season with the Knicks. After Kurt Rambis replaced Derek Fisher as head coach of the Knicks, Grant finally got some consistent playing time, averaging 16.8 ppg over the last four games of the season. He’s not a great three-point shooter, hitting just 22 percent from beyond the arc as a rookie, but his ability to get to the basket and create open shots for teammates would give the Bulls consistent point guard play throughout the game.

Canaan was signed late in free agency to give the Bulls another long-range shooting option. He hit 36 percent of his 3’s with Philadelphia last season, averaging 11 points a game. The 25-year-old Canaan figures to be specialist with the Bulls, much like Aaron Brooks who could score points in bunches, but didn’t excel at running a half-court offense. Even though Canaan only stands 6 feet tall, he’s really a shooting guard in a point guard’s body, much like Brooks, D.J. Augustin, Nate Robinson and C.J. Watson who proceeded him.

6-foot-6 Spencer Dinwiddie was considered a potential lottery pick at Colorado before suffering a devastating knee injury that dropped him into the second round. Dinwiddie didn’t get a lot of playing time for Stan Van Gundy in Detroit, but he’s completely healthy now and showed during Summer League play he’s capable of scoring over smaller point guards in the post. His size, scoring ability and defensive skills might push him ahead of the other candidates when all is said and done.

The wild card in the backup point guard derby is this year’s first-round pick Denzel Valentine. Even though he played a wing spot at Michigan State, Valentine was the floor general for Tom Izzo, and is an exceptional passer with outstanding court vision. Since playing time behind Wade & Butler might be limited, Valentine could wind up running the point on the second unit, with Butler on the court as the primary initiator on offense. Valentine’s shooting ability gives the Bulls another floor spacer, and at 6-foot-5, he’ll have size advantage over smaller backup point guards.

Boiling it all down, Hoiberg and his assistants figure to do a lot of experimenting during the preseason to find out which players execute best together. But once the ball goes up for real on Oct. 27, Hoiberg has to decide on his best 9 or 10 players for a consistent regular-season rotation. Matchups could dictate which backup point guards find the floor, but even this early in camp it’s pretty obvious the Bulls are intrigued by Valentine’s potential, and he should get consistent playing time in his rookie season.