Bulls crush Wizards behind tenacious defense

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Bulls crush Wizards behind tenacious defense

Monday, Feb. 28, 2011
Posted 8:27 PM Updated 10:25

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

WASHINGTONIn addition to his numerous gifts on the basketball court, it also appears Derrick Rose (21 points, nine assists, five rebounds) is prophetic. No, not his increasingly accurate preseason Why cant I be MVP? foreshadowing, but his more recent proclamation that the Bulls (41-17) were poised to go on a run after last Thursdays statement victory over the Miami Heat.

Mondays 105-77 win over the Wizards (15-44) at the Verizon Center not only equaled their season total for wins the previous two seasons, but with a fully healthy squad, Chicagos stout defense and balanced offense showed proof that team has found its' groove, even when theyre not playing their most inspired basketball. The triumph against lowly Washington gave the Bulls seven wins in their last eight games and 13 of their last 16, already a run by any standards.

The visiting Bulls got off to a quick start, simultaneously establishing their inside game and rebounding presence against an inexperienced Wizards team, although forwards Andray Blatche (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Josh Howard (10 points, four rebounds) were factors offensively for Washington. Joakim Noah (19 points, 11 rebounds, two steals) continued to show progress in his fourth game back from a 30-game absence, utilizing his length and trademark energy to be a force on the offensive glass.

Noah is back almost to the point he was at before the injury, evaluated Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. His activity is off the charts, his defense is terrific, his rebounding is very good and you can see hes starting to get a lot more comfortable offensively.

Observed Noah himself: I think Ive still got a ways to go. Every game I feel better.

Im still feeling a little sluggish at the beginning of games, just getting my second wind or my third wind.

The turnover-prone home team contributed to Chicagos cause in the early going, enabling the Bulls to get out in transitionsomething long awaited with Noahs returnand was best exemplified by Rose (21 points, nine assists, five rebounds, three steals) going one-on-one with Wizards rookie point guard John Wall (nine points, 10 assists) in transition and finding Noah for a dunk with a gorgeous through-the-legs bounce pass, for once purposely putting some mustard on a play.

I just do it. Didnt think about it. Just a couple plays that I made. I didnt have it pre-planned or anything. I just did it, Rose explained. I just wanted to make it very easy. Just give it to Joakim and either he finished or he gets fouled. He was open.

Added Thibodeau: Derrick, he was terrific. Twenty-one and nine, complete control of the game and you dont get any extra points for that, but hes got the ability to do a lot of different things. Hes got great vision, hes so unselfish. He got us great shots all night long.

To me, his leaderships been outstanding, the way hes running the team. I think he inspires his teammates because of the way he plays. He plays so hard and he plays so unselfishly, he continued. If two guys are on him, without hesitation, he finds the open man. He has a good feel for whats going on in the gamewhos going well, what the good matchup is, who may need a shothe does a great job of bringing guys into the game, also. If a guys struggling a little bit, hell find a way to get him a layup and get him going, so hes doing a great job running our team and hes setting the tone defensively.

Perhaps the visitors relished the games up-tempo nature a bit too much, however, and due to some careless mistakes, only held a 25-20 advantage after the opening period.

I thought our mindset was right from the beginning. We got established defensively, the rebounding was outstanding to start the game and I thought that gave us an advantage, Thibodeau observed. We didnt take care of the ball as well as we would have liked.

Chimed in Rose: I think its Chicagos transition game helping us a lot, especially when we can score at will and stop somebody on the other end. I think our transition defense still needs to be up to par a little bit more, but other than that, I think its real tough for people to score on us in a halfcourt set.

The always-energetic Bulls second unitsans Luol Deng (21 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals), who usually starts the second quarter, but was atypically subbed for in the first period by Thibodeaugave the visitors a lift and increased the lead, with back-to-back dunks by Taj Gibson (seven rebounds, four blocked shots) leading the way, prompting Wizards head coach Flip Saunders to put a brief halt to the proceedings. Although the Bulls werent exactly proficient shooting the ballor protecting itthe abysmal early showing of the Wizards allowed them to build a double-digit lead in the sloppy affair.
The Bulls went down low to Joakim Noah early and often against the Wizards Monday night. Noah responded with 8 points in the first quarter on his way to a double-double effort with 19 points and 11 rebounds. (AP)
Chicago continued to be effective when going insideoutside shooting was another storybut its winning margin was maintained, as the defensive clamps put on Washington werent released through the first half. Following a Deng three-pointer (the teams first in nine attempts) at the halftime buzzer, the Bulls took a 50-37 lead into intermission.

After a lackluster start to the second halfdefensive lapses seemed to infuriate Thibodeau, leading to a 30-second timeout early in the third quarterChicago picked up its play in spurts, with a balanced scoring effort from the starting quintet. A quick flurry from Rose midway through the perioda beautiful southpaw reverse layup in transition excited the somewhat apathetic Verizon Center audience, followed by a pull-up triple on the subsequent Bulls possessionhelped open up the floodgates for the visitors, who increased their lead to blowout proportions.

The inside dominance of Noah and Carlos Boozer (12 points, 10 rebounds) against the alternately undersized, inexperienced, too slender or defensively-challenged Washington big men, combined with Roses outside marksmanship and Dengs slashing created the separation expected of a contest between a contender and cellar-dweller. Through three periods, the Bulls led, 78-57.

Were playing well. Were still getting a feel for each other, Noah said of his post partnership with Boozer. Hes somebody who demands a lot of attention and its good. It gives me a lot of easy opportunities. Im hoping that when I get back to playing at a high level, I can help him out, too.

Expounded Boozer: Every second were out there together, were getting better and better. We talk the game throughout the course of the game. The great thing about our chemistryme and Jois that were both great competitors and were able to talk to each other in a way that helps us get better while were on the job, while were still playing. So, if we make a mistake one time down, the next time down, its corrected already.

The way hes been playing since hes been backyouve got to remember, he missed 30 gameshes been a monster. Its impressive, he continued. I might not ever play with another man like Joakim Noah. You know his personality, too. Hes a fun teammate to be around.

A two-minute scoring drought between both teams started the final stanzabringing out the boo birds in the nations capitalbut the games pace quickly picked up, briefly reversing the trend to a more transition-oriented, defense-optional affair, much to the displeasure of Thibodeau. Instead of giving his starters an early rest, the scoring of explosive Wizards swingman Nick Young (14 points, five rebounds) led to the return of Chicagos regulars midway through the quarter, in order to firmly cement the victory.

As if there was any doubt about the result, a pair of Rose plays with the game approaching its waning moments removed any notion: After a steal, the All-Star point guard found Deng in transition with a behind-the-head pass for a dunk; on the ensuing Bulls possession, the Chicago native drove into traffic before dropping off a wraparound dish to Noah for another slam. Thibodeau finally sat his starters and although a pair of late Kyle Korver three-pointers only made the onslaught continued, the home fans still thirsted for an appearance from reserve forward Brian Scalabrine, who not only entered the contest, but obliged them with the games final basket.

Rose discussed the teams mentality when facing an inferior opponent.

Were getting there. I think defensively, were still working Jo back into it. Hes doing a great job with a lot of energy, helping us be aggressive on both ends. But I think that everybodys pushing to hurry up and jell very quickly, said Rose. Thibs came in, talked to us, just telling us that we cant let down against teams like this. Weve got to come out, be aggressive on both ends and have an edge. He always says have an edge to every game and you never want to go into a game like this and give a team confidence.

We just tried to take their confidence from the beginning.

As Noah put it, We can do something special, but its on us to stay focused on the next task.

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.

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.

Joakim Noah appreciative of time with Bulls despite 'low blow'

Joakim Noah appreciative of time with Bulls despite 'low blow'

Joakim Noah may be wearing a different uniform, but he's still wearing the same heart on his sleeve.

That much was made clear in his comments made to the New York media on Wednesday.

Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Knicks after eight seasons with the Bulls, was asked about comments Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf questioning Noah's future as a main contributor on a team.

Reinsdorf told the Chicago Tribune earlier this month that Noah was "not a frontline player," referencing the team's decision not to bring him back in free agency.

Noah responded to those comments in classy fashion - while also getting his true thoughts across:

“He’s entitled to his opinion,’’ Noah said. “I feel I have no regrets about my time in Chicago. I gave it everything I had. To me that’s all that matters. I did everything I could for that organization. I thought it was a little bit of a low blow, but at the end of the day I have nothing but respect for that organization. I’m just excited for this new chapter of my career.”

No one would ever question Noah's heart, but it's undeniable that his body is beginning to show wear, and his performance has reflected it.

Noah played in just 29 games last season before a season-ending shoulder injury, averaging career-lows in points (4.3), field goal percentage (38.3%), free throw percentage (48.9%) and steals (0.6). That came on the heels of a 2015 season in which he missed 15 games and averaged 7.2 points, the lowest since his second season in the league.

But the Knicks are hoping a rejuvenated Noah, playing in his hometown, will find some magic in his 31-year-old body and be able to get the Knicks back to the playoffs.

Noah, Derrick Rose and the Knicks will square off against the Bulls at the United Center on Nov. 4.