Chicago Bulls

Bulls 'defense a disaster' despite Noah's return

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Bulls 'defense a disaster' despite Noah's return

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011
Posted 8:45 p.m. Updated 10:16 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

TORONTO For James Johnson, revenge was sweet.

A day after getting traded to Toronto, the second-year forwards new team withstood a 19-point fourth quarter by Derrick Rose (32 points, 10 assists) and the Bulls (38-17) dropped a 118-113 contest against the Raptors (16-41) Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

It felt good to win, said a beaming Johnson, who engaged in competitive banter with his former teammates throughout the contest. Just seeing their faces was priceless.

For Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, however, the games result was no laughing matter.

WATCH: Thibodeau steamed after loss

"We gave up 118 points, offensively we scored more but defensively it was a disaster," said Thibodeau, whose Bulls allowed the Raptors to shoot 58.1 percent from the floor, as well as put up a season-high point total for opponents. We got into an offensive game, we tried to outscore them and thats a recipe for disaster. You've got to be ready to play and obviously we weren't, that's on me.

Its disappointing. Disappointing. Going on the road, you cant win like that, Thibodeau continued.

Carlos Boozer (24 points, six rebounds), who went for 34 points in the two teams last meeting at the Air Canada Centre, was a focal point for Chicago in the early going. Despite Amir Johnsons (17 points, four rebounds) countering him with quick cuts and tough finishes off feeds from Toronto point guard Jose Calderon (six points, 17 assists) in pick-and-roll scenarios, Boozers low-post presence was overwhelming in the early going.

Luol Deng (19 points), matched up with former teammate (as in the day before, when he was traded to the Raptors) Johnson (nine points, five rebounds, three blocked shots), showed his former protg starting in his Toronto debut and wearing a new number (zero), as well as a headband, which is forbidden by the Bulls there was good reason he was nailed to the bench in Chicago, as he had his way with Johnson, then continued his efficient scoring as the opening quarter continued.

With the return of Joakim Noah (seven points, 16 rebounds) the centers touch wasnt there, but he managed to grab a remarkable 10 rebounds in his eight-minute initial stint; he also struggled to defend versatile Raptors center Andrea Bargnani (24 points, eight rebounds) the visitors played at a faster tempo than they had as of late and after the first period, the Bulls held a 29-25 advantage.

WATCH: Noah critical of performance in return

Definitely not the result that I wanted, but weve just got to come with a better edge. Tough loss tonight, said Noah, who struggled to convert offensive rebounds. My timings a little off. Im a little tired.

Opined Thibodeau: He missed a lot of time. Hes rusty. His timing is not there. But weve got to get it done.

Boozer perhaps more sympathetic, as he also struggled after a long layoff; the Bulls were blown out by Orlando at the United Center in the power forwards December Bulls debut took a more positive stance regarding Noahs return.

Monster on the glass like normal, great presence in the paint for us and weve got to try to get him back in the groove, said Boozer. Its going to take him a few games to get his rhythm back. I think on defense, he was pretty good. Got a lot rebounds in a short period of time.

Chicagos second unit put the home team on its heels to start the second quarter, as a flurry of steals converted into layups by Ronnie Brewer (11 points, three steals) gave the Bulls a slight cushion.

Toronto, however, stormed back, with swingman DeMar DeRozan (24 points, four assists) finding his groove and reserves Sonny Weems (12 points), Ed Davis (nine points, five rebounds) and Leandro Barbosa (13 points) wreaking havoc off the bench.

Johnson, in fact, tied the contest at 43 with 4:17 left before halftime, when he threw down an alley-oop dunk from DeRozan in transition for his first points as a Raptor. Chicago regrouped and although the home team kept the pressure on, the Bulls went into the intermission with a 58-55 lead, mostly due to Boozers scoring late in the period.

Toronto made a game of it early in the third quarter, quickly knotting things up, subsequently taking the lead and scoring with enough regularity that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau halted the proceedings to make defensive adjustments.

The torrid-shooting Raptors (their field-goal percentage rose to above 60 percent during this stretch) embraced their guests playing a quicker tempo and with Rose struggling from the floor, Chicago was fortunate their inferior hosts werent up by a larger margin.

Scoring contributions from both Johnsons, DeRozan, Bargnani and Davis mostly fueled by Calderons playmaking kept Toronto ahead by a comfortable margin, but Raptors turnovers late in the period again plagued them, allowing the Bulls to slice into the deficit. Through three quarters of play, the visitors trailed, 85-81.

Chicago continued to gradually close on the Raptors in the beginning of the final stanza, with Rose asserting himself offensively before taking his customary early fourth-quarter rest. Toronto let the Bulls stay within striking distance until approximately the midway point of the period, when they opened up a seven-point lead Weems was key during this stretch prompting Thibodeau to call a timeout with 6:14 remaining, shortly after Roses return.

It seemed as if the familiar story of Rose coming to the rescue would immediately take form a typically lightning-quick, acrobatic drive and finish momentarily quieted the enthusiastic ACC crowd but Toronto had other plans, as DeRozan and Barbosa scored timely buckets to give the home team some breathing room. Chicago countered with Boozer and his inside presence was again too much to handle, helping the Bulls narrow the gap.

Out of a timeout, Barbosa scored on a baseline drive and was fouled, completing the ensuing three-point play with 3:04 to play, making the visitors uphill battle even tougher. But consecutive successful trips to the line for Rose made it a one-possession and after a Raptors turnover, the All-Star point guard nailed an open three-pointer in transition to tie the contest at 107 apiece with 1:59 on the clock.

Following a Toronto timeout, DeRozan scored on a cutting layup, but Rose responded with a layup of his own on the next possession to even the count once again. DeRozan somehow got free off on a inbounds play out of a timeout; he was fouled while attempting a baseline dunk and hit two free throws to give the home team a 111-109 lead with 1:15 to play.

Someones beat, youve got to help, noted a frustrated Thibodeau. Were a help team, we guard with all five, we were a step behind on everything, we lacked discipline and when you lack discipline, its going to lead to all kinds of problems.

History repeated itself the next time down the court, as Rose was fouled on a driving layup. The third-year pro made both attempts to knot up the score at 111 with 1:05 left in the game, giving him 11 consecutive points.

The specific back-and-forth between Rose and DeRozan persisted when the Raptors swingman was fouled with 49.3 remaining and he knocked down a pair of foul shots. Rose was the first to blink, missing a jumper off the dribble.
Derrick Rose drives for a basket in the fourth quarter against Toronto. Rose scored 19 of his 32 points in the final stanza while attempting to lead the Bulls back from an eight-point deficit. (AP)
As impressive as Roses dominant performance down the stretch was, he admitted that his busy All-Star weekend affected him earlier in the contest.

I had to get in rhythm. Not really practicing in four days, then coming back and practicing for a day and a shootaround, it was hard. My shot wasnt there, my rhythm wasnt there and I wasnt trying to force shots, Rose explained. I was letting my guys really handle the game. Then, towards the end, thats when I was trying to get to the line and drive the ball.

Defensively, we just werent there. When we needed stops towards the end, we just couldnt get it and you know us, towards the end, thats where our defense really gets better. But tonight, we just didnt have it, he continued, describing where he felt the Bulls were lacking on this evening. If we would have stopped them at least one or two times towards the end, I think that we would have won this game, but offensively, I think we were there.

Toronto took advantage of the opportunity when Amir Johnson went to work in the post, converting a point-blank shot over Boozer with 16.6 seconds to go, giving the home team a 115-111 advantage. Amir Johnson then blocked a Rose layup attempt and James Johnson was fouled.

The former Bull split the pair of ensuing free throws and after Noah threw away the inbounds pass following a Chicago timeout, it was all academic, especially after Weems knocked down two foul shots to make a comeback virtually impossible.

I know everybody would think that my motivation was playing my former team that wouldnt give me minutes, but I would definitely say the opportunity - a team that wants to fight for you, to get you and have you playing right away, that just shows what kind of trust they have in my game and me, and thats what gave me the motivation, not to let them down, said Johnson, who learned he would start after the Raptors Wednesday afternoon shootaround.

The game felt just like Bulls practice, really. The hardest thing about todays game was not trying to outlet it to Derrick.

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.

More muscle, more money, more confidence: Nikola Mirotic ready to show consistency for Bulls

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USA TODAY

More muscle, more money, more confidence: Nikola Mirotic ready to show consistency for Bulls

Nikola Mirotic didn’t exactly lumber over to the media after the Bulls’ first practice, as a new man armed with a two-year, $27 million deal and 22 pounds worth of additional weight from the summer, the first time in which he didn’t play overseas.

He claimed there were no hard feelings from the summerlong impasse with the Bulls, where his restricted free-agent status prevented him from truly getting to the market, and his career inconsistencies also made it tough for the Bulls to give him an extended contract.

“I knew it was going to happen because with me it’s like every time is the last second. I don’t know why,” Mirotic said. “They made me an offer at the beginning of free agency, so I didn’t take that deal.”

So while his saga dragged along after he couldn’t find suitors, he stayed in Chicago for the most part, adding the bulk—although some would say it was stress weight considering it’s believed Mirotic wanted a deal in the $16-17 million range annually.

“Some people thought I was worried with my contract. No, I was very calm, working here until the middle of August,” Mirotic said. “My weight is feeling great and I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to this season, you know.”

“I’m feeling good. I’ve never felt that strong in my legs, feeling better with the rebounding, and I worked all summer in the low post, especially when I play that pick-and-roll and they switch me, so I need to be available to play in the low post against small guys. I was really working on getting stronger down there so I can finish.”

Coming to Chicago with plenty of fanfare, Mirotic has shown flashes but never the consistency many expected. Slow starts were accompanied by strong finishes after the All-Star break and the cycle of “if Niko can get it right” started all over again—only leading to more frustration when expectations weren’t met.

“I know that you guys (media) are very disappointed. I saw that the last two, three years, those reactions to that,” Mirotic said. “It is what it is. I came back just thinking about what happened. I knew what happened. I worked on all my weaknesses this summer. It’s time to change some things. I’m in a place where I can improve and get better.”

This time last year, the Bulls did everything they could to make Mirotic seize the power forward spot in training camp. Too bad Taj Gibson wasn’t notified and outworked everybody to join the first five.

But Gibson was traded in midseason, Jimmy Butler was traded and Dwyane Wade was bought out Sunday night, leaving Mirotic as somewhat an elder statesman on a team that doesn’t carry any playoff expectations for the season.

Now he’ll have to battle rookie Lauri Markkanen and third-year forward Bobby Portis for minutes at power forward, since it doesn’t appear he’ll play any small forward after playing there sparingly his first two seasons.

One can see Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg playing Mirotic and Markkanen together at center and power forward to have two floor-stretchers—although defense and rebounding will be a concern in the pairing.

“Everything's open right now. Lauri obviously had a great summer,” Hoiberg said. “He's got to work himself back into great shape right now. Basically since the European championships have been over, he's taken time off to recover and regroup and recharge his batteries.

“Bobby Portis has had a great summer. He's been around pretty much every day since the summer league.”

Mirotic said he was notified by management in the exit meetings the team would look different, but didn’t foresee Butler being traded on draft night. Now as long as he stays healthy, he’ll be a primary option on offense and until Zach LaVine makes his Chicago debut—which likely won’t take place until mid-December—he’ll have plenty of time to display his versatility in Hoiberg’s free-flowing system.

“It’s great, especially knowing how Fred wants to play this year,” Mirotic said. “They’re going to play fast, there’s no more like holding the ball, playing isolation. Now it’s more free, like when we used to play with Rajon (Rondo) on that second unit. Just play free and share the basketball. This is how it’s going to look.”

Clearly one who’s aware of the prognosticators who’ve said the Bulls will finish at the bottom of the standings, Mirotic added a bit of a bold statement, although it should be taken with a grain of preseason salt.

“I don’t think we’re going to be that bad like people are thinking.’’

Report: Dwyane Wade is 'nearing a commitment' to team up with LeBron James, Cavs

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USA TODAY

Report: Dwyane Wade is 'nearing a commitment' to team up with LeBron James, Cavs

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are teaming up again, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Wade and James, of course, teamed up in Miami in 2010 and won two NBA titles. James then departed for Cleveland in 2015, and Wade signed with the Bulls last offseason after 13 years with the Heat.

The Bulls avoided a clearly awkward situation by agreeing to a buyout with Wade over the weekend before training camp began Tuesday.

Wade will also be teaming up with a fellow Chicago native in Derrick Rose, who signed for the NBA minimum earlier this offseason.