Bulls Defensive Issues Front and Center vs. Cavs

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Bulls Defensive Issues Front and Center vs. Cavs

Monday, April 26, 2010
9:54 PM

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

For those of us who've watched just about every minute of Bulls' basketball this season, it's no surprise to see this team struggling on the defensive end in the playoffs. Granted, LeBron James is the best player in the league right now, and no one will have much success trying to slow him down. But the Bulls have done a poor job of trying to take the ball out of LeBron's hands with early double teams, and they haven't been consistent in rotating to help on James when he gets by the initial defender on his drives to the basket. Luol Deng is doing everything he can to try to stay in front of LeBron, but let's be honest, lateral quickness has never been Luol's strong suit, and he doesn't have the physical tools to guard a 6-8, 260 pound freight train like James. Vinny Del Negro has tried Taj Gibson, Hakim Warrick, James Johnson and even Kirk Hinrich on LeBron, but none of them have had even a shred of success. James will embarrass any number of defenders around the league before these playoffs are over, but the Bulls really haven't done anything to force him to give up the ball in the Cavs' half-court offense, and they're paying a heavy price.

Unfortunately, James isn't the only player who's hurting the Bulls right now. Derrick Rose continues his bad habit of watching the ball on the defensive end, and letting his man drift to an open spot for uncontested jumpers. Mo Williams, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon have hurt the Bulls at various times in the series with wide open 3's. The Bulls try to hide Rose on the defensive end, but against a willing passer like James, that isn't easy. When Derrick is out of position, James will get the ball to an open shooter, and the Bulls haven't done a good job of defending the three point line. Cleveland has shot a high percentage from beyond the arc throughout the series by taking advantage of the Bulls' poor weak-side defense. Improving team defense was supposed to be a high priority at the start of the season, but aside from a few decent stretches during the regular season, we haven't seen that improvement. You can bet defensive philosophy will be a big topic of conversation when the Bulls' begin the search for their next head coach.
Byron Scott could be a name to watch

Speaking of which, former Nets and Hornets head coach Byron Scott says he would be interested in the Bulls job. Scott led New Jersey to the Finals behind the talents of Jason Kidd back in 2002, and did a good job developing an offense to fully utilize the open-court talents of point guard Chris Paul in New Orleans. Former Bulls' center Tyson Chandler had the best season of his career by running the floor and finishing alley-oop passes from Paul, so you wonder if Scott couldn't bring that same type of efficiency with Rose and Joakim Noah. Scott played on the Showtime Lakers with Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 80's, and he's well respected as a player and coach. He could be helpful in trying to attract an elite free agent to Chicago since he's known as a players' coach, willing to play an up-tempo style.

You can bet we'll also be hearing names like Doug Collins, Jeff Van Gundy, Avery Johnson and Lawrence Frank over the coming days and weeks as the Bulls try to find the right man to lead this team back to contending status. Another name to watch for is former Blazers and 76'ers head coach Maurice Cheeks, who's currently serving as an assistant to Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City. Like Byron Scott, Cheeks is well respected from his playing days in Philadelphia, and did a good job as a head coach under trying circumstances in both stops. Cheeks is also a Chicago native who excelled as an NBA point guard, and he might be able to help in Rose's development, especially on the defensive end. Look for the Bulls to try to move quickly and decisively in their search for a new head coach to avoid all the problems that occurred two years ago before they finally settled on Del Negro.

Bosh holds the key to free agent chase

So, while the Bulls should have a new head coach by the end of May, they'll have to wait until July 1st to start pursuing the best free agent class in NBA history. We're hearing Toronto General Manager Bryan Colangelo has pretty much resigned himself to the fact Chris Bosh won't be staying with the Raptors. But rather than just watch him walk away as a free agent, Colangelo will aggressively pursue sign-and-trade options. That means instead of 6 to 8 teams having the required salary cap room to sign Bosh outright, Colangelo can now negotiate with the rest of the league for the best deal possible. What's in it for Bosh you ask? Well, how about an extra year on his contract, and about 30 million dollars in salary over what he could get by just signing with another team. So, the Raptors AND Bosh will be motivated to explore sign-and-trade options, which could include some of the real heavyweight teams like Dallas and the Lakers. L.A. inquired about a Bosh for Andrew Bynum deal before the deadline in February, and if they aren't able to defend their championship, they'll probably be in the market to make an aggressive move, especially since Kobe Bryant recently signed a 3 year contract extension. A Bynum for Bosh trade could actually help both teams, since Toronto could move 3-point shooting big man Andrea Bargnani to the power forward spot with Bynum in the line-up as a legitimate low post threat, and Bosh could team with Pau Gasol to give the Lakers a versatile and explosive front court. Bosh grew up in Dallas, and we know how aggressive Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban is. He has multiple assets he could include in a sign-and-trade, including players like Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and explosive rookie Rodrigue Beaubois.

If the Raptors trade Bosh to one of the teams that doesn't have a maximum salary slot available, they could put a serious crimp into the grand plans of teams like New York and Miami. The Knicks know they have zero chance of attracting LeBron if he can't bring another superstar with him. And we're already hearing Amar'e Stoudemire is in serious talks on a contract extension with Phoenix. So, if you take Bosh and Stoudemire out of the market of available free agents, LeBron is probably going to stay in Cleveland, and Dwyane Wade might get a little anxious in Miami. Heat President Pat Riley has promised Wade a major infusion of talent for next season, and if he can't deliver Bosh or Stoudemire, Wade might decide he's better off leaving South Beach for a return home to Chicago. Granted, these are all just possible scenarios, and we haven't even considered whether Atlanta All-Star guard Joe Johnson might try to pursue a sign-and-trade with the Hawks to get a 6 year contract, instead of a five year deal with a new team. Everything is fluid right now, and no one can really predict how an early playoff exit might affect James, Stoudemire or the Lakers' desire to pursue Bosh. Bulls management has to be prepared for every possible twist and turn, but at this point, nothing is out of the question, even the ultimate dream of convincing LeBron his future championship goals are more attainable in Chicago.

I'll see you Tuesday on Bulls Pre-Game live with Kendall Gill at 6:30 on Comcast SportsNet. Neil Funk and Stacey King will have the call at 7:00 on CSN Chicago, and we'll also be streaming the game live on CSNChicago.com.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

Tonight on CSN: Bulls shoot for five straight wins as they battle Nuggets

Tonight on CSN: Bulls shoot for five straight wins as they battle Nuggets

Watch as the Bulls take on the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

1. A pair of playoff teams....really. The average basketball fan thinks Bulls vs. Nuggets and doesn't necessarily think of a pair of playoff teams. But the Bulls have won four straight and are tied for sixth in the East, while the Nuggets have surprised the league and gone 25-31, good for eighth in the West. The Bulls opened as three-point favorites, meaning this one could go either way. And when it comes time for the playoffs this is one both teams may look back on as A) a helpful win or B) one the loser really could have used.

2. Going for five straight. The Bulls have won four straight for the second time this season. That fifth game the first time around was a seven-point loss to the Clippers. The Bulls won six in a row last season in December and January, so this is an opportunity to pick up a five-spot for the first time in more than a year. Currently the Bulls are tied with the Spurs for the longest winning streak in the NBA.

3. Cameron Payne getting involved. Expect to see more and more of the second-year point guard who came over in the deal from the Thunder. Payne got just a handful of minutes on Saturday against the Cavaliers but looked good, going for 6 points on 2-for-3 shooting in 12 minutes. There's a logjam at point guard to be sure, but the Bulls dealt for Payne because they want to see what he can do in extended minutes. He has a good matchup against Denver in Jamal Murray and Jameer Nelson, and could do some damage when he gets in.

4. What could have been. When the Bulls traded the Nos. 14 and 19 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft to the Nuggets for Doug McDermott, Denver used one of those picks on Michigan State guard Gary Harris. The 6-foot-4 guard has turned into one of the better young under-the-radar players, averaging 14.2 points on 48 percent shooting and providing solid defense in 29 minutes a night. Who knows if the Bulls would have selected Harris with one of those picks, but he sure would look good on the perimeter next to Jimmy Butler.

5. Bobby Portis momentum. With Taj Gibson out of the picture the starting power forward job is officially Bobby Portis' to lose. Portis has been impressive in his last five games, averaging 11.4 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and is shooting 36 percent from deep. He'll get a difficult test against the Nuggets' frontline, but these are the kinds of games that can help the young forward's progression.

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Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."