Chicago Bulls

Bulls hold off Celtics behind hobbled Rose

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Bulls hold off Celtics behind hobbled Rose

BOSTONAfter going up by a seemingly insurmountable margin, the Bulls (11-2) watched the Celtics (4-6) charge back in the second half, cutting a 20-point game to a single point, before Derrick Rose, playing on a injured toe, took over late Friday night at the TD BankNorth Garden. Chicago won, 88-79, by virtue of solid defense, a balanced offensive effort from its starting lineupall five reached double figuresand a finishing touch down the stretch from one of the NBAs top closers.

I said before the game we would need everybody and we did, and I thought our starters played terrific. Carlos, Jo. At the start of the game, I thought our defense was very good. The ball movement was great to start the game, so I think thats what allowed us to build the cushion. We could play from a lead. Things got tough at the end of the third, start of the fourth, but we hung in and we found a way to win down the stretch, evaluated Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. With Derrick, you almost expect that from him. He let the game come to him. He didnt try to do too much and then in the second half, when it was time, he made big play after big play, which weve grown accustomed to.

An ailing Rose played a facilitating role early on, allowing the frontcourt of Luol Deng (21 points, 16 rebounds), Carlos Boozer (12 points, eight rebounds, five assists) and Joakim Noah (10 points, 12 rebounds) to benefit as scorers, complementing their dominant work on the glass, as well as solid defense. The visitors jumped out to an early double-digit advantage, due to errant Celtics shooting, as only point guard Rajon Rondo (14 points, seven rebounds, 11 assists)using his speed against a hobbled Rosewas able to create against the Bulls.

The toe feels all right. It feels good. I kept playing tonight. My teammates did a great job with making shots, playing defense. I was just feeding off of them, said Rose, who was wearing a precautionary walking boot afterward, as he had in the days since suffering the injury. First quarter, I would say, I didnt know how to take off or worried about me taking off and that went away around halfway through the first quarter.

Boozer was particularly effective as a mid-range shooter, while Deng was back to being both aggressive and efficient after a subpar shooting night in his last outing and the fifth starter, Ronnie Brewer (12 points, four rebounds, four assists), showed his hot early-season shooting was no fluke. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls led, 26-13, following two Rondo free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining.

Dengs strong all-around play carried Chicago at the outset the second quarter and while the Boston backcourt of Rondo and sharpshooter Ray Allen (16 points) attempted to get the home team back into the contest, Brewers shooting and reserve power forward Taj Gibsons typically energetic play helped maintain the visitors comfortable cushion. The Celtics own backup big man, well-traveled veteran Chris Wilcoxseeing more action with starting center Jermaine ONeal injured; usual reserve power forward Brandon Bass (10 points, nine rebounds) started in his place, with Kevin Garnett sliding over to center, though ONeal would come off the benchgave Boston a boost of energy, however, throwing down two monstrous fast-break dunks, while go-to scorer Paul Pierce (13 points) started to gradually find his rhythm.

But Boozers accuracy on his jumper, dominant team rebounding and overall stingy defense helped keep a wide gap for the TD BankNorth Garden guests, who kept the usually rowdy Boston crowd in alternating states of silence or displeasure for most of the first half. Chicago took a 52-33 advantage into the break, but not before the distribution-minded Rose threw down a vicious cock-back dunkoff one step and an injured toe, no lesstoward the end of the period.

I loved the way Jo was so active tonight, blocking shots, going after the ball and then his offense started coming around, so when he plays like that, its good for us. And what you could say about Luol? I mean, every night, hes on the board, he gives you points, he plays great defense, hits every big basket for youcant say enough about himand then the bench, they allowed us to get some rest in the second quarter. They came in and did a good job, said Thibodeau. The rebounding was the key, the last two ballgames. If you defend and rebound, and you keep your turnovers down, youre going to be in position to win. We know that works for us.

After the intermission, continued stellar play from Deng kept the Bulls afloat early in the period, but the Celtics stormed back, trimming what was once a 20-point lead. Boston received contributions from the likes of the high-energy Bass, sharpshooting Allen, scoring-oriented Pierce and playmaking Rondo, energizing the faithful Garden audience.

The visitors were further disadvantaged by Boozer picking up his fourth foul and Roses clear lack of consistent explosion, but Bostons continued push was the real difference, as the Bulls would seemingly staunch the bleeding with a Noah tip-in or Gibson jumper, for example, only to see bit contributors like reserve swingman Mickael Pietrus and ONealwho appeared to be rejuvenated back to his All-Star form of old for a brief stretchmake timely buckets. At the end of three quarters, the Celtics cut the deficit to single digits, 67-59.

We talked about it. Weve got to get better at not giving up leads. We knew they werent going to go down easy. We knew that they were going to come down and make a run. Were just a little disappointed that we allowed them to make that run, but once again, just answering their run, said Deng. I thought we did a great job, even though the fans got into it. We just came back and guys made big plays. Derrick made big shots, Ronnie made a big three and we just kept going.

Chimed in Rose: For sure. Like I always say, we never want to be in a situation like that. When we get the lead on someone, we want to definitely put them away, but I guess we didnt learn that yet.

Weve been in situations like that. Thats when we tend to play defense. Were better backwards. We tend to play defense a little bit bad throughout the whole game, then the fourth quarters like that. But people stepped up at the right time.

Bostons barrage didnt let up at the beginning of the final stanza, as the Bulls miserable shooting continued and the hosts remained hot, scoring the first seven points of the fourth quarter to cut the gap to a single point, 67-66, before Thibodeauwho rode his starters through the games stretch run, unlike the Bulls past two contests, in which he used backup big men Gibson and Omer Asik in place of Noah and Boozercalled a timeout to restore order in the arena so familiar to him. Whether Rose was directed by his coach to shoulder the load moving forward or simply took it upon himself, after the stoppage, the reigning league MVP went to work, sandwiching a slashing layup and an open three-pointer between a pair of free throws.

Jo got a big offensive rebound, Derrick got a couple open looks, so it worked out for us and youve got to be ready for that. Theyre a tough defensive team and its another element that you have to prepare for, said Thibodeau. I was waiting for that one. Not enough, too much, whats next? Hey look, we really feel the strength of the club is the depth up front and even tonight, as well as Carlos and Jo played, Carlos picking up that fourth, you need quality bigs to hold the fort and Omer and Taj, every time, you call on them, theyre ready. Theyre hard guys to score on.

Added Noah: It feels good to get this dub tonight. It always feels good to win in this building. Just competed hard. It was a great team effort.

The strength of our team is our depth, and we cant forget that, so anybody can step up on any given night and thats our strength, so its important for guys to get frustrated when its not their turn, continued the center, who also blocked four shots on the evening. O Asik and Taj were playing great, and Coach rides with them. Thats the way he does things. Im just trying to control the things that I can control, and it felt good to be out there tonight.

Their leaders inspired play seemed to spark a fire under his teammates, as Deng and Noah battled for tough boards on the interior, while timely buckets from the likes of Brewer quelled any hopes of Boston making another comeback attempt. Rose continued to make big, crowd-silencing baskets, causing the Garden to gradually empty down the contests stretch run, though the fans that remained did find pleasure with the late entrance of former Celtics fan favorite and Bulls deep reserve Brian Scalabrine.

I was missing shots before that. I think shots that I normally hit, I was missingI guess taking that day off, Ive got to get my timing back and at the end of the game, they were falling, explained Rose. They were giving me the shot. I probably was out a little bit further than I normally am, but they didnt come and contest and I was just shooting. My teammates have confidence in me. They see how hard I work on my shot and at the end of a game like that, when one of those situations happen, theyre going to give me the ball.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade's homecoming may not last much longer. 

According to Nick Friedell's ESPN report, the Bulls are expected to reach a buyout agreement with the 12-time NBA All-Star "at some point in the next few months." 

The news comes two months after Wade picked up his player option, choosing $24 million over earning less on a more competitive team. 

If Gar Forman and John Paxson indeed decide to buy D-Wade out, the "Three Alphas," which consisted of Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, would all be out just one season after coming together. 

The buyout may also mean more ping-pong balls in next year's stacked draft