Bulls host Nets in season finale on CSN

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Bulls host Nets in season finale on CSN

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 11:12 a.m.

Associated Press

After going 35-5 at the United Center, the Chicago Bulls have proven how dominant they can be at home.

With a chance to finish with the NBA's best record and potentially earn home-court advantage throughout the postseason, the Chicago Bulls play host to the New Jersey Nets in Wednesday night's season finale.

Chicago (61-20) recorded its season high-tying eighth consecutive win by defeating the Knicks 103-90 on Tuesday in New York. Combined with Western Conference-leading San Antonio losing 102-93 to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Bulls and Spurs are tied for the best record in the league.

Since tiebreakers are all even, a random drawing would be held if the Bulls were to finish with an identical record as the Spurs. San Antonio closes its regular season at Phoenix later on Wednesday.

"That's something special. It's definitely something that we want, but we have to look at the bigger picture," Bulls forward Joakim Noah said. "For us it's all about improvement and just focusing on the next opponent and the results will take care of themselves."

Carlos Boozer scored 14 points on 5 of 19 shooting Tuesday, but recorded a season-best 22 rebounds while Luol Deng had 23 points and 10 boards.

After a 39-point effort in Sunday's 102-99 win at Orlando, Derrick Rose scored 26. The MVP favorite is shooting 63.9 percent over his last two games.

"Rose is amazing. His athletic ability is ridiculous. He's come farther, quicker, faster than anyone expected," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's playing at a level that not many people play."

Chicago, which hasn't won nine straight since March 19-April 2, 2005, came under some scrutiny after coach Tom Thibodeau decided to stick with his regular rotation despite locking up the East's top spot Friday.

That decision may come back to haunt Thibodeau, as reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer left Tuesday with a sprained left thumb. His status is unknown.

The Bulls have limited teams to 89.2 points during a 20-2 stretch. New Jersey is 3-30 when scoring 90 points or less.

The Nets (24-57) suffered their fourth straight loss and 14th in 16 games with a 105-103 defeat to Charlotte on Monday.

Sasha Vujacic, averaging 16.8 points over his last five games, hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 10.9 seconds remaining but D.J. Augustin's jumper with 1.1 seconds to go gave the Bobcats the win.

"We had a great effort, " said Brook Lopez, who scored 31 points. "It's a shame we couldn't get one more here, because the fans showed us a lot of support this season and tonight. I just want to thank them for their support. It hasn't been easy. I thought we played the best we possibly could."

Lopez is averaging 32.4 points - 12.0 above his season mark - on 59.6 percent shooting over his last five games. The 7-footer, though, is averaging just 13.0 points on 27.3 percent shooting in his last two games in Chicago.

The Nets, who are allowing an average of 108.1 points on 51.8 percent shooting during a 1-10 stretch, have been outscored by an average of 10.7 points during a six-game road losing streak.

New Jersey has been outscored by 13.6 points per game during its last seven trips to Chicago, losing six.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

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.”