Bulls lock down Bucks, continue central perfection

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Bulls lock down Bucks, continue central perfection

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
Posted 9:56 p.m. Updated 11:49 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

MILWAUKEEIf a going on a runas All-Star point guard Derrick Rose proclaimed the Bulls are ready to doconsists of winning in grind-it-out fashion, then perhaps the Bulls (40-17) are poised to do some damage. It wasnt aesthetically appealing, but Chicagos 83-75 win over Central Division rival Milwaukee (22-36)keeping their mark against divisional opponents spotlessSaturday night at the Bradley Center got the desired result, with a balanced offensive effort to boot.

You go into a game against Milwaukee, theyre going to play tough. Youve got to be ready for that. Its going to be a physical, grind-it-out type game, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau for whom, the game was right up his alley. Youre fighting for every inch the whole night. Theyre terrific defensively. I thought the rebounding was huge for us.

Milwaukee came out on the feisty side, perhaps surprising the Bulls with their willingness to push the basketball to create transition opportunities. Forward Luc Mbah a Moute (16 points, eight rebounds, four steals), primarily known as a defensive specialist, was the Bucks offensive protagonist in the early going, scoring double figures in the opening period by showcasing an array of scoring methods.

The big thing you have to analyze is what shots are they getting. Mbah a Moute hit some jump shots and theyre a great drive-and-kick, so the ball moves, bodies move, they make the extra pass and if youre committed to keeping the ball out of the paint, you still have to get back to challenge those shotswhich we could have probably done a little bit better jobbut you have to ask, are they contested twos? explained Thibodeau. If theyre contested twos and theyre making early, youre going to live with that, but what you cant live with are the easy pointsthe layups in transition, the second shots, ball driven to the rimthings of that nature. But if theyre contested two-point shots on the perimeter, thats what our defense is: Five guys tied together, make them shoot jump shots as much as possible and challenge those shots.

Playing behind for most of the period, the Bulls allowed the hosts to enjoy a comfortable cushionmostly due to Chicagos inefficiency shooting the ball compared to Milwaukees superior marksmanshipand while a Rose (17 points, four assists, four rebounds, two steals) breakaway dunk ignited the sizable contingent of Bulls fans at the Bradley Center, late contributions by Bucks rookie forward Larry Sanders kept the visitors on the wrong end of a 25-21 score after a quarter of play.

You had to work this game, said Thibodeau. We didnt like the first quarter defensively. We thought we gave them too much.

Then we seemed to be more locked in, more disciplined and as the game wore on, we were helping each other well.

Although they were unable to truly chip into the Bucks lead early in the second quarter, Luol Deng (19 points, five rebounds, three assists) held down the fort with his scoring while on the court with a reserve-led unit. That momentumthe energetic play of Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson helped the causeled to the Bulls overtaking the Bucks, with Joakim Noahs (eight points, 17 rebounds, three blocked shots) work on the boards also a key factor in the squad starting the period on an 11-4 run, prompting Milwaukee head coach Scott Skiles to call timeout.

I thought Jo was really good tonight, observed Thibodeau. I thought his defense was terrificindividual defense, his team defenserebounding effort.

Added Noah: Im just going out there, trying to play my game, trying to get my wind right and Im just happy we got the dub today.

It felt better. Its going to get better every day. Its still not 100 percent, but Im happy we got the win. I really like our team, he continued to self-evaluate. I feel like it was a team effort again and I think our bench did a great jobthe whole season, reallybut were just getting so much better as a team and weve just got to keep improving to find out how good we can really be.

Even with Noah dominating the backboards in his third contest back from a 30-game layoff, Chicago briefly surrendered its lead to the Bucks, whose swingman duo of Carlos Delfino and former Bull John Salmons (14 points) combined to provide enough offense for scoring-deficient Milwaukee to tie the score at intermission at 39 apiece.

After an almost silent first half, Carlos Boozer (13 points, six rebounds) started to find his groove offensively in the third quarter, enabling the Bulls to effectively use their inside-outside philosophy. Although Noah picking up his third foul put a slight damper on Chicagos surge, the team turned around a lackluster beginning to the period to open up a small cushion, capped by ex-Buck Keith Bogans knocking down a three-pointer midway through the quarter.

Strong, active team defense and offensive balance were the Bulls calling card for the remainder of the period, as the visitors stymied Milwaukee with their defense, won the battle of the boards decisively and with an aggressive Deng stepping up his scoring late in the quarter, the Bulls opened up a double-digit lead. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls held a 70-59 advantage.

Both teams battled being stagnant to start the fourth quarterthrough five minutes of play, they managed only six points between them; C.J. Watson scored all four points for Chicagobut while Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau couldnt have been pleased with the offensive output of his squad, the defensive guru could at least take pride in the fact that Milwaukee couldnt find the range either. Eventually, however, the Bucks chipped into the deficit, making it a single-digit contest, with center Andrew Bogut (six points, 15 rebounds) anchoring the middle.

That seemed to motivate Chicago and with Thibodeau filtering his regulars back into the contest, the Bulls also picked up the scoring pace, with Rose manufacturing baskets. But the Bucks didnt wilt and with diminutive backup point guard Earl Boykins (10 points) running the show, the home team made it a two-possession game with under four minutes to play.

Following a Bulls timeout, sharpshooter Kyle Korver (11 points, four rebounds) knocked down a triple to give the Bulls some breathing room, but even though the resilient Bucks continued to fight back, a Korver pull-up jumper once again gave the visitors a double-digit lead as the games stretch run approached. Chicago didnt exactly close things out in styleunforced turnovers plagued them the entire nightbut in the end, they did enough to cement the victory without much worry, if not perfection.

I think that we played a decent game, just had to get a win, summed up Rose, who described the Chicago-heavy Bradley Center crowd as crazy; it felt like a home game.

More important to the 22-year-old superstar was having the Bulls full lineup intact.

It feels good. We can finally get in a rhythm with everybody back, he said. I think that were playing good as a team.

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.

Bulls supportive of Robin Lopez after one-game suspension following Serge Ibaka scrap

Bulls supportive of Robin Lopez after one-game suspension following Serge Ibaka scrap

Although the punches didn't connect, the NBA was not going to take the Robin Lopez-Serge Ibaka confrontation lightly, suspending each one game Wednesday afternoon.

Lopez served his time in the Bulls' surprising 117-95 win over the Detroit Pistons at the United Center. Per league rules, Lopez was not allowed on team property but he did speak to head coach Fred Hoiberg when the team returned from Toronto after the Bulls' heartbreaking overtime loss Tuesday.

Lopez will return to the Bulls lineup Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, a relief to the Bulls considering the league could've taken a harsher stance with Lopez — a two- or three-game suspension was being mulled at the league office, sources tell CSNChicago.com

Lopez was pushed into Ibaka after Jimmy Butler hit a three in the second half, and the two combatants squared off underneath the rim, with officials, teammates and coaches trying to separate them.

Ibaka appeared to have his arm reaching at Lopez's neck, prompting Lopez to swing at Ibaka. He missed, and Ibaka grazed Lopez's face with a wild swing of his own.

Both were ejected after being separated and shortly thereafter, the Raptors begun their run from being down 15 points to end the Bulls' recent mastery over them.

Despite the effect, Lopez had the full support of his teammates and coaching staff.

"I think you ask anybody in that locker room, Robin Lopez is one of the most if not the most popular guy on this team," Hoiberg said. "He's a guy that goes out and approaches his job the same way every day. He goes to work. He never complains. He does what's asked of him. Also if you asked them, they'd tell you he's as passionate of a guy as we have on this team as well. He's got a fire to him that you just don't ever want to take away."

That fire clearly got underneath Lopez and Ibaka, causing Lopez to lunge at Ibaka. Telling from the immediate reaction from the Bulls players and from Hoiberg and associate coach Jim Boylen, it seems as if it wasn't the first time Lopez's engine ran a little hot.

"This game gets very competitive obviously, it gets heated at times," Hoiberg said. "That happened last night. It's unfortunate what went down, but we've all got Robin's back. I think everybody in this organization, from the players all the way to up top, has Robin's back. We'll deal with it and move on. We'll be happy to have him in the lineup Friday."

Lopez averages 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in 27.9 minutes per game, slightly higher than his career averages through his nine NBA seasons.

Considering the play seemed relatively tame, it was slightly puzzling to see both players go at each other so ferociously but there appeared to be more to the story than first blush.

"There's always more going on than it appears," Hoiberg said. "You go back and watch on film, there's little jabs that happen in the course of the game and sometimes it reaches the boiling point. Robin is a guy that plays this game with a lot of passion, and you don't ever want to see something like that happen, but it did. And again, you move on."

Normally, Lopez attacks mascots during timeouts or pregame warm-ups, so nobody felt Lopez was looking for an altercation, and considering it only cost him a game — one the Bulls won anyways — Hoiberg didn't seem too stressed about it beforehand.

"Yeah, you know, Robin's going to have our guys' backs as much as anybody in the locker room," Hoiberg said. "Again, you look in that locker room, all those guys are going to have each other's back, Robin as much as anybody. Unfortunately, it happened. It looked like it was a little hip check, they turned around and got squared off, and we all know what happened. Again, we'll all be excited to have Robin back in the lineup on Friday."

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