Bulls' 'magic number' down to one after beating Pacers

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Bulls' 'magic number' down to one after beating Pacers

INDIANAPOLISBulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has talked incessantly about his team not skipping stepssince his tenure in Chicago began, but most recently, as a cautionary tale before the playoffsand not getting caught up in the race for home-court advantage throughout the postseason.

Well, it appeared the Bulls (49-16) heeded his warning, as they held off Central Division rival Indiana, 92--85 Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, reducing their magic number to clinch the leagues top overall seed to just one game.

A steady dose of the inside tandem of Carlos Boozer (16 points and seven rebounds) and Joakim Noah (14 points and 14 rebounds) set the tone at the outset, as Boozer displayed his feathery touch and the energetic Noah was active and used his agility and high activity level to frustrate Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert.

For Indiana (42-24), veteran power forward David West (13 points and five rebounds) got off to a solid start, but that wasnt enough to prevent the visitors from creating some early separation.

All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (10 points and seven assists) didnt have a major impact, but in an abbreviated stint, the reigning league MVP showed some explosiveness on one move in particular, an acrobatic driving left-handed finish.

Despite reserve Darren Collison (six points and four assists), formerly the Pacers starting point guard, sparking the hosts toward the end of the period, the Bulls led, 32-24, after the opening quarter, as All-Star Luol Deng (nine points and eight rebounds) contributed with a strong all-around performance.

Lockdown defense by the Bench Mob, as well as Kyle Korvers (20 points) outside marksmanship and the blend of scoring and playmaking of C.J. Watson (five points and three assists), allowed the Bulls to further extend their edge.

Indiana didnt let things get completely out of hand, as they mustered enough of an effort , led by second-year guard Lance Stephenson (22 points)in his first NBA start, as leading scorer Danny Granger was sidelined due to a sore kneeto make sure the visitors didnt run away with the game in the first half.

The Bulls starters returned at approximately the periods midway point and were able to maintain both the double-digit spread and determined defensive effort. At the intermission, the Bulls held a 49-36 advantage, after Dengs attempted buzzer-beating three-pointer at the halftime whistle was ruled no good by the officials.

Chicago came out hot after the break, as Boozer and Noah resumed their early dominance, but behind West, the Pacers responded and cut the deficit to single digits.

Suddenly, with Indiana within striking distance, the contest began to resemble the defensive-minded dogfights in the first-round playoff series from a year ago, as the home crowdno longer as supportive of the guestsgot behind their team.

The Bulls defense prevented the Pacers from further closing the gap, as Indiana, with the exception of the fearless Stephenson, struggled to score near the end of the third quarter. While the Bulls also experienced one of their periodic offensive droughts, they still entered the final stanza with a 67-59 lead.

Chicagos Bench Mob, sparked by the high-energy play of Taj Gibson (10 points and three rebounds) and swingman Ronnie Brewer (four points and four assists), pushed the pace and got out to a quick start in the fourth quarter.

However, they were countered by a Pacers squad that lacked any fear of their opponent, stemming from the aforementioned playoff battle last season, and the young Stephenson continued to carry the offensive load.

Although the Bulls were plagued by ball-security issues, leading to transition baskets for Indiana. After Thibodeau sent back in a mix of his regularsRose got the opportunity for some extra work and hit a key floater before being replaced by Watson latebut it was Korvers shooting that ensured the visitors wouldnt falter down the stretch.

Solid execution and defense were able to hold off the Pacers, who went to an all-reserve lineup in the games waning moments, despite Stephenson continuing to pour in points on a career night.

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

The Bulls entered rebuild mode on Thursday night after they dealt Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They acquired a pair of guards in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick which they used to select Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen.

But the Bulls opted not to continue adding youth to their roster when they sold their second-round pick, No. 38 overall, to the Golden State Warriors. That pick was Oregon power forward Jordan Bell, who many considered a late first-round prospect.

The move was perplexing for a team that hours earlier had traded away its franchise player to start a youth movement. But VP John Paxson said after the draft that the decision to move the pick was based on team depth, hinting at a significant move the Bulls will make in free agency.

"We had some wings on our board that we had targeted that were the only way we were going to keep that (No. 38) pick, and they went before us. And drafting Lauri (Markkanen), and the fact that we have, Niko’s a restricted free agent we intend to bring back, Bobby Portis, we didn’t want to add another big and that’s really all that was left on our board."

Both Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have said since the season ended that Mirotic, who will become a restricted free agent on July 1, is part of their future plans. The Bulls will be able to match any contract that another team offers Mirotic, and they intend to keep the 26-year-old in Chicago. After Butler's departure, Mirotic is now the longest tenured member of the Bulls. He's been with the team for three seasons.

The wings Paxson may have been referring to include Miami's Devon Reed (32nd overall to Phoenix), Kansas State's Wesley Iwundu (33rd overall to Orlando) or SMU's Semi Ojeleye (Boston, 37th overall). Point guards Juwan Evans (Oklahoma State) and Sterling Brown (SMU) were still on the board and potential options, but the Bulls were set on looking for wing help after receiving point guard Kris Dunn and shooting guard Zach LaVine in the Butler trade.

The Bulls frontcourt depth looks filled, as Cristiano Felicio is expected to return behind Brook Lopez. Mirotic, Portis, Markkanen and Joffrey Lauvergne should make up the power forward depth chart. Opting against using the 38th pick, which Golden State bought for a whopping $3.5 million, also leaves the Bulls with room to add a 13th player in the fall.

"It keeps us at 12 roster spots and gives us real flexibility for our roster," Paxson said. "So we didn’t just want to use up a roster spot on a player that we probably wouldn’t have kept."

Jimmy Butler's trainer is certainly not happy about trade

Jimmy Butler's trainer is certainly not happy about trade

No hard feelings from Jimmy Butler's camp, right? 

Wrong. 

Not long after the three-time All-Star was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, his trainer broke Twitter. 

 

It's not explicit, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who Gaines was tweeting about. More so, Gaines sent the harsh takedown from France, where he presumably is vacationing with Butler. 

It was reported that Butler wanted to stay in Chicago. TNT's David Aldridge even detailed that he rebuffed the opportunity to re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers if he was traded there. 

Obviously, emotions are running high.