Bulls take Cavs' best shot, start 2011 with win

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Bulls take Cavs' best shot, start 2011 with win

Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011
Posted 8:33 PM Updated 11:07 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

One way to look at Chicagos recent spate of unimpressive victories is that theyre playing down to their competition. To Carlos Boozer, however, opposing teams are approaching matchups with the Bulls with the mindset that theyre playing an elite NBA team.

Before I got here, we werent afraid to play the Bulls at all, but were trying to rewrite everything and I think when teams think about us now, they get ready to play, Boozer told CSNChicago.com. Thats because of the people in this locker room, our coaching staff and how weve been able to perform this season. Weve changed that mentality. Teams look forward to playing us because were a good team. I think when you have success, you get everybodys attention around the league and teams do have to play you.

We have that X on our backs and whether we get recognition or not, we dont care. We want to keep getting better, keep getting wins and well be a team to reckon with come playoff time.

If Boozers theory is correct, it explains how a short-handed, dismal Cavaliers (8-25) team was able to keep things close Saturday eveningin fact, the visitors led for the majority of the contestbefore a Derrick Rose-fueled, 32-9 third quarter gave the Bulls (22-10) the upper hand before an eventual 100-91 victory.

The lowly, injury-riddled visitorsfor the second consecutive, the Bulls hosted one of the leagues lesser lights while they were short-handedjumped out to a 5-0 start on the first day of the calendar year, reviving past concerns about Chicagos readiness to begin games, especially after last months close call in Cleveland. With two quick fouls saddling Boozer (20 points, 11 rebounds) to compound matters, the Bulls slow start persisted, although the Cavaliers didnt possess the firepower to significantly widen the gap, outside of veteran scorer Antawn Jamison (19 points, nine rebounds).

While Cleveland wasnt necessarily the most offensively proficient bunch, the cold-shooting and foul-pronestarting center Kurt Thomas (season-high 13 rebounds), like Boozer, acquired a pair of first-quarter foulsBulls simply couldnt slice into their deficit (which reached double figures) and despite efforts by Rose (28 points, 11 assists) to manufacture points via drawing fouls and his playmaking ability, with assistance from Luol Deng (23 points), the Bulls trailed, 28-24, after a period of play.

A lot of games have been slow for us in the first quarter, said Boozer. Weve got to come out better, weve got to come out stopping teams better, executing our offense a little bit better and thatll take care of it.

Chicagos bench gave the team somewhat of a jolt to start the second quarter, as increased intensity and solid efforts from Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer specifically made the energy in the United Center go up a few notches, albeit briefly. The Cavaliers, however, didnt immediately wilt, with young reserve J.J. Hickson (21 points, eight rebounds) providing instant offense when inserted into the contest, as well as solid backcourt play from starting guards Ramon Sessions (13 points, six assists) and rookie Manny Harris (11 points).

Midway through the period, the Bulls finally began to find a rhythm and while Jamison and undersized big man Leon Powe (14 points, six rebounds) continued to do damage for Cleveland, Roses distribution to the likes of Deng and Boozer helped the home team gain ground on their Central Division rivals. But the Cavs withstood Chicagos surge and at the half, the Bulls trailed, 61-53.

We came in here at halftime. We started talking to each other before Coach even walked in and said, Were not playing our best on defense, Boozer recounted. To a man, we had to look each other in the eye and say, Weve got to do better. We came out there and gave up nine points, and thats where the game was won for us.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau bristled at the suggestion that his team didnt give maximum effort from the outset.

I dont know if were not trying hard. I think were trying pretty hard. I dont think we played particularly well in the first half, but well take the win, said Thibodeau. Well take the wins any way we can get them, but we know we have to improve in a number of different areas. We have some practice time now, where we can work on some stuff, so we have to take advantage of that.

You look at the overall picture and I think defensively, were never satisfied and we want it to be great and then offensively, I think its going to come. Right now, were still finding our way offensively. Weve got to get a balance between transition, post-ups, catch-and-shoot, ball movement, player movement and when we do that, were very efficient offensively, he continued. First and foremost, we have to establish ourselves defensively and we didnt do that, so we wanted to correct that first. Offensively, I thought we missed some shots that I thought were good shots, but I also thought took away from how we were playing, with energy. We got into a mode where we were just trading baskets with them and you cant win like that. When we went ahead, they just came right back. It seemed like we caught up, we got the lead, exhaled and then they hit us againin the third quarter, we came out and had the right energy, the right intensity.

Rose, as hes prone to do, asserted his will on the game early in the third quarter, bringing the Bulls back with both his scoring and passingwith Deng being the primary beneficiary of the latterfueling an 18-2 run to open the second half. Suddenly, Clevelands previously uncontested looks were now defended a bit more closely and thanks to Roses penetration ability, outside shooting and distribution, Chicagos offense ran a lot more smoothly en route to seizing both the lead and the games momentum.

Now that they were rolling, everything flipped for the Bullsshots that were rattling out before now either dropped through or were tipped in, while the Cavs couldnt buy a basket, shooting an abysmal 3-for-21 in the period, compared to 61.9 percent for the home teamand a double-figure advantage was built, energizing the previously dormant crowd and prompting Cleveland head coach Byron Scott to call a timeout. With Roses personal mini-exhibition no longer necessary for Chicago to snap out of its malaise, the Bulls cruised to an 85-70 lead after the decisive third quarter, during which the visitors were outscored, 32-9.

In the early portion of the final stanza, the Bulls endured a return to offensive stagnation, which, coupled with Powes scoring contributions, permitted Cleveland to whittle Chicagos winning margin down to double figures. Hickson gave the Cavs an additional boost and all of a sudden, the game was once again a tight-knit affair, as the Bulls failed to capitalize on numerous offensive possessions.

The tension got thick late, but Clevelands offensive inefficiency was enough for Chicago to sustain a winning effort, even with the Bulls missing multiple key free throws late; as opposed to throughout the whole game, as they shot a respectable 21-for-26 for the evening. Maybe it wasnt most beautiful thing to watch, but the fans got their moneys worth, as Dengs game-ending free throw earned the crowd free Big Macs.

I knew they were big free throws. I know how much the fans love Big Macs. I just thought Id play some games and miss the firstno, Im kidding, said Deng. Im really glad I made it. The fans have been great all year.

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 finalize training camp roster

Bulls finalize training camp roster

The Bulls finalized their training camp roster on Monday morning, in the lead-up to the start of the team's official media day.

The team will carry 19 players into the preseason before cutting that number down a maximum of 15 in late October.

No. 0 Isaiah Canaan, guard: Signed to a two-year, $2.2 million deal in July, Canaan will compete with Spencer Dinwiddie and Jerian Grant for minutes behind Rajon Rondo.

No. 2 Jerian Grant, guard: The combo guard will get a fresh start in Chicago after an inconsistent rookie season with the Knicks.

No. 3 Dwyane Wade, guard: The three-time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer begins the next chapter of his famed career after 13 seasons in Miami.

No. 5 Bobby Portis, forward: After showing flashes of potential in his rookie season, the 6-foot-11 Portis will be in line for an extended role following Joakim Noah's and Pau Gasol's departures.

No. 6 Cristiano Felicio, center: The Brazilian impressed plenty in last season's final month, and he should see significant minutes behind Robin Lopez.

No. 7 D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, guard: The undrafted rookie averaged 14.8 points per game in his senior season at Georgetown.

No. 8 Robin Lopez, center: One of the league's most underrated centers, Lopez was one of five players to average 10 points, 7 rebounds and play in all 82 games a year ago.

No. 9 Rajon Rondo, guard: The veteran point guard led the NBA in assists last season, but playing on his fourth team in three seasons means his best days may be behind him.

No. 11 Doug McDermott, forward: The sharpshooter showed significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, finishing sixth in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage. Now about the defense...

No. 15 Thomas Walkup, guard: The All-American honorable mention went for 33 points in No. 14 Stephen F. Austin's opening-round upset win over No. 3 West Virginia.

No. 16 Paul Zipser, forward: The Bulls' 2016 second-round pick can do a bit of everything, and at 22 years old he could be ready to contribute sooner than later.

No. 20 Tony Snell, forward: It may be difficult for the former first-rounder to crack the rotation after a forgettable third season.

No. 21 Jimmy Butler, guard: An All-Star in each of the last two seasons, the 27-year-old Butler is poised for yet another career year.

No. 22 Taj Gibson, forward: The 31-year-old veteran is in a contract year, and should see an even more expanded role after starting 55 games last season - even if Nikola Mirotic replaces him in the starting lineup.

No. 24 Vince Hunter, forward: The 6-foot-8 Hunter averaged 21.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for the Reno Bighorns last season as rookie.

No. 25 Spencer Dinwiddie, guard: A casuality of the Pistons' crowded backcourt, Dinwiddie has a chance to carve out a role in Chicago behind Rajon Rondo.

No 31 J.J. Avila, forward: A standout at Colorado State who graduated in 2015, Avila appeared in four Summer League games for the Knicks, averaging 1.2 points and 1.5 rebounds.

No. 44 Nikola Mirotic, forward: The Bulls will be relying on Mirotic's outside shot, which improved mightily in his second season from 31.6 percent to 39 percent.

No. 45 Denzel Valentine, guard: The jack-of-all-trades will need some time to find his role, but he's an apt passer and outside shooter with good size on the wing.

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

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Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

All the new guys: Last October, the Bulls entered camp with essentially the same roster that lost to Cleveland in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, save for then-rookie Bobby Portis. This time, there’s no Derrick Rose, no Joakim Noah, no Pau Gasol, no Mike Dunleavy, and no E’Twaun Moore.

That’s four starters (essentially) whose performances or presence has been counted on in some way, even through some of the uncertainty that surrounded a few of these guys.

Conceivably, the Bulls can have around five new players in the actual rotation who weren’t thought of this time last year, although last year’s product left a lot to be desired.

The adjustment time and chemistry building starts Tuesday.

Who starts at power forward: All other positions in the first five are set, especially with the new faces. But the pivotal decision for Fred Hoiberg, if it hasn’t been made already, is who will start alongside Robin Lopez at center. It could be Nikola Mirotic, or Taj Gibson or even Bobby Portis, depending on Hoiberg’s sensibilities.

Smart money says it’ll probably be Mirotic considering he’s the best perimeter shooter of the three and actually a decent defensive rebounder. Gibson being a great screener, finisher and defender makes him intriguing as an option, but offensive space will be limited if he’s out there with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. As for Portis, is he ready to take a step toward consistency in year 2?

The point guard: Rajon Rondo’s basketball intelligence is genius level, where he can master a gameplan and probably even devise one of his own that rivals his coaches. The man can counter a play before the opposing defense initiates an adjustment. That said, how will he and Hoiberg mesh this season? He clashed with Doc Rivers, had knock-down battles with Rick Carlisle in Dallas and George Karl didn’t have it in him to fight anybody in Sacramento, let alone Rondo.

Rondo likes playing the game at his speed, with his own feel and rhythm. Hoiberg will have to tailor his style for the new personnel he has, and luckily for him, isn’t a “my way or the highway” type of fellow that’s sure to rub Rondo the wrong way. Will Rondo embrace Hoiberg’s system and become an extension of the coach, or will Hoiberg give Rondo enough rope to explore Rondo’s intelligence to find a middle ground?

Will that even be enough?

The backup point guard: Just as intriguing as the starting power forward battle will be who backs up Rondo at point guard, although it’s likely that player won’t have to fill the traditional role of doing anything aside from walking the ball up and letting either Butler or Wade initiate the offense.

It’s likely Hoiberg will change his substitution patterns to have either Wade or Butler anchor second units in the second quarter, as a way to maximize the time he has with both while not having them invade each other’s space in the halfcourt. So who plays backup point could be more about who fits best next to the best player on the floor as opposed to who the best player is.

It seems to open the door for rookie Denzel Valentine since he can play three positions (although defense will be a task), along with Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan and Spencer Dinwiddie.

Grant was a first-rounder in 2015 who wants to show he’s worth that status, while Dinwiddie was projected as a lottery pick three years ago before tearing his ACL at Colorado.

It’s certainly not the most stressful decision Hoiberg will have to make, but a curious one.

Developing an identity: Does it happen in training camp? Who knows, but tones are often set as to what type of squad a team will be. Last season, Hoiberg believed he was building on a solid foundation after Tom Thibodeau’s defense first mentality, but signs of things crumbling began to show very early in the preseason.

This season, with so many new pieces, moving parts and overall uncertainty, there’s question as to what kind of team the Bulls will be. It’s intriguing, to say the least. But what will the Bulls hang their hats on come late October?