Chicago native Brown spoils Rose's show

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Chicago native Brown spoils Rose's show

Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010
Updated 2:41 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

LOS ANGELES Its far too early in the season to call this a pivotal game, but the Bulls (7-5) ability to hang with the Lakers (13-2) throughout Tuesdays 98-91 loss yielded the premise of a team capable of matching upper-echelon competition through the first three quarters and change, that is.

A tooth-and-nail battle morphed into a case of Chicago playing catch-up late, as Los Angeles bench was the difference outscoring the Bulls reserves, 39-10 as the visitors faded late at the Staples Center.

They put a lot of pressure on us. I thought they made the right plays and they shot the three extremely well. We were closing short and theyve been shooting the three great all seasonthey got uncontested looks and they made shots, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. Overall, in the first three quarters, I thought we played well. But again, to win on the road against a quality opponent, you have to play for 48 minutes and were still not there.

A hot start by the Lakers was immediately countered by the visitors, who appeared unfazed by the bright lights of the Staples Center, complete with courtside celebrities like Denzel Washington and the ever-present Jack Nicholson.

Taj Gibson (16 points, 12 rebounds) a game-time decision after suffering a foot injury in the days leading up to the game who played his college ball at nearby USC, was particularly active early, proving that his slump-busting outing against Dallas Saturday was a start of a trend and not a fluke.

Luol Deng (13 points; 11 in the first quarter and none in the second half), due for a good game after a few quiet nights, was aggressive offensively, leading to one of his subsequent hot starts.

The Bulls were aggressive in pushing the tempo early, resulting in a slim cushion over the home team, with Derrick Rose (30 points, eight assists) serving as a facilitator and Joakim Noah (19 points, 13 rebounds), while not offensive proficient initially, providing his trademark energy, playing compression shorts-tight defense on Lakers big man Pau Gasol (12 points, 11 rebounds), creating for others as a playmaker and being a factor on the backboards.

Meanwhile, the Lakers were sparked by who else? superstar Kobe Bryant (20 points), who carried the offensive load for the two-time defending champions while his running mates found their collective stride, although the versatile Lamar Odom (21 points, eight rebounds) would make more of an impact as time went on.

Following a Shannon Brown (21 points) triple with 0.4 seconds to go in the opening period, things were tied at 26 apiece.

Brown, a reserve guard and Chicago native, put his stamp on the game in the second quarter, but for the most part, the Bulls reserves held serve against their Lakers counterparts, although the visitors would face a light deficit.

"All I know is my teammates got me the ball in a position where I can help the team win and I knocked down shots for them," said Brown, who attended Proviso East High School -- the alma mater of former NBA players Michael Finley and Doc Rivers, the Boston Celtics coach -- in Maywood, Ill., in Chicago's western suburbs. "I dont know if they were prepared or what, but I know Dec. 10 or whatever the case is, however it goes, theyre going to be prepared and they played great today."

We knew going in he Brown was playing at a very high level. Youre concerned with him in transition, but youre concerned with the way hes cutting right now and you cant go under on screens, and youve got to stay on his body and you also cant allow him any spot-up threes, said Thibodeau. Hes shooting the ball right now with a lot of confidence; you can see it when hes raising up.

Concurred Rose: Hes shooting the ball well this year, got a lot of confidence, doing great for them, but we should have made him a driver.

Upon Roses re-entry into the contest, the All-Star point guard took a more aggressive approach, putting pressure on the defense with quick jaunts to the rim.

Despite Browns continued surprise offensive output (18 first-half points), the game remained a tight-knit affair, mostly due to Noahs dominance on the glass, his tag-team partner Gibsons quiet efficiency and Roses offensive presence.

The Lakers wouldnt make it easy with their active hands and solid shot-blocking defensively, and Chicago was down by a pair, 51-49, at the break.

Keeping in line with their habit of slow third-quarter starts, the Bulls were on the wrong end of an 8-0 run to start the second half.

We tried to make (Gasol's) catches hard, we tried to make him work and also, he missed some shots he normally makes, but again, I think the way they run their offense its not a one-dimensional offense they move the ball, they have Kobe off the dribble and they have Pau inside. It forces your defense to collapse, explained Thibodeau. I think they took 25 threes, so youre pulling people in when the ball does go in and when Kobes isolated, youre committing help to him, as well.

A cold-shooting performance was partially offset by Noahs efforts on the offensive glass, as well as Roses scoring efforts, which allowed the visitors to slice into the deficit.

The contest evolved into a virtual tte--tte between Rose and Bryant, with the respective superstars going bucket for bucket the youngster actually took the upper hand as the quarter went on although the contributions of Odom and Noah were also major factors. Chicago battled back to trail by a lone point, 74-73, heading into the final stanza.

The Bulls remained in close contact in the fourth quarter, with Browns continued heroics and Odoms all-around play spurring the Lakers, although surviving a stretch without Rose and Noah proved to be key for Chicago.

The Lakers, however, got timely plays from reserves outside of Brown such as swingman Matt Barnes (10 points), backup point guard Steve Blake and rookie bruiser Derrick Caracter aiding the home team in slightly widening their winning margin.

I think they Brown, Barnes and Blake add a lot to the team. Experience, shooting and they have quality backups at all their perimeter positions now, said Thibodeau. All three are very good defenders. I think that sometimes gets overlooked.

Of course, everybody in the league knows their bench is like a transition team, added Rose. They get out in the open court, trot ahead, shoot a lot of threes and they were hitting them tonight.

Theyve got a great team. Theyre a deep team. They went small tonight, they had a lot of shooters out there and we didnt do enough job of closing outtheyve got some guys who werent really known as great shooters shooting some high percentages, Kyle Korver chimed in. Theyre a tough team. Youve got to give them credit. Nights when you dont focus on Kobe or Gasol, they obviously go off. Those guys have been shooting the ball well all year. Its not like its the first night those guys have hit shots. Your natural tendency is to sink in and weve talked the last few days about sinking in and clogging the paint, but youve also got to chase them off the 3-point line. Most of them werent wide open, but weve got to jump with them and make them take a couple dribbles, and we didnt do that tonight.

Suddenly, the home team would display why they are the two-time defending champions, going on an extended run with a small-ball lineup (the Lakers shot 10-for-25 behind the arc for the game) and stout defense (limiting the Bulls to 18 fourth-quarter points) to blow the game open and push their once slim lead to double figures, with the collective effort of Los Angeles second unit playing the role of catalyst.

The Bulls simply couldnt mount another late, Rose-propelled comeback, and the Lakers cruised to the home win, despite tough defense on Bryant by Deng down the stretch.

The Lakers, theyre a heck of a defensive team. Youve got to make quick decisions against them, observed Thibodeau. Youve got to move their size and when they finished the game, they were small and quick. I thought we settled sometimes, too.

Opined Rose: We were just making sure every shot that they took was contested. Everybody that played Kobe did a good job, especially Lu toward the end, making sure that he contested shots and making sure he didnt get the open looks. Their bench just did the job tonight They were hitting tough shots. They went small and a lot of players for them stepped up their game.

It kind of tells us where we are exactly. It tells you where you are and if you can compete against them and we feel like we can compete against everybody, said Noah. It was tough because youre trying to double team Kobe and trying to get the ball out of his hands, but we work on it and its something were trying to do better. I feel like defensively, we did a pretty good job, but there are still areas we have to improve on and I think thats the great thing about this team. Everybody wants to improve and everybody wants to compete with the elite teams. Were not there yet, but were pretty close.

When guys are hitting shots the way they are; those were some contested shots, as well. If you look at the way we played and the things that we can control, I feel like we didnt shoot the ball particularly well, but well see them in a couple weeks, he continued. When you play a game like that, the way we played, I feel confident that we have a chance in a couple weeks to maybe beat them at home.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms 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.

NBA Buzz: Nikola Mirotic making Bulls' offseason decision tougher

NBA Buzz: Nikola Mirotic making Bulls' offseason decision tougher

It's too bad Nikola Mirotic never played college basketball in the United States. He would have been fun to watch during March Madness.

For some reason, Mirotic has saved his best basketball for the month of March over his three NBA seasons. During his rookie season in 2014-15, Mirotic took advantage of injuries to a couple of the Bulls key players, and averaged 20.8 points a game with expanded playing time in March, leading all NBA players in fourth-quarter scoring.

Last season, after rehabbing from two surgeries following appendicitis, Niko averaged just over 13 points a game in March, shooting better than 53 percent from deep.

And this season, Mirotic is averaging 14.2 points on 47.9% shooting from the field during his favorite month. Since he re-entered the rotation back on March 13, Mirotic has been even better, averaging 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds, shooting 51 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point land.

It appeared Mirotic's time with the Bulls was coming to an end when Fred Hoiberg held him out of three straight games earlier this month, including a spot on the inactive list in Boston on March 12. At that point, Mirotic talked openly of not knowing why he had been taken out of the rotation. Now, he might be the key to the Bulls' playoff hopes.

Mirotic has scored a season-high 28 points each in two of the last three games.

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Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, "The big thing with Niko is he's playing with a lot of confidence right now. Anybody who's a shooter, they play with confidence, the game's a lot easier. He's not hesitating at all with his shots. He's taking good shots in the flow of the offense. When Jimmy and Rajon get in the paint, and Niko's spacing the floor, it's a great look and right now he's knocking them down."

So, right now all is good for the 26-year-old native of Montenegro. But it's hard to look past the inconsistency that's marked his NBA career. Mirotic is averaging 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in his three NBA seasons, shooting  41 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep. Not exactly the numbers Bulls' fans expected from the guy considered to be one of the best prospects in Europe when he was drafted in 2011. 

Now, as Mirotic gets ready to head into restricted free agency this summer, the Bulls are faced with a difficult decision. Are they willing to pay more than $10 million a year for a player who's been so inconsistent in the NBA? Or, do they let Mirotic walk and risk the possibility the light will suddenly come on for a 6-foot-10 stretch forward that every team in the league could utilize?

The Bulls have 2015 first-round pick Bobby Portis under contract for next season, and Paul Zipser and Joffrey Lauvergne also could be in the mix for playing time at the power forward spot. And, there's always the chance the Bulls could get in the bidding for big name free agents Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap.

But after trading Doug McDermott at the deadline, the Bulls are painfully short on 3-point shooting threats, and that might lead the front office to decide they'll need to overpay to keep Mirotic around.

It's just one of the tough decisions the Bulls front office faces in what promises to be a fascinating off-season.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

It's been another tough season in Phoenix. Despite adding a number of lottery picks in recent years, the Suns currently own the third-worst record in the league. Maybe that's why the players were celebrating with so much energy during a loss in Boston last Friday, watching second year guard Devin Booker explode for 70 points.

Booker becomes only the 6th NBA player to hit the 70-point plateau, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson and Elgin Baylor. The baby-faced 20-year-old shooting guard connected on 21 of 40 shots from the field (only 4-11 from 3-point range), plus 24 of 26 from the free-throw line.

With the game hopelessly out of reach in the 4th quarter the Suns kept feeding the ball to Booker to see how high he could push his point total. It might not have pleased basketball purists, but it sure was fun for the Suns' players during their 51st loss of the year.

Phoenix added a pair of young big men in last year's draft, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, and they have a deep backcourt with Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. So, is there a chance they could enter the bidding for Bulls' star Jimmy Butler this summer?

Would a top-3 pick and Bledsoe be enough for Butler? Or would the Bulls prefer a couple of the Suns' young frontcourt players, Bender, Alex Len or T.J. Warren to go along with the pick?

With seven or eight elite prospects at the top of this year's draft, the Bulls will have some options if they decide to go the total rebuild route.

If the Bulls do go shopping for a Butler deal, don't count on Boston still being interested this summer. In case you haven't noticed, the Celtics moved ahead of Cleveland for the No. 1 seed in the East earlier this week, and Danny Ainge might decide he can build a championship team without making a major trade.

The Celtics already have two All-Star caliber players on the roster in Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, and if the pick they have coming from Brooklyn remains in the top 3, Ainge will be able to add an elite young player like Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or Josh Jackson. After holding on to those Brooklyn picks for so long in the trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets, it's hard to imagine Ainge changing direction now.

Plus, the Celtics also will have enough salary cap room to go after a top free agent, and they've long been linked to Jazz star Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler. It's possible the Celtics could come back next season with a lineup of Thomas and Fultz/Ball in the backcourt, with Horford, Hayward and Jae Crowder up front. Maybe not the star power to match Cleveland, but certainly a team that could contend in the East for a number of years to come.

Former Bulls' All-Star Joakim Noah met with the New York media to discuss his 20 game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance contained in an over the counter supplement he was taking. 

"I made a mistake. It was a tough year for me, for this team," Noah told reporters after returning to practice Tuesday. "... I let a lot of people down. It was a mistake. And I gotta learn from it and bounce back. This is a tough moment and I'm going to learn from it."

Noah said he used the supplement to try to help him bounce back from a hamstring injury he suffered in early February. The former NBA Defensive Player of the Year then had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on February 27 to remove loose fragments.

The Knicks are hoping he can get medical clearance to serve part of the 20-game suspension this season, with the remaining time served at the start of the 2017-18 season. Noah still has three more years left on the four-year, $72 million contract he signed with Phil Jackson's Knicks last summer.

Kevin Durant continues to work his way back from the sprained knee he suffered on February 28th in Washington. The Warriors released a statement on Wednesday saying Durant has made very good progress in his rehab and will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days. The hope is to have Durant play a few regular season games over the final week to get him ready for the playoffs.

Durant has been traveling with the team, going through pre-game workouts monitored by the medical and training staff. The plan is to increase his level of movement over the next few days to see how the knee responds.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Even though the Bulls haven't won back-to-back games since February 24 and 25, the players continue to remain confident about their playoff chances.

This from Mirotic following practice on Wednesday, "We have to depend on just ourselves and pray basically. Hopefully we can be there...... I think we deserve it. The attitude of the team is great right now. We're sticking together even after that tough loss against Philly, we bounce back against Milwaukee. So, right now, we've got another chance."

The Bulls probably need to go 5-3 over the final eight games to make the postseason. After a season of ups and downs, it's anyone's guess if they'll be able to put together a stretch of solid basketball during the final two weeks.