Del Negro, Thomas Looking to Move Forward

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Del Negro, Thomas Looking to Move Forward

Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010
6:03 P.M.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Prior to the Chicagos road game tonight in Indiana, Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro briefly spoke to the media. Del Negros main concern was Pacers star forward Danny Granger, an All-Star last season

Hes pretty good, by the way, sarcastically opened Del Negro. Shoots a lot of threes, really good on the break, long threes, big right-hand driver, they post him up a lot. Hes been an All-Star and hes a handful, so obviously weve got to pay attention to him.

When asked about the Pacers offense, Del Negro clearly wasnt taking tonights game for granted, despite its futility earlier in the season.

They have been putting up a lot of points lately. They put up a lot in the last several games. They shoot a lot of threes. Our transition defense has to be very solid tonight. We have to contest shots, observed Del Negro. Troy Murphy spreads you out. They lift him and he has great range. Brandon Rush has been shooting the ball very well from deep. The three-ball is going to be very, very important, long rebounds. We have to attack in our own transition on offense and get to the ft line.

Del Negro also indirectly addressed the ongoing Tyrus Thomas situation by talking about his rotation, specifically frontcourt players in Joakim Noahs absence.

Tyrus and John usually come in at the five, six-minute mark in the first quarter, and that wont change tonight. Well get Chris Richard in there and get Brad Miller a little bit of a rest, depending on matchups, whether Pacers center Roy Hibberts in there or whatever big theyre going with, said Del Negro. A lot of the time now, theyve been going a little bit smaller, putting Murphy at the five and playing four other smalls. Well just see how the matchups go and see how we want to exploit them. We may go big when they go small or maybe well go small and see how they match up, well just play out the game and then see how foul trouble is and tempo and things of that nature.

When asked about Miller, whos suffering from knee issues, Del Negro was cautiously optimistic.

His knees still got a little swelling in there, but hes been moving good. Weve had a difficult schedule, as far as back-to-backs, so he hasnt had a lot of rest, said Del Negro. Tonights no different. Well focus in on tonights game, and then another tough one at home against Orlando.

When it was pointed out that the Bulls face some teams below the caliber of some of the stronger teams in the leaguewhom their schedule was front-loaded withpotentially leading to smooth sailing after this weekends All-Star break, Del Negro wasnt so sure.

You would hope, but the old clichyou take one at a time. Weve beaten a lot of the upper-echelon teams; weve also lost to teams that dont have as good of a record, Del Negro explained. We dont have that type of team right now, where you just throw the ball into the post or handle mismatches and things. We have to play smart, we have to be efficient defensively. Our rebounding numbers are down since Joakim Noahs been out, and hes a big part of that.

Thats a big emphasis tonightno questionwell be trying to control the glass, he continued, again focusing on tonights matchup. Not giving them second opportunities, where theyre making threes and putting a lot of pressure on us.

The schedule has not been perfect for us. Weve had a ton of back-to-backs. Over half of our games are back-to-back games, said Del Negro, getting back to the teams schedule. You have to be ready to play and we have to healthy, play smart power basketball and try to keep guys as healthy as possible and as fresh as possible.

CSNChicago.com also spoke to Thomas before the game, although the fourth-year forward didnt have much to say about his suspension or the aftermath.

You know, execute the game plan, said Thomas, when asked about his role this evening.

Nothing to say, was his response when questioned about his current relationship with Del Negro, as well as speculation that hed be playing for another team before the upcoming NBA trade deadline.

Joakim Noah, whos out with plantar fasciitis, didnt travel on this trip, while Luol Deng, who slightly injured his shoulder, will play tonight.

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.

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."

Jimmy Butler, Bulls prep for stretch run with realistic eye on the postseason

Jimmy Butler, Bulls prep for stretch run with realistic eye on the postseason

The Bulls are focused on their own basketball these days, and in winning two of three they may have righted a ship that was headed toward another playoff miss.

But with just eight games remaining in the regular season they're also aware of where they stand in a closely knit Eastern Conference. As 

Entering Tuesday night the Bulls sit one-half game behind the Miami Heat for the No. 8 seed in the conference, while just 3.5 games separate the fifth-seeded Hawks and tenth-seeded Hornets.

With the Bulls in the middle of so much movement that's bound to change a half dozen times between now and April 12, Fred Hoiberg and his team admit they're paying attention to what the rest of the league is doing.

"You almost have to this time of the year with all the outlets, being able to watch every game with (NBA) League Pass," Hoiberg said at Tuesday's practice. "You do keep an eye on what other teams are doing. But at the same time we talk every day about how it's up to us. We've got to go out and play with purpose, play with energy every time we step on the floor, and give ourslves a chance to win."

The Bulls have done just that lately. 

An ugly skid in which they lost eight of 10 in March saw them fall out of the East playoff race, but crucial wins over the Pistons and Bucks - albeit with an ugly home loss to Philadelphia - have the Bulls back in solid playoff positioning.

Though they trail the Heat for that No. 8 spot, the Bulls hold the tiebreaker over Miami (2-1 season series advantage) and have a far easier remaining schedule down the stretch. In fact, the Bulls' remaining opponents have a combined win percentage of .390, the easiest remaining path in the East. It's different in Miami, where Erik Spoelstra's group has the third most difficult remaining stretch in the East.

Throw in injuries to Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside and it's looking likely that the Bulls will catch Dwyane Wade's old team by season's end. The Bulls' only two games against teams with winning records are the Cavaliers (8-10 since February began) and the Atlanta Hawks (losers of seven in a row).

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After that the Bulls get bottom feeders in New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Orlando and Brooklyn twice. Then again, the Bulls have had issues against some of those teams, as they tout a 7-4 record against those squads (with losses to New York twice, Philadelphia and Orlando).

With Wade out of the lineup the rest of the year the backcourt tandem of Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo has picked up the slack. Rondo is looking more like the player who signed a two-year, $30 million deal this past offseason, averaging 12.4 points on 51 percent shooting and 7.4 assists in 31.1 minutes since being moved back to the starting lineup on March 13.

"I just try to look at what we're doing and control what we can control," Rajon Rondo said. "We're not playing other teams that we're racing against so we got 8 left and we want to take advantage of all eight.

"I would love to get back to the playoffs. That's the goal. That was the goal when I came here was to make the playoffs, nothing else. So we got a little bit more work to do.

Jimmy Butler claimed he hasn't been focused on what other teams around the Bulls are doing, but knows that making the playoffs has added value. Though the Bulls would likely be the No. 8 and seed and face either the Celtics or Cavaliers, with so many young players on the roster that experience can pay dividends down the line.

"You get to see how important every possession is, the way you've got to lock in, the challenge of playing the same team the possibility of seven times, it just shows the mental growth that you're gonna have to withstand and hold through a seven-game series," Butler said. "It's a lot harder than the regular season, I'll tell you that much."