Deng returns, Bulls cruise to win in Milwaukee

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Deng returns, Bulls cruise to win in Milwaukee

After sitting out seven games, Luol Deng returned to the Bulls (20-6) starting lineup and his presence -- along with a mostly pro-Bulls contingent filling the Bradley Center helped fuel them to a 113-90 win over the Milwaukee Bucks (10-13).

The game was nothing short of outright domination of their Central Division rivals as the Bulls shot 14 of 30 from the three-point range, controlled the boards, outrebounding Milwaukee 53 to 39 and gave their home town fans that made the drive a show.

Rose led four Bulls who scored in double figures with 26 points to go along with 13 assists and seven rebounds.

Kyle Korver scored 18 points off the bench, knocking down four of his eight three-point attempts. Joakim Noah contributed 14 points and nine rebounds, and in his return, Deng finished with 21 points and nine rebounds in 41 minutes.

Rose set the tone early, scoring 16 of the teams first 18 points nailing three three-pointers in the process totaling the Bucks first quarter output as Chicagos hot shooting put the game out of reach in the first half as Chicago pushed to a 67 to 43 cushion in the first half.

Derrick remembers things, said Korver. The last time we played Milwaukee, Brandon Jennings really went at him in the first quarter and Derrick, he looks for anything and he really wanted to attack.

I thought the crowd tonight was amazing, he continued. It was like a college crowd, it was rowdy, for all for us. A couple of guys hit shots and it kinds of snowballs and then everyones playing with confidence. I thought the ball moved really well, we made the extra pass all night and its just fun basketball.

The Bulls shot 62 percent in the opening half, going 9 of 13 on threes.

I was just taking what they were giving me, said Rose. They were giving me my shot and I was taking it. Thank God, tonight, they were going in.

With the lessons learned in past games of putting a team away when theyre down, Chicago didnt have to apply to hard of pressure on the accelerator in the second half as the hole for Milwaukee was too big to dig themselves out of.

Deng played the entire second half, unti Tom Thibodeau pulled him along with Noah, Rose and Korver at the 1:35 mark of the fourth.

He was great, cant say enough about him, said Thibodeau about Deng. He stays in great shape, got out there and did everything; played defense, rebounded the ball, made shots, made plays, made us function well as a team, moved great without the ball ,so very encouraging.

After admitting to being a bit hesitant to start the game, Deng found a rhythm in the second quarter, scoring eight points.

I felt a little hesitant, I was worried about getting a bump and falling in the beginning of the game and I kind of missed those layups, but I took the hit in the fourth quarter so just keep that in my mind that the wrist is fine.

Im going to feel it. As the game goes on, I forgot about it. I was cautious at the start of the game. As the game went on, just playing basketball, I didnt even think about it until I fell in the fourth quarter.

The true test for Deng will be to see how the wrist responds in the morning;

I thought he was aggressive, wasnt shying away from contact and he was rebounding the ball in traffic and the big thing is, well see how he feels tomorrow. In terms of how he was in the game, he said he felt great so thats a very encouraging sign.

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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."