Game 2: Bulls must contain (still) confident Pacers

448422.jpg

Game 2: Bulls must contain (still) confident Pacers

Monday, April 18, 2011Posted: 10:55 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After a loss--albeit a loss in which they led until the game's final minute--the Pacers' confidence might seem a bit misplaced, especially for a team with only one starter (leading scorer Danny Granger) and a handful of veteran reserves with any postseason experience.

The tail end of Indiana's practice at West Side basketball facility A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics Sunday afternoon was spirited and, while players were joking and relaxed, (reporters were treated to an impromptu one-man dunk competition by rookie swingman Paul George) there was no mistaking their defiance.

"We are encouraged. We know we're a good basketball team. We know we can play with this team. We played a good basketball game for 45 minutes. They got the best of us down the stretch, but we definitely feel like we can play with this team and we're looking to earn a split Monday night," vowed interim head coach Frank Vogel.

READ: 'Madhouse on Madison' song to be featured in game tonight

"I don't think there's a lot of psychology that goes into that bouncing back from Sunday's heart-breaking defeat. We've been playing good basketball for a long time. We're a confident bunch. We expected to play that way. We expect to play that way Monday night."

The 37-year-old's contagious confidence has spread through his entire squad and, while the Pacers certainly don't look at Saturday as a moral victory, it's clear that their last two matchups against the Bulls have them believing that not only could they steal a win from the top-seeded team in the playoffs, but a heist of the entire first-round series isn't out of the question.

"We also believe that we can definitely compete against any team, so it's not just knowing that we've got nothing to lose, we believe that we can compete with any team in this league and when we're all on the same page, we believe we can beat any team in this league, too," said Pacers point guard Darren Collison. "Vogel is real confident. He instills a lot of confidence in everybody on this team.

"He's not just saying it to say it; he believes that, and whenever a coach has that much belief and that much confidence on the court, it carries over to the players."

Realistically, Indiana does comprehend that throwing a scare into the Bulls wasn't enough--to paraphrase the beginning of Granger's amusing ex-girlfriend stalker comparison, "With Chicago, no. With Derrick Rose, no."--even if it took a furious, 16-1 run down the game's final stretch for Chicago to pull off the come-from-behind win.

"That game's over with. Now, we just need to make the adjustments and try to improve," said Granger. "We played okay. We played well enough to win, but we just didn't finish it off. We went back to the film, we looked at a lot of things, made a lot of mistakes. We obviously could have played better, but that being said, we almost had the game.

"We had a really big chance to turn the series because winning the first game on their home court could have really changed the series," continued the small forward. "You're going to win some games, you're going to lose some, but I think when we give teams our best punch, a lot of times, we'll win that game."

Granger, whose pre-series comments about the Bulls going as Rose goes drew a lot of attention, isn't changing his tune about the Pacers' focus heading into Game 2, although Indiana still had no answers for the likely MVP's heroics Saturday.

"We can't give up 39 points, 21 free throws to him again. Those would be losing numbers for us, so that's our main priority right now. We realize they have other players, but our main priority right now is Derrick Rose," said Granger. "I don't know if he's going to score 40 points every game--I mean, he's capable--but that's what it took for them to beat us that time, so this time, if we can limit his effectiveness, hopefully we can come out with the win.

"When we looked at the tape--the final stretch of the game--we had a lot of breakdowns, not only defensively, but on the offensive end and it was uncharacteristic for what we wanted to do during that period of the game," he continued. "We got some good looks. They just didn't go down for us. Then, on the other end, we had a bad defensive lapse, where we gave up the three to Kyle Korver. We kind of messed up on that. Derrick Rose was getting to the basket at will the whole game. He did it in the fourth quarter, the last two minutes. We just couldn't really get a handle on him."

Vogel acknowledged that, upon further review, not as many of the fouls that led to Rose's repeat journeys to the charity stripe were as egregious as he first believed.

"Not a lot of them were bad calls. Most of them were him being aggressive and getting to the basket. We've got to have a wall of defenders every time he comes in there," he said.

Vogel wouldn't divulge any details of the Pacers' planned defensive adjustments, but expect Indiana to employ a trapping strategy to complement the physicality that greets Rose on his forays to the rim.

"We just practiced some different looks that we might throw at Derrick Rose and some of their other guys," said Vogel. "We've got to a better job keeping him out of the paint."

Confirmed Tyler Hansbrough: "We're going to try and keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible, and try to contain him a little better and not let him run around the court, and do his thing."

Unlike the widespread perception that guarding Hansbrough is one player's responsibility--more on that to come--the Pacers know they can't leave any lone defender on an island with Rose and are even willing to sacrifice to contain the explosive scorer.

"It's a hard task, but it's not one man's job to do it; it's all five guys on the court. We've tweaked some things," explained center Roy Hibbert. "I could be saying, 'Hey, you know what? I only got one shot in the second half,' but I wanted to be a defensive presence and I was really trying to do a good job with clogging up the paint, helping out as much as possible and just making sure Derrick Rose didn't get any easy looks at the basket."

Regardless of whether it's slowing down Rose or exhibiting more poise in crunch time, the young Pacers know they have to grow up in a hurry. However, they came into the series with a chip on their collective shoulder and after coming so close to bringing in the postseason with a monumental upset, they're not exactly dissuaded from trying to beat the odds.

"I'm not sure if it's confidence or it's just us getting out there and wanting to prove something, that we belong in the playoffs," said Hansbrough. "A lot of people have written us off."

Philosophized Hibbert: "We've got one under our belt now and it's in the moment when things click.

"We'll be able to figure it out when we're in the moment," he continued. "We're disappointed--a loss is a loss--but we know what we're capable of and we're hungrier than we've ever been before. We want a split in Chicago and then go home to Indy and get those wins there. I'm kind of happy this isn't like the NCAA college basketball tournament where this is one-and-done.

"It's going to be a long series; I just want to tell you guys the media that."

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.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls trade Gibson, McDermott; Blackhawks beat Coyotes

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls trade Gibson, McDermott; Blackhawks beat Coyotes

CSN to carry live coverage of Class 1A-4A IHSA Girls Basketball State Championships

CSN Chicago expands regional broadcast plans for Fire

Patrick Kane nets hat trick as Blackhawks cruise past Coyotes

NBA Trade Deadline: Bulls deal Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott to Thunder

White Sox will retire Mark Buehrle's number in June

Why Joe Maddon sees Kyle Schwarber as the leadoff guy in Cubs lineup

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Coyotes: Nick Schmaltz shines on 21st birthday

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

Braves Way: How Cubs are still focused on next wave of young talent

What the Bulls are getting in point guard Cameron Payne

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

Thursday's trade with Oklahoma City points out the problem with trying to stay in playoff contention while also rebuilding the roster with more young and athletic players.

The Bulls obviously hurt their postseason chances by dealing locker-room leader and rock-solid pro Taj Gibson and their best 3-point shooter in Doug McDermott. And, at first glance, the players they got back don't look very impressive.

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson made it clear that one of the objectives in Thursday's deal was to free up playing time for his last two first-round draft picks, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis. He also made it clear that newly acquired point guard Cameron Payne would play a lot over the final 25 games of the season.

So, how does Fred Hoiberg now deal with an unwieldy number of players expecting to get minutes? If Payne is going to play, that probably means Rajon Rondo is out of the rotation. But will Rondo sit by quietly so the Bulls can preserve his $14 million salary slot for possible trades this summer? Or will the front office be forced to offer him a contract buyout?

And what about the other two players acquired in the Oklahoma City deal? Long-range specialist Anthony Morrow is suffering through one of the worst seasons of his career, hitting just 29 percent of his attempts from 3-point range. Will he get the minutes previously given to McDermott, or is he a candidate for a buyout? Paxson cryptically said Morrow's role is "still to be defined."

Joffrey Lauvergne, a 6-foot-11 center, has some ability, but he's a restricted free agent at season's end and it's hard to project him getting any meaningful playing time behind Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio.

So let's add it all up. Hoiberg now has four point guards — five if you count Isaiah Canaan — and three centers to juggle, plus he'll have to find minutes for Valentine, Morrow and Paul Zipser at the wing spots behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

How will Portis fare as the new starting power forward? And what to do with Nikola Mirotic? His fading confidence is probably at a new low after the team's failed efforts to find him a new home before the deadline.

It will be fascinating to see if this team can manage to hold onto a playoff spot after losing Gibson and McDermott, to say nothing of the maddening inconsistency we've witnessed over the first 57 games of the season.

Good health will be critical, with the team's two best players, Butler and Wade, each enduring some bumps and bruises in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break. We've seen what the Bulls look like without Butler, and it's not pretty. They're 1-5 in the games Butler missed because of illness and a right heel contusion.

The story is different when Wade has been out. The Bulls are 5-4 in the games he's missed because of illness, injury or just plain rest. Still, the 12-time All Star has shown the ability to raise the level of his play when the games matter most, and you can expect he'll be a big factor for the Bulls down the stretch. Don't forget, Wade almost single-handedly took an undermanned Miami team to within a win of the Eastern Conference Finals last season with a turn-back-the-clock playoff performance.

Hard to gain much from looking at the remaining schedule. Only 11 of the remaining 25 opponents have winning records, but we've all seen how that's gone in the past. If the Bulls can head into April around .500, they should be in position to make a strong closing run with a pair of matchups against the NBA's worst team, Brooklyn, along with games against the Pelicans, Knicks, 76ers and Magic to close out the regular season.

Of course, since Hoiberg has been told to give significant minutes to Portis, Valentine and Payne the rest of the way, it's possible making the playoffs isn't quite as important as it was at the start of the season. Questions about Butler's future will start up again as we approach the NBA Draft in June since Paxson wouldn't commit to trying to build around the three-time All Star, and if Butler goes, it's a pretty safe bet that Wade follows him out the door.

Life's never easy in the NBA when you're stuck in the middle. Maybe the trade with Oklahoma City is the signal we've been waiting for that a full rebuild is on the horizon.

[MORE BULLS: What the Bulls are getting in point guard Cameron Payne]

Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.

Off to see the Wizards

The Wizards have been on fire since Dec. 12, putting together a 25-12 record. In case you haven't noticed, fourth-year forward Otto Porter is among the league leaders in 3-point percentage, shooting 46.5 percent to go along with 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. It's going to cost the Wizards a small fortune to sign the restricted free agent this summer.

Washington's backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is finally starting to reach the potential everyone saw when the Wizards upset the Bulls in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. The two are combining for an average of 45 points and 14 assists per game, with Wall now a perennial All Star capable of taking over games with his scoring and playmaking. Beal probably should have made the Eastern Conference All-Star team as well with his 22.2 points per game scoring average, shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from behind the 3-point line.

The Wizards also made an under-the-radar pick-up, getting Bojan Bogdanovic from Brooklyn for a first-round pick in this summer's draft. You probably haven't watched a lot of Brooklyn Nets basketball over the last couple years, but Bogdanovic is a good 3-point shooter who can also score off the dribble, averaging 14 points a game this season, while shooting 44 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range. Bogdanovic will be a major upgrade for a Wizards bench that's struggled this season.

Moving to Canada

Toronto made two good moves before the deadline, acquiring a starting power forward in Serge Ibaka and a backup small forward in P.J. Tucker. Ibaka's ability to block shots and stretch the floor from the 3-point line should help the Raptors on both ends, while Tucker gives them another strong perimeter defender to go along with DeMarre Carroll in a possible playoff series against LeBron James and the Cavs.

LeBron loading up

Speaking of the Cavs, they're expected to add former Illini star Deron Williams to their bench once he clears waivers and completes a buyout with Dallas. Williams gives Cleveland the additional playmaker James has been demanding for the last couple months and sets up a potentially epic Finals matchup against Golden State. Williams gets a chance to compete for a championship late in his career, and he's still capable of being a difference maker in big games, averaging 13 points and seven assists per game. Cleveland is now loaded in the backcourt with Kyrie Irving, Williams, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and swingman Kyle Korver.

No luck for the Celtics

The one contending team that didn't make a move at the deadline is Boston. Danny Ainge talked trade with the Bulls about Butler and with Indiana about Paul George, but in the end he wasn't willing to give up those precious Brooklyn first-round draft picks he's been hoarding for years. Keep in mind the Celtics reportedly love University of Washington guard Markelle Fultz, who's expected to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, and they'll have enough cap room to make a run at free-agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler.

Even with the addition of Butler or George, the Celtics might not have been able to take down King James and the Cavs in this year's playoffs, but they are still lurking as the rising power in the East. Now, we'll all have to wait to see what Ainge does in the days leading up to the draft.

Quote of the week

Gibson gave the Chicago media one last lengthy session before boarding a private jet with McDermott to their new home in Oklahoma City.

On his time in Chicago: "Every day I came to the locker room just seeing my name on the back of a Bulls jersey was a dream come true."

So what will it be like to join a new team after eight and a half seasons in Chicago? "I'm like a kid going to a new school. I don't know where to sit on the bus."

Something tells me Russell Westbrook and the Thunder will let Gibson have any seat he wants.

Good luck in Oklahoma City, Taj (and Doug). You will be missed by Bulls fans and media.