Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010
By Aggrey Sam
LOS ANGELESWith three off-days leading up to Tuesday nights matchup with the Lakersthe first game in a four-in-five night stretchthe Bulls have been treating their sojourn to the City of Angels as a combination of strictly business mixed with rest and relaxation.
You have to make maximum use of your time. You hit stretches where you have a few days in between, so you want to maximize your practice time then, and then you can go into four games in five days. You have to maximize your team meetings and film sessions, and things like that. Over the course of the season, it all works out. You just want to build the right habits each and every day, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who explained that he had the team leave Dallas the morning after Fridays win over the Mavericks just to get acclimated out here, prior to Tuesdays morning shootaround on UCLAs campus. Its how you prepare. You know that youre facing that throughout the season. Were not looking at four games in five days; were just looking at the Lakers tonight.
At the same time, Thibodeaucontrary to his workaholic, overly focused perceptionindicated rest and the importance of good practices, as opposed to overworking his squad, (one his favorite phrases is pacing the team) mattered more to him than the amount of time spent in the gym.
Remarked Thibodeau Tuesday: I actually like the off days because I thought we had the opportunity to really get some quality practice in. I thought our guys practiced well.
All the cities are great cities, so I think thats the challenge all the timeto be focused, to get ready, to study your opponent, to prepare yourself to play, Thibodeau previously said after Sundays practice at the Staples Center. Youre going to have the same distractions, whether youre in Chicago, Dallas or L.A. Its about building the right habits, so you can prepare yourself to play your best.
As for his players, not only are they unconcerned about the prospect of facing the defending championsin terms of putting more emphasis on the game than any others, another Thibodeau mantra that has trickled into the teams collective psychebut they all understand how significant it is to not fall into the nightlife traps waiting in L.A., while finding balance in their free time.
The hype of any good team in the NBA is going to be big. Of course, its going to be kind of bigger here because they won the championship, but youve got to look at it as a regular game, said Derrick Rose after Sundays practice. Youve got to concentrate more, focus more, get your rest, make sure you eat right.
Rose continued: Im going to enjoy this time and get away from basketball. Thibs had me for a couple hours Sunday.
Were out here for business. Just have to lock in and focus, chimed in Taj Gibson Sunday. The one thing I learned about last year, you cant focus on coming out here and relaxing.
Thats how the Lakers really get you. You come out here, you get lackadaisical. You get caught so up in the scene and the nice things. We have to lock in and Coach Thibs is on top of it, he added. He said, Its all about business. We understand its nice and L.A. is great, but we have to really focus because this is a good team.
Speaking of Gibson, his recent foot injury and breakout game17 points and 18 rebounds in the Dallas win Fridayafter a two-game mini-slump (during which he shot a combined 1-for-16 from the field) has garnered him more attention than usual leading up to Tuesdays game.
Well have to wait and see if his performance in the Dallas game got him out of his slump, but as far as expanding and getting better, I think that helped out a lot. Just learning to do different things other than trying to shoot a 15-foot jumper, Gibson, familiar with L.A. from his days at the University of Southern California, said Sunday. When we watched film, he didnt really shy away from me shooting it jumpers. He said, Just dont be one-dimensional. Youve got a chance to be great, dont settle for small things. You can rebound the ball well, youre tough in the post. Just do other things I just thought about what Coach Tim Floyd (the former Bulls head coach and Gibsons college coach at USC) told me my last year in college. If it doesnt go your way on your jump shot, you can always get it the ball off the glass. You can always get points that way. Thats the same thing Coach Jeff Van Gundy (the former Knicks and Rockets head coach, now an NBA television analyst) when I went to talk to him. He said, Just get it off the glass. Thats what I did.
Concurred Thibodeau: I thought it Gibsons inside scoring against Dallas established us inside and we wanted to have a mix from him, not strictly jump shotsbut post-ups, second shotssome easy scoring opportunities for him. I think it puts a lot more pressure on the defense when the balls getting into the paint first. Weve been relying on Derrick heavily off dribble penetration, but I thought he gave us a great post presence and he made some good plays.
Coach Thibodeau said Sunday, theyre the Lakers the No. 1 team in the NBA in scoring. Theyve got a lot of different weapons, they rebound the ball real well. He said its going to be a dogfight, just going after the ball off the rebound, trying to get offensive rebounds. Were up for the challengejust understanding its going to be a tough gamebut every game were playing right now is going to be real important to our development as a team, continued Gibson, who said he basically relaxed and caught up with old college friends in the days leading up to the game, in addition to getting treatment for his injury. Were not really looking at that the Lakers being the defending champions. Its a whole new year. Every year is differentwere just focused on us right now.
Leading up to the game, Thibodeau is obviously focused on Chicagos two-time defending champion opponent, but his big-picture thought process has more to do with the Bulls taking the next step in their development.
For us, each day theres certain things were working on. We know we need to improve. Were nowhere near where we want to be, so Sunday we focused a lot on our defense, said Thibodeau from the Staples Center. Each day well spend some time on our preparation for the Lakers, but its more about our improvement right now.
Every practice, we have things that we want to work on offensively and defensively, and also part of it is practice for that upcoming opponent. Our format wont change.
The Lakers dont pose any ordinary challenge. In addition to returning the bulk of its rotationcenter Andrew Bynum is currently sidelined, but sixth-man extraordinaire Lamar Odom is more than capable of handling a starting role, and in fact, is excelling at power forward, while Pau Gasol slides to centerthey also had quality depth in the offseason, with steady backup point guard Steve Blake and defensive stopper Matt Barnes, along with a much-improved Shannon Brown, re-signed as a free agent in the summer with veteran floor general Derek Fisher.
Theyre a lot of them concerns. They the Lakers have so many different weapons, theyre well balanced, they can post you up, they can take you off the dribble, theyve got catch and shoot, fast break. Theyre shooting the three great this year, so it puts even more pressure on you, and defensively, theyre solid. They make it hard on you, they have great length up front challenging shots, rebounding. Its not an accident that theyve been consistently at the top of the league, but if we do the things that we should do, we should be in position to win, Thibodeau said before Tuesdays shootaround. Theyre a very good individual defensive team and theyre also a very good help team, so they have a very solid plan defensively. The thing that we have to do is make them miss so we can get up the floor quickly, get into the open floor. Then, in the halfcourt, you cant hold onto the ball. If you stand and dance with the ball and you hold onto it, that plays right into their hands, so we have to make quick decisions, keep the ball moving, players have to move. They have to attack and when the second defender comes, we have to make the right play. We have to concentrate on their spacing and we have to be able to sustain our spacing through the second and third option.
Better said than done with the vast collection of talent on the opposing bench.
Up front, when you look at the versatility of Gasol and Odom, it puts enormous pressure on your defense because of their skill sets. Gasol, he has a unique post-up game because its not only back to the basket, but hes also good at facing up. Hes got very good counters and his length. Hes got the ability to get a quality shot up every time, so youve got to make his catches hard, said Thibodeau of the Lakers frontcourt. Odom, he might be the most underrated player in the league. Theres nothing that he doesnt do. He can shoot, he can pass, hes a great rebounder, hes a great defender, he can post, puts it on the floor and he has a very high basketball I.Q. I think when you have quality big men that can play like that and theyre willing to passwhen you look at what theyre doing, theyre scoring 112 points a game.
They play great defense, theyre well-coached and Fisher, hes a great leader. Theyre a team that has great depth, experience and theyre shooting the three great this year.
Shannon Brown has been impressive. Hes gotten better and better. Ive always liked Steve Blake. Hes a borderline starter and he can shoot the ball, good decision-maker, and hes a much better defender than hes given credit for, he went on to say. Theyre long up front. Theyre an excellent rebounding team and when the balls shot, youve got to get into their bodies. Because of their length, they can come right over the top. Artest is basically a power forward in a small forwards body. If youre not into him, he can basically wedge you underneath the basket and hurt you with the second shot also. And Kobe, of course, hes great at following his own misses, so Im very concerned about the rebounding.
Ah, Kobe. Thibodeaus nemesis in two of the three past NBA Finalswhile Thibodeau served as a Celtics assistant coach and chief defensive strategist; Boston won in 2008 and fell to the Lakers last springclearly has the respect of his new players.
Everything, said Rose after an extended pause when asked to assess the strengths of Bryants game. His passion for the game, he wants to be the best, he imposes his will on the game. He just makes people quit. Thats exactly what he does.
I could apply pressure to people, but Im nowhere near him.
Added Thibodeau: Kobe, theres nothing that he hasnt seen and he has great will to win. He imposes his will on his teammates.
His greatnessyou could play great defense as a team and youre just trying to make him workand he still has the ability to score big. Hes gotten to the point now where he can beat you a lot of different ways. Its not only scoring points. He can beat you with the pass, he can beat you with his defense, he can beat you with his rebounding. I thought in Game 7 of last years NBA Finals, what gets lost on people is the fact that we the Boston Celtics were badly outrebounded. Even though he didnt have a particularly good shooting night, he had a great rebounding night. That probably was the difference of the game, added Thibodeau, who said he tries not to think about Game 7 of last seasons NBA Finals about Bryant.
Thibodeau also showed great respect for a former predecessor with the Bulls, Lakers head coach Phil Jackson.
Hes a great coach. To me, when a guy can do it year after year after year, that whats makes him great and hes proven now, Thibodeau said Monday. He did it with Chicago, now hes done it with the Lakers. Hes been very consistent. Its a challenge to coach great players and I think he does it as well as anybody in the game.
With all of the good tidings sent the Lakers way, however, dont expect the Bulls to be intimidated. In fact, with the habits Thibodeau has been trying to breed within his players, Chicago isnt just paying lip service to the clich of treating Tuesdays contest like any other game.
The Bulls have to play our game. Play our defensively-sound game, our rebounding and one thing you look at it when you play them, theyre a solid defensive team and solid reboundinga lot of offensive rebounds, Gibson said Tuesday. We do the same thing. Like Coach said, We have to come in with that same mindset, be hard-nosed and just strike the first punch.
Added Thibodeau: We feel like if were doing the right things and we prepare well, that we should have a chance to win.
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.