Gibson seizing opportunity down the stretch

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Gibson seizing opportunity down the stretch

Monday, April 11, 2011
Posted: 10:43 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

NEW YORKWith all the gloom-and-doom talk the Bulls have been espousing lately, one would think the team didnt realize theyre a 60-win team and the Easts top seed for the upcoming playoffs. But while no can argue with the results that Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has gained from his striving-for-perfection approach, there are clearly some positive recent trends.

From the obvious, such as Derrick Roses comfort in the clutch and game management, to the more subtle, like Carlos Boozers playmaking abilitymaybe his scoring numbers arent always as gaudy as expected, but the power forwards ability to command a double team in the low post and set up his teammates for easy baskets has taken pressure off Rosethe Bulls goal of continuing to get better as the season goes on is being manifested in roles developing in an ongoing process.

An example: Taj Gibson. After an unexpected NBA all-rookie team debut campaign in which he started 70 regular-season gamesand supplanted Tyrus Thomas as a starter, perhaps hastening the former lottery picks departureGibson overcame a tough summer personally to pick up where he left off by filling in for the injured Boozer at the beginning of this season. But when Boozer returned to health, Gibson struggled with both injury woes and the adjustment of coming off the bench.

The second-year USC product has been inconsistent, but as of late, he has truly embraced his role as the Bulls first big man off the bench and an energy player.

At first, the beginning of the year, Thibodeau wanted me to start, take shots, play big minutes, rebound the ball and do my job. Then, it was just come off the bench, figure out your minutes, figure out less minutes, do what you need to do. Its all been learning steps my first two years in this league. Hes been around the league a long time, so hes just been helping me and telling me what I need to do: Play with a lot of pace, a lot of poise and go out there, play your game. Let everything fall out, just go out there and unleash, said Gibson, a New Yorker, who will have a homecoming of sorts in the Bulls game against the Knicks Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. Whenever he needs me to go out there and calm down a big that can really stretch the floor, and just try to contain him, he puts me in that role. He uses me in a lot of different roles.

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With him, he just wants me to be ready and when I get in the game, dont worry about my minutes. Just play 100 miles-per-hour, just go out thereeven if I make mistakesand just play hard.

Gibson isnt always going to put up big numbers statistically with Boozer in front of him and a capable post-player rotationveteran Kurt Thomas and rookie Omer Asik can also play major minutes, depending on matchupsbut with starting center Joakim Noah still struggling with his timing since returning from a sprained right ankle, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native has been increasingly valuable. For instance, in Sundays win over Orlando, Gibson was key in containing the Magics Ryan Andersonwho started in place of suspended All-Star center Dwight Howard. Anderson is primarily a pick-and-pop big man, whose versatility gave Noah trouble.

I had to go against him for two years. In college, it seemed to me that he was shooting a little deeper, so I already had my eyes set on what Coach needed me to and thats one thing about our team, explained Gibson, who faced Anderson when both were Pacific-10 Conference stars in college. We have a lot of different big men for any situation, so when he called my name, I understood that he wanted me to show a lot, wanted me to stay out there on the wing and when they went to a smaller lineup, he wanted me to switch a lotone through fiveand I was ready and better equipped for that.

Gibsons efficient play and improved work ethic has earned praise from Thibodeauboth publicly and privatelywhich is no small feat.

Hes just been telling me that Ive been doing a good job with staying late, getting my reps in, working on my game, keeping my game crisp, getting better and taking advantage of the situations, just going in, play my game, playing with effort.

"I feel good. Ive been taking care of my body, revealed Gibson. One thing about Thibs, he lives in the gym and I have teammates that have been helping me get better in Derrick, Carlos, Joakim, Lu. Its been up and down all year, but theyve been sticking with me and its been getting better.
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Taj has been playing terrific, whatever role you put him in. you play him at the four, you play him at the five, praised Thibodeau, who has been quietly been giving Gibson some of Noahs minutesHes got to do better. Hes capable. We need him. We need him to play better and he will, said the coach of his starting centerwhile the latter attempts to get back in the swing of things. He plays defense, he challenges shots, he blocks shots, he sets great screens, hes playing with a lot of energy.

He had some setbacks with injury, but hes gotten better as the seasons gone along. I think the biggest adjustment for him was going from being a starter to coming off the bench, Thibodeau went on to say about Gibson. I think hes comfortable with that now and of course, we know if he has to start, he can handle that great. But his shot-blocking ability to switch on pick-and-rolls, hes gotten much better with his jump shot from 17 feet, hes got a great jump hook inside.

Hes playing at a very high level for us right now.

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.

Tonight on CSN: Bulls shoot for five straight wins as they battle Nuggets

Tonight on CSN: Bulls shoot for five straight wins as they battle Nuggets

Watch as the Bulls take on the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

1. A pair of playoff teams....really. The average basketball fan thinks Bulls vs. Nuggets and doesn't necessarily think of a pair of playoff teams. But the Bulls have won four straight and are tied for sixth in the East, while the Nuggets have surprised the league and gone 25-31, good for eighth in the West. The Bulls opened as three-point favorites, meaning this one could go either way. And when it comes time for the playoffs this is one both teams may look back on as A) a helpful win or B) one the loser really could have used.

2. Going for five straight. The Bulls have won four straight for the second time this season. That fifth game the first time around was a seven-point loss to the Clippers. The Bulls won six in a row last season in December and January, so this is an opportunity to pick up a five-spot for the first time in more than a year. Currently the Bulls are tied with the Spurs for the longest winning streak in the NBA.

3. Cameron Payne getting involved. Expect to see more and more of the second-year point guard who came over in the deal from the Thunder. Payne got just a handful of minutes on Saturday against the Cavaliers but looked good, going for 6 points on 2-for-3 shooting in 12 minutes. There's a logjam at point guard to be sure, but the Bulls dealt for Payne because they want to see what he can do in extended minutes. He has a good matchup against Denver in Jamal Murray and Jameer Nelson, and could do some damage when he gets in.

4. What could have been. When the Bulls traded the Nos. 14 and 19 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft to the Nuggets for Doug McDermott, Denver used one of those picks on Michigan State guard Gary Harris. The 6-foot-4 guard has turned into one of the better young under-the-radar players, averaging 14.2 points on 48 percent shooting and providing solid defense in 29 minutes a night. Who knows if the Bulls would have selected Harris with one of those picks, but he sure would look good on the perimeter next to Jimmy Butler.

5. Bobby Portis momentum. With Taj Gibson out of the picture the starting power forward job is officially Bobby Portis' to lose. Portis has been impressive in his last five games, averaging 11.4 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and is shooting 36 percent from deep. He'll get a difficult test against the Nuggets' frontline, but these are the kinds of games that can help the young forward's progression.

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Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."