No clowns on Bulls' pivotal Circus Trip

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No clowns on Bulls' pivotal Circus Trip

Monday, Nov. 15, 2010
11:18 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

The November circus trip is here. Starting Tuesday in Houston, the team will play seven straight road gamesincluding three sets of back-to-back contestsconcluding Nov. 27, with the next game at the friendly confines of the United Center not until Dec. 1, when Orlando visits Chicago.

Success on this annual trip has been fleeting for the squad in recent years, but its understood throughout the organization that its key to perform well, as a disastrous journey could put them behind the eight-ball when jockeying for playoff position in a campaign with high expectations later in the season Facing a murderers row of opponentssuch as the Texas Triangle of Houston (the first game of the trip).

Were just going to take it one game at a time. Were not worried about anybody else on the road trip but Houston. Weve got to focus in and key in on them. They have very good guard play and they have a threat on the insidethats Scola and if Yao plays again, hell be a threat on the insidebut our focus is just on that one game, said Derrick Rose after Saturdays win over Washington. One game at a time. We cant look ahead. We know that were playing against some good teams, but we still have to take it one game at a time, just prepare ourselves and focus in on that one team.

Its really going to help our team. This year we have a lot of good guys that like hanging with each other. Were young, were getting into a little groove, so I think that should help us, our vets, we can relate to them. They have young spirits, were always hanging around them, so I know everybodys going to be hanging with everybody this trip, he continued. I think its all discipline. Were going on the West Coast, of course the weathers going to be different, you want to go out more, so I think its all about discipline. Dedicating yourself and sacrifice by not going out and getting some rest.

This is a new year. Im not worried about last year, last years over with. I know I have a new team, new coaching staff and thats how were looking at it.

Added Taj Gibson: Right now were just focused on one team at a time, the same way we did last year when we went on that awesome winning streak over there. Just one game at a time, you cant focus on the overall thing about games in the past or how our team did in previous years.

If the players sound focused, their coach should get some credit, as the unified message from the team first emanated from Thibodeau immediately after Saturdays win.

All the stuff about the road trip, Im concerned more about our practice and Houston. All the stuff about going on the road, the circus, all that stuff, Im not concerned with that. Im worried about the next game.

And with that, heres a look at the Bulls upcoming slate:

@ Houston-Nov. 16:

Yao Mings shaky health statusand frustrating minute-limithavent exactly been a boon to the Rockets, who have gotten off to a rough start. Although the Rockets have often played spoiler and embraced the role of giant-killer during their centerpieces numerous injury stretches in past seasons, they simply lack firepower with floor general and former Most Improved Player Aaron Brooks sidelined. Houston is getting excellent production out of inside-outside duo Luis Scola and Kevin Martin, and diminutive undrafted point guard Ish Smith is teaming up nicely with backup Kyle Lowry in Brooks absence, but not reaching an agreement with free agent center Erick Dampierwho would have formed a tag-team duo with former Bull Brad Miller behind (or for) Yaohurts them in the paint.

@ San Antonio-Nov. 17:

The Spurs, currently on a seven-game winning streak, have shown signs that they may be gearing up for one last gasp as a true championship contender, reprising the role theyve played for the majority of the last decade and change before the past few good, but not great seasons. Even with future Hall of Famer Tim Duncans numbers taking a slight dip, Tony Parker is healthy again and Manu Ginobili has been quietly superb to start the season. With Richard Jefferson finally settling in after a dismal debut campaign a year ago and a cast of role playersrugged second-year big man DeJuan Blair and 26-year-old rookie sharpshooter Gary Neal, to name a fewcontributing nightly, longtime San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovichs squad certainly wont be an easy out for the Bulls.

@ Dallas-Nov. 19:

During the preseason, the Bulls got two looks at the deep and talented Mavericks, who are touting defensestop if youve heard this before in regards to an early-season Dallas teamas their calling card. With two above-average seven-footers manning the middle in ex-Bull Tyson Chandler and backup Brendan Haywood, the back-line support, defensive presence and rebounding chops to be a long-term threat this season certainly exist. Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki is showing no signs of slowing down, Jason Kidd is still a consummate floor general and scorers galoreJason Terry and Caron Butler, not to mention veteran energy guy Shawn Marionalso abound, making the final stop in the Texas Triangle another doozy.

@ Lakers-Nov. 23:

While the Bulls will get some much-needed days off upon their arrival on the West Coast, a formidable challenge in the form of the two-time defending champion Lakers comes with the trip to Los Angeles. Even though the Lakers are no longer undefeated, one can make the argument that they have been the most impressive team in the league at this point in the young season. Kobe Bryant has been better than many observers expected him to be with his litany of nagging injuries, Lamar Odom has been in playoff form after a summer of USA Basketball, Pau Gasol looks like the leagues best big man on most nights and Ron Artest picked up from the high note he left off in June. Additionally, newcomers Steve Blake and Matt Barnes have fit in well and Andrew Bynums absence has hardly been noticed, making for an already-dangerous bunch with a high ceiling for improvement.

@ Phoenix-Nov. 24:

The loss of Amare Stoudemire has been noticeable on a squad that already struggled with interior defense and rebounding. With Steve Nash still running things, however, Phoenix is never out of a gamejust ask the aforementioned Lakers, against whom the Suns hit 22 3-pointers Sundayand with a versatile array of underrated offensive talent around him, this game could be a shootout for the Bulls. Depending on which of last weeks games against run-and-gun opponents Chicago chooses to modelthe ugly loss to New York or the defensively-dominant win over Golden Stateit could either be a pleasant Thanksgiving for the team or a somber holiday in the Rockies.

@ Denver-Nov. 26:

The combination of mile-high altitude, an always-intense Denver home crowd and a chance of post-Turkey lethargy could all be factors in this contest. The Nuggets precarious health situation could give the Bulls a boost, but a revenge-minded team playing in front of their fans might balance things out. Duplicating the defensive effort made against Carmelo Anthony in Chicagosans his explosive third-quarter scoring burstis a tough task, but necessary for a team with big aspirations and a prideful defensive philosophy.

@ Sacramento-Nov. 27:

The weakest opponent on the trip is the final foe, which already sets off a red flag as a potential trap game, even keeping in mind memories of the Tyreke Evans-led 35-point Kings comeback win at the United Center last season. Sacramento, considered a Western Conference sleeper by some entering this season, has experienced issues with inexperience, discipline, chemistry, a porous defense and an off-key offense. Still, its a team with some talentchiefly Evans, fellow second-year player Omri Casspi, blue-collar power forward Carl Landry and high-risk, high-reward rookie big man DeMarcus Cousinsand the anticipation of returning to the Windy City is a dangerous distraction.

Prediction:

Given their difficulties on this trip in the pastand the fact that theyre still without Carlos Boozerfinishing 4-3 would be considered successful for the Bulls. In order to do that, winning two of the three Texas Triangle games will be key; Houston is winnable enough, but beating Dallas or San Antonio will be tough. Even with their lone significant break of the trip taking place in L.A., beating the defending champs will be an uphill battle, so a win in Phoenix the following night will be of the utmost importance with the post-Thanksgiving rematch against Denver looming. Obviously not looking past Sacramento before coming home will be significant, as the team will want to be on an upward swing upon returning to Chicago. A guess: 3-4, which is still respectable and would leave the Bulls relatively unscathed with hopes of Boozers imminent return.

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.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."