Rose, Bulls top Suns in battle of point guards

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Rose, Bulls top Suns in battle of point guards

Tuesday, April 5, 2011Posted 9:40 p.m. Updated 11:40 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Tuesday night's game at the United Center seemed in the bag as the Bulls built up a seemingly insurmountable lead, but let up and allowed the Suns to claw their way back into the game, before escaping with a 97-94 win.

The late heroics of Derrick Rose were Chicagos saving grace, as the All-Star point guard hit clutch shots to hold off Phoenix and maintain the Bulls three-game Eastern Conference first-place lead over both Miami and Boston.

We got the big lead, we got loose, we stopped defending and they hurt us on the boards, so we were fortunate in the end, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. We didnt play well and you have to give the Suns credit. They played well. They played hard, they played smart, they were unselfish and we didnt play tough with the lead. Our shot selection hurt us, our defensive transition hurt us. Were fortunate in the end to get the win, but weve got to do a lot better. Weve got to clean up a lot of things.

Overall, 94 points54 in the second halfthats not good enough.

With both teams welcoming back key players to the lineupBulls center Joakim Noah (12 points) returned after a four-game absence caused by a sprained right ankle; Phoenix point guard Steve Nash (16 assists) got over the flu in time for his annual visit to the Windy Cityeach squad was raring to go and the up-tempo style play early on favored the visitors.

As offensively capable as the Bulls (57-20) have occasionally proven to be with their full complement of players, the Suns (37-40) are regarded as the NBAs masters of run-and-gun basketball.

Behind a bouncy and active Noah, Roses newfound ability to get to the charity stripe, balanced scoring amongst the supporting cast and collectively buckling down on defense, Chicago slowed down Phoenixs rapid-fire attack.

I just came back from injury, so Im very happy to be out there, said Noah. I love this. This is great. Playing for the Chicago Bulls, No. 1 seed right now, about to go to the playoffs, playing in the best building in the world to play basketball in and trying to improve with a great group of guys, and be as good as we can be. I feel pretty good right now.

Despite the efforts of 38-year-old Grant Hill (13 points)a day younger than Bulls veteran Kurt Thomasand Nashs playmaking, the home team clung to a narrow 25-24 edge at the conclusion of the opening period.

The contest remained a close-knit affair early in the second quarter, but the Bulls Bench Mob, led by the high activity levels of Taj Gibson (10 points, nine rebounds) and Ronnie Brewer (10 points, six rebounds, four assists), managed to build a slim cushion by forcing turnovers and playing the gritty, selfless style of basketball Chicago fans have come to expect from the second unit this season.

The aforementioned pair continued to slash their way inside for easy buckets and coupled with the outside marksmanship of Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson, as well as solid transition defense, the Bulls' reserves extended the lead to double digits.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau eventually went back to his regulars and the Bulls ran their offense through Carlos Boozer (12 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) while others, such as Luol Deng (18 points), also got involved as the squad found a balance between solid defense and pushing the pace. At the halftime break, the Bulls maintained a 53-40 advantage.

Chicago was clicking on all cylinders early in the third quarter, as Noah continued to excel as an interior scorer and Rose began to assert himself as a scorer, prompting the Bulls lead to balloon to over 20 points.

Nash, however, was at his playmaking best and while he didnt look to be a scoring threatin some part due to Roses improved defensehe set up his teammates for open jumpers and easy finishes at the rim, causing the Bulls to incur the wrath of the intense Thibodeau, who was clearly unhappy with his teams slippage on the defensive end.

Explained Rose: Offensively, youre going to miss shots. defensively, we let them get in a groove shootingpick-and-pop, Steve rolled coming off screens, floaters, layupsand we cant let players like that get confidence.

After a timeout for instructional purposes, the Bulls widened the gap to previous standards. But Phoenix once again fought back, trimming the deficit via transition opportunities, many of which were created by Bulls turnovers.

Capped by a time-machine alley-oop by former All-Star swingman Vince Carter (21 points), the Suns closed to within 81-70 through three quarters.

Phoenix continued its charge early in the final stanza, battling within single digits behind a small-ball lineup that spread the Bulls out and then took advantage by ducking inside for easy buckets or corralling long rebounds and turning broken plays into ultimately successful possessions.

Carter was the Suns catalyst, scoring in variety of ways that harkened his Half Man, Half Amazing heyday and putting the visitors within striking distance, as it became a two-possession game midway through the period.

Defensively, we had to do a much better job than we did. Once we started coming up with stops, obviously we could get in the open court and run, said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. We have to play the way we played the second half when the game is even, not when were 22 down."

The visitors continued to test Chicagos mettle as the contests stretch run approached, as the two teams were separated by a single basket with two minutes remaining.

Rose, the favorite for this seasons MVP award, gave his team some breathing room by a converting a traditional three-point play with 1:52 to go, to the delight of his hometown fans.

I was just trying to attack, said Rose. They did a good job of containing me the whole game, just making sure I didnt get a lane. I saw a hole and just tried to penetrate.

Both Gentry and Hill both disagreed with the callRose, however, drew contact, but didnt go to the line on several previous second-half drives, perhaps to compensate for the frequency of his trips to the charity stripe in the first halfand voiced their opinions afterwards.

Grants done a good job and Steve did a good job on him. We tried to stop his dribble penetration and then, when he did, we tried to step in front of him for charges, to see if we could take a charge on him, said Gentry, emphasizing the word charge each time to show his disagreement with the blocking foul called on Hill.

Disputed Hill: I thought I was there and Derricks the MVP at home. Its not the first time that an MVP in this building down the stretch got that type of call, but it shouldnt come down to a play like that.

One of those calls that go either way.

But the Suns werent done just yet, as jump-shooting big man Channing Frye (13 points, nine rebounds) knocked down a triple with 1:41 left, making it a 94-92 game and prompting a Bulls timeout.

Rose again displayed nerves of steel, taking his man off the dribble and draining a pull-up jumper from the elbow with 33.2 seconds left, giving his Bulls a four-point lead.
Joakim Noah returned from his ankle injury to mixed reviews from head coach Tom Thibodeau. Noah knows he needs to focus on helping the Bulls improve their rebounding and continue to find chemistry with Carlos Boozer down low. (AP)
Im just trying to do whatever it takes to win, said Rose. At the end, if its me making a shotI never want to be in that position where I have to make a shot like thatif anything, Id rather win by 20 or 30 points, but Ill do whatever it takes to win.

Following a Suns timeout, Carter was efficient in hitting a driving layup on the ensuing possession, leaving 26.7 on the clock and a two-point deficit for Phoenix, plenty of time if the visitors played their cards right.

Chicago attempted to milk the clock before Korver was eventually fouled and while he surprisingly split a pair of free throws to leave the door open, the Suns were unable to get off a potentially game-tying three-point attempt, giving the Bulls a narrow escape.

We cant mess up at practice, we cant come in sluggish at the games, cautioned Rose, who appeared dissatisfied with the quality of the win, given Phoenixs near-comeback. We just cant do that right now.
Noah focused on rebounding in return

Noahs return after a four-game absence caused by a sprained right ankle was certainly a sight for sore eyes, but after missing nearly half of the season due to various injuries, its no surprise he wasnt completely on point.

Offensively, I thought, pretty good. Defensively, I think you could see his timings not quite there, said Thibodeau. Hes hurting a little bit.

Noahs 12-point, four-rebound, four-assist effort showed that his shooting touch and even court awareness offensively was there and while the fact that he guarded Suns face-up big man Channing Frye took him away from the basket some of the night, his rebounding and defense werent up to his usual standards.

Im concerned that he hasnt been able to get into rhythm because hes missed so much time. Hes missed almost half the season and he was just starting to come around, and he was getting his timing back, and then he sprains his ankle. Thibodeau explained. But we need his rebounding. For us to be the type of team we want to be, hes got to rebound big.

Noah himself acknowledged his rebounding could improve; in fact, so could the team as a whole. After dominating opponents on the glass throughout much of the season, the Bulls have come back to Earth, a fact illuminated by a finesse Phoenix team outrebounding them Tuesday.

We have to do a better job rebounding. Thats definitely on everybodyon meto step it up, said Noah. My rebounding is a little down right now, but Im going to work as hard as I can to get it back to where it used to be.

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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Kevin Anderson, Vincent Goodwill and Kendall Gill welcome in SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to discuss the Celtics' motivation to trade for Jimmy Butler. 

The guys also break down whether the league is undervaluing the Bulls All-Star. 

Later, they debate the contant Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan comparison and ask if it's fair after the King's poor showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. O'Donnell also analyzes the NBA Draft. He believes Terrance Ferguson is the right pick for GarPax. 

Finally, a behind the scenes look at Goodwill vs. Kendall on the court, and Kendall on the right way to parent a young athlete. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st. 

Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.

Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?

If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.

Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.

The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.

So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.

The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.

Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.

Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up. 

Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.

Around the Association

Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston. 

Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season. 

Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA. 

Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.

Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options. 

But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.

In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.

Quotes of the Week

The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.

This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."

Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."  

Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!