Rose, Bulls win battle of point guard wizardry

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Rose, Bulls win battle of point guard wizardry

Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010
Updated 12:37 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

What was expected to be a docile opponent, a tune-up for more formidable foes and a brief respite before an arduous road trip ended up becoming more of a battle than the Bulls anticipated. A mostly uninspired affair, Chicago outlasted the visiting Washington Wizards, 103-96, Saturday evening at the United Center.

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, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. In this league, I dont think you can ever relax. Washington, theyre a talented team.

When the ball was on the board, we werent blocking out or making contact, they were jumping over us, he continued. Thats something that we have to improve upon. Weve been a very good rebounding team all year. I would say give them credit. I would also say our concentration wasnt what it should have been.

Washingtons porous interior defense was exposed immediately, as Chicago looked to force feed touches to Joakim Noah (21 points, nine rebounds) and Taj Gibson for point-blank attempts early. That tact worked out successfully for the most part, although Wizards center JaVale McGee sent back a couple Bulls shots in a display of the Windy City natives tremendous athleticism.

Keith Bogans (11 points) maintained his hot hand from the teams previous victory, knocking down a pair of three-pointers consecutively, as he demonstrated good chemistry with Derrick Rose (team-high 24 points, eight assists) in drive-and-kick scenarios.

The live-bodied and occasionally undisciplined enigmatic forward Andray Blatche picked up an early technical for briefly berating an official Wizards, however, didnt go away. No. 1 overall draft pick John Walls (16 points, six assists) game-changing speed it was virtually indistinguishable from Roses; yes, the rookie is equally fast allowed Washington to get into transition, permitting some of their high-flying athletes to get scoring opportunities out of the constraints of a more deliberate half-court set.

In addition, veteran reserve guard Gilbert Arenas (game-high 30 points) who was mildly booed upon his entrance to the game by the United Center crowd, which, moments before had shown their appreciation for his teammate, ex-Bull Kirk Hinrich (six assists) gave the visitors an added perimeter threat with his still-deadly outside-shooting ability. An unlikely suspect in the form of extremely active backup big man Hilton Armstrong (game-high 10 rebounds) provided yet another weapon for Washington, giving them much-needed offensive continuity to go along with a zone defense that proved to be somewhat effective.

If Chicagos defense wasnt up to par, the teams offense wasnt far behind. Rose couldnt find his touch (1-for-8 shooting in the first period), untimely turnovers occurred and the players as a whole appeared hesitant, leading to a one-point 25-24 deficit after a quarter, with Noahs typically strong inside play the biggest positive.

The disjointed play of the home team didnt instantly cease in the second period, but a concerted effort by Luol Deng (20 points, nine rebounds, six assists) to carry Chicagos offensive load at least erased the Wizards lead early in the quarter. Deng was countered by Arenas own aggressive offensive stance, which wasnt necessarily productive to Washingtons cause.

The games pace suited neither team and the atmosphere in the arena didnt accurately reflect the close-knit contest, although the affairs sloppy nature was a prime contributor. A play from the United Centers guests a vicious alley-oop dunk (plus the foul) by McGee from Wall over Kyle Korver after McGee blocked a Rose layup attempt on the previous possession was actually the catalyst that seemingly inspired Chicago (and the fans), as the Bulls would open up a slight cushion in its aftermath. Chicago showed much more of a sense of urgency, with Taj Gibson blocking multiple shots, Rose pushing the tempo and the lead ballooning to 50-42 at intermission in the Bulls favor.

After seeing your teammate take a tough foul, the way he Korver played, he just went after it. That was a hustle play, it was a great play for him. We dont really care about him getting dunked on. Its going to happen. But after that, just showing how much courage he had, Gibson told CSNChicago.com It makes guys even more hungry. Plus, when the other team talks, you want to be behind your teammate 100 percent.

Added Rose: We knew that we had to change the momentum of the game. That dunk could have definitely changed the game, but we kept it simple, made simple plays, guys made hustle plays.

While the Bulls werent exactly proficient offensively to begin the second half, they were able to shut down the oppositions attack, with Washington held scoreless from the 1:31 mark in the second quarter until 7:35 in the third, an 11-0 extended run (spanning the intermission) for Chicago. Rose finally began to get into the groove offensively the Bulls picked up the effort on the defensive end, allowing him to set the pace with his dangerous transition abilities and the ever-consistent Gibson was also impactful, knocking down his patented baseline jumper with precision.

When we were coming in, we knew we had to pick it up when Thibs put us back in the game. Usually he wants a lot of energy, he wants us to be focused, just keying in on things and just push the ball and go inside-out, whether thats hitting the post, drive and kicking out and he wants everybody to be aggressive and take shots that they usually take, said Rose.

The moment of urgency was fleeting, however, and the uninspired play of both teams continued through the end of the quarter, with Chicago holding a 72-58 advantage.

In the final stanza, the Bulls would attempt to turn things up a notch and put the Wizards away, but their opponents despite injuries to Wall and forward Yi Jianlian werent ready to lay down without putting up a fight. Noahs energetic interior efforts, Dengs in-the-flow scoring and balanced play from Chicago in general went head-to-head with scoring outbursts from the Washington perimeter trio of Arenas, Hinrich and talented reserve swingman Nick Young (11 points). All of a sudden, neither team wanted to give the game away any longer

Arenas is a great, phenomenal player. Coming off the bench, nobody really took him lightly. We understand he can put up 30 any given night. What more can I say? Hes a great player and he showed it tonight in the second half, Gibson told CSNChicago.com about Arenas, who hit four of his game-high seven three-pointers in the final stanza.

Arenas was shooting shots where we were in his face, falling down, shooting from halfcourt he was hitting everything, concurred Rose.

That was the funny thing. I was like, Man, Id rather shoot from the three-point line than get inside, explained Arenas. I think with the ankle injury, it was hard for me to go in and start pushing off. Now that its getting better, Im feeling more comfortable getting in there.

Urgency was back in the picture for the Wizards, as Wall returned and Arenas maintained his hot hand from the outside, giving the semi-antagonistic fans a glimpse of his past All-Star capabilities. For the Bulls, the games stretch run became about survival; not an ideal approach, but one that left them with the ideal ending after it became clear the Wizards had run out of gas.

Ill say it started from shootaround, where we werent that focused and Thibs was getting on us and it carried over into the game, so we could basically tell what kind of game it was going to be from shootaround, said Rose. The same things that he was telling us in practice that we needed to do, we didnt do it in the game and thats make them run off the 3-point line.

Were playing with fire. We gave up 38 points in the fourth. We didnt cover the three-point line. You cant do that. They were maybe one or two possessions away from the game being really close down the stretch. I give them credit, they fought the whole game. We got loose, said Thibodeau. The fourth quarters supposed to be your best quarter. We were careless with the ball, we closed short. Theyre the type of team, they knock a few in from three especially Arenas it doesnt take much to get them going. For him, hes still a heck of a player.

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.

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."