Sam: Bulls React to Game 3 Win Over Cavaliers

Sam: Bulls React to Game 3 Win Over Cavaliers

Friday, April 23, 2010
1:40 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Referring to Joakim Noah as Chicagos heart and soul is now an overused clich, but with his 10 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and immeasurable non-statistical impact tonight, the charismatic center proved his value, backing up his so-called disparaging remarks about the city of Cleveland with not only a tremendous individual outing (as was also the case in the Bulls Game 2 loss), but a victory in front of an appreciative United Center audience. Sometimes I say things and sometimes it gets a little blown out of proportion, but I dont want people to think that Im some kind of circus freak, said Noah in his postgame press conference. Im going out there and playing my heart and my soul out, giving it everything Ive got out there on the court. Just because I say things like, Cleveland sucks, doesnt mean Im not going out there on the court and giving it everything Ive got. Thats why I didnt talk to you guys the media, following Bulls practice on Wednesday.

Noah also noted that he cant wait to go back to Cleveland for Game 5 of the series on Tuesday, but while he acknowledged Cavaliers star LeBron James talent, he was hesitant to praise the likely MVP too much. Hes very good. I dont want to give him too much credit, we do have to play them again, but he is very good.

Derrick Rose shied away from any comparisons between himself and the aforementioned James, although he relished their matchup when James was switched onto him late in the contest. It surprised me a little bit, but it was fun out there, Ill tell you, said Rose in his postgame press conference, before delving into his strategy against James. Just get him off balance. My speed usually gets people off balance. Hes big, but hes got the same quickness as Ive got, so its kind of hard, but I think I took a layup on him, but the rest were jump shots. I was just trying to keep pressure on him so he could get exhausted on the other end. Rose scored 31 points and dished out seven assistsa frighteningly normal performance for the precocious budding superstarbut he was most proud of his zero-turnover outing. "Bulls assistant coach Randy Brown usually tells me that after every game. Hes more excited than I am about turnovers. Thats a big part of the game, especially in my game. I tend to turn the ball over a little bit, but Ive been working on it, observed Rose. Ive been making smarter decisions and delivering the ball where its supposed to be. Rose, who missed Wednesdays practice and subsequently lost his uncle later in the day, was dismissivein his typically humble fashionof Chicago fans chanting, M-V-P, when he was at the foul line tonight. Dont listen to them, man. Do not listen to them. I almost passed out, joked Rose. Hopefully one day, but not this year. Im just worried about winning games right now. Rose had another humorous comment about notably slow-footed teammate Brad Miller, saying, Brad Millerwe tell him to shoot the ball every timethe slowest guy in the NBA and he wants to drive.

In light of James monster numbersthe Cavaliers franchise player finished with 39 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks on the eveningLuol Dengs stout defensive effort against him will likely again go under appreciated, but not only did the Bulls small forward make his Cleveland counterpart and former high school summer rival work hard for everything he got on the offensive end, Deng had two key playsa gorgeous behind-the-back move that left James grasping air and a key late-game charge in the waning moments of the contestdirectly against James.

"As far as the charge, I kind of felt like he was going to go to the basket. At that time, he was driving a lot. If he pulled up for the jump shot, he probably would have had it. I just wanted to get in front of him, said Deng, who had 20 points in tonights affair. The refs took a while. I was on the floor and I was like, I hope this is not another and-one.I was really happy to see the refs point the other way. Describing his offensive move, Deng said, Honestly, its not something I had in mind. It just happenedit was just a reaction. I tried to drive middle and he jumped in front of me, took away the middle and I put it behind the back and went to the basket.

LeBron James individual effort was obviously fantastic, but the Cleveland star expressed some concern about his squads overall performance tonight. We came into the game a little bit too lax, I dont know why. Not a sense of urgency to start the game and allowed them to get in a real comfort zone, said James. We didnt have a lot of energy to start the game and as much as we crawled back in the second half, it didnt matter. James commented on the crucial aforementioned charge taken by Deng, a call he disagreed with. What did I see? I saw me and Luol, and I see him backpedaling. Me, as a driver, Im watching the defenders feet and Im seeing if hes stationary or hes still moving. To me, I see hes still backpedaling. As soon as I see him backpedaling, thats when I decided to take off. They called a charge. I havent seen a replay, but I know exactly what I saw on the court with the defender right in front of me.

James also discussed his late-game switch onto Rose, foreshadowing perhaps that matchup again later in the series. He does a lot of ball handling, so we dont want to put me on him for a long period of time. But in a game like this, where we had an opportunity to win and he was playing particularly well, I wanted to match up with, said James, who noted, I put myself on him. Tremendous player, great game by him. Great game by their team, but well see as the series goes on if I do move on to him a lot or if I dont.

With the lack of production by Cavaliers starting center Shaquille ONeal (who tailed off significantly from his Game 1 showing), James was questioned about Clevelands success with a smaller lineup. I think thats something were going to look at in the next couple days, James said. Weve been really, really good this year when weve played small. We become more athletic, we become faster.

It doesnt take away from our big lineup because we can also go big, he continued. Its a really effective lineup for us. About ONeal specifically, James said, Im not concerned about himwe need him to pick up his play and he knows that also. No matter who you areif youre the best player in the worldif you take an eight-week layoff, it definitely takes a toll on you. Were looking for him to try to be as productive as he can with that layoff, be a force on the interior and helps us win these games, and help us win Game 4 because thats the most important game.

Dont forget to follow me on Twitter @CSNBullsInsider.

--Aggrey Sam

NBA Buzz: Nikola Mirotic making Bulls' offseason decision tougher

NBA Buzz: Nikola Mirotic making Bulls' offseason decision tougher

It's too bad Nikola Mirotic never played college basketball in the United States. He would have been fun to watch during March Madness.

For some reason, Mirotic has saved his best basketball for the month of March over his three NBA seasons. During his rookie season in 2014-15, Mirotic took advantage of injuries to a couple of the Bulls key players, and averaged 20.8 points a game with expanded playing time in March, leading all NBA players in fourth-quarter scoring.

Last season, after rehabbing from two surgeries following appendicitis, Niko averaged just over 13 points a game in March, shooting better than 53 percent from deep.

And this season, Mirotic is averaging 14.2 points on 47.9% shooting from the field during his favorite month. Since he re-entered the rotation back on March 13, Mirotic has been even better, averaging 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds, shooting 51 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point land.

It appeared Mirotic's time with the Bulls was coming to an end when Fred Hoiberg held him out of three straight games earlier this month, including a spot on the inactive list in Boston on March 12. At that point, Mirotic talked openly of not knowing why he had been taken out of the rotation. Now, he might be the key to the Bulls' playoff hopes.

Mirotic has scored a season-high 28 points each in two of the last three games.

[VIVID SEATS: Buy your Bulls tickets right here!]

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, "The big thing with Niko is he's playing with a lot of confidence right now. Anybody who's a shooter, they play with confidence, the game's a lot easier. He's not hesitating at all with his shots. He's taking good shots in the flow of the offense. When Jimmy and Rajon get in the paint, and Niko's spacing the floor, it's a great look and right now he's knocking them down."

So, right now all is good for the 26-year-old native of Montenegro. But it's hard to look past the inconsistency that's marked his NBA career. Mirotic is averaging 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in his three NBA seasons, shooting  41 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep. Not exactly the numbers Bulls' fans expected from the guy considered to be one of the best prospects in Europe when he was drafted in 2011. 

Now, as Mirotic gets ready to head into restricted free agency this summer, the Bulls are faced with a difficult decision. Are they willing to pay more than $10 million a year for a player who's been so inconsistent in the NBA? Or, do they let Mirotic walk and risk the possibility the light will suddenly come on for a 6-foot-10 stretch forward that every team in the league could utilize?

The Bulls have 2015 first-round pick Bobby Portis under contract for next season, and Paul Zipser and Joffrey Lauvergne also could be in the mix for playing time at the power forward spot. And, there's always the chance the Bulls could get in the bidding for big name free agents Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap.

But after trading Doug McDermott at the deadline, the Bulls are painfully short on 3-point shooting threats, and that might lead the front office to decide they'll need to overpay to keep Mirotic around.

It's just one of the tough decisions the Bulls front office faces in what promises to be a fascinating off-season.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

It's been another tough season in Phoenix. Despite adding a number of lottery picks in recent years, the Suns currently own the third-worst record in the league. Maybe that's why the players were celebrating with so much energy during a loss in Boston last Friday, watching second year guard Devin Booker explode for 70 points.

Booker becomes only the 6th NBA player to hit the 70-point plateau, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson and Elgin Baylor. The baby-faced 20-year-old shooting guard connected on 21 of 40 shots from the field (only 4-11 from 3-point range), plus 24 of 26 from the free-throw line.

With the game hopelessly out of reach in the 4th quarter the Suns kept feeding the ball to Booker to see how high he could push his point total. It might not have pleased basketball purists, but it sure was fun for the Suns' players during their 51st loss of the year.

Phoenix added a pair of young big men in last year's draft, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, and they have a deep backcourt with Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. So, is there a chance they could enter the bidding for Bulls' star Jimmy Butler this summer?

Would a top-3 pick and Bledsoe be enough for Butler? Or would the Bulls prefer a couple of the Suns' young frontcourt players, Bender, Alex Len or T.J. Warren to go along with the pick?

With seven or eight elite prospects at the top of this year's draft, the Bulls will have some options if they decide to go the total rebuild route.

If the Bulls do go shopping for a Butler deal, don't count on Boston still being interested this summer. In case you haven't noticed, the Celtics moved ahead of Cleveland for the No. 1 seed in the East earlier this week, and Danny Ainge might decide he can build a championship team without making a major trade.

The Celtics already have two All-Star caliber players on the roster in Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, and if the pick they have coming from Brooklyn remains in the top 3, Ainge will be able to add an elite young player like Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball or Josh Jackson. After holding on to those Brooklyn picks for so long in the trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets, it's hard to imagine Ainge changing direction now.

Plus, the Celtics also will have enough salary cap room to go after a top free agent, and they've long been linked to Jazz star Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler. It's possible the Celtics could come back next season with a lineup of Thomas and Fultz/Ball in the backcourt, with Horford, Hayward and Jae Crowder up front. Maybe not the star power to match Cleveland, but certainly a team that could contend in the East for a number of years to come.

Former Bulls' All-Star Joakim Noah met with the New York media to discuss his 20 game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance contained in an over the counter supplement he was taking. 

"I made a mistake. It was a tough year for me, for this team," Noah told reporters after returning to practice Tuesday. "... I let a lot of people down. It was a mistake. And I gotta learn from it and bounce back. This is a tough moment and I'm going to learn from it."

Noah said he used the supplement to try to help him bounce back from a hamstring injury he suffered in early February. The former NBA Defensive Player of the Year then had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on February 27 to remove loose fragments.

The Knicks are hoping he can get medical clearance to serve part of the 20-game suspension this season, with the remaining time served at the start of the 2017-18 season. Noah still has three more years left on the four-year, $72 million contract he signed with Phil Jackson's Knicks last summer.

Kevin Durant continues to work his way back from the sprained knee he suffered on February 28th in Washington. The Warriors released a statement on Wednesday saying Durant has made very good progress in his rehab and will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days. The hope is to have Durant play a few regular season games over the final week to get him ready for the playoffs.

Durant has been traveling with the team, going through pre-game workouts monitored by the medical and training staff. The plan is to increase his level of movement over the next few days to see how the knee responds.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Even though the Bulls haven't won back-to-back games since February 24 and 25, the players continue to remain confident about their playoff chances.

This from Mirotic following practice on Wednesday, "We have to depend on just ourselves and pray basically. Hopefully we can be there...... I think we deserve it. The attitude of the team is great right now. We're sticking together even after that tough loss against Philly, we bounce back against Milwaukee. So, right now, we've got another chance."

The Bulls probably need to go 5-3 over the final eight games to make the postseason. After a season of ups and downs, it's anyone's guess if they'll be able to put together a stretch of solid basketball during the final two weeks.