Schanowski: Bulls should make short work of Pacers

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Schanowski: Bulls should make short work of Pacers

Friday, April 15, 2011
Posted: 1:23 p.m.

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

So, how many games do you think it will take the Bulls to win their first round series against Indiana? Please post your comments in the section below.

I'm thinking five right now. The Pacers showed enough improvement after the coaching change from Jim O'Brien to Frank Vogel that they should get one game in the series, but unless the Bulls struggle with opening round jitters, they should be able to wrap things up in Game 5 at the United Center.

Looking at the match-ups, Indiana does have some size up front that could cause the Bulls some problems in 7-2 center Roy Hibbert and 6-10 power forward Josh McRoberts. McRoberts had a big game against the Bulls back in January, but he's coming off the bench right now with former college player of the year Tyler Hansbrough getting the bulk of the minutes at the power forward spot. Remember, it was Hansbrough who got Indiana off to a fast start in their one victory over the Bulls last month, showing much improved range and accuracy on his jump shot.

Indiana has a former All-Star at the small forward spot in Danny Granger, but he's a high volume shooter who often hurts his team with poor shot selection and decision-making. With potential All-Defensive team small forward Luol Deng guarding Granger, I'm not too worried about him taking over games in this series. And, on the other end of the floor, Deng's ability to hit the three-point shot and go hard to the basket could get Granger in foul trouble since he's not really good at moving his feet on the defensive end.

In the backcourt, the Bulls will always have a huge advantage with the soon-to-be MVP Derrick Rose. As Stacey King would say, Rose is too big, too strong, too fast and too good for Darren Collison to handle. Collison has been a real nice pick-up by the Pacers, and he is one of the quicker point guards in the NBA. But he's too small to handle Rose on his drives to the basket, and if Tom Thibodeau wants to get creative, he could post up Rose on Collison, and possibly force the Indiana coaches to get their floor general off the court.

Indiana does have a number of decent perimeter shooters in Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Brandon Rush and talented rookie Paul George. Rush in particular has hurt the Bulls in the past, and Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer will have to make sure they don't leave any of the Pacers shooting guards open for uncontested three's. Don't fall asleep on George. He's a guy the Bulls liked during pre-draft workouts last summer, but they knew he wouldn't be available at 17, and they wound up trading the pick in the cap-clearing Kirk Hinrich deal with Washington.

As for the benches, the Bulls might not have as big an advantage as you would think. The Pacers' second unit of Dunleavy, Rush, McRoberts, point guard A.J. Price and veteran center Jeff Foster can match-up pretty well with the Bulls' "Bench Mob". And, Indiana also has former Celtics' thug James Posey to call on if they want to take some hard fouls to try to get the Bulls out of their game.

The key for the Bulls is getting Kyle Korver off to a quick start. Hopefully, his 19-point performance in the regular season finale against New Jersey is a sign of things to come in the playoffs. Also, Taj Gibson is starting to play his best basketball again after battling nagging injuries most of the season, and don't forget about wily veteran Kurt Thomas. His toughness and perimeter shooting could come in handy against Hibbert in this series.

Bottom line, the games might be closer than you're expecting, but given the Bulls' stifling defense under Thibodeau, and Rose's burning desire to win, they should advance in five games to play the OrlandoAtlanta winner. The Hawks beat the Magic three out of four times during the regular season, but I'm looking for Dwight Howard and company to advance in six.

What do you think? Please post your comments in the section below.

We'll have all the games in the Indiana series on Comcast SportsNet. Buckle up for some exciting playoff basketball. It should be one heck of a ride.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNet Central, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10 p.m.

Bulls' Jimmy Butler voted All-Star Game starter

Bulls' Jimmy Butler voted All-Star Game starter

Jimmy Butler is heading to his third straight All-Star Game, and for the first time he'll be in the Eastern Conference's starting lineup.

CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill reported that Butler was voted an All-Star starter.

Butler has been sensational this season, averaging a career-best 24.8 points (tied for the 10th-best mark in the league entering Thursday's games), 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest through 41 games. He's shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from 3-point range.

Butler previously made Eastern Conference All-Star squads in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, though this is his first time in the starting five.

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

As the NBA evolves, Bulls' Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez experiment with 3-pointers

Taj Gibson began working on his 3-point shot as early as this past offseason. That work in the gym from beyond the arc continued into training camp, the preseason and eventually the regular season.

The eight-year veteran didn't attempt his first 3-pointer until the 21st game of the season, and that came in the final minute as the Bulls trailed by nine against the Pistons. Gibson's 27-foot heave from the left wing was off, and he proceeded to play the next 17 games without attempting another.

But recently Gibson had a conversation with head coach Fred Hoiberg, who knew the 31-year-old power forward had been putting in additional time to work on his corner 3-pointers. Hoiberg told Gibson he believed in his corner 3-pointer and that he'd allow the Bulls' forward to shoot them in games.

On Jan. 10, Gibson took a pass from Rajon Rondo midway through the first quarter and hoisted a 3-pointer from the left corner. He connected, marking just the second made 3-pointer of his career, and his first since the 2010-11 season.

Between triples Gibson, always a reliable midrange shooter, attempted and missed 22 3-pointers. But with the added practice time and confidence, and a blessing from his head coach, Gibson believes the 3-pointer can become an asset, going as far to say he’d like to shoot two triples per game.

There is, however, one aspect of the shot still standing in his way.

"When you get out there you never really realize how far it is until you're lined up and the crowd is like, 'Shoot it!'" Gibson said after Thursday's practice at the Advocate Center. "Your teammates are behind you, but it's fun. Hopefully (I) look forward to trying to make some in the future."

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Gibson attempted two more triples in Saturday's win over the Hornets and another in Sunday's win over the Grizzlies. All three were off-target, but just seeing Gibson step into the attempts and fire with confidence was a sight for sore eyes on a Bulls team lacking from outside.

Through the season's first half the Bulls rank last in both 3-point field goal percentage (31.7 percent) and 3-pointers made (6.4 per game). Their 276 total made 3-pointers as a team are less than two pairs of teammates (Houston’s Eric Gordon and James Harden, 301; Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, 283).

The Bulls' expected top 3-point shooters – Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Denzel Valentine – have combined to go 114-for-350, or 32.5 percent. Starters Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade haven’t fared much better, albeit on fewer attempts, while Chicago's trio of point guards have made 29 percent of their 144 3-point attempts. Simply put, there's ample opportunity to see what Gibson can do from deep without messing up the team's current perimeter shooting.

"It's something that he worked on a lot in the offseason. So yeah if he's open in the corner we want those shots," Hoiberg said. "It’s obviously a huge part of today's game. The 3-point shot, to have multiple players that can stretch the floor out there, those teams are really hard to guard."

Gibson's not the only Bulls big man experimenting. Robin Lopez said he, too, has been working on his outside shot in practice. Gibson joked that Hoiberg hasn't yet given Lopez permission to fire away from deep, while Hoiberg cracked that Lopez might be jealous of the 5.2 3-pointers his twin brother, Brook, is attempting this season in Brooklyn.

Lopez, like Gibson, has always had a dependable midrange shot. Per NBA.com, his 44.4 field goal percentage on midrange shots is fifth among centers this season.

"That’s something I've been working on more this season. I don't know if it's game-ready yet. That's more of a confidence issue," said Lopez, who added he's been working with assistant coach Pete Myers on the shot. "I think the way the NBA is going, I don't see why not. If Brook can do it, I definitely can."

Lopez is 0-for-5 from distance in his nine-year career, including 0-for-1 with the Bulls this season. But the defensive-minded center knows the ever-changing NBA game now includes teams wanting to get as many perimeter shooters on the floor at once. If he and/or Gibson can eventually be part of that, he knows the difference it could make.

"I think it's wonderful for the game. I think there's a real premium on skill at all positions on the court. I think that's going to continue. You're going to have more skilled and more talented big men," he said. "There's always a new breed of big men right around the corner."