Schanowski: Roller-Coaster Ride Continues

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Schanowski: Roller-Coaster Ride Continues

Monday, April 12, 2010
5:00 PM
By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

I guess we shouldn't be surprised the Bulls are taking their playoff bid all the way down to the final two games of the season. They've been wildly inconsistent throughout the season, playing great against some of the league's best teams while giving away games against teams they should be able to handle easily. The loss at New Jersey last Friday was excruciating to watch. They were all but done midway through the fourth quarter, trailing the NBA's worst team by 12, but then Brad Miller staged a one man rally, hitting back-to-back three pointers, and even converting a breakaway lay-up off a Nets' turnover. Unfortunately, Derrick Rose could only split a pair of free throws with four seconds left, and New Jersey wound up tying the game on a Brook Lopez tip dunk with one-tenth of a second left. The first overtime was even worse, with the Bulls taking a seven point lead into the final minute, only to see a careless turnover by Rose, and a bad call by the officials give the Nets a chance to tie the game once again. By the time they got to the second OT, the Bulls were done, physically and emotionally.

So, who would have predicted the Bulls would come out with one of their best all-around games of the season in a must-win situation Sunday in Toronto? Led by the determined effort of Joakim Noah, the Bulls jumped on the Raptors early, and never let up, coasting to a 104-88 win to grab a one game lead in the race for the final playoff spot in the East. Noah basically told his teammates to jump on his back and let him lead the way. He came close to his first career triple double, scoring 18 points, grabbing 17 rebounds, and dishing out 7 assists. It's easy to see now why the Bulls were unable to pull out of the long losing streak in March that eventually reached 10 games. Without Noah, this team just doesn't have an emotional leader. Rose is without question the team's best player, but he's quiet and unemotional by nature. Noah is the one guy who can rally the locker room and get his teammates to dig a little deeper when things get tough. He's also become a force on both ends of the court, showing some decent post moves and the ability to hit that ugly 15 foot jumper with remarkable consistency.

Noah probably won't win the Most Improved Player Award, but he certainly gets my vote. To come as far as he has since his rookie season is remarkable. Remember Ben Wallace and Adrian Griffin voting to extend Noah's one game suspension for yelling at an assistant coach to two games because they didn't like the rookie and wanted to teach him a lesson? A lot of Bulls' fans were wondering why the team invested the 9th pick in the draft on a cocky, raw big man with limited offensive skills and a questionable work ethic. Well, Noah has done a complete 180 degree turn in his approach to life as a professional. He's now the hardest worker on the team and spent last summer trying to improve his offensive skills working at the I.M.G. Academy in Florida. Opponents now have to respect his ability to score and that opens up the court for the rest of the players. Who knows what else Noah will add to his game in the years to come? When the top free agents consider signing with the Bulls this summer, and I believe they will, the two biggest selling points are Rose's all-around brilliance and Noah's tireless play and leadership ability. Believe it or not, Noah is now one of the top 10 centers in the league, and with so few quality big men around, he will be a guy other players around the league want to team up with.

FREE AGENCY DEVELOPMENTS

The long awaited free agent class of 2010 got a little bit smaller with recent decisions by Kobe Bryant and Manu Ginobili to re-sign with their current teams. Nobody really thought Kobe would leave L.A., but until he signed the extension, Bulls' fans could dream about the possibility of Bryant following in the footsteps of Michael Jordan and bringing another string of NBA titles to Chicago. Ginobili isn't a guy the Bulls would have been interested in given his age and style, but taking him off the market just reduces the number of quality shooting guards that will be available.

The latest buzz around the league has Miami now more interested in Amar'e Stoudemire than Chris Bosh. The Heat would love to pair Stoudemire with Dwyane Wade, and then use their leftover cap room to bring in another shooter. If Stoudemire signs with Miami, the Bulls might have a better chance at signing Bosh, but Toronto G.M. Bryan Colangelo has said repeatedly he will work with Bosh on a sign and trade deal if the All-Star forward is determined to leave Toronto. And really, after watching the Raptors roll over against the Bulls on Sunday, is there any chance Bosh would want to stay!

The possibility of Toronto working a sign and trade deal for Bosh opens up the entire league as potential suitors, not just the teams with enough cap room to offer a maximum contract. I'm sure we'll be hearing the Andrew Bynum for Bosh rumors again, and you can bet Mark Cuban will get involved, since Bosh grew up in Dallas, and would be a popular addition for the Mavericks. Dallas has a lot of big contracts they could offer in a sign and trade for Bosh, including Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion. The Bulls also could look into a sign and trade for Bosh, with Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and first round draft picks being the likely bait. It's no secret the Bulls are thinking big this summer, hoping to sign one star outright with their cap room, and bringing in another through a sign and trade. It's almost a foregone conclusion that Bosh will be playing for a new team next season, now it's up to the Bulls to come up with the right package to work a sign and trade with Toronto, then use their cap room to go after Wade or Joe Johnson to team up with Rose in the backcourt.

Of course, other teams have similar grand plans, most notably the Knicks, who can sign two max free agents without even worrying about sign and trade scenarios. But we're hearing more talk out of Cleveland that LeBron James is leaning towards staying with the Cavs, and without LeBron being the pied piper that brings a second top free agent to New York, the Knicks might have an awfully tough time bringing in two All-Stars this summer. Any way you look at it, the free agent chase will be one heck of an encore when the NBA Playoffs end in mid to late June.

Don't forget, we've got the regular season finale between the Bulls and Charlotte Bobcats Wednesday night on Comcast SportsNet. CSNChicago.com will also be streaming the game live. The Bobcats are locked into the number 7 playoff spot in the East, so there's a chance they could be resting some of their key players for the finale. But if the Bulls need a win to make the playoffs, I find it hard to believe new owner Michael Jordan will allow his team to use anything less than its best line-up. Kendall Gill will join me to preview the game during the 6:30 edition of SportsNite, then Neil Funk and Stacey King have the call at 7. We'll bring you Vinny Del Negro's media session and hopefully, take a look ahead to a first round playoff series against Cleveland during the final regular season edition of Bulls Post-Game live.

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

Doug McDermott to return for Bulls against Spurs after missing 11 games with concussion

Doug McDermott to return for Bulls against Spurs after missing 11 games with concussion

After a couple weeks of woozy moments, confusing car rides and 11 games of inactivity due to suffering a concussion Bulls forward Doug McDermott will return to action tonight against the San Antonio Spurs.

McDermott took a hard fall Nov. 12 against the Washington Wizards while going up for a dunk, hitting his head on the unforgiving floor of the United Center and had to go through the concussion protocol before finally being cleared. It was his second concussion this season, with the first coming on Halloween.

“Good, great, it’s been a long couple weeks, but finally feel good to be able to go out there and compete, so I’m excited,” McDermott said after morning shootaround at the Advocate Center.

The last couple of days after being cleared for contact, he practiced with the Bulls’ D-League team in the attempt to get some rhythm and most importantly, some conditioning after being out for so long.

He was in great spirits Thursday, a sharp contrast to the initial days after the concussion where the simplest tasks became herculean.

“The first week-and-a-half was tough sleeping-wise, just weird symptoms you don’t even realize,” McDermott said. “Just being in cars, going to my appointments was tough at times, some headaches throughout the week. But with a concussion you just have to be true to yourself and true to the doctors. You don’t want to lie about things because it can only make things worse. I’m finally to the point where I’m feeling better.”

McDermott said going to physical therapy or riding on the freeway would trigger vertigo in the first week, but luckily for him, it didn’t last much longer after that. The first concussion of his career took him to different place mentally, and he leaned on Celtics big man Al Horford during that time of confusion and frustration.

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Horford missed a number of games with a concussion he suffered early in the season.

“Talked to him for about 30 minutes,” McDermott said. “He was in the middle of his and I had my second one. We talked about our symptoms and he really took his time and you see his game has been really good since he came back.”

“We're really the only two guys who've had it this year. People don't really understand, it's a tough deal. Basketball can be physical. You see it a lot in football. You gotta be true to yourself, true to your doctors because you don't wanna mess around.”

With the second concussion taking place 13 days after the first, McDermott and the Bulls had to be a lot more careful the next time around. Having one is scary enough but the fall he took in the United Center probably ignited a fear in him that he didn’t know existed.

“Yeah, you have to just listen to your symptoms, but I think with the second one in such a short period of time they wanted to be cautious too, and I did too,” McDermott said. “It’s not like an ankle sprain or a knee deal where you can play through things like that. It’s your brain, so you want to be as sharp as possible.”

The Bulls need any type of reinforcement they can get, especially for the struggling bench. McDermott feels like he can add some confidence or at least put other guys in a more natural order, although that remains to be seen as Nikola Mirotic and Isaiah Canaan have really struggled in his absence — all season, it seems.

“I think we'll get our swagger back too. We've had some injuries,” McDermott said. “Once we get myself and Michael (Carter-Williams) back, we've been rotating guys that aren't used to playing with each other. Once we get some continuity there with that group, things will get better. Adding a shooter like me, it'll take pressure off Niko, take pressure off Isaiah to hit shots. Just having 3 floor spacers out there will really help all of us.”

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls try to snap skid against Spurs on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Spurs tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com, the only place where you can get the hometown call from Neil and Stacey.

Coverage begins at 8 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Attempting to end perfection. The Spurs have been absolutely electric outside of San Antonio this season, winning each of their first 13 road games to begin the year. That's the second longest streak in NBA history, and the Bulls have actually lost two of three at home. The Bulls will be home underdogs as the Spurs look to make it 14 in a row. The good news is the Bulls have defeated the Spurs at home each of the last two seasons.

2. Battle of the two-way studs. There's a real argument to be made that Thursday's matchup will tout the two best two-way players in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard, the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is having his best offensive season to date, averaging 24.5 points on 46 percent shooting, 1.9 triples, and averaging nearly 91 percent from the free-throw line. Expect Jimmy Butler and Leonard to be on each other's rear most of the night in what should be one of the most fun 1-on-1 matchups in the NBA.

3. Questions at the point. For the Spurs, Tony Parker is questionable to play with a knee injury. If he can't go, it would be Nico Laprovittola and Patty Mills running the point. For the Bulls, Rajon Rondo is coming off a pair of ugly performances in Bulls' losses to the Mavericks and Pistons (and his suspension against the Blazers). Someone needs to step up at the point, and it could decide Thursday night's winner.

4. Pau returns to the UC. Though it didn't result in much success, Pau Gasol enjoyed two highly successful seasons in Chicago. The stat-stuffer was named an All-Star in both seasons, averaging 17.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 150 games. He's now in San Antonio, filling Tim Duncan's role in the starting lineup. And though his numvers are down from a year ago, he's still capable of putting up numbers, especially against a Bulls' interior that has struggled of late.

5. Getting Doug McDermott back. Dougie McBuckets has been activated to the Bulls roster, and not a moment too soon. Since McDermott suffered a concussion on Nov. 12, the Bulls bench ranks 26th in 3-pointers per game (2.5) and 30th in 3-point field-goal percentage (23.5 percent). Getting McDermott back, even in a small role as he gets his legs under him, will be a major factor against a Spurs team whose offense continues to heat up in December.

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