Chicago Bulls

Travel problems? Bulls' road struggles continue

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Travel problems? Bulls' road struggles continue

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011
Posted 8:42 PM Updated 11:44 PM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau summed it up thusly: The big thing about this league is getting ready to play, each and every night.

Everyone says, Oh, its the last five minutes. No, its not. Its the start of the game. Its readiness to play. And when you study all the stats, you see that the teams that are leading after the first quarter, theres a big discrepancy, in terms of how much they win, he continued. Were dodging bullets. Weve got to come out with a lot more intensity and weve got to guard people at the start of the game.

Chicago (25-13) didnt dodge anything particularly a first-quarter onslaught by the homestanding Bobcats (15-21) Wednesday night, losing their third consecutive road game, 96-91, to Charlotte.

The story of the Bulls season continued with another sluggish start, as the Bobcats scored the contests first seven points. Even after a Derrick Rose (17 points, seven assists) jumper briefly staunched the bleeding, Thibodeau called a timeout after a Kwame Brown (10 points, five rebounds) dunk.

Brown got deep post-ups, said a frustrated Thibodeau afterwards. If he catches the ball with two feet in the paint, four feet from the basket, hes going to score.

Brown would score eight points in the early going, frustrating Bulls veteran Kurt Thomas (nine points, seven rebounds, four assists) into a technical foul. Brown wasnt the only participant in the home teams early onslaught, as All-Star forward Gerald Wallace (14 points, seven rebounds), versatile Frenchman Boris Diaw (13 points, five rebounds, five assists) and third-year point guard D.J. Augustin (22 points, 12 assists) all did damage the latter two also proved to be capable distributors while Rose was the only Bull to be effective through the midway point in the opening period.

Charlotte gave problems in the paint and on the perimeter, as they gave Chicago problems from beyond the arc, on the glass and moving without the ball. Augustin, in particular, began to truly find his groove and despite Luol Deng (22 points) picking up his offense as the period went on, the Bulls trailed, 36-22, after a quarter of play.

Weve got to change it now. We gave up 36 points in the first quarter. Lately, weve been giving up too many points in the first quarter, trying to clean it up in the second half of games. We cant continue that pattern. Weve got to play better from the start, said Carlos Boozer. We cant be one of those teams that has slow starts, rely on ourselves to come back. Weve got to be a team that puts it on them from the jump and goes that way. Its something that weve got to clean up and clean up fast.

Chimed in Rose: Thats exactly what we have to doIts hard for us right now, but hopefully we get to smooth things out pretty soon.

All the tight situations that we were in this season, we didnt want to be in those situations. You want to win the game as easily as possible, so that you can save your energy and let your bench come in and do their job, especially as a starter. I think that we started off wrong with the starters. We didnt come out with a lot of energy, we let them score 36 points in the first quarter, that gave them confidence and it was going to be a long night, he went on to say.

You cant do that on the road because everythings going against you. Away from home, the crowd can get into it. A team can easily go on a run because of their fans and the way theyre feeling at home. We cant afford to that right now.

Added Thibodeau: They got whatever they wanted to start the game, so now youre playing from a deficit, but the important thing for them is that theyre playing with a lot more confidence. Now your job is a lot harder to slow them down.

The second period didnt start out on the best note for Chicago, as they incurred a five-second violation to begin the quarter. An ugly showing didnt immediately improve the Bulls forced bad shots and had no semblance of an offensive flow but playing against the Bobcats second unit, they didnt allow the home team to significantly extend their winning margin.

The visitors managed to gradually chip away at Charlottes once-formidable advantage and Thibodeau began to filter his regulars back into the game, which had slowed down considerably from the initial breakneck pace the Bobcats prefer. Chicago cut their deficit to single digits and the games momentum was clearly in its favor, as the passion the home crowd had that made up for the Time Warner Cable Arena being half-full had been quieted to a half-empty lull.

Charlotte, however, restored their double-figure advantage, with Dengs transition takedown of former teammate Tyrus Thomas (17 points, 13 rebounds) one of several Bobcats players and coaches (let alone the owner) with Windy City connections resulting in a flagrant foul with less a minute to go before halftime and perhaps illustrating the lack of beauty in the Bulls first-half performance. At intermission, Chicago was on the wrong end of the 55-42 score.

Boozer (23 points, 14 rebounds) got it going early in the third quarter, playing with aggressiveness and mixing teardrop shots, mid-range jumpers and point-blank attempts. The Bulls gradually ate into the Bobcats lead, as Charlottes shooting was unable to manufacture the same quality of shots it did in the first half.

Chicago, with a three-pronged offensive attack of Rose, Deng and Boozer, in addition to a stout defensive effort, made it a close-knit affair as the period dragged on. The contest suffered from a lack of flow, however, as it was muddled ticky-tack foul calls on both ends of the floor.

Augustin was the Bobcats protagonist, but with leading scorer Stephen Jackson (16 points, four rebounds, three assists) off the mark, co-star Wallace less active than he was in the first half and Diaw saddled with four fouls, the home teams offense lagged outside of Thomas, who persisted in shooting jumpers, some of which dropped for him.

Augustin played a good game, said Thibodeau. I thought that our defense in the second half actually after the first quarter was much better and they made good plays. Give them credit.

With 1:03 left in the quarter, the Bulls finally overtook Charlotte and headed into the final stanza with a 70-69 advantage.

With things evened up more or less, the neck-and-neck affair became more of an execution-based ballgame and with reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver knocking down a pair of 3-pointers, the Bulls built a slight cushion. It wouldnt last long, however, as the Bobcats quickly battled back, as Chicagos shot selection wasnt selective enough.

Down the stretch, Charlotte consistently went to Jackson, who began to deliver after struggling through a horrific first half. The home team seized the momentum and with the Bulls not functioning at their peak defensive lapses, missed free throws and not securing the ball were all issues the visitors appeared to be heading in the wrong direction.

It felt like we had control of the game a little bit in the fourth and the next thing you know, we were down by four or five, said Boozer. It was a weird flow to the game, but weve got to get ready for Indiana.

Said Thibodeau: We caught up and got the lead, and we couldnt play tough with the lead.

As theyd done the entire second half, the Bobcats continued to effectively get the ball out of Roses hands in pick-and-roll situations with intelligent defensive blitzes and equally smart rotations, preventing the All-Star point guard from even making the pass that led to an assist on most occasions.

Rose was perplexed by the defensive adjustments Charlotte made, as they threw a different look at him by trapping harder and closer to halfcourt. Even when he successfully passed out of double teams, the Bulls were usually unable to convert.

Weve just got to get used to it. Usually, opposing defenses do a soft blitz, said Rose. This time, they were blitzing me almost at the hash line, but tomorrow, hes Thibodeau going to go over it and we should be fine the next game if they choose to blitz like that.

Explained Thibodeau: Weve got to make sure were doing things to get up the floor quicker, get some more open ground. We didnt play at the pace that we wanted to play at. The other thing about the trap is that its easy offense, but weve got to move the ball. We took a lot of shots after one pass and you cant do that. If you want to make them pay for the trap, its the second pass and that will get you a very high-percentage shot.

When we did that, we got layups, we forced them into long close-outs and we got good shots, he continued. But sometimes we were settling on that first shot and were settling on the shot after the first shots, and they were right there and it was a contested shot, which then becomes a low-percentage play. Weve got to make that extra pass; the ball has to move.

Augustin, a close friend of Roses and summer workout partner, implied that his familiarity with the opposing floor general helped him defensively.

I knew what he was going to do on offense, said Augustin. He wants to get to the basket and attack, and thats what he did. I just tried to stay in front of him.

On the other end, Charlotte scored enough timely baskets to maintain a two-possession lead over their Windy City foes, as Augustin picked apart the Chicagos defenses and either scored or got the ball into the hands of the likes of Thomas, Diaw, Jackson and Wallace, all versatile players and capable finishers.

With 2:38 left in the contest, however, Rose finished a tough shot and drew a foul, hitting the ensuing free throw to bring the Bulls within a point. After a couple of back-and-forth sequences and no scores, Rose found Boozer inside to give the Bulls a one-point lead.

But Thomas, the former Bull, finished a twisting layup to give the Bobcats the lead once again and on the subsequent Chicago possession, hustled to make an incredible save to retain possession for Charlotte with 57.1 seconds on the clock. Then, on the following, crucial possession, Jackson hit a fallaway jumper in the post over Deng at the 34.8 mark to extend the Bobcats lead to three points.

With an opportunity to still tie the game, Rose turned the ball over out of a timeout, forcing them to foul Augustin with 23.4 seconds remaining.

I just tried to stay in front of him on Roses turnover and I had great help from my teammates, Augustin recounted. He tried to throw it and Boris stole it, so it was a good play from our defense.

The diminutive point guard drained both of his attempts, stretching Charlottes lead to five. Out of a Bulls timeout, Thomas goaltended a Boozer layup off a quick-developing inbounds play with 21.4 seconds to go, giving Chicago ample time to extend the contest in its late stages. However, with errant shooting and Augustin delivering at the line once again, the Bobcats were able to hold off the Bulls final charge.

Said Thibodeau: We fought out of a hole the whole night, and in the end, we came up short.

Added Rose: For sure, we thought we had control, but we let it slip. The only thing we can do from this is just learn from it.

Our energy was just low. Fast break, we werent hustling for the rebounds, second shots and that went on throughout the whole game, he continued. But we let this one slip tonight and its going to hurt us. Weve got a game Friday and weve got to take it out on them.

Boozer broke down the Bulls maladies to CSNChicago.com.

"We have had some late-game wins, some late-game heroics this season. On the flip side of that, we need to have that same fire, intensity, sense of urgency to start games. Its something that unfortunately, we havent been doing lately and these last three games on the road, its caught up to us. Here, going forward, weve got to have the same sense of urgency that we end games with to start games. We cant give up almost 40 points in a quarter, in the first quarter of a game. Weve got to play better than that and this team is capable of playing much better than that on the road, so its time to show up."

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.

More muscle, more money, more confidence: Nikola Mirotic ready to show consistency for Bulls

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USA TODAY

More muscle, more money, more confidence: Nikola Mirotic ready to show consistency for Bulls

Nikola Mirotic didn’t exactly lumber over to the media after the Bulls’ first practice, as a new man armed with a two-year, $27 million deal and 22 pounds worth of additional weight from the summer, the first time in which he didn’t play overseas.

He claimed there were no hard feelings from the summerlong impasse with the Bulls, where his restricted free-agent status prevented him from truly getting to the market, and his career inconsistencies also made it tough for the Bulls to give him an extended contract.

“I knew it was going to happen because with me it’s like every time is the last second. I don’t know why,” Mirotic said. “They made me an offer at the beginning of free agency, so I didn’t take that deal.”

So while his saga dragged along after he couldn’t find suitors, he stayed in Chicago for the most part, adding the bulk—although some would say it was stress weight considering it’s believed Mirotic wanted a deal in the $16-17 million range annually.

“Some people thought I was worried with my contract. No, I was very calm, working here until the middle of August,” Mirotic said. “My weight is feeling great and I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to this season, you know.”

“I’m feeling good. I’ve never felt that strong in my legs, feeling better with the rebounding, and I worked all summer in the low post, especially when I play that pick-and-roll and they switch me, so I need to be available to play in the low post against small guys. I was really working on getting stronger down there so I can finish.”

Coming to Chicago with plenty of fanfare, Mirotic has shown flashes but never the consistency many expected. Slow starts were accompanied by strong finishes after the All-Star break and the cycle of “if Niko can get it right” started all over again—only leading to more frustration when expectations weren’t met.

“I know that you guys (media) are very disappointed. I saw that the last two, three years, those reactions to that,” Mirotic said. “It is what it is. I came back just thinking about what happened. I knew what happened. I worked on all my weaknesses this summer. It’s time to change some things. I’m in a place where I can improve and get better.”

This time last year, the Bulls did everything they could to make Mirotic seize the power forward spot in training camp. Too bad Taj Gibson wasn’t notified and outworked everybody to join the first five.

But Gibson was traded in midseason, Jimmy Butler was traded and Dwyane Wade was bought out Sunday night, leaving Mirotic as somewhat an elder statesman on a team that doesn’t carry any playoff expectations for the season.

Now he’ll have to battle rookie Lauri Markkanen and third-year forward Bobby Portis for minutes at power forward, since it doesn’t appear he’ll play any small forward after playing there sparingly his first two seasons.

One can see Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg playing Mirotic and Markkanen together at center and power forward to have two floor-stretchers—although defense and rebounding will be a concern in the pairing.

“Everything's open right now. Lauri obviously had a great summer,” Hoiberg said. “He's got to work himself back into great shape right now. Basically since the European championships have been over, he's taken time off to recover and regroup and recharge his batteries.

“Bobby Portis has had a great summer. He's been around pretty much every day since the summer league.”

Mirotic said he was notified by management in the exit meetings the team would look different, but didn’t foresee Butler being traded on draft night. Now as long as he stays healthy, he’ll be a primary option on offense and until Zach LaVine makes his Chicago debut—which likely won’t take place until mid-December—he’ll have plenty of time to display his versatility in Hoiberg’s free-flowing system.

“It’s great, especially knowing how Fred wants to play this year,” Mirotic said. “They’re going to play fast, there’s no more like holding the ball, playing isolation. Now it’s more free, like when we used to play with Rajon (Rondo) on that second unit. Just play free and share the basketball. This is how it’s going to look.”

Clearly one who’s aware of the prognosticators who’ve said the Bulls will finish at the bottom of the standings, Mirotic added a bit of a bold statement, although it should be taken with a grain of preseason salt.

“I don’t think we’re going to be that bad like people are thinking.’’

Report: Dwyane Wade is 'nearing a commitment' to team up with LeBron James, Cavs

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USA TODAY

Report: Dwyane Wade is 'nearing a commitment' to team up with LeBron James, Cavs

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are teaming up again, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Wade and James, of course, teamed up in Miami in 2010 and won two NBA titles. James then departed for Cleveland in 2015, and Wade signed with the Bulls last offseason after 13 years with the Heat.

The Bulls avoided a clearly awkward situation by agreeing to a buyout with Wade over the weekend before training camp began Tuesday.

Wade will also be teaming up with a fellow Chicago native in Derrick Rose, who signed for the NBA minimum earlier this offseason.