The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Hornets

The Starting Five: Bulls vs. Hornets

Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011
3:47 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

1. Tom Thibodeau discussed the up-and-down Hornets, who started off the season as the hottest team in the league, hit a slump, bounced back and endured a four-game losing streak recently before beating Orlando Friday night. Center Emeka Okafor is anchoring the defensewith Chris Paul healthy, hes one of the top players in the league. Their health, their strength up frontDavid West is having a terrific yearand I think their bench play, theyre deep. You add a Jarrett Jack, Willie Green, Marco Bellinelli and Jason Smith, you add them to the mix, they can hurt you a lot of different ways, said Thibodeau. They have the ability to put it on the floor, and West has always been a tough matchups for all the bigs up front because of his unique ability to shoot from 17, 18 feet and put it down on the floor, and a very good back to the basket and face-up game. They have a lot of weapons. Paul and West in the pick-and-roll, thats been a tough combination to stop for years. He added: They took a hit with some injuries. Theyre a deep team, I think theyve played extremely well all season long and I think sometimes, you adjusttheyve got two starters that have been outso youve got an adjustment there, but this team is very, very talented. You look at Chris Paul and David West, theyre two elite players who have played at a high level for a long time. Theyve got a number of players on their bench who have played wellits a team thats very capable. Thornton is an explosive guy who can come off the bench and hurt you.

2. Thibodeau also commented on the Hornets wooing him last summer; he turned down New Orleans head-coaching vacancy before taking the Bulls opportunity. I was grateful for the opportunity to interview last year and its a great organization, great city, but Im happy everything worked out the way it did, said Thibodeau. You just trust your instincts in the end. Going through the processwe were in the Finals, actually, when everything was going onand in the end, made the decision based on what I felt what I was most comfortable with. He was complimentary of Hornets head coach Monty Williams, a fellow longtime NBA assistant and first-year head coach, adding, Hes a great guy, hes a great coach, hes paid his dues and hes done an unbelievable job for this team.

3. Now that many observers regard Rose as the leagues top point guard, its easy to forget hes faced a virtual murderers row of good-to-elite floor generals on this trip, from the Clippers Baron Davis and Golden States Stephen Curry to Portlands Andre Miller and the Jazzs Deron Williams, and of course tonights matchup, New Orleans Paul, his Western Conference All-Star starter counterpart. It should be interesting tonight, said Rose. Its fun, going against everyone. It makes you come out here and play hard every nightif not, youre going to get embarrassed. Rose realizes that hes now getting even more attention from both opposing teams and his individual peers at the position. I take a lot of pride in it, knowing that Ive got people worried about me. You can just tell by the way people play. I look at the previous game. They probably didnt play that hard, then going into a game against Rose, they play as hard as they can, just balling. It made me change the way I play a little bit, where Ive got to be aggressive throughout the whole game, no matter who were playing, said Rose. You can tell by the defense that people play, the coverages that they run for pick-and-roll and isolation. Sometimes I see how Kobe Bryant feels all the time or Carmelo Anthony feels all the time because they send a third person over, so that you can move the ball. Thibodeau chimed in: Its the way of the league right now and there are no easy nights. When you look at it, theres a great young group of point guards that have come into the league. Then, theres the middle group where theyve been doing it for a while and are elite and then you have the older guys, who seem to be ageless and are still dominant. So, youre going to be tested every night and I think the challenge is to be ready to play and again, with great players its very difficult to guard them one-on-one, so you need your team to help out, but you are going to be challenged every night. Regarding Paul, Rose observed, Paul is shifty, very shifty. He really isnt that fastreal quickknowing how to get to a spot, knowing how to get fouled, runs the team very good, leader on the floor. Thats why hes one of the best in the league.

4. With scuttlebutt having the Bulls in talks with the Rockets for a traderookie backup center Omer Asik for Houston reserve shooting guard Courtney Lee, give or take a draft pickThibodeau shared his thoughts on Asik, as well as his take on trade rumors. Defensively, Asik has come in with a defensive mindset. I think hes still learning team defense and the individual tendencies of the players hes going up against. Offensively, hes been a very good offensive rebounder. Hes a very good screenerI think hes become more confident with experience. I think hes still working hard at it. The speed of the game and the strength of the game are areas where he still has to improve upon, said Thibodeau. In this league, you hear about that stuff every day. Hes professional and he knows what the league is about. This time of the year, for every 100 that gets talked about, maybe one gets done. The challenge is to not be distracted, to keep your priorities in order and thats why we dont like to change our approach from game to game, practice to practice. While Asik would be an upgrade from starter Keith Bogans, hes not necessarily a game-changerthough his low-maintenance offensive game (he doesnt need a lot of touches to be productive, but can shoot with range and drive to the basket), toughness, defensive ability and experience (he started for Orlando as a rookie two seasons ago, when the Magic made it to the NBA Finals) would be a good fitand with Noahs injury woes, Kurt Thomas age and the Bulls being budget-conscious in thinking of both a new collective-bargaining agreement and being able to sign Rose to a maximum contract when hes up for free agency, its a longshot to happen, according to various sources. The team currently has excellent chemistry and while Bogans isnt the most offensively-prolific player, Thibodeau trusts him and hes popular amongst his teammates. With Rose, Noah, and Luol Deng all 25 and under, Carlos Boozer under contract for another four seasons after the current campaign, the Bulls window will be open for a while and other options at Lees level or better will eventually surface if they choose not to make a move before this months trade deadline. In addition, swingman Ronnie Brewer may come off the bench, but hes the de facto starting shooting guard in terms of minutes (sharing the role with sharpshooter Kyle Korver) and Thibodeau has been pleased with his play as of late. Brewers energys been terrific, hes a very good defensive player, very good open-floor player and hes a very good mid-range shooter. His slashing and cutting is something that I think helps our offense quite a bit and defensive, hes got great instincts. He reads plays well, stated Thibodeau, referencing Brewers game-sealing steal in his return to Utah Wednesday.

5. Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

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.

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bears will not use franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery

alshon-stl-227.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Bears will not use franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Friedell (ESPNChicago.com) and Danny Parkins (670 The Score) join David Kaplan on the panel.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that the Bears will not use the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery for the second straight year. Is that the right move? And what will Ryan Pace do with all of his team’s cap space?

The Bulls are winning but their new, young point guard doesn’t know his role. Will anything ever change with the Bulls?

That plus Scott Paddock drops by to recapping a thrilling Daytona 500 finish.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: