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It was Party Time for the Bulls in L.A.

by

Jan 29

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Happy days are here again?

“We’ve been moving the ball a lot better,” said Luol Deng, who led the Bulls with 23 points in an easy 95-75 win over the Clippers here Wednesday. “I’ve been able to get into games earlier. Even the games we lost (five straight previously and 13 of 18), I thought we did a good job moving the ball, but just not doing a good job in the fourth quarter. The win was big for us. For me, playing like that helps me build confidence.”

It was a good all around game for the Bulls against a weak and injury depleted Clippers team now 10-35. Though the Bulls, as we’ve seen, have lost to teams with poorer records in the last month. The Bulls, now 19-27, had a terrific 31 assists on 37 field goals, outrebounded the Clippers 52-33 and 15-4 on second chance points, and got 21 points from Derrick Rose and 16 points and 10 rebounds from Tyrus Thomas.

Ben Gordon had just 11 on four of 12 shooting, though we know Gordon can—and will—get his 20 point average despite shooting poorly of late.

“We don’t really have the kind of system this year,” said Gordon, who had just one shot in the first quarter. “It’s pretty much whoever gets it going first. We try to milk ‘em and go from there. I think Lu and Kirk (Hinrich) coming back I’m trying to get into my old rhythm, but the substitution pattern is a little different and I’m trying to find my rhythm again. I don’t know if that’s the main reason I’m not shooting the ball well. I feel my rhythm is not really there.”

Though the bright spot is the quiet return of Deng, who had his third game of at least 20 points in the last five and in that span is averaging 18.2 points and eight rebounds on 50 percent shooting and 1.4 steals per game, the kind of production we were accustomed to seeing from Deng when he appeared two years ago to be on the verge of All Star status.

If Deng can consistently return to that form with the fairly regular production of Gordon and Rose, the Bulls could have a formidable offense they can count on and concentrate more on defensive play.

“His offense was sharper and it helped on some cuts and he was more comfortable in the mid range,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “But I was more impressed with his defense, guarding (Al) Thornton (who was five of 17) and playing the passing lanes, more active in switching and helping.”

It was that more energized defensive effort that effectively closed out the game in the third quarter, a rarity of late for this Bulls team that in its last five straight losses fell by five points or fewer in four.

But this time the Bulls hit the Clippers, with a rusty Baron Davis and Marcus Camby returning from injury but ineffective, with a 26-9 third quarter in which the Clippers shot 21 percent and went from trailing by three at halftime to behind 73-53.

“In the third quarter they just blew us up,” said Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy.

Yes, the Bulls.

“I always worry and you never know,” said Del Negro of the big lead as the Bulls finished with their biggest winning margin of the season. “But nine points in the quarter is excellent. Our zone defense had a big effect and we were able to convert on the other end. You can diagram all the plays you want, but if you don’t execute and make shots (it doesn’t matter). You have to rely on your defense and our defense is starting to pick up. We need to control the paint more and hopefully we will when Drew (Gooden, out likely another week or two) gets back. I liked the mindset and the effort and it was nice that it paid off for them tonight.”

Of course, it also helped that the Clippers are a wild bunch who like to fire off long jumpers.

But the Bulls did a lot of good things even though they were still a bit loose with the ball with 18 turnovers.

In that third quarter rout, Joakim Noah did better diving for the basket, as he’s supposed to do and often doesn’t, on screens, and Gordon found him for a slam dunk and three point play and 52-46 lead.

Rose’s shot was back on as he was nine of 13, mostly on jumpers, and converted a Gordon pass for a 54-46 edge.

“I wasn’t thinking about my shot,” said Rose, who’d fallen to 45.7 percent on the season. “They were leaving me open. Just now I was thinking about how I was missing for awhile. But tonight it was just clicking.”

The curiosity was Gordon with eight assists, one below his career high.

Isn’t he supposed to be the shooter?

Actually, it continues to make the case more for Gordon to be a sixth man and in the role that seems to suit him best as with Gordon and Rose opening in the backcourt, the Bulls often get taken advantage early on defense.

“I have thought (about changing the lineup),” Del Negro admitted before the game. “But we had a good start against Minnesota and I want to keep it like this for now and see how guys respond. But it’s definitely something I think about. We want to find ways for us to defend a bit better. Earlier in the season we weren’t playing quite as well (as now). But we made plays in the fourth quarter and got some wins. Hopefully, we’ll find some ways to get a good start and play both ends with intensity and when the game is in the balance and make some plays.”

The Bulls, at least Wednesday, didn’t have to worry about that.

After Deng pulled up for a 16 footer to give the Bulls a 10-point lead, Thomas snuck in for a steal but in dribbling the ball the length of the court lost it back to the Clippers.

Though Thomas had his sixth double/double of the season, he remains a mystery with curious shot selection, going five of 15 and after three consecutive timeouts in the third and into the fourth quarter came out of every one with a long jump shot. In all, I counted five timeouts in which the Bulls came out with Thomas taking a quick jumper or off balance dribble and shot.

Del Negro said those weren’t the plays and he was looking for some dribble handoffs from Thomas, but it was not a night for second guessing.

“With Tyrus I want more activity and effort and all those things and he’s working hard and it’s paying off,” said Del Negro.

And it was there in the fourth quarter after the Bulls kept losing rookie DeAndre Jordan on screens with no weak side help as he converted consecutive lobs for slam dunks and was fouled on a third straight identical play to get the Clippers within 15.

But Thomas then drove and was fouled, converted the highlight slam of the night on a pass from Gordon and then fought himself into deep post position and scored on a pass from Hinrich to reestablish a 21-point lead with six minutes left.

If one wanted to nit pick, you also had to wonder after Deng was absolutely on fire to open the game with 13 points in the first quarter why Deng didn’t get back in until five minutes were left in the half.

“I didn’t think I’d sit that long, but it worked out good for us in the end,” said Deng.

After Thomas gave that ball back in the third, Gordon finally began to find the range after one of five shooting in the first half and hit a 20 footer and a three, though he went out right after that three with the Bulls up 65-50. But Deng then found a diving Noah for a slam, and though Thomas had one of those head scratching dribbles and misses, Deng, who was all over the place, rebounded and found Hinrich for a jumper.

Noah, with seven of his 10 points in that decisive third, then took a clever inside pass from a cutting Deng for a slam and Gordon was back in and finished the third with a runner on the Bulls last possession. Noah also added four blocks and now has 11 in his last two games to go along with averaging 10 rebounds in the last five games.

“Ben was making plays,” said Del Negro. “He draws a lot of attention on the offensive end and if he can make plays it opens things up for us on the offensive end.”

Though Thabo Sefolosha took just two shots in 20 minutes, which probably keeps him from getting more playing time, he was vital in the middle of the defense. He had a big effort on the defensive boards and five assists as he often looks like the team’s most creative passer, including one of those “wow” inside lookaways to Rose for a basket in the second quarter and 43-37 lead just after he’d led a three on one break and found Deng at the basket.

Though the end may have effectively come early in the fourth quarter when Aaron Gray, with nine points in nine minutes, went baseline for a reverse score and foul for a three-point play and 76-56 lead.

Aaron Gray beating the defense from the right baseline to the left and back for a score. Yes!

Go to it Dandy Don: Turn out the lights, the party’s over. It was finally a night to celebrate.

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