It's a Bulls Run in California, second straight blowout win


Jan 31

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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.

Even Michael Jordan’s last Bulls championship team couldn’t do what this Bulls team did Friday in blowing out the Sacramento Kings 109-88.

It was the first time since the 1996-97 season that a Bulls team has won consecutive road games by more than 20 points. And in the Western Conference yet. Not one of the Bulls six championship teams of the 1990’s ever won consecutive road games in the Western Conference by at least 20 points.

Could it be the start of something big?

You’re looking in someone’s eyes and you suddenly realize…

That maybe Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas finally are getting it?

It would be something for this Bulls team as Noah had 17 points and three blocks, his third consecutive game scoring in double figures and 14 blocks in the last four games. While Thomas had 14 points and 10 rebounds, his third straight game scoring in double figures and what would have been his third consecutive double/double if not for nine rebounds against Minnesota.

“Just active,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said about Noah and by implication Thomas as well. “Getting more comfortable with the offense and beginning to understand things better. I think just trying to be more consistent at both ends. I tell him (Noah) to control the paint with his size and length, blocking shots and running the court. Then let Derrick (Rose) and Ben (Gordon) and Luol (Deng) run the court and make plays. It has been working better the last couple games.”

Sure, Gordon and Deng-the latter with his fourth game of at least 20 points in the last six-led the Bulls with 20 points each.

But if the Bulls can get consistent efforts and scoring from their two young big guys, well, then maybe some interesting things can happen.

Sure, it was the Clippers and Kings, the latter giving up an astounding 119 points per game in their last 10 and now having lost 20 of their last 23. I may consider voting Reggie Theus coach of the year for getting this disinterested bunch 38 wins last season and at 6-16 without their best player, Kevin Martin, before being fired in December.

“I don’t care who we are playing,” said Del Negro. “Wins are wins. We have a tough back-to-back against the Suns (Saturday). We need to build some confidence especially with the younger guys. I’ll take it.”

Still, the Bulls showed if you do not compete you can lose to anyone, as they did earlier this month in home losses to Minnesota and Oklahoma City.

The Bulls are 20-27, and the trip gets tougher from here with games against four teams with winning records before returning to the United Center Feb. 10 for the big night honoring Bulls and NBA legend Johnny Kerr.

Though I also thought I spotted something interesting about Del Negro as earlier in the day Managing Partner Jerry Reinsdorf said on Comcast SportsNet that the season has been a “disaster” and “embarrassing.”

It perhaps was a bit of a wakeup call for Del Negro as Reinsdorf also specifically praised General Manager John Paxson in the interview on the Monsters in the Morning show and declined to fault Paxson for any of the flaws with the team this season. Then Del Negro? Perhaps it could be taken that way given Paxson recently declined to comment on Del Negro when giving something of a state of the Bulls address earlier this month.

So here were the Bulls, effectively finishing off a blowout with a 90-63 lead after Aaron Gray dunked the ball on a pass from Kirk Hinrich with 10:40 remaining. But after two Bulls turnovers and John Salmons driving down the lane for a score without anyone coming to help, and despite the Bulls still up by 20, Del Negro leaped to his feet and called a quick timeout and seemed none too friendly.

The sense you got around the team much of this season was that after Scott Skiles, and players talking about a lack of communication and relationship, Del Negro has spent perhaps too much time trying to please players and develop more friendly relationships.

It’s nice to have friends.

It’s better to have wins, and you get them when players compete and don’t take you for granted.

Del Negro seemed to be suggesting that with the timeout, and after one more Kings score, the Bulls pulled it together with a pair of Thabo Sefolosha jumpers-shoot, Thabo, shoot. See Thabo shoot-Noah with a slick move in the post for a score (yes, Noah) and Gordon with a pretty pull up 20 footer as the Bulls went back ahead by 24 with some five minutes remaining.

Cedric Simmons time. And he got one heck of a follow up slam dunk after a missed Gray free throw.

“We did exactly what we wanted to do, get two wins against teams we should beat,” said Gordon. “We didn’t play down to the level of competition. That is not something we have been doing consistently.”

It was pretty much a wire-to-wire win after a shaky first half of the first period when Gordon picked up two fouls in just over two minutes trying to track down the attacking Martin, who led the Kings with 27.

But when Thomas, who had a brilliant first quarter, drove for a powerful left handed slam to give the Bulls a 14-13 lead with 6:22 left in the first, that would be the closest the Kings would get.

Hinrich lit it up with a corner three, Thomas went left again down the lane with a floater for a score, then dribbled to the free throw line for a jumper and then Noah slammed as he dove for the basket after a pick and roll with Rose, just as the coaches always have been telling him to.

Noah was relentless at that again, and it would get better as the Bulls pulled away in the third quarter, going ahead 75-57 when Noah scored twice running the court way, way, way ahead of the Kings, first for a lob from Rose for a dunk and then on a classic fast break with Deng with a rebound, throwing ahead to Rose at center court and Noah running the wing and Rose finding him for the score.

“I thought we had a good flow again and moved it well,” said Del Negro. “Luol was cutting to the basket. Tyrus and Joakim were active which really helped. We controlled our turnovers better. We didn’t hit our free throws but it didn’t hurt us like it could have. We got a little stagnant in the third, but then we put it on them and Joakim got some easy baskets running the floor. We played more unselfish the last couple games which really helps.”

The Bulls had 27 assists (11 for Rose) to a ridiculous 10 for the Kings. It was the Kings firing the ball all over the place as we’d seen the Bulls do a few weeks ago, Sacramento with 22 turnovers which yielded the Bulls 28 points.

Again, yes, it was the worst of the West. But it was the second consecutive game the Bulls held the opponent to fewer than 90 points.

Defense? Running the court? Moving the ball?

Who knew?

I also liked Sefolosha in there. Though he had just four points, he probably is the team’s best interior passer, and as the Bulls closed the first quarter ahead 34-22, he dropped off a brilliant no look on penetration to Noah for a slam dunk.

“It was a terrible effort,” said the Kings Spencer Hawes, who had eight points. “All across the board we let them come out and let them do whatever they wanted to. They got fastbreaks and dunks, and we didn’t make them pay. I don’t think there is anything good we can take out of this game. Selfish play. If that’s the way we are going to play then we are not going to be successful, especially against good defensive teams. You can’t just pass it once and expect to get a good shot. That is not how this league works.”

The Hawes-Noah battle was an interesting backdrop as the Bulls chose Noah over Hawes in the 2007 draft, and the way the Bulls team is constructed many said Hawes with a back to the basket game would be the better choice. There was a long debate and vast differences even among the Bulls staff before a decision was made, though Hawes’ history of knee operations probably swayed the Bulls to Noah.

It had been looking like a mistake, but head to head Friday, Noah was by far the better player, springier and more active, running the floor and challenging shots. He still got pushed around a bit given his small frame. But Noah looked like the player the Bulls thought he was, and for this night it was good they didn’t let him get away.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Noah, whose 17 points were two off his career high. “It was a win we desperately needed. We’re not that far from a playoff berth, we need to start making a run.”

The Bulls looked like they’d end it early with Gray looking like the better post guy with a nice power move and Andres Nocioni with a pair of scores, one a three for a 45-24 lead. The Bulls were attacking the basket better against the passive Kings and would end with a 52-36 margin in points in the paint, from where the Bulls usually recoil.

Martin helped pull the Kings within 54-43 at halftime, and the Bulls had given away big early leads like this before.

After the Kings opened the second half with a Beno Udrih 15 footer to cut the Bulls lead under 10, Rose made perhaps the key play of the game, if you can call it that in an eventual blowout and with some 22 minutes left.

Gordon got trapped and doubled and predictably threw the ball up for grabs and the Kings intercepted. But Rose stole the ball right back and hit Gordon for a layup with the Kings running the other way and Gordon rain bowed in a jumper right afterward to reestablish a double digit lead.

Again later in the third after a Deng turnover with the Bulls ahead by 13, Martin tried to tip the ball ahead. But Rose intercepted again and hit Noah for a slam dunk, and on the next Bulls possession Deng sliced in and dunked the ball for a 67-50 lead and the Kings wouldn’t get much closer as the Bulls led in the 20’s throughout much of the rest of the game.

And think how bad it could have been as the Bulls were surprisingly-for this season-poor at the free throw line, missing 12 of 27 with Noah one of five.

“I’m happy we won and to be able to be a part of it, but tomorrow is Shaq so you don’t want to get too high,” Noah said.

The Kings now are 0-21 against Eastern teams this season, and the Bulls set their season high winning margin for the second consecutive game against a Western Conference team and won in Sacramento for the first time in a dozen years. Forget getting better players. Just change conferences.

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