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Bulls Jump all over Warriors while Deng Sits
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 5
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It looked like a game Wednesday that could be a disaster for the Bulls. It was one of the league’s poorest teams, the 21-win Warriors whose coach, Don Nelson, has taken to occasionally sitting out his best players on a whim, a team filled with shot happy guards that gives up the most points per game in the NBA.
Bad team that doesn’t seem to care much. We know the Bulls seem to have a habit of being their worst against those teams.
And then the Bulls were behind 17-4 about four minutes into the game.
“When we went down,” said John Salmons, who led the Bulls with 23 points and added nine rebounds, “it forced us to pick up our energy and once we did that we got back in it fast.”
Fast enough to be within six by the end of the first quarter, leading just over two minutes into the second quarter and then pulling away for an easy 110-88 win that gave the Bulls a 28-34 record and a tie for eighth with the Milwaukee Bucks, whom the Bulls host Friday.
“Right after the game we were talking about everyone (fighting for eighth in the East) lost today,” said Salmons, who started for the injured Luol Deng and given the uncertainty surrounding Deng may be starting for some time. “We’re tied for the eighth spot. Friday is a big game for us. Instead of looking up we’re right there now.”
It seems likely the way these teams around .500 have played that this so called race will go on right to the last days of the season with the Bucks, Nets, Knicks, Bobcats, 76ers and Bulls likely playing for the last two playoff spots in the East. It’s possible Detroit makes it a seven-team race for three spots as Miami with a fabulous Dwyane Wade is looking more solid for that four-five place with Atlanta.
And it seems the Bulls will have to do it without Deng, who sought out a reexamination with the Bulls of his initial diagnoses from this weekend that x-rays were negative regarding a stress fracture. Deng said it’s possible he’ll seek a third examination and opinion as he is uncertain as to his actual issue.
The Bulls issued a medical update on Deng and Tim Thomas, who also didn’t play. It essentially says Deng remains day to day, though has the indications of an “early tibial stress fracture.” The Bulls said he will “undergo active rest” and “will be encouraged to challenge himself physically and if symptoms remain minimal he will be allowed an expeditious return to play.”
Bulls physician Brian Cole told Steve Kashul on ESPN-1000 at halftime, “It’s in an odd location. We’re hoping that means it will be a short-lived occurrence and we can get him through this quickly. It is rare for these players to [have] surgery. You hear about it in the NFL because it’s a collision sport.”
Deng warmed up for Tuesday’s game in Charlotte, but said he felt discomfort, and more analysis occurred.
Here was Deng after Wednesday’s game:
“We’ve got to make sure I’m not going out there and making it worse and be out longer than expected. It hurts when I put weight on it. I always challenge myself physically. My whole thing is if I had no pain I would play.
That’s where we’re at right now. I’ve got to know what’s wrong with it.
I’m not sure. I think we’ve got to make sure we know what it is. I do have an injury. If I could play knowing I could be helpful out there, I would. But I tried to play the last game and it didn’t feel right. That’s why we got a second look at it.
“The whole thing of it is that’s how a stress fracture would start. It’s seen at an early stage. What we worry about is going out there and playing on it and it becomes a bigger fracture. That’s why we’re being precautionary.
After the pain in the Houston game, we decided to get the X-rays, and the X-rays revealed that it was a stress fracture. When I got the result back the second time I was told it was not a stress fracture. I tried to play (against Charlotte), went out there, warmed up, tried to run and jump. I couldn’t do it. I had a lot of pain. So I wanted a second opinion. We took another look at it. It showed there is something there and that’s why we have to be careful with it As of right now, we’ll take it day by day. I trust the doctors here and we’ll try to find out what it is. I know I would play if I could.”
So while Deng says his status is unclear, what seems clear is he’s not near playing now and could be out for a while.
So until Tim Thomas returns, it looks like a seven-player rotation, and it looked good Wednesday.
I’d preface that by saying good against a team like the Warriors, except teams like the Warriors generally beat the Bulls these days.
But it wasn’t happening Wednesday as Joakim Noah added 14 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks and made all eight of his sideways rotating free throws and Brad Miller did another savvy veteran job with 19 points and six rebounds.
“One of my old teammates and a buddy of mine, Chris Mullin, who could always get his shot off and was a big scorer in the league and a great player used to always tell me, ‘I’m successful because they just don’t know how slow I really am.’ Brad just kind of moves,” marveled Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “But when you watch him, he kind of goes by guys and slows down and gets body contact and gets shots off and gets to the line. He hasn’t been blessed with great athleticism. So he’s had to learn how to use his body and set screens and pass and learn the game. That’s a huge value for us, him at the elbow making plays. As everyone gets more familiar, he’s able to make more plays at the elbow where we’re trying to get him the ball. He had a good solid game for us.”
There were a number of good efforts this time and the high flying Warriors, second in the league in points, never got going after the quick start and were down at least 15 the entire fourth quarter after Tyrus Thomas opened it with a drive for a slam dunk.
It was a relief for the Bulls in more ways than one as Thomas was caught flush and blocked by Anthony Randolph while trying to dunk and had his leg bent back and lay sprawled on the court for several minutes early in the first quarter. But he quickly recovered and never left the game, unlike the Warriors’ resolve.
“You get surprised in life all the time,” said Nelson. “It was a surprise to me tonight. A big game at Minnesota we played so well. This may be the worst three quarters we have played in two months. Not a guy played worth a darn after the first quarter. It didn’t matter if it was a starter or anyone I put in. It was just a bad three quarters for us.”
Though this time the Bulls had a lot to do with it.
Salmons, after his poorest effort as a Bull in Tuesday’s game in Charlotte, was a pest on defense for the Warriors leader, Stephen Jackson, who led them with 19 but on eight of 20 shooting. Salmons did a terrific job keeping in front of Jackson, thus cutting off the Warriors drive and kick game and slowing their movement.
“Keeping him out of the paint was big,” said Salmons. “I just tried to keep him in front of me and not let him get other people involved. I was just trying to keep him out if the middle and if he did get there Jo and Brad did a good job containing and helping him until I got back in there.”
Though Jackson complained about being double teamed, instead I thought the Bulls did a better job helping with penetration.
“We were better in help side defense and moving the ball and hopefully we can continue that,” said Derrick Rose, who added 14 points and six assists as the Bulls had six of their main seven in double figures (Aaron Gray and Anthony Roberson came in for the last few minutes of the rout).
Noah was active, though he especially took advantage of the mismatches that Nelson comes up with in always trying to scramble the game. So Noah spent much of the game playing against Corey Maggette in the Warriors’ goofy guard game, and Noah took advantage of his size.
“I’m trying to crash the glass as hard as I can,” said Noah, who had 15 rebounds Saturday against Houston. “I feel I have a long way to go offensively. This summer is going to be a big focus of mine working on my moves and getting stronger. My role hasn’t changed much. I’m crashing the boards and getting rebounds.”
Though, surprisingly, Noah is making free throws and up over 60 percent now by hitting his last 14 straight and 23 of his last 25.
“I’m working with Super Dave, coach Dave (Stevens, player development),” said Noah. “We’ve worked on it in practice after and I’ve just got to keep it up.”
Noah also playfully covered his ears when told of his good fortune in shooting in a lively Bulls locker room, Noah being one of the most gregarious of late as he’s come around considerably from the brooding, angry youngster he appeared to be just about all of last season when he went on several self imposed media strikes and declined to talk to reporters. Though he acted so miserably most of the time no one wanted to speak to him. He’s seemed like a different guy this season.
As for Noah’s shooting, it’s fairly amazing any of them go in as no one has ever quite seen the rotation of a Noah free throw, though Noah is a person somewhat in his own orbit, anyway.
After that ugly start, the Bulls opened the second quarter on a 17-6 run to take control with a Noah/Miller/Salmons combination on a night Ben Gordon continued his shooting slump and now is 27 for 72 his last five games.
“It wasn’t my night,” said Gordon. “I realized that early and tried to do other things, play solid defense, get to loose balls, play with energy and hustle. I’ve learned to play through the poor shooting games and not stress about it.”
Salmons did a heck of a job denying Jackson, who began to back of quickly and not even look for his shot. It was amusing to watch Nelson probe for matchup advantages with his little guys at times against Noah or Miller, though the Bulls simply dominated the boards 54-41 and kept the Warriors from running, an 18-10 Bulls fast break edge.
“Guys like John and Brad, veteran players, they have a good feel for the game,” said Del Negro.
Gordon even had some good defensive sequences on Jackson with good help when the Warriors got switches and tried to isolate, and the Bulls began to pull away late in the third when Kirk Hinrich hit a three and Rose a pull up for a 75-62 lead.
It was artful to watch Miller open the fourth, stepping back for a jumper on a screen and roll, pulling an upfake and driving and getting fouled and the Bulls up 90-70 with just under eight minutes left in a rare rout.
“It’s a huge game Friday,” agreed Del Negro. “It’s a tiebreaker game for us. We’re 2-1 against Milwaukee. But every game is big for us. It’s a tight race for that spot. We’ve proven all year long we’re an unpredictable team. We’ve beaten Denver and Orlando and Houston. And then we’ve lost to Oklahoma City here, teams that don’t have as good a record. Or we go on the road to Washington or didn’t play well at New Jersey. The list goes on. I don’t take anything for granted. All the media take it for granted and look at records and say we should win that game. But it’s not that easy. They’re pros over there. And some nights you can guard well and they can be hot. I wish you could give people something to drink and they’ll be perfect all the time. But it’s not that way. We have young guys who have to get better and we responded well after a difficult start to the game.”
And you get the sense it will continue like this for at least the rest of this season.