Bulls are the kings of Sacramento


Nov 18

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It looks like the Bulls may have found a go to scorer for down the stretch in games, Joakim Noah.

Joakim Noah?

Perhaps his range is four inches, but Noah, with another double/double of 15 points and 14 rebounds, converted the two crucial baskets late in the fourth quarter Tuesday as the Bulls opened the so called circus Western Conference road trip with a 101-87 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

“Joakim Noah was a monster, especially in the second half,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “He had a couple of great tip-ins. Just some good performances that we needed. We didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well in the second half, but at least we had enough of a cushion to sustain that a little bit. It’s a good start to a long trip.”

John Salmons, meanwhile, celebrated his return to Sacramento with a team high 23 points on nine of 18 shooting with four steals and three of five threes. It was a promising sign for Salmons, who came into the game shooting 31.7 percent and 26.7 percent on threes.

“We definitely knew we had to get this one to set the tone for the trip,” said Salmons of the Bulls going to 6-4. “I had a great time in Sacramento. They treated me well. I heard the cheers (for him Tuesday) and it definitely felt good. When I go to Philly (his other team) I get booed. Now I’m just trying to help the team any way I can.”

There also was an episode of Pargomania as Jannero Pargo finally broke out with eight points in a 53-second stretch from the end of the first quarter to start the second that carried the Bulls from a 24-23 lead to 34-25 on the way to a 61-47 margin at halftime.

And Noah, leading the NBA in rebounding, carried the Bulls home when it looked like still another failure to find a finisher.

The Bulls led 86-72 entering the fourth quarter, but went the first five minutes of the fourth quarter shooting one of seven with four turnovers to enable the Kings to draw within 88-81 with 6:54 left.

Whereupon it was a combination of superb team defense and Noah’s exquisite timing that held off the Kings.

The Kings had two chances to cut the deficit to five, but Noah blocked a short shot by Tyreke Evans. Kenny Thomas recovered the ball, but Luol Deng, who is continuing his solid play with 16 points and 10 rebounds, stripped Thomas and got a nice pass from Derrick Rose to make it 90-81 on a jumper.

Rose then blocked a short attempt by Sergio Rodriguez, and after a Thomas offensive, Kirk Hinrich missed. But Noah tipped the ball in for a 92-81 Bulls lead with 6:03 left.

Salmons then stole the ball from Jason Thompson, who was having an awful game as the Bulls effectively ganged up on his inside play.

“I think that they did stuff well that they usually don’t,” said Thompson. “They really aren’t a big outside shooting team. It was really good for Pargo to come off the bench and be a spark. Brad (Miller) came in and hit a three. They had it going.”

Donte Greene, who was playing for the injured Andres Nocioni and scored a career high 24 points, traded misses with Rose before Thompson scored to bring the Kings within 92-83. Hinrich missed again, but again there was Noah fighting his way inside for another tip in and save to put the Bulls ahead 94-83 with four minutes left.

It was a heck of an almost three minute scoreless stretch with the Kings as the Bulls forced five misses in six shots and got two blocks, two steals and the two Noah tipins.

Ime Udoka then missed coming out of a timeout and Salmons stepped back for a three as the shot clock expired to effectively end it with the Bulls ahead 97-83 with just over three minutes left.

Finally, a bit of a breather, and on the road as the Kings were held under 100 points for the first time in the last seven games. The Celtics have been the only team to score more than 100 points against the Bulls this season.

“Derrick (Rose) and Kirk didn’t shoot the ball very well (three of 21), but the rest of the team did and that’s a good sign,” said Del Negro. “We are not going to be able to shoot the ball well every night (though the Bulls did shoot a season best 47 percent and seven of 12 threes). You have to find other ways to be successful. We are doing that on the defensive end, hustle plays, and rebounding and controlled tempo that way.”

The only disappointment was the continued static play of Rose, who had 10 points and seven assists and did get to the line for six free throws but shot two of 12.

The Bulls and Rose continue to say Rose is coming along after his ankle injury that cost him just about all of October. But suddenly it is the Bulls who are facing the top young point guards, this time Evans, Rose’s successor at Memphis, who had 20 points and three blocks.

Though Rose generally has his moments in games now, like a run out fast break for a score on an Evans miss late in the third quarter, the Bulls continue to hang in and do well without the explosive fast breaks and driving baskets Rose provided so regularly last season. The Bulls did manage 22 fast break points, but mostly because of their defense and 21 Kings turnovers.

This time it was mostly because of the improved shooting everyone has been promising.

“They came out of their shooting slump at the wrong time as far as we’re concerned,” said Kings coach Paul Westphal.

The Kings went right at rookie Taj Gibson to open the game with Thompson, who had been playing exceptionally well, and Gibson fell into early foul trouble and fouled out in 11 minutes.

As a result, the Bulls spent much of the game playing small, more often drawing the Kings into the style of game they wanted with the Kings getting little from Thompson and Spencer Hawes, the latter on the Bulls draft radar before they settled on Noah.

The Bulls held that narrow 24-23 lead late in the first when Pargo lit it up like Ben Gordon at his finest. Pargo hadn’t played in the last game, which Del Negro said was due to matchups, though Pargo had arrived late for the game and Del Negro often disciplines players in such occasions.

But Pargo wasn’t late with his shot, bouncing into the second quarter with a 17 footer, a three and a 16 footer within seconds into each Bulls possession. It was reminiscent of Pargo’s fabulous playoff minute to almost pull out Game 5 of the 2005 playoffs. It’s something the Bulls have waited for with Pargo coming in shooting 35 percent.

That explosion, effectively, gave the Bulls enough margin the rest of the game as they shot 50 percent in the first half and led by 14.

I also thought Del Negro did an excellent job in running plays to get good shots coming out of just about every time out, like Rose finding Hinrich cutting and then passing back and Hinrich giving to Deng for an open 15 footer late in the second quarter.

Though Hinrich didn’t shoot well, he ran the team effectively with Rose unsure at times. With the Bulls leading 81-70 late in the third, Hinrich thought ahead and let the ball roll up toward halfcourt before picking it up with about 40 seconds left in the quarter to get a two-for-one chance. And the Bulls cashed in big with five points in the last 32 seconds to keep that 14-point lead going into the fourth, which turned out to be enough to keep the from getting scary and giving the young Kings any confidence they could win.

Though now the Bulls face the big boys, the Lakers, Nuggets and Trail Blazers, with a combined record of 24-10. It would be a good time to see an appearance of an old Rose.

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