Bulls keep on winnin' with third straight, 14 of 20


Feb 20

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Ho hum, another Bulls win.

This time 100-94 over the Minnesota Timberwolves with five players in double figures and two others with eight and led by the not traded Kirk Hinrich with 20 points, including a three to tie Ben Gordon’s alltime franchise record for three pointers made.

So make it 18 of their last 27, 14 of their last 20 and five of their last six. Eight wins in their last 10 on the road, overall nine of their last 13 away from the United Center. Five of their last seven wins in the second of back to backs, which the Bulls will see again with Saturday’s home game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Could this be getting too easy?

“Our defense second half carried us,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro as the Bulls matched a season best (last at 6-4) of two games over .500 at 26-24. “We’re scoring enough points. We spread the game, put the ball in Derrick’s (Rose) hands at key times and we fed off his penetration. We played defense and rebounded, got opportunities on the break and got some easy baskets to take the pressure off.”

Not with this Bulls team, the pre-2010 free agency version which has to struggle and grind and wait for Rose to make key plays to stop runs. It really has become the difference as Rose is taking something from the Jordan model of not doing too much early if it’s not needed but stepping in and up, as the clichés go, to keep opponents from running away.

Rose finished a clever all around game with 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and he’d have had many more assists but teams tend to foul a lot on his passes as they are caught off balance and behind the play and end up reaching and fouling. The Bulls get a pair of free throws and Rose is denied the assist, though the free throws are not guaranteed as the Bulls missed nine Friday with Luol Deng a surprising eight of 14. Deng runs the court well with Rose, and generally makes those free throws, though the Timberwolves also missed nine, apparently to be hospitable.

The Bulls won the fourth quarter and the game after leading by one going into the fourth. And it was Rose with a beauty of a no look bounce pass to newly acquired Ronald “Flip” Murray (that’s the last Ronald mention), who was fouled and made two on a three-on-two to give the Bulls an 87-79 lead with eight minutes remaining.

Rose penetrated deeply and hung, drawing a foul a few minutes later as Minnesota was within nine, hit  a pull up jumper after Minnesota got back within nine with five minutes left, and then drove and was fouled and made one of two with 3:48 to give the Bulls their biggest lead at 96-83.

The Bulls pretty much cruised the rest of the way without making another field goal as Minnesota led by Corey Brewer with 19 crawled under the blowout margin.

“Another good team effort and we did a good job on the glass,” said Del Negro of the Bulls outrebounding Minnesota 51-41 even with Joakim Noah still out with plantar fasciitus. “We were concerned with Jefferson and (Kevin) Love.”

Actually, if I were Minnesota I would be, also. No wonder there were so many trade rumors about Jefferson. It wasn’t just because he was five of 13 for 10 points and five rebounds. The guy can’t get off the ground. He has a nice drop step spin move, but Brad Miller with eight points and 10 rebounds had little trouble containing him and Jefferson doesn’t finish at the basket nearly as well as Taj Gibson, the Bulls rookie with 14 points and nine rebounds in just 27 minutes with his usual foul trouble on cheap, rookie calls.

Love, who had nine points and six rebounds off the bench, seemed in a depression on the bench as the team doesn’t use him very well, and he also has no spring. It’s obvious the Timberwolves will try to trade one this summer and why one of the rumors around the NBA was they wanted to trade Jefferson for Noah. I’d never do that, unless, of course, Noah never can play again because of his foot problems. Then I’d only probably do it with Jefferson averaging $14 million the next three years.

That’s bad news for Minnesota while the good news for the Bulls was how quickly newly acquired Hakim Warrick and Murray not only adjusted but contributed and were the key players in the fourth quarter when the Bulls pulled away after trailing 58-55 in the first half.

“They’re just getting their feet wet,” said Del Negro as the Bulls got ready to depart the ice fishing capital of the country. “They were trying not to make mistakes. I told them to play hard with energy and play the right way.”

I wish I’d thought of that.

“Both of them contributed to get us the win,” said Del Negro.

Warrick had 10 points and nine rebounds and Murray eight points and three rebounds. Combined they shot eight of 21 in about 49 combined minutes. But they are veterans, and it showed. They were comfortable immediately and unafraid to make big plays down the stretch after slow starts.

They combined to score eight of the Bulls first 10 points of the fourth quarter as the Bulls went from leading 77-76 to leading 87-79, and the Timberwolves, 13-43, never got closer until the last seconds when the Bulls had basically given up on the game, though you would rather see them finish it better.

“Warrick plays a four position, but he’s really a three (that’s what Tyrus always wanted the Bulls to say). He’s very active and he’s deceptively quick,” said Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis. “He does a great job of jabbing guys off him, and you have to honor it because he puts the ball on the floor and the way that he shoots the ball, as long as he is and the way he leans back, it’s hard to get to that shot. It’s about our guys being quick enough, long enough, and athletic enough to deal with somebody like him. Same thing with Murray: He’s very strong, he’s a veteran scorer in this league, and (you have to be) able to get to him. They had opportunities of scoring that hurt us at a particular time.”

It was impressive in their first game with a new team, though this is nothing new for Murray as he’s now with his eighth different team in his eighth season in the NBA out of Shaw University. Yes, I’m sure. Warrick is only with his third team in his fifth season.

But the Bulls were glad to have them Friday as Murray powered a drive from the wing and pushed off Jefferson at the basket to score for a 79-76 lead a minute into the fourth. Jefferson missed from in close, as he would do several times, but Murray threw the ball away and Ramon Sessions scored to get Minnesota within one.

Hinrich, who had just equaled Gordon’s three point Bulls mark to end the third, hit a step back 18 footer, and Jefferson was stopped inside again as he almost jumped. Murray then hit a 15 footer on the wing and Jefferson missed yet again point blank. But Ryan Hollins got the miss and was fouled, making one free throw. Murray and Sessions traded misses before Warrick got a sharp pass from Miller and dunked along the baseline like we’d see Tyrus Thomas do.

Though not quite as explosive as Tyrus, Warrick had a nice back-to-the-basket layin on a lob pass from Miller earlier in the third quarter.

“They’re just good players, they fit in with us,” said Rose. “They killed us every time we played them. We need them to kill others now.”

I got to watch some of the Bobcats/Cavs game during the Bulls halftime, and Tyrus was very good, playing the bulk of the fourth quarter minutes and making several key blocks and grabbing rebounds when the Bobcats blew the game open. The Bobcats, unlike the Bulls, allow headbands, and Tyrus looked sharp in his Bobcat orange one. Perhaps that was the problem that without the headband during the game while playing for the Bulls his brains would leak out.

Anyway, we’ll see Tyrus in Chicago April 3 and despite my ambivalence toward his play, I was rooting for the Bulls to keep him the rest of the season because of the injuries on the front line. But the Bulls did get Warrick, who looks like he’ll be an able, if not as spectacular on defense, replacement. Plus, the Bulls long term season strategy also paid off when they kept their roster at 13 early. Thus they had the roster spots to make the deals with Milwaukee and Charlotte to not only get the cap room but players who could adequately replace the departed ones. Chris Richard was let go because he was the only one without a guaranteed contract and keeping him could have cost millions because of luxury tax fees. It’s difficult to justify that even with the team shorthanded in the front court.

After Warrick’s slam dunk, Sasha Pavlovic was stripped and Rose ran out and dropped off a beautiful no look bounce pass to Murray on the right wing. Warrick was running the left wing. Murray was fouled and made both to give the Bulls that 87-79 lead with eight minutes left.

Gibson then hit a 14 footer after Sessions split a pair of free throws, and the two new guys (Joe Alexander and Acie Law didn’t play) each had a defensive rebound on the next two Timberwolves possessions, and then Rose pretty much wrapped it up with five of the Bulls next seven points.

The last two points before the Bulls got a free throw at the end were by Deng, who was fouled after Miller gathered in a block of a Hinrich shot and wrapped around an interior pass to Deng. Credit Deng as he catches these amazing things and Warrick watched a few sail by earlier. Miller isn’t younger even with that crew cut. I assume the deer mistake you for a porcupine when you look like that and don’t run away as Miller is an avid hunter. Lindsey is as well, but of a different sort.

But with Noah out and still uncertain about his return, Miller has been remarkable. Certainly for someone in his condition.

He is averaging 11.6 points and 6.2 rebounds the last six games, five of those Bulls wins. The Bulls have won every game he’s had double figures in points or rebounds, and he is averaging 14.5 points and 10 rebounds the last two games. Plus, Gibson was strong again and had a power dunk in the face of Love to open up the second quarter, elevating from about four feet in front of the basket.

Help me, Rhonda.

Good stuff.

The Bulls weren’t very sharp to open the game as Rose had a tough time with Jonny Flynn’s penetration. But the Bulls spread the scoring around and led 30-29 after one. Warrick showed his athleticism with one of those long armed rebounds of a ball behind his head midway through the second and going back up with it, and then later in the quarter a nice dunk on a runout with Deng.

Still, the Bulls trailed 58-55 at halftime as the generally poor shooting Timberwolves were at 53.3 percent.

Rose had a terrific hanging, double clutch layup on a drive to open the third, and then a runout pass to Deng for a score and another to Hinrich as the Bulls ran up 21 fast break points. Though that was two fewer than the Timberewolves, who were running out on the Bulls shooting with the Bulls not covering back, a result, in part, of having new players.

The Bulls still couldn’t shake the Timberwolves in the third as both teams were fairly awful in the second half, the Timberwolves shooting 35.9 percent and missing eight of 15 free throws, including three straight by Corey Brewer when he flopped on a three point attempt and drew the call. The Bulls turned out in shooting 36.6 percent in the second half just slightly less awful, and with the best player in the game on their side in Rose and some nice assists from the new guys the Bulls headed home one of the league’s best teams in the new year.

Didn’t see that coming.

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