Bulls ready for road after beating Wizards


Nov 14

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 their 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.

Let’s get this out of the way first so we can get on with the games. Derrick Rose is better than John Wall, way better.

No, not because Rose had 24 points and eight assists while Wall had 16 points and six assists in the first regular season matchup of the two No. 1 overall draft picks Saturday as the Bulls defeated the Washington Wizards 103-96.

Rose is better and will be for some time to come because he is a basketball player. Wall is an athlete, a brilliant one, who happens to play basketball. He reminds me of Bob Hayes, the Olympic track star who went on to become a Hall of Fame receiver, a long striding jet of a man who could do anything with a ball.

Wall could have been Hayes, or someone like baseball’s Carl Crawford, an extraordinary talent who also is a competitor.

Rose is the equal as an athlete, but also a savvy basketball player who is adept at the nuances of the game, including running a pick and roll, which Wall said afterward he admired. So he appears to be a willing learner.

“I learned how he (Rose) attacks the bigs off the pick and roll,” said Wall. “The way he finds teammates and gets easier shots for himself.”

“Everyone wants to compare them,” said Kirk Hinrich, the former Bulls playing his first regular season game back in Chicago and getting a nice video tribute from the Bulls in the first quarter and standing ovation from the fans. “They are different players and personalities.”

And you could sense, though Hinrich is too good a teammate to ever say so, that Wall isn’t the easiest player to play with for someone accustomed to playing with veteran teammates and in a more structured environment.

With seven footer Andray Blatche shooting long jumpers and ignoring the post, JaVale McGee jumping at everything without boxing out or knowing where his man was, with Arenas firing away and Wall flying around, it’s a head spinner for Hinrich, who hit his only three field goals while Wall was out.

“We’re just out of sorts,” sighed Hinrich afterward as he went to have a long conversation with Rose.

“Kirk, I miss him,” Rose said. “I’ll say that.”

I know what you’re thinking, but Hinrich is prohibited by league rules from returning to the Bulls for a year after the trade. Even Wizards coach Flip Saunders offered casually before the game that Hinrich probably wishes he were back in Chicago, where Hinrich is keeping his home. Don’t be surprised if he is back at the end of his deal after next season.

As for Wall, he showed he’s a real competitor and showed that toughness in a game the Bulls mostly controlled and kept pulling away, leading by eight at halftime, 72-58 after three and still 89-76 with six minutes left when Gilbert Arenas, with 30 points and it looked liked 25 more pounds than he had before, knocked in four threes that gave the Wizards a boost and sent Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau into near depression despite a third straight win to go to 5-3 before the upcoming two week Western Conference road trip.

“Arenas got hot and I thought we got fortunate because I did not like the way we defended at all in the second half,” said Thibodeau. “Our rebounding was poor from the start of the game (outrebounded for the first time this season). I am obviously pleased with the win, (but) we did not cover the three point line. You can’t do that. They were one or two possessions away from the game being really close down the stretch. We got careless with the ball. We got loose. We gave up 16 in the third and 38 in the fourth. The fourth is supposed to be your best quarter. We closed short. They’re the type of team that if they knock in a couple of threes, especially Arenas, it does not take much to get them going.”

By then, Wall, who left the game in a walking boot on his left foot, had left the game after suffering a sprain and was not expected to return. He asked back into the game during that fourth quarter run when the Wizards got within eight with three minutes remaining.

But Joakim Noah, who had 21 points and nine rebounds, helped the Bulls break the pressure as he did earlier in the quarter with a full court drive and was fouled, making one. Arenas was fouled and made one free throw. Luol Deng, with 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists, slashed inside and was fouled, making both and Rose answered an Arenas three with a pair of free throws as time basically ran out on Washington.

And now is the time for the Bulls first big test, the always dreaded so called “circus trip” out west. Though I like the way Thibodeau is handling it, and he made the point to reporters after the game that he is making to the team:

“I don’t give a crap where we play and whom. It’s just basketball.”

Or something like that.

“I’m concerned about practice and then Houston (Tuesday),” said Thibodeau. “All the stuff about going on the road and the circus, all this stuff, I’m not concerned about that. I’m just worried about the next game.”

You know he’s heard plenty about the dreaded big tent exodus since he’s been here, and it’s much too defeatist for him.

Thibodeau’s message is one you hear from the great coaches, why Utah goes to the Southeast and wins four in five nights through Saturday, all double digit second quarter comebacks.

It’s four basketball games in five days! What, that’s too much!

If you believe something is going to be difficult, it becomes that much harder. So Thibodeau is being clear with this Bulls group. He expects them to win these games.

Which is why despite the win he was in a cranky post game mood.

“I also thought that they were playing with low energy,” said Thibodeau. “I thought the whole team in the second half was capable of playing a lot better.”

You can say Thibodeau officially hates 38-point opponent fourth quarters, especially with a double digit lead.

It’s not about trading baskets and still winning. Because that comes back to bite you. The Bulls were attacking in the fourth, shooting 16 free throws to two for Washington (the Wizards shot eight for the game after 10 in their Friday loss to Charlotte). But Washington hit seven of eight threes, and some were just, as Taj Gibson would say, crazy.

I thought Gibson played another terrific game, grabbing tough rebounds in traffic as he had nine points, seven rebounds with five offensive, five blocks and some real in your face defense that drove Blatche from the game and way, way outside. No, he didn’t seem to want any part of Taj. The way Gibson is playing you could have a position controversy if Gibson weren’t such a team player and unselfish.

But Thibodeau also knows it’s a narrow margin of error for this Bulls group without Carlos Boozer and a reserve group that is in and out. C.J. Watson struggled going zero for five, though Ronnie Brewer continued to look more lively and Kyle Korver recovered from a tough start to hit a pair of threes. Perhaps Korver could be out there more with Rose, but Thibodeau errors on the side of defensive play, and late in the game paired Keith Bogans and Brewer with Rose.

“We didn’t cover the three well,” acknowledged Deng. “We cant be swapping baskets like that. We’re happy with the win, but something we got to talk about it.”

Because this looks like the group once Boozer returns that is going to be here awhile.

Thibodeau is still experimenting with rotations, which he doesn’t like to do. He’s more the kind of coach who likes his rotation set and then will stay with it, believing it also helps keep the players better prepared for what they will face.

He tried to steal some rest for Rose and Noah, taking them out with 3:46 left in the third and the Bulls up 16. Washington closed it to 14 at the end of the third, which was fine. But when the Wizards opened the fourth with a 6-0 spurt to get within 72-64 with 10:21 left, Thibodeau had to bring Rose and Noah back to a settle the offense.

“I felt things were changing, we were struggling,” said Thibodeau. “I brought them back a little earlier than I would have liked.”

Thibodeau knows if the Bulls pay attention to detail, even as they are currently comprised, if they rebound, guard the lane in his no middle system and get out in transition, they have the talent to beat any of their upcoming opponents.

The only thing they have to fear is… bad room service.

Rose immediately drew the defense and found Korver for a three, then Deng for a corner three as Deng added three more and is now an impressive 15 of 34 on the season, and then Rose knocked in a three of his own before Noah broke some pressure and ran the court and dunked for an 83-69 lead with 8:20 left that was enough cushion to hold off a suddenly hot Arenas.

“I’m just trying to make people fear me on the court,” said Rose. “Keep on putting pressure on them. And I finally hit a three. I told you I’m not going to quit shooting. My confidence is high especially since I’ve been working on it. So I’ve been in situations where I shot the ball horribly but that does nothing but build you into a stronger player.”

Earlier, the buildup was about the Rose/Wall matchup and Hinrich’s return, though Hinrich, typically, declined to watch the video tribute and said he sort of was embarrassed.

But it was a classy thing to do and classy of the fans, and Hinrich really was appreciative.

“It showed how much Chicago and the fans appreciated the type of player I am,” said Hinrich. “It means a lot for me.”

Yes, the Bulls would love to have Hinrich with Rose now, no offense to Bogans, who has played well of late (seven of 17 threes in the last three games) and in that plus/minus statistic of when he’s on the court actually has been a Bulls leader.

Though we know now LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the bunch pretty much had their minds made up, no one did then and there was no way the Bulls could even have recruited James without moving Hinrich’s salary. And then how could you say to James we couldn’t go after you because we had to keep Hinrich. Yes, even Kirk understands.

He seemed unusually passive and didn’t attempt a field goal in the first half as Wall scooted around and when teammates like Al Thornton and Blatche had the ball you may as well start running back on defense.

The Bulls jumped out quickly, up 16-8, though the Wizards recovered to take a 25-24 first quarter lead as Rose began to miss and had some forays inside blocked as he went on to miss eight straight field goals. Wall got a highlight with a lob dunk pass to McGee, though Rose got it going again for a 50-42 Bulls halftime lead and then a dominant sequence with one of those not so subtle messages after McGee got another Rose drive.

On the next Bulls possession, Rose did a shake and head fake drive for a layup, found Bogans for a three and then hit his own 20 footer on Wall in still another defining Bulls spurt. Later, I thought Rose answered with his own highlights, a Jordanesque switch hands layup that if in the Finals would have been the stuff of legend and a blowout in which Rose faked Wall chasing from behind, let him fly past and scored.

“They’re going to be scary when Boozer gets there,” said Wall, who appears to be a classy young man as the NBA has been fortunate with an influx of high character young talents. “They’re playing without him and doing a great job and competing strong. You bring him or Taj off the bench, a four man knocking down those 15 footers, a point guard who can put pressure on the defense where the bigs have to help and good shooters around him. They’ll be tough.”

Though Boozer still is a few weeks away, Thibodeau doesn’t see why it shouldn’t continue starting Tuesday in Houston.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: