Bulls depose the Kings


Mar 22

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It was late in Monday’s Bulls 132-92 dismantling of the Sacramento Kings when Beno Udrih came up to Kyle Korver during a dead ball.

“You guys,” said Udrih admiringly, “play great basketball.”

And Udrih, the Kings point guard, knows something about great basketball, having watched it as a reserve on two Spurs championship teams pretty much as he and his teammates watched the Bulls play as near perfect basketball as you can play.

Shooting 61.3 percent and 70.6 percent on threes, 34 assists on 49 baskets, 36 fast break points, a 56-22 edge inside, forcing 22 turnover and blocking 10 shots.

“That you hear something like that… a guy coming from the Spurs,” said Korver, one of eight Bulls scoring in double figures with a team high 18 to match Derrick Rose. “That’s the kind of basketball they play.”

Yes, the Bulls could do worse than the Spurs as a model, and it was an efficient, effective, electric championship type effort Monday that gave the Bulls their first 50 win season at 50-19 since 1997-98.

“When we have the ball moving like that and everyone is hitting shots we’re a dangerous team,” said Korver. “It starts with Derrick, obviously. A lot of us count on him coming off the pick and roll and our movement is to play off him. When we’re not solely focused on him carrying the load all the time, we’re really hard to guard. Over the course of the season, we’re getting better getting to our second and third options on offense, and when we get to those we’re a tough team to guard.”

Yes, the Kings are a miserable 17-52, though they were coming off a 32-point win in Minnesota Sunday night. So back to back didn’t help them.

But the way the Bulls played Monday was beautiful to watch. Eleven players had at least a rebound; 10 had at least an assist. They hit 12 of 17 threes with Korver four of five and Keith Bogans three of five and six of nine shooting. The bench was marvelous again, effectively breaking the game open to start the second quarter after a 34-28 first quarter that coach Tom Thibodeau, predictably, termed disappointing because of the Bulls’ defense with the Kings shooting 55 percent.

Thibodeau did smile when he heard the team had tape he could break down of a Syracuse Nationals/Rochester Royals game for the trip to Atlanta.

“It was a good win for us,” said Thibodeau.  “I did not like our defense in the first half.  It was better in the second half. In the first half, we were gambling too much.  That was breaking our defense down. They were playing (for the) outlet passes and we were obliging.  I was disappointed in that. We did not have time to recover. That was steals and layups. We were making the game hard on ourselves.  As the game went on we played better.”

We joke about Thibodeau and his basket half empty philosophy. But it’s a message that has resonated with the players and why even as they are the surprise team of the NBA remaining tied with Boston for first in the Eastern Conference, no one is taking anything from granted.

“It’s good to win,” said Joakim Noah, who had 14 points and nine rebounds but condemned his right hand hook and his offense in general. “Nobody is satisfied. We played good, but we can always do better.”

Thibs would be proud.

Jo the serious and studious one.

The story coming into the game was the return of Carlos Boozer after missing five games with a sprained ankle and Boozer played well. He had 16 points with eight trips to the foul line in just over 25 minutes as the starters got plenty of rest with only Luol Deng, of course with him being Thibodeau’s security blanket, playing more than 30.

“I felt great,” said Boozer. “We were smart rehabbing. We let it heal. I’m happy how strong my ankle was. And I was excited to play. It was like being a kid again and you were punished and are asking Mom if you can go out and play, but you’re still grounded. And then finally you get the chance to go out and play with the kids. There’s going to be a little bounce in your step.”

The Bulls had that all over the court as Boozer was united with Noah as the team’s projected starting lineup played just its 19th game together. They are 15-4 with that lineup.

“I’m used to being on 50 win teams,” said Boozer.  “We didn’t come here to win 50 games.  We have higher goals, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

The Bulls busted the game open with their improving second unit (52 points), surging ahead 52-36 before Thibodeau began to bring back the starters late in the second quarter. The Bulls went ahead 64-47 at halftime and then never led by fewer than 15 in the third quarter and not fewer than 23 in the fourth on the way to the blowout with season highs in points, shooting and assists.

Down the stretch as the Bulls continued to pour it on as Omer Asik set a new career high with 14 points dunking one after another, and Korver and C.J. Watson had a pair of threes each in the fourth as the Bulls scored at least 30 points in every quarter.

“It was fun to watch tonight,” said Boozer.  “It’s fun to watch everybody play.  This is one of the best shooting exhibitions in the last three minutes by Kyle Korver.  He was hitting every shot he threw up.  Watching C.J. Watson get hot, picking up the tempo like he always does, then Ronnie (Brewer) coming in and being a beast on defense, Big O dunking everything like a monster and Taj (with turf toe) out there being aggressive on defense and hitting shots.  We call our bench our second wave.  We have a monster second wave.” 

Conversely, it was a monstrosity watching Kings celebrated rookie DeMarcus Cousins, who had 11 points and eight rebounds, misleading for the little effort he put into the game. Though his eight turnovers were predictable. Marcus Thornton led the Kings with 25, but it was a shame to watch Cousins alternately yelling at and cursing his teammates and then standing idly near the free throw line watching while the Bulls battled underneath and Asik kept dunking with no one around (because Cousins was supposed to be guarding him).

Perhaps it’s appropriate the Kings may move to Anaheim down the street from Disneyland. There’s a Goofy joke there somewhere.

Mostly Monday, it was a night of fun and dreams of tomorrow for the Bulls. Rose, the most unselfish of stars, doesn’t like to score 42 points like he had to Friday in trying to bring the Bulls back against the Pacers last Friday.

“It’s fun when you can sit on the side and cheer your teammates,” said Rose.

He played a modest 28 minutes as reporters have been having fun with Thibodeau noting Rose and Deng are both in the top 11 in the league in minutes played. I’m not sure Thibodeau is quite as amused.

I personally don’t think the minutes are a big deal as they are in their 20’s, being flown around on private jets, staying in luxury hotels and playing three, maybe four games a week. Plus, if you play 33 minutes are you less likely to be hurt than if you play 38? Tim Duncan was given his last game off and then was hurt four minutes into Monday’s game. In Michael Jordan’s final season with the Bulls at age 35 he averaged 38.8 minutes per game, more than a minute per game more than the 22-year-old Rose. Scottie Pippen was hurt half that season, but the season before at age 32 Pippen averaged 37.7 minutes per game, the same as Rose is averaging now.

“I know you (media) guys are all concerned about the minutes,” said Thibodeau. “Getting the minutes down was good.”

I’m not sure he meant that, but it’s what you’re supposed to say.

Before the game when asked about the minutes—Will you guys give him a break!—Thibodeau said: “At this time of the year, guys who have played big minutes and are primary scorers are nicked up on every team. The great ones have the mental toughness to get through. He’s (Rose) in great shape. He’s as strong as can be. He has a real strong mindset. The entire team has to push through. This is a great time. You’re going head to head with good teams. The games are big. We don’t have to change one bit.”

The fact is the Bulls are playing for something now and something vital, first in the conference.

“Thibs preaches one game at a time,” said Korver. “Even when we had that winning streak (eight earlier this month), you’d think we’d lost half the games. He’s on us about everything. So guys have that mentality of one at a time. Every game means the same at the beginning of the season and the end. Over the course of an 82-game season, there are a lot of twists and turns, but you can start to see the light with 13 games left. Playing for that one seed every game means so much. We’re going to be right there with Boston at the end if we keep playing like this. One bad loss or a couple of wins can mean everything.”

The No. 1 seed doesn’t guarantee you anything even as the Bulls moved to an East best 31-4 at home. But if you are No. 1, you get No. 8, an under .500 team, in the first round, and then the four/five winner. Which is likely either Orlando or Atlanta while presumably Boston and Miami have to battle it out at Nos. 2 and 3.

So in theory, anyway, there’s value in addition to having a potential seventh game at home in every series.

“Just win out,” said Rose. “If we can win out there’s nothing (anyone else) can do. But we take one game at a time, play together and try to get better every game.”

I know we’ve heard that one before, but since everyone says it I think it is required to be written down every so often.

But if the post game comments sound a bit like an accounting office in August, it’s not that way in the games. These guys do have fun, and Rose started it off after a Kings turnover with a runout and double pump over the head, back to the basket slam dunk for a 24-20 lead when it was still a bit of a game. Tricks for kids. Last year, the Bulls blew a 35-point lead to the Kings at home and lost, but these are hardly the same teams. The Bulls got out on the break immediately with 10 fast break first quarter points with Bogans bouncing back with a pair of steals to start several breaks.

“They were throwing lazy passes and we were getting in the (passing) lane sand stealing them,” explained Rose.

The Bulls got a little sloppy on their own with the ball late in the first to keep the Kings close. But you could see the inevitability as Cousins despite his immense size spent most of his time shooting 20 footers. He reminded me of Derrick Coleman or Chris Morris in the old Nets days practicing pregame shots standing in the first row of seats. You never asked why with guys like that.

The Bulls unleashed the barrage after the first quarter, not only making shots and getting steals for easy baskets, but pursuing loose balls all over the floor, Omer Asik even diving into the stands to get one with the Bulls up 30. The Kings stood by admiringly, though they refrained from applauding.

This comes from Thibodeau, but also a group of players with the character and desire to compete.

“Thibs’ big thing is, ‘We’re going to do the same stuff every single day.’ And we have done the same stuff every single day,” said Korver with a laugh. “But by the time you get to the playoffs it becomes second nature. That’s the point, and it’s starting to happen more. We want to be a team that can grind it out and play half court on offense and defense. But when you have speed like we have you try to use it. Our bigs and wings can run. Our point guard is the fastest player in the NBA. So we can take advantage of that, too.”

Rose was setting interior screens like John Stockton used to for Deng to get open for drives, and to end the third quarter leading 98-72, Rose slammed his hand in disgust when a pass for a potential layup to Noah was tipped. That came just after Rose hurled one of those Wes Unseld/Kevin Love chest passes 90 feet to Bogans who handed off to a driving Noah for a dunk. Asik constantly beat Cousins (no trick there) and Sam Dalembert down court after Kings misses, and with the Bulls up 20 in the third Deng flew past Jason Thompson taking a jumper. But instead of watching, Deng scrambled back to tip the ball as Thompson went up after the fake.

“They are a great team,” said Kings coach Paul Westphal, who coached against the Bulls in the 1993 Finals. “They have legitimate championship aspirations. They’re in the conversation with four or five other teams.”

Yes, it is beginning to show.

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