Bulls keep losing players and piling up wins


Jan 24

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Let’s see how that roll call went Monday before the Bulls defeated the New Jersey Nets 110-95.

Derrick Rose: Back playing after missing four games with a sprained turf toe, getting 22 points and eight assists, though admitting his toe injury may not fully heal this season.

“I know that if someone steps on it again it’s going to hurt,” Rose said as he was back in his dress black and white alligator striped sneakers (he says he loves sneakers as fashion). “You never know, I might go the whole year and nobody will touch it. I was scared to dunk like that (explosive). Chasing D. Will (Deron Williams) around I didn’t feel anything. I knew I could play when I could walk to the bathroom without limping.”

Luol Deng: In a splint on his left wrist, out and getting more opinions. Deng as he left the United Center said he’d speak to reporters Tuesday about his left wrist, which he hurt in Saturday’s game. There’s believed to be a possible ligament tear and surgery is an option, though coach Tom Thibodeau said he doubted that. “He’s mapping out the course he wants to take,” Thibodeau said before the game. “I don’t think so would be my guess. There are people he wants to talk to. He’s gone down this road with an injured wrist before (with season ending surgery on his right wrist his rookie year). My guess is it will be day-to-day.” Deng seemed in a buoyant mood, joking with friends and laughing. Teammates seemed to feel he’d be back playing in a week or so.

Deng, certainly, will make his own decision about what path to recovery he chooses to pursue. In some respects, it’s not unlike the decision that was facing Joakim Noah last season after he injured his thumb. He considered options for two weeks before having surgery and missing two months. But when he returned given how long he was out he wasn’t the same player and struggled through the playoffs. Deng hadn’t missed a game since late in the 2009-10 season, and given how well the team is doing (now 16-3) there’s some feeling he would opt to play given the injury is to his non shooting hand. Plus maybe he could use his left hand to club LeBron in the playoffs.

Taj Gibson: Still in a walking boot as he left the United Center, but he said he hopes to play by Friday, and certainly Sunday for the season’s first so called statement game in Miami.

John Lucas: Out again with a groin injury, though I personally prefer not to know details of that one.

Joakim Noah: Back from his sprained ankle and missing one game, though both feet post-game were in a large bucket of ice (I don’t know how those guys do that as I can’t hold an ice cube for five seconds) and Noah was looking a lot friskier in the game with 16 points and 10 rebounds in a solid 30 minutes.

“Just happy to be out there,” said Noah, who seems to have left behind his early struggles averaging 12.3 points and 10.7 rebounds his last three games. “A lot of people look at numbers. I’m more focused on energy, how I’m moving out there. Sometimes you have to realize other guys are stepping up. My minutes are down (33 last season to 27 now). Just because I have a little bit less rebounds, I’m playing with Carlos Boozer, who is a hell of a rebounder; Taj Gibson, who is a hell of a rebounder; Omer Asik, who is a hell of a rebounder, Luol Deng. I’m playing with a lot of good rebounders. Am I less effective than I was last year? I don’t know.”

Not lately, and not this Bulls team that keeps moving on impressively

On Monday against a Nets team playing its third game in three nights, the Bulls led for more than 47 minutes, pretty much by double figures all game after the first six minutes and by a high of 21 early in the third quarter. The Nets did cut the Bulls lead to 96-82 behind some subs with 5:20 left. So Thibodeau stayed with his starters the rest of the way as Richard Hamilton equaled Rose with 22 points and added 10 assists in 42 minutes.

“You never know with Thibs,” Noah said with a smile when asked about returning with 3:34 left and the Bulls leading 101-84.

This was a point of discussion much of last season with Thibodeau, and he’s made his point by now: Pros play. You didn’t see Michael and Scottie sitting down (both averaged close to 40 minutes per game the championship seasons), and it’s not like anyone is complaining. This is the way the Bulls played last season, and they didn’t lose to Miami because of fatigue. Plus, who gets tired in the playoffs, anyway? And with the injuries, like it or not, guys are getting games off.

And it’s not like guys are being extended, anyway, with Boozer getting 16 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes in another strong effort. Boozer’s defense was very good as well with two blocks and two steals. Rose played 36 minutes and said, if anything, he needed to play to improve his timing, which led to a few unforced turnovers.

“All the games I missed I wanted to play,” said Rose. “I hate to sit out. I wanted to play knowing we’re winning and playing against all these great guards. I missed that.”

Monday’s game was another with Deron Williams, and it was comical at times to watch Williams go after Rose, overdribbling the ball to try to get to the basket and score. The Bulls did a nice job collapsing the lane to keep Williams on the outside. And Williams is clever, and he does work the ball nicely around to teammates.

But the back story was last year’s game that led to Jerry Sloan’s resignation. That was when Williams was breaking off plays to go at Rose in his own one-on-one contest. It was the last straw for Sloan, who resigned soon after and though Sloan never would say so, in Utah they know having had enough of Williams was a big part. It’s one reason Williams was booed so heartily when he returned recently.

After that game, players said they overheard Williams complaining how he’d beat up Rose badly if he had the chance. So it was amusing to watch Williams wave helplessly several times as Rose blew by him even with that sprained toe which Rose said does limit his explosiveness.

Twice late in the first half Rose got away for breakaway dunks after Bulls steals. But as the crowd began to gasp in anticipation, Rose went up carefully with two hands for mild dunks. I doubt we’ll see much of that highlight stuff from Rose for at least awhile, if not all season.

Still, Rose was efficient with nine of 16 shooting and two of five threes while the Nets pulled Williams with almost nine minutes left.

Which also raised the question as you watched the Nets of what could Dwight Howard be thinking. He wants to play with that team? Jordan Farmar led with 22 points, though it was mostly a blend of backups hardly better in talent, even with Williams, than Howard’s current Magic team. The Nets are 5-13 and pretty much play like the Magic already as they lead the league in three pointers. The only thing I can think of is Howard remains a big fan of the Arnold Horshack character from the old Welcome Back, Kotter TV show, which was set in Brooklyn.

Oh, yeah, the game and the Bulls.

Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

“It’s a testament to our guys,” said Thibodeau. “I think we have the right guys. Whenever they are called upon they are ready to go. They’re not here by accident. We feel they are all talented and can play. When they get the opportunity, they all do well and we expect them to do well.”

And they did again. Thibodeau and everyone else has gone on and on about Deng the last two seasons, Thibodeau calling him the glue that holds everything together.

So Deng is in a cast and on the bench in a suit and Ronnie Brewer starts for him and comes flying into the game with nine first quarter points, hitting a 20 footer off a Noah pass to make it 5-4 and end the Nets’ last lead of the game and run out for a layup the next possession as the defense followed Boozer. Rose and Brewer then made threes, Noah got Mehmet Okur flopping for a three-point play that didn’t fool the officials, Noah slammed a pass from Rose and then Rose hit Hamilton for a running layup for Hamilton’s 15,000th point of his career.

“I love winning like this,” said Rose. “We came out and jumped on them and took their confidence away and ran away with it.”

That made it 20-8 Bulls halfway through the first quarter and it may have felt like thousands of points to the weary Nets.

“They also took us out of our offense completely,” said Nets coach Avery Johnson. “When the Bulls get energized like that and with Derrick Rose back, they can score 110 points on anybody.”

Coaches have been saying things like that about the Bulls after every game.

Actually, it’s remarkable in many respects, though it is difficult to identify greatness when it’s happening in routine circumstances, like in games against the Nets, Bobcats or Cavaliers (the Bulls have won the last four mostly without Rose by an average of 20 per game).

The defense was active, though, predictably, Thibodeau hated it after the first quarter. The ball moved relentlessly with 33 assists on 43 field goals with Hamilton getting 10 assists as he also had his second straight game of at least 20 points. The Bulls also outrebounded the Nets 43-32 and kept them outside with a 48-34 inside scoring edge. The Bulls also ran well with 16 fast break points and shot 57.3 percent overall, 10 of 16 from Hamilton.

“He gives you great leadership, playmaking ability, big shot making ability and more importantly, he makes the right play,” said Thibodeau of Hamilton. “When he is open, he shoots and when he is guarded, he makes the right read. If he is double teamed, he knows where the holes are. He makes the game simple. He gets easy shots for people. He runs the floor and he never stops moving. He makes the offense hard to be defended. That becomes contagious.”

Hamilton’s passing also came as somewhat of a surprise to most of the Bulls.

“I didn’t know until he came to the team,” admitted Rose. “He passes better than I do. He’s definitely going to help us. It makes my job easier knowing he’s a shooting guard getting five, six, nine assists a game.”

It also may answer what the Bulls didn’t think they had in signing Hamilton. The Bulls were looking for a shooting guard not only who might score and stretch the floor but make plays and run pick and roll, thus enabling Rose to play off the ball some. Although Hamilton isn’t a lead guard type with the dribble, he is excellent coming off screens and seeing the floor, which adds to the Bulls passing and generally unselfish nature.

Rose didn’t show many ill effects of his four games missed with 14 points on six of eight shooting by halftime (59-43 lead). And the Bulls got a nice boost as well from Brian Scalabrine, who with the injuries was first off the bench to backup Boozer.

Scalabrine, who usually plays only in blowouts, had five points, four assists and three rebounds in 23 minutes.

He had a fancy reverse layup on a nice pass from C.J. Watson early in the second quarter just before Watson found Asik for a score and the rout was on ahead 43-26. You look at some of the players the Bulls bring in, like Scalabrine with a good effort and Lucas with Rose out getting 25 points and eight assists, and you wonder sometimes. Scalabrine says he knows how the combination of depth and responsibility works so well for the Bulls.

“It’s great for guys to step up, for me to step up,” said Scalabrine. “But I couldn’t do it without the fundamentals of defense and offense, the culture the way it is here. When you see guys go down and players step up and the team continues to win, to be honest I give all the credit to the coaching staff. They’re setting the standard of how we’ll guard, how we’ll defend. It doesn’t matter who you put in (during) the regular season. All the credit goes to them.”

Perhaps Scalabrine is angling for a bit more playing time. Is he running in one of these primaries? But he does have a point, and it points to what good coaching can do. Obviously you need talent. But the Bulls still have just one All-Star, and if Deng misses any stretch of games it could damage his possibilities of being an All-Star for the first time.

But like with Phil Jackson in the 1990’s, the Bulls have a defined system of play. Sure they had Michael Jordan back then, and the Bulls have Rose now. But these Bulls, like those, continue to defend rigorously. The ball moves, likely better now than it did then as Jordan routinely led the league in scoring. But that was an unselfish Bulls teams the way Pippen directed the offense and the use of the so called equal opportunity triangle offense.

It’s why a player like Brewer, who was cut by Memphis, can come in and start for someone like Deng and produce. Why Scalabrine or Lucas finds space and production. That Bulls free agency of 2010 didn’t yield stars, but it yielded talent in depth and that combined with the system of play and demands enables the Bulls to mostly weather this sort of unusual season with aplomb.

“Obviously, we are disappointed for Luol because of all the hard work he has put in and what he means for our team,” said Thibodeau. “We also feel very strongly about the people who are filling in. Ronnie has shown that he can handle starting and do it well. Kyle (Korver) is a proven player has hit big shots for us and I thought Scalabrine was terrific. And we still have Jimmy Butler (who didn’t play), so we feel we have more than enough. We did not know how much Jo would be able to play and he did a pretty good job for us.”

And so the Bulls move on with a nice test Wednesday against a developing Indiana Pacers team who gave the Bulls a rough first round playoff series much closer than the final 4-1, not unlike how the conference finals was for the Bulls. The Pacers likely are looking to make their own statement. The Bulls have been making some impressive ones of their own these days.

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