Bulls leave Washington with another deficit


Jan 31

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When Derrick Rose woke up Monday morning, there was a chill in the air with the Bulls out of Miami and a smile on Rose’s face for the challenge of a new day. Bad news, then, for the Washington Wizards.

“When I woke up, yesterday’s game (Sunday’s loss to the Heat in which Rose missed two late free throws and a tying shot) was out of my mind,” said Rose. “I just wanted to come out and be aggressive. I was playing my game. Thibs tells me to play my game and everyone would follow.”

Derrick Rose for president? He came to Washington Monday, and he certainly showed leadership.

“He set the tone,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “It’s his will. He imposes his will on everybody.”

And Rose would on the Washington Wizards with a season high 35 points in a wire to wire Bulls 98-88 victory. Rose, following up on a pregame promise to “go crazy,” came storming into the game with 13 first quarter points and three assists, pushing the Bulls to a double digit lead less than 10 minutes into the game that they basically would hold throughout. The Bulls would push it up to 22 in the third before Washington got within eight in the fourth quarter, though never closer.

“Basketball’s a crazy game,” Rose mused. “It’s not going to be your night every night.”

And, true, the Bulls would liked to have defeated the Heat, though it was the sort of game that hardly limited their confidence. And then they avoided the trap of less committed teams and didn’t allow a rested, albeit less talented Washington team, to take advantage of the potential emotional hangover.

“Thibs was telling us he was more scared about this game than yesterday,” said Rose. “He’s definitely the best coach I’ve had. He holds you accountable for every single thing.”

In recounting Rose’s play after the game with not only 35 points but 14 of 15 from the free throw line, eight assists and five blocked shots, Thibodeau said Rose, who had zero, could have gotten some rebounds. Thibodeau did concede it was if he wanted to not pick, though he did bring it up.

“He puts a lot of pressure on you as a player,” said Rose with a knowing smile. “He makes sure everyone is keyed in on what you have to do in that game.”

It is where Thibodeau is best, especially in a season like this with so many games and so many reasons for take a step back, especially for a team like the Bulls with an East best 18-5 record. There are some congratulations, though more urgency. Some will say that will wear down the players. Thibodeau will say that’s an excuse. There is no proof. Do you miss a shot in Game 7 of the playoffs because you played extra in January? Or because you got accustomed to not being ready?

But no one among the Bulls is complaining, and it was an impressive overall effort even without Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton, the latter now taking some time to rest his leg ailments. Deng could return later this week while C.J. Watson came back from his sore wrist against the Wizards.

Kyle Korver started for Hamilton and had a big game with 17 points and five three pointers while Carlos Boozer added 18 points and eight rebounds, including three straight baskets when the Wizards put that little scare into the Bulls in pulling within 86-78 with 6:51 left on a Nick Young three.

The Wizards under interim coach Randy Wittman are somewhat more disciplined and use more of their athletic ability, outscoring the Bulls in fast breaks 16-5. They even threw a defense at the Bulls much of the fourth quarter the Bulls hadn’t seen much with two players trapping and pressuring Rose in the backcourt.

It led to several easy Bulls baskets and outstanding pressure release and floor play from Joakim Noah, and one particularly unusual conversation with the iconoclastic big man. Though I’ll get into that later.

Noah, who is back to the playing levels the team has expected, almost had a triple double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a career high equaling seven assists.

The Bulls generally use Noah with Rose in the pick and roll. Some ask why since Noah isn’t much of a shooting threat. But Noah screens the hardest to help create creases for Rose, and Rose was just abusing the Wizards early off that play, darting into the lane, around and through multiple Wizards defenders with an increasing series of floaters. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a player shoot that shot as often and with as much accuracy.

“It goes without a question that Derrick Rose had an amazing game,” said Wittman.

The Wizards became so consumed with Rose in the lane that Korver fanned out on the wing and corner, repeatedly getting open looks.

“With Derrick attacking in the first quarter they got real worried about him and over rotated a few times,” said Korver. “I got some good looks and got a rhythm and it was nice to knock down a few shots. I should have knocked down a few more, but it was good.”

Wittman tried everything in going to a zone at times, basically a bad idea the way Korver was shooting, and finally to the kind of all out pressure you rarely see in the NBA.

“This is the best team that we have seen this season,” said Wittman, whose team did beat Oklahoma City. “They have the right guys to put around Rose. Kyle Korver goes for 14 points in the first half and we lost discipline of who that guy was in the corner. You have to distinguish between who the shooters on the team are and who aren’t. They are very good. There was just nothing you could do (with Rose). When he made shots over our big men with his runner, he leaves you no choice but to try different things.”

So when the Wizards did, Rose moved the ball ahead to Noah, who then became something of a point guard with a four on three break, as it were, and was either finding Boozer inside for scores or Korver in the corner.

“With Joakim in the middle the game is easy,” said Rose. “We call it easy offense. Why not pass to him and he can make decisions. It’s very unique where he can make plays even though he’s the center. He’s such a good passer. It takes the pressure off our guards. He makes easy plays to Booz, finds the shooters in the corners. He makes everyone’s job easier.”

Noah is once again playing like the rare bird of a big man who signed a big extension last season. Since returning from an ankle sprain, he’s had five straight double/doubles of 16 and 10 against the Nets, 10 and 13 against Indiana, 15 and 16 against Milwaukee, 11 and 11 against Miami and 14 and 13 Monday. He’s also averaging almost five assists per game in that stretch and such an unusual weapon, if not personality as well, that there is no one else much like that in the NBA.

“They had to trap D-Rose because he was doing whatever he wanted on the pick and roll,” said Noah. “When they started blitzing him, it opened up everything for us.”

Noah was getting so much into his role and the game, in fact, that at one point in the third quarter when the Bulls were on that quarter opening 17-7 run that extended the lead to 22, Noah hesitated 18 feet out with no one coming open. So he lined up the long jumper and it went in.

Noah punched the air and pantomimed holstering his “guns” as he ran back on defense to the delight of the heavily partisan Bulls crowd in the nation’s capital.

“We feel comfortable when they put two on the ball,” said Noah. “It’s a four on three opportunity. It’s on us to stay aggressive.”

So I asked Noah if he ever fantasized about being a seven foot point guard. I knew I’d made a mistake as soon as Noah began to look up with a smile appearing and his eyes lighting up.

Here’s how the conversation continued:

Noah: “Do I ever fantasize? Usually when I think of the word fantasize, I think of women.”

Me: “I really wasn’t going there. You’ll notice I tried to keep it to basketball.”

Noah: “I don’t think of basketball and fantasize as the same. It’s not the same category.”

Me: “I’m a little older than you.”

Noah: “No, I don’t fantasize about being a point guard, no.”

Yes, it was a lighter mood than Sunday in Miami, though no less serious.

Rose was taking a pretty good pounding going to the rim, including a full body shot from John Wall, who led Washington with 20 points, on one play. Rose would draw a rare technical foul for bitterly contesting with the officials.

“I was getting sick and tired of getting hit and not getting the call and falling on the floor,” Rose said.

Yes, Thibodeau had them ready to play again.

“Derrick set the tone,” added Noah.

It was a potpourri of highlight plays to open the game for Rose with floaters, driving scores, a three, a bank, reverse, crossovers. I thought one time he served popcorn and ran the time clock.

“A few times I caught myself just watching the shots he was taking because they are really unbelievable,” said Trevor Booker, who had 14 off the bench in leading Washington’s comeback. “He is definitely at the top of the league. He is a tough player and to be able to watch him in person was great. I watch him on TV, but actually playing against him and watching some of the things he does is crazy. He was able to split the trap a lot and I wish we could have done a better job of guarding him, but he definitely hit some really tough shots.”

And it’s not everyone Trevor Booker says that about.

The Bulls led 26-16 after the first quarter with Rose’s 13, and then with everyone searching for Rose on defense, Korver got open and hot, scoring 11 second quarter points with three of five threes and a beautiful assist to a cutting Noah for a slam dunk. Ronnie Brewer, starting for Deng, continued in his shooting slump with two of 10 and is now 20 of 59 the last six games. But he’s still working and hustling, and he followed his own misses to score, catching the Wizards still observing. The Bulls defense until late in the second quarter took the Wizards out of just about everything they tried until they finally got out running and pulled within 51-40 at halftime.

The Bulls then came firing out of the locker room for the second half behind Rose and Korver again, a Brewer dunk thrown in with that Noah 18 footer. The Bulls eased off a bit late in the third to lead 76-59 going into the fourth.

“We talked about it before the game,” said Boozer. “We said, ‘Anyone can get up for a game between the two top teams.’ No offense to Washington, but not everyone gets up for this game. But the regular season they all count. Thibs made a point of not letting up. We started great and finished great and we got up so much we were able to withstand their run. They’d make it at some point, but D-Rose was great and Jo did his thing and we did a great job finishing.”

It was 78-61 with about 10 minutes left when Young finally starting hitting those long jumpers and JaVale McGee and Booker got running and scored. But Noah found Boozer for a score and Boozer hit from the baseline, and then again as the defense was spread out chasing Rose and Noah. Perhaps fittingly, if not ironically, the Bulls closed out the game with a pair of made Rose free throws. Like Rose said, not again.

“I like seeing my city happy, especially if I’m one of the reasons why,” said Rose. “I know what we went through when Mike left and all the years all the people didn’t really watch the Bulls, and then for them to start watching the Bulls and for the organization to get the fans back, it means a lot to me knowing you see people they have Bulls hats on and Bulls apparel on. It means a lot to me.”

And watching Rose has to make every fan of the game smile.

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