Bulls motor by the Pistons


Jan 10

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Perhaps it will work. After all, the Bulls might have the NBA’s best combination of overall team depth and interior defensive strength. So maybe in this unusual season of 66 games in 124 days, they can endure longer.

So far, it’s been remarkably effective with Monday’s 92-68 victory over the Detroit Pistons. The Bulls are 8-2 and in their three home games combined, according to Elias Sports, they set a new NBA record in the shot clock era since 1954 of giving up just 206 points.

It’s a testament to their relentless defensive attention to detail and effort.

But it would be nice, also, if someone could score some points.

Yes, Derrick Rose, despite increasing defensive pressure, had 22 points and eight assists. And Carlos Boozer had one of his best games as a Bull with 23 points on nine of 13 shooting and eight rebounds, including a dive on the floor for a loose ball and aggressive fronting the post on Greg Monroe, which we don’t often see from Boozer.

That sort of play enabled the Bulls not only never to trail in beating the Pistons for the 13th straight time, but with an 18-3 run to start the fourth quarter with mostly reserves playing the Bulls broke open a game they controlled but primarily with leads around 10 points.

“I liked the way we started the game on both ends,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Our ball movement to start the game was good. It got us into a rhythm. I also thought Carlos played a terrific game and our bench came in and gave us a lift. I would like to see us run more. We had 18 (six for Detroit) fast break points. Even after made baskets I want to get the ball up the floor quicker. (Boozer) was very active. He had good bounce to him. It was a good bounce back game for everybody. They are going to keep coming so we have to be ready to go tomorrow.”

The Bulls Monday started their lone three in three nights set and are about halfway through playing nine games in 12 nights with nine of the first 13 of the season on the road. Though everyone has scheduling like that to play through this season.

So it doesn’t fully answer whether this Bulls team can score enough to truly be taken seriously.

There are injuries now with Richard Hamilton still out with a sore groin, which is worrisome because the Bulls still don’t know when he will play and if that injury lingers the offense has taken a step back from last season. C.J. Watson is out with his elbow injury, but could be improving more quickly with the play of John Lucas III, who had six points in 15 minutes and again was on the floor in key times when the Bulls surged ahead.

“His attitude and approach are great,” Thibodeau said of Lucas. “He stays ready to play. He’s a high energy guy. He’s smart and can shoot. Much like (Brian) Scalabrine. He can not play for a long period of time and then when he’s called upon he’s ready to go. He’s executed his role perfectly. CJ’s coming along. When he’s ready to go he’ll be back in there.”

But it’s a curiosity what has become of Joakim Noah, who didn’t even attempt a shot in 25 minutes Monday and had four points. Noah is now averaging 7.3 points and 3.0 for the last three games and shooting 38 percent on the season. That seems almost impossible for a seven footer who is at the basket.

Also, generally steady Luol Deng had four points on two of 12 shooting and has scored in single figures in three of the last four games. He is shooting 41.2 percent, a career low for a player who also makes many of his points at the rim.

This, of course, raises the question of fatigue in the busy early season, though with blowouts both ways the last two games Deng and Rose have been getting plenty of time off. Noah has been getting plenty of fourth quarter time off, but more for reasons of ineffectiveness.

“To be honest, it was the way that group (reserves) was playing,” Thibodeau said of reduced starters’ minutes Monday. “They played well to start the second quarter and I thought their defense was outstanding. When we broke the line-up at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth, their defense was really, really good. We went with them a little longer and were able to get some more rest for the starters.”

Noah’s play has been something of a mystery, though his game seems altogether different. Perhaps the best running big man in the league, Noah hasn’t sprinted the court much and has been getting caught often out of position on defense. On one play Monday, he watched without moving as Jonas Jerebko drove from the wing for a layup. He’d tried shooting a rolling hook earlier this season, but that proved unsuccessful and he’s barely a threat again. Plus, he’s not making the usual defensive impact, though he did block two shots Monday with eight rebounds. Certainly not terrible, but the Bulls have come to expect so much more.

His backup, Omer Asik, has been more effective in position and help defense, but Asik, we know, has little offensive game yet.

Likewise, Deng has shot 15 of 47 the last four games. Take away his eight of 16 against Orlando and that’s 22 percent in the other three games.

“His lack of offense is going to happen,” said Thibodeau of Deng. “The big thing about Luol is when he is not shooting well or scoring, he still helps you in so many ways because of his defense, the way he moves the ball, his hustle and activity. I’m not worried about Luol.”

There’s probably no need to be given as steady a pro as Deng has proven to be. But he does appear now to have a legitimate backup in rookie Jimmy Butler, who has been impressive in his little time playing and teammates say particularly impressive in the rare team practices. Thibodeau has been positive about Butler, but, as usual, cautious with taking time away from his regulars.

“Jimmy’s got a great approach, great attitude,” said Thibodeau. “I like the things he’s done. We’re not going to be afraid to play him. If the opportunity arises, he’ll be in there.”

Actually, Thibodeau has done a subtle job of making changes.

He is a player’s coach in the sense he’s not going to hold a player up to ridicule, not throw him under the bus, so to speak in the popular cliché. Though I suppose with this era’s players it should be about throwing him under the Mercedes. So he’s not about to change the starting lineup or even the rotation.

But as they haven’t produced, Boozer and Noah have spent considerably more time on the bench in the fourth quarter, and again Monday Thibodeau went with Asik most of the more important times in the fourth.

Boozer, as I mentioned, was really good. He shot the ball with confidence, though making them does make it appear more certain. But he also hustled more. Monroe probably is the best player on a horrible Pistons team now and led them with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Boozer did a nice job fronting him at times and denying entry passes, which he often doesn’t do and allows his man to get deep position. He didn’t this time. He didn’t have a turnover, blocked a shot and made a couple of nice passes working with Ronnie Brewer for scores. Brewer also shot well and had 12 points, but he’s not likely the team’s answer to offensive issues.

“I was just playing off Pooh (Rose),” said Boozer. “Pick and roll. Finding myself open and just did a good job playing off my teammates. Finding spots where I can be aggressive. I thought we all had great shots tonight. We did a good job moving the ball. I just play. I’m very confident in my jump shot. I work on it every day. The jump shot was just there and I kept shooting it. Came back in the fourth and saw a couple of opportunities to drive to the bucket and get a couple of free throws. It all worked out.”

It did for Monday against an awful Pistons team now 2-7 with an average margin of defeat of 22 points the last four games.

The Pistons talked afterward of how well things went through three quarters when they were behind 68-59 and played the Bulls even the first and third quarters. It’s unfortunate because those games with the Pistons were probably my favorites years back. I won’t say poor Ben Gordon as he’s very wealthy now, but seems in a perpetual basketball funk.

The Bulls did throw much of their defense at him as the Pistons have fewer scoring options than the Bulls. But Gordon had just 11 points, just two shots in the first half and is now 0-10 against the Bulls since signing with the Pistons. Jason Maxiell was one of 12, including twice throwing dunks off the back rim. The auto industry appears to be returning. You can’t say as much for the Pistons.

Overall, it was a mostly tedious affair, almost jejune, if I must say so, though I always wanted a place to say that.

There were a couple of nice Rose crossover highlights, one early as Rose left Brandon Knight seeing only daylight as he breezed by for a 12-4 lead. Rose followed with a three, though he would miss his next five such attempts and is now 27.7 percent on the season.

Rose ran out on one of the few good outlet passes Noah threw and was fouled to make it 21-12, though the Pistons closed the first quarter with nine straight ending with a pair of Will Bynum jumpers to tie at 21-21. That lack of outlets also is a curiosity regarding Noah. Thibodeau did talk in general after the game about pushing the ball more even after made baskets. You can see Rose leaking out more to get to half court for a pass, though they rarely come quickly and he often has to retreat. So the Bulls then walk into their offense, and with so little individual firepower, they need to play faster to score.

The second quarter with the bench proved effective again as Kyle Korver continued his hot shooting making a pair of threes before he cooled off after halftime and Boozer both shot the ball well and made plays for Korver and Noah.

The Bulls did get a nice runout by Brewer after Noah’s block to make it 43-32 and closed the half ahead by nine behind Boozer’s 12 points.

“It’s just defense,” said Rose. “If every night was like this where we played defense and got out and ran, it would be easy. But, it’s been hard. We tried to come back from last game, where it was embarrassing to play in a game like that, and just try to keep playing. That’s what we did tonight. (Boozer) knowing what he was going to do before he got the ball, reading the defense well. If they were playing off of him, shooting the ball. That’s something he’s been working on and it showed tonight. The bench played great. They kept the lead, got the lead up some and continued to play defense. Sometimes the first five starts sluggish, and they get us going. But tonight was a consistent night for both of us.”

Rose had another nice blowby early in the third quarter leaving Monroe reaching to make it 53-41 and Boozer continued to knock in jumpers off pick and roll passes from Rose as the Pistons, like all opponents this season, have been targeting Rose and staying with the blitz after the screen more than ever. But Rose has been patient and passing the ball more becoming a solid playmaker. He still doesn’t see the floor like the truly great ones, but he is much better.

“He’s turning into one hell of a point guard,” said Boozer. “Last year, he’d take on the double and triple team and score most of the time to be frank. This year he’s doing a great job trusting us. He’s aggressive but playing incredibly smart as a point guard. He’s doing a great job getting everyone involved.

“When you get that MVP title you see a little more pressure,” noted Boozer. “Every time we play a game he is No. 1 on (opponents’) board to stop Derrick Rose. He’s playing phenomenal.”

Though the way things are going he may have to increase that scoring average, which is now at 19.7. Which is why Hamilton’s return is vital.

Boozer in previous games has been getting some of the fourth quarter time off as well, but his replacement, Taj Gibson, is having an awful shooting season so far. He was two of seven Monday, mostly on jump shots before finally going to the basket late, and is shooting a career low 45.9 percent.

Gordon did get it going a bit in the third with 11 points. But the Pistons absolutely collapsed in the fourth with a stretch with six turnovers in nine possessions, a few actually forced. They scored three points in the first eight and a half minutes of the fourth quarter and the Bulls couldn’t help but put the game away in pounding the inside for 14 free throws and making 10.

Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said his team “came with great focus and fighting spirit tonight.”

The Pistons scored nine points in the fourth quarter.

Earlier in the day, President Obama had the champion Dallas Mavericks at the White House and joked with owner Mark Cuban,“…it’s too bad that next year it will be the Chicago Bulls here.”

Asked about that, Rose said: “That’s my guy. If we make it to the Finals, he promised me he’d be there. So I’m going to hold him to that promise.”

The Bulls might need to rediscover some offense first.

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