Bulls take a vacation in Cleveland


Jan 21

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It’s pretty clear now what the Bulls have to do following Friday’s dominating 114-75 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers to raise the team’s record to a league best 14-3.

They have to shut Derrick Rose down the rest of the season.

Look, what’s really the point anymore after a brilliant effort against an improving Cavs team that is actually seventh in the Eastern Conference. Luol Deng had what is now becoming common for him, a hustling 21 points and eight rebounds. Carlos Boozer continued his strong play with 19 points and 14 rebounds and a double/double by just barely after halftime. C.J. (Charles Jr.) Watson was cleverly efficient again with 15 points and seven assists. And Kyle Korver came in stroking with 14 points off the bench when the Bulls got the lead to 42 in the fourth quarter.

C.J. Watson

“We have a long way to go, simple as that,” moaned Cavs coach Byron Scott about the home court humiliation. “We have a lot of work to do.”

For the Bulls, the main work now may be just remaining healthy as Taj Gibson left the arena wearing a boot after an ankle sprain, John Lucas tweaked his groin and Joakim Noah twisted his ankle, though returned to play.

I’ve been one to not worry so much about minutes played as the top players on the Bulls championship teams playing some 100 games a season generally averaged close to 40 minutes per game. But it’s difficult to assess this erratic schedule with inordinate travel and, at least for the Bulls, a difficult road start with a league most 11 away from home (8-3). Maybe the fatigue causes more injuries. Not that sprained ankles and toes are not common.

I also have trouble feeling their pain as I feel fine, though my idea of a fast break these days has more to do with a late night rest room run.

But I digress. Perhaps the most salient point coming into focus is the relative lack of competition in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the Cavs are a playoff team today.

The Celtics and Knicks, thought of as potential threats before the season, are staggering. There are only five teams other than the Bulls in the East with winning records. What does home court ever matter in the playoffs, really? How many series go to a seventh game? And all you have to do is win one road game in the playoffs to turn around the advantage, and the Bulls have shown an ease in winning on the road in the post season.

The Bulls second team should be able to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference based on Cleveland and New York holding down the last two spots.

I’m just kidding, of course. I think.

Although Rose told reporters earlier in the day he perhaps returned too quickly from first aggravating his sprained turf toe Jan. 10 in Minnesota, he went to Cleveland and considered playing. Instead, he missed his third straight game and fourth in the last six. In Rose’s first three NBA seasons combined, he missed a total of six games.

The Bulls host Charlotte Saturday and then have days off each time before facing the Nets, Pacers and Bucks next week. Then comes the first big regular season test Sunday January 29 in Miami on national ABC-TV. Perhaps rest Rose until that one. After all, how many of the next four games are the Bulls going to lose without him. Sure, he’ll want to play. But should he?

That said, I’d probably let him play before Miami because he’s a player. But it raises some intriguing questions for the team.

Having four off days next week with the three games, the Bulls should head for Miami as invigorated as they’ve been this season.

That seemed apparent Friday after two days off for the first time since Dec. 28.

Taj Gibson

Though the Cavs hung in early behind the shooting of rookie Kyrie Irving and led 26-25 late in the first quarter, the Bulls were pushing the ball, climbing on the boards (54-38 Bulls), attacking the Cavs’ shots with a team record 16 blocks among nine players, passing with defined alacrity and carving up the Cavs shaky fortress with a 50-28 scoring margin inside. When the Cavs settled for jump shots, as they often did, the Bulls passed ahead and drove the ball.

“I loved the way we moved the ball to start the game,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I thought our offense was terrific. Defensively, I didn’t like our first quarter, but it got better as we went along. (Our) rebounding was great. I thought we had a lot of guys step up and play well. I thought Carlos played extremely well. He’s playing at a high level, rebounding the ball well, scoring and making plays. He’s playing a complete game and his defense is very good.”

And teams are noticing. Here’s an example. There’s been criticism of Boozer that he isn’t a potent enough force and doesn’t draw enough defensive attention. But once again coming out shooting the ball well, the Cavs defense began to shade toward Boozer when he got the ball. So after Boozer began the second half with a three point play, on the ensuing Bulls possession Boozer began to pound into the post. So the Cavs shifted and Deng darted into the lane like a football curl in and took a pass from Boozer for a wide open layup and 68-44 lead. The rout was on.

“They do all the things that we need to do, have active hands, help each other and they’re tough,” marveled Omri Casspi.

The Bulls had a 9-0 run late in the first quarter, a 10-0 run in the second, a 13-0 run in the third and a 17-2 run in the fourth. It doesn’t get much more dominant than that.

“Chicago was aggressive and physical,” said Scott. “We didn’t react to their physical play whatsoever. “You cannot let a good team like they are come in and play harder than you, be more physical, more aggressive and expect to win the game or ever be in the game. They basically took us out of everything.”

And, yes, this is without the league’s Most Valuable Player.

We all generally assume without Rose because he does so much it will be difficult for the Bulls to win. But the team’s depth combined with a workmanlike desire is most effective.

“We were really locked in from the start,” said Deng, angling for his first All-Star appearance. “We finished the half well and kept that intensity (and 63-44 lead). We’re doing a great job of moving the ball. We’ve been playing well together. We’ve done a good job so far using everyone.”

But there were some concerns, the ones that would seem to have the best chance to derail this Bulls team.

Gibson looked like he came down on Antawn Jamison as Omer Asik scored at the basket to make it 42-30 with 8:38 left in the half. Gibson hopped a bit as he went the other way and then got caught under again awkwardly on a Ramon Sessions layup. He stopped and the Bulls called a timeout, but Gibson went back on the floor. He missed a shot and looked tentative trying to help on Jamison after a switch and Thibodeau yanked him for the rest of the game after Gibson played fewer than seven minutes.

He goes into that day-to-day category.

Then Joakim Noah, who was spunky again with eight points and 10 rebounds, collided with Anderson Varejao with about three minutes left in the half and came out limping badly. Hey! Anyone seen Chris Richard? The Bulls called timeout to tend to Noah, but he also went back into the game and took a pass from Richard Hamilton, who had 13 points, and slammed it down, big man, with a primal scream. Noah would seem fine and played the entire third quarter before the starters all sat the last nine minutes.

“We’re playing good basketball without our most valuable player and we have to keep it up,” said Noah. “We played with good energy, but we can play better. (Rose) just needs to come back at 100 percent. There’s no reason for him to be playing hurt right now because we know that in the long run, we’re going to need him.”

I have heard other Bulls say that as well, that Rose may as well sit out some and heal. But these kinds of toe injuries can take a month or more to fully heal, and knowing Rose, who has played with turf toe before, he’s not about to sit around for a month.

“He doesn’t feel he’s ready to go yet,” Thibodeau said. “The doctors said it’s a sprain. My understanding is the difference between the sprain and turf toe is the turf toe is underneath the toe. Derrick was face down when he got hit so it was on the top of the toe, which made it a sprain. It’s day-to-day.”

Said Rose: “Knowing that right when it starts feeling good, it can go right back to zero, I have to make the smart decision. I wasn’t able to bend my toe in like three years. I aggravated it and I played on it.”

Though we’ve seen Rose do that before and show few ill effects.

Still, it’s not only point guard, where Watson and Lucas seem to be doing a good job.

Noah has had a series of bothersome ouchies all season and now Gibson is limping some. So do you add that big man you lost when Kurt Thomas signed with Portland? And is there one worth it? No one can seem to persuade Joel Przybilla to play. There are guys around like Etan Thomas, Francisco Elson and D.J. Mbenga. Could you talk Antonio McDyess into taking a shot with what could be a title team, and he’s mentioned that plenty as a goal he regrets missing after joining the Pistons and Spurs too late. Leon Powe? Thibodeau loves guys he’s coached. Malik Allen? Erick Dampier? Mikki Moore? They’re out there. But are they even worth bringing in here?

Because the way things are going in the East, maybe all the Bulls need to do is make the playoffs, which might require about 20 more wins in this conference in the last 49 games.

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