Bulls bucking all the negative NBA trends


Feb 5

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The Bulls Saturday crushed the Milwaukee Bucks 113-90 to become the first team in the league with 20 wins. The Bulls accomplished that, going to 20-6, despite playing the most road games in the NBA and the most games overall, including 10 back to backs and one three in a row. They are effectively tied with Oklahoma City for the best record in the NBA and have had their starting lineup together for just five games.

So what’s all the fuss about trades and losses?

“That’s a great team,” said Bucks coach Scott Skiles, the former Bulls coach. “Once they take control it becomes very difficult to get back into the game. That team is a legitimate contender.”

There wasn’t much to deny that Saturday with Derrick Rose dominating the game to start with 16 first quarter points—not so coincidently what Bucks guard Brandon Jennings scored against the Bulls in the first quarter a week ago—as the Bulls took a 30-16 first quarter lead and never led by fewer the rest of the game.

“He was great, can’t say enough about him,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “He did everything. He
played defense, rebounded the ball, made shots, made plays, made us function well as a team, moved great without the ball. I thought the start of the game was critical. Derrick set the tone.”

Though we are quick not to make those Michael Jordan comparisons with Rose and shouldn’t, the start in the wake of Jennings’ preening early in that Jan. 27 game against Rose recalled the way Jordan would make up those personal challenges from perceived or imagined slights and then come out and dominate the player the next time. It was reminiscent of the famous LeBradford Smith game when the little known Washington shooting guard scored 37 in Chicago in a loss to the Bulls against Jordan. Jordan was so furious afterward he vowed to get 37 in the half the next time the teams played, which happened in a quirk to be the next night. Jordan got 36 in the half and spun out a shot as the half ended.

“That’s what I live for,” said Rose, who finished with 26 points, 13 assists, zero turnovers and a slightly sore back which he said is no problem. “That’s the way Chicago players play. We play aggressive. If anything, I love that (opponent challenges). It makes me want to play harder. That’s what I tried to do tonight, just try to run the game.”

No Bulls player ever had that level of double/double without a turnover. Not even you know who. Right, Trenton Hassell.

Rose ran the Bucks right out of their building while the big news for the Bulls was the return from his torn wrist ligament, which I prefer to call a fracture since no one ever says what’s really wrong with anyone, of Luol Deng. It appeared Deng was fine as he played a game high 41 minutes (at least six more than anyone else without a serious wrist injury) while getting 21 points and nine rebounds and demonstrating how much better the Bulls function when he is in the lineup.

The ball and players move much crisper as the Bulls produced 31 assists to match a season best while shooting 53.3 percent and holding the Bucks under 40 percent. In an oddity which also suggested an indifferent and tired Bucks team, the Bulls shot a franchise low four free throws, setting a record that existed since 1973. The Bulls, curiously, won that game as well.

As for Deng, he said he’s pretty much done talking about his wrist and is planning to continue playing. Thibodeau said Deng looked so good he just decided to use the regular rotation, which basically has Deng playing most of the game and performing fire eating stunts at halftime.

“I felt it (and) I’m going to feel it,” Deng said of his wrist injury. “As the game went on, I forgot about it. I was cautious at the start of the game. I was worried about getting a bump and falling and I kind of missed those layups. As the game went on, I didn’t really think about it until I fell.”

That was in the fourth quarter, but Deng said it was no issue and actually encouraged him. Deng had gotten various opinions and suggestions about his injury. He said playing won’t cause additional damage, though he was told to rest two to four weeks after injuring it in the Charlotte game two weeks ago. That’s why he didn’t play until Saturday. He was not permitted to explain, though WikiLeaks reportedly was hoping to prepare documentation on the issue.

There was some internal debate that Deng should have surgery, but that likely would have resulted in missing the rest of the season and playoffs, and Deng said he wanted to play if he could.

“Lu comes back and plays with a lot of energy,” noted Rose. “He steps on the court and we can count on him every single night. He’s consistent, works hard, rebounds, plays defense. He does a lot for our team. He’s probably sore now, but when he was out there you couldn’t tell.”

You may also have happened to see if you were watching the game on TV that Rose was being stretched out by assistant trainer Jeff Tanaka at the end of the bench when Rose was out early in the fourth quarter. Rose said he had some mild back stiffness, but then sat on the bench before returning and played until about 90 seconds was left. Still, he only did play 35 minutes.

But what a dominating half hour of playing time it was as after a stumbling Bulls start, leading 7-4 the first four minutes. Rose then walked into a three, blew by Jennings for a layup, walked up court and again stepped into a three almost casually, and then got fouled on a step through drive for a three point play.

Rose scored 16 of the first 18 Bulls points, and then he dropped a little pocket pass to Joakim Noah for a slam dunk, hit Noah again for a slam with Noah screaming with enthusiasm, and then saw Deng pull up in transition for a three for a 25-14 lead.

The Bulls closed the first quarter, and, really, the game as Rose found Noah open for a 13 footer (yes, he’s always open from there) and gathered in his own miss, beating glazed looking Bucks to the ball. Rose then passed to Kyle Korver for a three, one of four from Korver, for that 14-point first quarter lead.

“They took control of the game so early it was hard for us to get back in the game and gain
momentum,” said Skiles. “It was clear from the jump ball, they came ready to play. Tonight’s biggest stat on the sheet was we had eight fouls when Derrick Rose was just penetrating and penetrating. If you would have told me before the game they’d have four free throws, I’d think that would be in our favor.”

In other words, the Bucks players, led by Drew Gooden with 24 points, should have been charged admission for all the watching they were doing. Yes, there were deer riding back on I-94 on the hoods of pickups looking more alert than the Bucks.

“We need to take the next day off,” said Jennings.

I don’t know why after they took this one off.

Korver has been open before, but not like this since he was shooting for stuffed animals at the county fair.

The Bulls dominated the Bucks 53-39 on the boards and pushed the ball constantly with Korver and C.J. Watson finding open spaces or the ball spinning around and Bucks defenders dizzy in trying to recover, or saying they were. In any case, it was an unending series of wide open shots. The Bulls hit 14 of 30 threes, just four short of their all time record of threes made in a game.

Korver had 18 points and now is 19 for 40 on threes in the last six games. Watson, who again took a nice stint playing along side Rose in an uptempo lineup while Richard Hamilton remains out, added 13 points and six assists and was three of five on threes. Watson is now shooting 47 percent on threes for the season, fifth in the NBA.

Noah even did some holstering of his imaginary pistols on the bench as shots rang true for the Bulls.

“Korver wasn’t missing,” noticed Jennings. “Derrick Rose wasn’t missing in the beginning. They are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. They just seemed to have kept it going the whole first half and it just seemed like we couldn’t stop them at all.”

The ball was whipping around like one of those high bounce crazy balls you can barely see. Midway through the second quarter, Watson hit Korver coming over his screens, and Korver shoveled it as quickly to Gibson for a slam dunk. I also liked the way Korver was ball faking more to get space for his shot instead of giving the ball up if he came off the screen and was covered. He shoots so well he has to find that space. Gibson would later sign a poster for Bucks rookie Joe Leuer on a dunk: “Dear Rook: In your face!”

The Bulls continued to pour it on in the second quarter as Carlos Boozer got in the fun with a screen roll play for a dunk to Noah in which Noah did a bit of an extra hang as he was fouled for the three point play and 57-35 lead.

The Bulls closed the half leading 67-43 after a Rose floater and Korver three as the Bradley Center crowd sounded more like the United Center in jeans. When the Bulls go to Milwaukee, it’s a chance for those without season tickets to get a good look in the intimate arena, and it was a huge Chicago crowd with all the familiar “MVP” and “Scalabrine” chants. There were Bulls signs everywhere, even proclaiming broadcaster Neil Funk a “hunk.”

“It’s great. Our fan base is unbelievable,” said Rose. “I want to thank all of them who came out to support us. It means a lot not only to me but to my teammates and this organization.”

Things are tough in Milwaukee. They’ll take the sellout.

The rout continued to open the second half. One of the highlights was after Gooden took a vastly unguarded three. Rose grabbed the rebound and beat all the lingering Bucks out of the backcourt, spun around Jennings at half court and then drove past Gooden at the basket for the layup and 73-47 edge.

“I was taking what they were giving me,” said Rose.

Taking their lunch money and per diem, really.

Noah added 14 points and nine rebounds, and I thought he was really good on the defensive boards, where the Bulls had come to count on him so much in recent seasons. Interestingly for the Bucks, Stephen Jackson got another “did not play” from the coach, though the Bucks held on to eighth in the East. Perhaps the Bucks’ tedious play was in support of Jackson’s repose.

The Bulls led 87-64 after three and the Bucks tried a few gimmicks in the fourth, mostly a full and half court trap of Rose. So Korver Bradied one full court down to Watson for a layup and Watson made his second three of the quarter for a 100-78 margin with the defense chasing Rose.

Shortly after that with about three and a half minutes left, Mike Dunleavy got all the way to the basket for a layup to trim the Bulls lead to 18. Thibodeau was furious and called timeout. The Bulls came out of it against that Bucks trap with Thibodeau screaming above the crowd, “Go! Go!” and Deng slipping out for a three on two layup.

The Bulls, appropriately chastised, then got three offensive rebounds on the next possession after a Leuer miss before Deng scored on a putback to get the lead back over 20 again.

Whew! That was close.

Rose then eased in a floater after a Tobias Harris miss, and Thibodeau finally called them off with 1:35 left and the Bulls ahead 108-86.

So it’s now off to New Jersey, New Orleans and Charlotte, all last place teams in their not so respective divisions with a combined record of 15-58 before the Bulls close the road trip in Boston Feb. 12. Shortly after that, the teams with the best record in each conference send their coaching staff to Orlando for the All Star game, and with that schedule it’s difficult now not to see Thibodeau there. His hope is to bring some players as well. Rose is a starter and the reserves will be announced Thursday.

Deng gave himself a good start Saturday in his return.

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