Bulls net themselves a victory in New Jersey


Feb 7

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The euphoria of winning a Super Bowl certainly doesn’t last long. Some 24 hours after New Jersey was celebrating its Giants, the beloved Nets were blitzed by the Bulls 108-87.

OK, perhaps the locals weren’t that upset, at least the few who actually mistook the Prudential Center in Newark for a competitive venue.

And then there’s my nomination for understatement of the year from Deron Williams, who said, “You just can’t get down 30 to a team like this.”

No wonder Dwight Howard wants to come to this franchise. You don’t hear breakdowns like that very often. Can we say this man has a future in coaching?

You know all those NBA bromides about how a game can’t be won in the first quarter and how a team always makes a run and, well, forget those.

The Bulls won this game in the first quarter when they put on a basketball clinic with a 35-14 lead in which they shot 76.5 percent, had 10 assists on 13 baskets and made four of five threes while the Nets shot 30.4 percent. This was one of those games if it were in the youth leagues they’d call the slaughter rule and let the kids have their juice boxes.

The Nets weren’t so fortunate, except for about half their team which was out injured. Three guys named Williams started and another came off the bench. They immediately began a new marketing campaign, “Come see our Williams.” The Bulls lead was never below 21 points in the second quarter and then in the low 30’s midway through the third before the Nets did get it under 20 for a bit.

But there wasn’t much for the home folks to root for but an appearance by former Net Brian Scalabrine, who was on those Finals teams in 2002 and 2003. It thus remains a head scratcher why they didn’t win.

Anyway, it wasn’t all guffaws for the Bulls as Derrick Rose left for the rest of the game late in the second quarter after landing awkwardly and straining his back, which had him getting stretched out during Saturday’s Milwaukee game. Rose played just under 11 minutes with early foul trouble and had four points and zero assists.

“Right now I feel alright, just back spasms,” said Rose afterward. “It’s nothing to worry about. Tomorrow we have a day off and I’ll get treatment. I’ll get a massage, and hopefully I can play the next game. I’m glad we won, so I can’t complain about anything. Of course I want to play out there. I tried to go and I just couldn’t go.“

Rose wasn’t needed this time, and though he said he’d play Wednesday in New Orleans — Rose always says he’ll play — it would seem a good opportunity to give Rose additional rest with Charlotte Friday and then a national TV matchup in Boston Sunday. Better to have Rose ready for that game with the Hornets and Bobcats at the bottom of their conferences and with their own many injuries.

C.J. Watson

Plus, C.J. Watson continues to play well. He came in for Rose, playing all but two minutes of the second half and with a near triple double with 14 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

“He steps in and keeps our offense rolling,” said Carlos Boozer, who led the Bulls with 24 points. “He makes big plays on defense, getting everybody involved.”

Watson was also a catalyst early with Rose out three minutes into the game on a questionable offensive foul. I know a foul is a foul, but there is generally agreed to be some latitude with stars as that’s whom the fans come to see play.

So this is getting fairly ridiculous with Rose, the reigning MVP. Let me just make a comparison off the top of my head. OK, LeBron James. Let’s check. In his last six games, three of which he played at least 40 minutes, James has a total of nine fouls, an average of 1.5 per game while playing fewer than 37 minutes just once. Now that must be a really clean player, someone who never is involved in contact on offense or rebounding and certainly defending.

Ah, but I digress.

It was a terrific show by the 21-6 Bulls, making 11 of their first 12 shots in taking a 23-point first quarter lead. Luol Deng had 13 of his 19 points in the first quarter with three three-point shots while Boozer was making plays with beautiful interior passing. It was Boozer hustling down court to beat his man for an easy layup, Watson pushing the ball and finding Deng in transition before the Nets could set, assuming they were interested. They didn’t seem to be. Whatever coach Avery Johnson taught the Dallas Mavericks when they improved their defense and went to the Finals in 2006 obviously got lost in translation. Nets players got a good view of Bulls shots. You’d think they were posing for the Rodin sculpture, the Thinker.

“The start, readiness to play,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said about another impressive opening after the 67 first half points Saturday in Milwaukee. “Defensively, offensively we were very good. We built up a big lead and a cushion. We were playing from the lead.

“I thought C.J. was terrific running the team,” said Thibodeau. “We were playing good defense, a lot of great things. Carlos was very, very good. Jo (Noah) was active, playmaking when they were trapping. He created some high percentage shots. Luol was Luol. He just does everything for us.

“I loved the way the ball was hopping,” said Thibodeau. “A lot of quick decisions, made the extra pass. Everyone sharing the ball. It’s great.”

And not even any back to backs this week.

Thibodeau said Deng experienced no real issues returning from his wrist injury after Saturday’s game.

“He said he really felt good,” said Thibodeau. “That’s very encouraging and hopefully it will be that way.”

Richard Hamilton had personal business, though he is not ready to play. The team hopes to have him play in perhaps a week, though with the schedule easing up he could be out for precautionary reasons through the All-Star break. It might make sense to sit Rose a few games, though Rose always wants to play.

“He’s done a great job taking care of himself, extra conditioning, lifting, rehab, massage, rest,” Thibodeau said about Rose. “Hopefully this is very short term thing.”

In any case, the Bulls just keep on rolling.

They were in their home whites with the Nets being part of this month’s ABA celebration and wearing their old ABA red, white and blue with stars uniforms, which were one of the better looks in the ABA. That ABA Nets team with Julius Erving, John Williamson, Billy Paultz, Larry Kenon, Billy Melchionni and Brian Taylor won a pair titles, though this Nets team the Bulls played reminded me more of the one I used to watch with Levern “Jelly” Tart, Sonny Dove, Manny Leaks and Oliver Darden.

The Nets, actually, were once called the Americans, though this Nets team didn’t much resemble anything we’d seen lately in American basketball. Deron Williams got 25 points, but only two in the first quarter when the game got away from the Nets.

It was artistic Bulls basketball, a veritable tai chi of hoop as everywhere the Nets went the Bulls moved the other way. The Nets came out trying to aggressively trap the pick and roll. So the Bulls merely went back door again and again for layups. It even was a serendipitous start that you knew something special was going on when Noah basically lost the ball into the basket and was fouled on the Bulls first possession.

The Nets turned the ball over and the Bulls ran; the Nets shot long jump shots and the Bulls ran, a 23-8 edge in fast breaks. I heard someone joke on TV afterward that it was a typical Bulls game: Keith Bogans scored more than six points and the Bulls won.

Former Bull Bogans started for the Nets with all their injuries, and while getting seven points and a hard hit on Noah and complaining some before the game about being let go by the Bulls, he contributed to the mayhem for the Nets with a slow pitch softball pass early that Deng ran into a basket for a 16-4 lead.

“They are just a good team,” said Deron Williams, the real Williams of the Nets. “They know how to play basketball, fun to watch, they execute their screens, they know where they want to get the ball and they are very successful. On the defensive end is where they are really tough. They are packing the paint and do a really good job getting after shooters, definitely a contender.”

Hey, maybe it’s Williams who wants to play for the Bulls. Oh, right, the Bulls have a point guard.

While Williams did pile up most of his points late, you can see watching him why Boozer did so well playing with him. Williams really has a good floor game and runs a very good pick and roll, though this season hasn’t been among his finest moments.

Some of the other highlights of the first quarter were Watson beating two Nets to a loose ball and running into his own jump shot, Boozer finding Ronnie Brewer for a three and Deng closing the quarter trailing the break into threes while the Nets pretty much were doing a lot of pointing to get that guy.

Kyle Korver

The Bulls continued the inculcation for the Nets with Kyle Korver getting open for a pair of threes (nice scouting report), Rose with a backcut for a layup and Boozer finding open spaces for jumpers.

The Bulls pushed it out to 53-28 as the Nets continued to trap Rose to get the ball out of his hands. On one of those traps with about three minutes left in the second quarter, Rose jumped to pass to Noah, his release man. Rose came down unsteadily on one leg, apparently hurting his already bothersome back. Rose stayed in for a few more possessions and then left for the locker room for the rest of the game.

The Bulls closed the half ahead 62-37, still shooting almost 64 percent to about 37 percent for the Nets.

“Teams like that have a mindset to come out and throw a knockout punch in the first quarter to set the tone,” said Johnson. “That’s what they did. They really shot the three really well tonight. This was a team that was really focused and came out trying to knock us out early.”

The barrage continued into the third quarter as Brewer opened with another three (the Bulls were nine of 15 overall on threes), Boozer hit three straight jumpers and a follow off a Watson miss before grabbing a miss and taking an elbow above the right eye from some Williams (Jordan), requiring stitches. I thought I heard Boozer yelling, “Cut me, Mick,” as he was having a terrific game and likely wanted to stay out there. Of course, that goes to show you what can happen when you defend and rebound.

The Bulls went cold at that point and the Nets closed to 19 at the end of the third quarter. But Watson hit a three early in the fourth to keep the Nets from getting any ideas and Deng with a pair of inside scores on passes from Watson and Noah (29 assists on 40 baskets) sent the Nets starters to the bench with about five minutes left and behind by 22.

And so ends the Bulls trips to New Jersey as the next time they see the Nets — unless it’s in the playoffs, snicker, snicker — the Nets will be in Brooklyn, where in the immortal words of Vinnie Barbarino it’s, “Up your nose with a rubber hose.” I think the Bulls did that Monday.

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