Bulls bounce Mike’s ‘Cats; head for Miami


Apr 18

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And now, it’s back to Miami for the Bulls in not exactly the condition they’d like to be in, though getting closer.

The Bulls Wednesday dominated the awful Charlotte Bobcats, 100-68, in an efficient bounce back effort behind 22 points from Richard Hamilton and a vital bench output of 42 points with no starter playing more than 24 minutes.

Which had to mean Luol Deng didn’t play–he didn’t–sitting out a second consecutive game with a rib injury. Deng, though, said he was confident he would play Thursday in Miami. And while officially called “day-to-day,” it would seem Derrick Rose will miss another game against the Heat.

Luol Deng, Derrick Rose

“That will be a game-time decision,” said a smiling Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau in stark contrast to his post game Wizards mean face. “As you guys know, I’m an optimist. I think it will be all good.”

In Tom we trust.

But no, the Bulls aren’t ready for the Eastern Conference Finals yet, or really the playoffs with Rose and Deng not playing.

It wasn’t really necessary against the 7-54 Bobcats, who lost their 18th straight. They got 16 points from Kemba Walker and 13 from Gerald Henderson, though they were dominated playing against the Bulls reserves. Earlier in the day, it was reported coach Paul Silas and former Bull Tyrus Thomas had gotten into a locker room confrontation in which the 68-year-old Silas basically beat up Thomas. Thomas played three first half minutes, took three shots and didn’t return with an, ah hem, sore knee. He was out of the locker room seconds after the game ended, obviously not showering, an appropriate message for the current circumstances in Charlotte.

The Bulls are looking somewhat better after back to back stinkers against the Pistons and Wizards, though it’s difficult to rate much against the Bobcats, who shot 29.8 percent and if they lose their last five will have the worst statistical season in NBA history.

Still, the Bulls looked energized and interested, recording 29 assists, outrebounding Charlotte 57-38 to help produce that sub-.30 percent shooting and committing just nine assists, those being the Thibodeau’s famous threes to victory.

They are sort of Thibodeau’s version of the three food groups, carbohydrates, fats and proteins, the rebounding, defense and low turnovers that nurture his teams.

As opposed to the three stooges efforts the Bulls had recently been displaying.

“The defense, rebounding and low turnovers. Those are three musts,” said Thibodeau. “You have to have that every night. It puts you in position to win. I loved the way we shared the ball.”

It was so impressive as the Bulls bolted out to a 34-20 first quarter lead and grew it from there and led by double digits the last 40 minutes that Thibodeau stopped yelling a few times to applaud the effort.

“We hade a lot of guys play well,” said Thibodeau. “We started off the game, Carlos (Boozer) got us going inside and Rip got going with the catch and shoot stuff. But everyone was sharing the ball. The ball was hopping. They were making the right plays. Our spacing was better. We had good balance inside/outside (Warning: Basketball X’s and O’s coming so go to a video game if necessary). The ball was hitting the paint, kicking back out, guys replacing in front, hit the first open man. We kept our game real simple. Usually this team responds.”

And Hamilton did well with his second consecutive game of 22 points. Hamilton hit his first seven shots and made four of five threes as he continued to show what kind of offensive addition he can be once Rose can return from his latest foot problem. Rose explained earlier in the day (see my previous post. Hey, I’m talking blog) that the injury came unexpectedly and was a fluid buildup that he expects will dissipate soon.

Rip Hamilton

“That’s the Rip I’ve been playing against for a long time,” said Boozer. “(He) opens up a lot of things for Joakim (Noah) and me. The way he was shooting got Joakim and me lots of layups and dunks. At the same time, he’s a tough defender, another added weapon.”

Which will be important for the Bulls to gain what they hope and believe is their destiny and a playoff rematch with Miami.

“Each and every game I get better,” said Hamilton. “When I first came back it was gaining a feel for the game. I’m definitely pleased. When you’re away from the game the biggest thing is rhythm and timing.”

Asked about the threes, which have been questioned with the notion Hamilton is strictly a mid range player and cannot spread the court, Hamilton laughed and said, “I always feel I can make them from the corner. But when I’m hitting them up top that’s something different.

“With Derrick and Lu out the last couple of games I’ve tried to be more aggressive,” said Hamilton. “I always say, ‘Why shoot threes when you can blow by your man?’ That’s always been my thing my whole career. But I did lead the league in three point percentage one year (2005-06 at 45.8 percent). That’s what people don’t realize. I don’t get caught up in that. I take the best shot I can get whether 20 feet, a three or a layup. I just play the game and try to play it the right way. We had a bad loss against Washington. We said we’ve got to get back to the way we play and that’s rebounding, playing defense and trying to get easy baskets.”

What! No mention of turnovers? Back to the U. of Thibs for him.

Though it’s on to Miami and if Rose cannot play it’s unfortunate. My personal guess is because the Bulls don’t know where this injury came from they may wait for Rose to play until the last two games of the regular season next week. They’ll continue to say “day to day,” though they also emphasize that health remains the primary issue for preparing for the playoffs. Given that, it would be a surprise to see Rose play without any previous practice time, which he has not had since this latest problem.

Thursday’s is a big game for Miami, especially, as the Heat Wednesday chose to rest Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the Thursday TNT game. The Bulls hold a 2.5 game lead for the best record at 47-15. And seeding and home court is important even if no one cares to acknowledge it. The Heat has been weak on the road this season, so you’d presumably want to put them there more. Plus, it’s looking now like the No. 1 seed will get the fading 76ers while the No. 2 seed gets the surging Knicks. Also, if you were the Bulls I’d assume you’d want to avoid the tough Pacers, who pretty much have the No. 3 seed locked up and face the Boston/Atlanta winner at four/five.

“We want to continue to win, go into the playoffs playing well and have momentum and lock up the No. 1 seed,” said Boozer. “Yes, big game. It’s a battle (with Miami), hard fought, up and down, one or two possession games (decided) in the last seconds. It should be fun. It’s the two best teams in the East.”

The Bulls did the easy part for this trip Wednesday, not giving the Bobcats much hope as John Lucas III had 12 points off the bench and even did one of those holstering things after a shot (yes, John Lucas) and Omer Asik had 15 rebounds, one short of a career high. Taj Gibson had 12 rebounds.

“We got a chance to cheer our bench mob on and see Scal (Brian Scalbrine),” said Boozer. “We hadn’t seen Scal in a game in a while. It was fun to be a part of a team and have a chance to cheer other guys who work their butts off and then get in the game and have a chance to shine a little bit.”

Perhaps not as much fun if you were Charlotte losing by more than 30 again.

“It’s tough chasing them around screens,” said Henderson, who easily looked like the Bobcats best player with a much improved shot. “It seems like they always make the right play.”

The Bulls certainly will need to do that Thursday, though they should get some relief with the likely return of Deng.

“We’re going to reevaluate it in the morning, but most likely I should be able to go,” Deng said.

Deng admitted he thought the injury was much more serious when he was elbowed by Ben Gordon against Detroit.

“I was (afraid it was broken). I thought I fractured it,” said Deng. “I’d never had anything like that. I couldn’t straighten up. I couldn’t breathe from the swelling. I was worried.”

But Deng said it’s healed well.

“Miami’s a great team,” said Hamilton. “They’ve got special players. You’ve got to make them play at your pace, play a half court game. When they get up and down the court, that’s when they are good. Since they were the team that made it to the Finals last year they are the team you have to beat. You’ve got to go through them. To get to where you want to get to you feel you’ve got to go through them. You can’t go around them.”

Thursday is the final act of the regular season. The Bulls are counting on much more to come. Now that they hope they’re past the bad and the ugly they’re looking for it being all good. A little snap, crackle and pop.

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