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Where LeBron, Wade and the free agents are going…

As the Great One said, “And away we go.”

No, not LeBron, the real Great One, Jackie Gleason. Of course, that may be bad karma here as he went to Miami.

No, I don’t believe LeBron is going to Miami to form some superhero trio of Flash, Batman and Robin, also known as Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, if only because Wade doesn’t want to be elbowed aside, Bosh doesn’t want to be a third wheel doing the inside dirty work and LeBron doesn’t want to be known as a guy who needed Dwyane Wade to get him a championship. Plus, who really wants to play for Pat Riley? He’ll put on a great pitch, as he is probably the league’s most impressive salesman/motivator. But who needs those Kremlin rules and three-hour practices?

I think the key to all this may be Chris Bosh.

He seems like the mystery figure to me. Everyone seems to assume/hear/believe/know he’s going as some sort of tag along for LeBron or Wade. He could, but I don’t believe he views himself that way. I’m not sure he needs to be the dominant figure, as he’s pretty much shown he’s not up to being able to carry a team. But he also has made it clear he’s not playing center–Miami and New York have no center–and never has been a defensive stalwart. Bosh has an ego as well and if not the guy to carry a team, which he’d have to be in New York, then he likely doesn’t also want to be the guy to be ignored and the third option for a shot. I know we all want to say they’d sacrifice for winning. But you also want to be a large part of that.

Plus, Bosh is most likely, along with Joe Johnson, to want a sign-and-trade. Johnson will for sure if he were to leave, because five years from now at his age, now 29, there’d be no way he’d be in position for a $28 million pay day, which is about the final year of a six-year contract. Likely Bosh as well, even though he’s 26. A dozen years into his career, it’s hard to see how Bosh would command a salary that high.

In addition, there’s little chance in a new labor deal after next summer anyone would be able to make that kind of money in one season in the future. That is also why Wade stays in Miami. At 28 and with a history of injuries, Wade needs to cash in now as well.

The only one who really doesn’t need to is LeBron, who is 25 and likely to still be in his prime if he were to leave and sign for five years. The Cavs seem to have made it clear they are not doing any sign and trade to accommodate LeBron, especially to an Eastern team. But LeBron has outside earnings interests that basically none of the others have with the exception, perhaps to a limited extent, of Wade.

Meetings began just after midnight Eastern Time Thursday morning, with LeBron’s expected to last about three days. The thinking is he’ll commit to someone fairly soon after that, as he’s been accused enough already of making this a circus-like atmosphere. Some of those meetings will be based on whether the team can produce another free agent to join LeBron and whom that might be. Despite what you may have heard, LeBron isn’t delivering anyone else. He’s expecting a team to show him what they can do, not unlike Wade, who has been asking the same of the Heat.

Yes, the heat is on and there are an awful lot of team executives sweating.

So what’s going to happen and who’s going where? I think the Bulls do have a pretty good shot to hit the jackpot, though I don’t see it in the end.

LeBron James: Cavs. Since when did they get so bad? They just won 127 games in two seasons and had LeBron himself not gone into that mysterious Game 5 pout against the Celtics they probably would have won that series. They are getting a new coach, likely Byron Scott or Brian Shaw, both appealing to James for their championship playing experience. Plus, because they are over the cap they have the mid level exception and will be able to give someone a $35 million deal, which will get you a very good player in this era. Anderson Varejao can be somewhat like Joakim Noah at center. They have Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams, near All Stars and potentially could have cap room after one more season. He just built a huge mansion near Akron, where the Cavs built their training facility and can you go home again after being the basketball version of Art Modell, who stole your team and chance for something special. And there’s that extra approximately $30 million he gets from staying a sixth year. I know he has a lot of money. But that’s what Michael Jordan made when he finally hit it big with the Bulls. And after next summer with a new labor deal, those kinds of one season paydays are probably over with. I believe his only other choice will be Chicago if the Bulls can attract Chris Bosh, whom I believe they will. LeBron will have a tough time making that choice, but eventually will stay home.

Chris Bosh: Bulls. This would be a huge coup for the Bulls, even if LeBron doesn’t come. If they get a commitment from Bosh, it makes them the most appealing to LeBron. Though the complication is a sign-and-trade. Bosh wants it and all things being equal will go to another team that’s close if he can get it. I believe Miami is out because all they can really offer is Michael Beasley, whom I’ve heard the Raptors won’t take because of his myriad of issues. Heck, with his record he might not even make it past customs. Same with Chalmers. So forget that. Would Bosh go to Houston to play with Yao? The Mavs? The Lakers made sense, but they say they are out. We’ll see. The Raptors surely would prefer Bosh out of the East and could get a decent sign-and-trade involving Luis Scola and then maybe build up a deal to enable the Raptors to get rid of Hedo Turkoglu or Jose Calderon. But would Bosh want to go there? That’s why he’s the mystery in all this. He seems the toughest to read with statements one day he wants to be the main man and then the obvious that he cannot be. He’s given the Raptors a list of seven teams he’d go to for a sign and trade, so there are options for the Raptors. Chicago would fit him perfectly as there’s a center so he doesn’t have to play there and worry about defense and a point guard who doesn’t really want to be the leading scorer and he can be the leading scorer without having to carry the load, seemingly ideal for him. I’ve heard he’s been in touch regularly with Rose and has told Rose of his interest previously. In the end, my guess is the Raptors take Taj Gibson, three No. 1s and the maximum $3 million. That’s also a huge trade exception for them and they can do some maneuvering on their own. Is that enough to attract LeBron? But then LeBron comes at less money and he’s the man while Bosh makes more. I’ve never seen that as a happy locker room in the NBA. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bosh would prefer it that way without LeBron because then the Bulls would be in position to win the East and LeBron would be without a super teammate as he likely wouldn’t go to Miami. Then the Bulls go for a shooting guard like Ray Allen, Randy Foye, Ronnie Brewer or J.J. Redick. The Bosh scenario is the scenario to watch most closely. I see the Bosh/Carlos Boozer tandem as the main possibilities for the Bulls and Heat. So if Bosh flees, the battle likely is over Boozer.

Dwyane Wade: Miami. He’s not going anywhere and leaving that extra $28 million or so on the table, the lack of state taxes, South Beach and it looks like him getting custody of his kids and why would he want to be anywhere else? He’ll get a power forward partner. Bosh is his choice as he and Bosh share agents. But he probably realizes there isn’t a huge chance. Pat Riley has privately said for months the Heat is getting LeBron, but that’s no place to build an international brand as LeBron wants to do. I know, Cleveland probably isn’t, either, but you get some credit for staying and building. Wade will visit the Bulls among a few other spots, but it’s hard to see that as other than a fact finding visit about what those teams are up to as Wade has been very open, the most among the top free agents, in personally recruiting.

Joe Johnson: Atlanta. Once word started to come out that the Hawks were going to offer Johnson a max deal, it was over. There’s no way he could walk away from six years and $126 million at age 29 and coming off that desultory playoff finish that labeled him to some not even worth a five year maximum. I’d take him, and he was committed as much as anyone to the Bulls for much of the season. But the Hawks make a good point in saying even with Chicago having someone like Bosh they are as good as the Bulls with Johnson and a chance to add a mid level player and Jamal Crawford going into his final season and trade material. And without Kirk Hinrich there wasn’t any real sign and trade possibility with Atlanta for the Bulls. The Mavs will try a sign and trade with Caron Butler, but the Hawks are for sale and like with the Tribune’s view of the Soriano signing when the team was being sold, what’s the big deal. The next guy will pay the contract.

Carlos Boozer: Miami. Though he has his Coconut Grove home up for sale. Boozer is also the Bulls fallback if somehow Bosh gets to Miami and Wade. As I said, I cannot see it as he is likely to get a reasonable sign and trade somewhere he prefers and as much a competitor as Bosh might be, he’s not about to go for winning while he makes all the monetary sacrifice and Wade makes none. With slightly less than $30 million after signing Wade, the Heat have money for an additional guy after signing Boozer and that should be enough to at least keep Wade there. Look, without a low post All Star they won 47 games. They should still be right there in the mix. But rather than everyone coming together I see most of them going for what’s best for each and the Lakers still the favorite coming into next season.

Amar’e Stoudemire: Suns. The assumption in Phoenix has been owner Robert Sarver won’t pay Stoudemire. Stoudemire’s not likely to warrant a huge sign and trade or likely any. He’s cocky, but he has it awfully good in Phoenix with Steve Nash and a comfort zone now. There remain concerns about the possibilities of more surgery, though he is fine now, after microfracture a few years back. He may be too much of a risk on the outside, though the Nets could take a shot.

David Lee: Nets. The Nets are the wildcard in the LeBron race because everyone with an arched eyebrow wonders what the new Russian oligarch owner will promise LeBron. The league will be watching, though they are more like the SEC trying to figure out what the banks are doing. They don’t have the expertise to examine these kinds of holdings and business deals. If the owner puts away a $100 million annuity for LeBron, no one would ever know. Heck, it could be in gold bars with his initials on them in some country without vowels. Lee doesn’t need to be a savior in New York when they strike out. He could play off Brook Lopez well with his new shooting and help Lopez’ rebounding and give time for Derrick Favors to develop.

Dirk Nowitzki: Mavericks. I know he talks all the time about nothing meaning much but winning, but he does have an owner who will make moves. Cuban is all over the free agents to try for a sign and trade and will be trying hard for Bosh as well. The money is too big to pass on and the possibilities of being better than Dallas now are uncertain.

Paul Pierce: Celtics. Likewise with Nowitzki, he’s a lifer. His value likely isn’t that much anyway as he was part of one of the losingest teams ever until Garnett and Ray Allen showed up. He wants a longer deal and certainly will get it.

Rudy Gay: Knicks. Rudy will be the biggest winner because the Knicks cannot come out of this empty handed and have the most money to waste. Gay will be the most not worth it, but he’s a lot better than trying to resign Al Harrington. He’s a huge talent and can be a spectacular player with a personality that can fit the city. They’ll make runs at other players and throw such a front loaded deal at Memphis since Rudy is restricted that Elvis will roll over in his grave.

Of course, sources who may or may not know assure me this may or may not happen. But it sure is going to be fun to find out. How sweet it is!

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Could LeBron be thinking how he looks in Bulls red?

The Bulls Thursday play Game 3 of what may be the most important playoff series in franchise history.
And thus far, even though the Bulls trail 0-2, the series with the Cleveland Cavaliers may be going very well.
That’s because based on what LeBron James has seen in the first two games, especially in the Cavs 112-102 Game 2 victory in Cleveland Monday, if James’ goal is to become a great winner, he cannot possibly think there’s a big window of opportunity with his Cavaliers.
He, instead, has to consider what his future would be if he played with a 22-year-old All-Star point guard and a 25-year-old near All-Star center.
If James wants to be considered the greatest player in the history of the game and surpass Michael Jordan—and I believe he does—then it is about winning championships.
At least six of them.
James has a good chance to get his first this season.
But if James at 26 envisions a long run, does he have a better chance with 38-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, and by next season 34-year-old Antawn Jamison and 35-year-old Anthony Parker being three of his fellow starters? Or even the likes of Mo Williams and Delonte West?
On the other hand, how good and how long a run could James have if he teamed as a free agent after this season with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah?
That’s potentially the best thing about this playoff series for the Bulls, even though they’ll likely lose it. They may well show James there’s a much better basketball future—if not Noah’s view of way more to do on the weekends—by joining up with Rose, Noah, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich. With a core like that, how easy would it be to get a couple of top veterans who want to be part of the next great potential dynasty?
This series for the first time may give the Bulls a legitimate chance to land James as a free agent this summer.
And I know everyone in Chicago would feel James looks good dancing in a Bulls uniform.
The Bulls have believed with their core, which they kept in place while going into free agency unlike teams like the Knicks and Nets, they are one player like Joe Johnson or Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer away from being a top four team in the East.
But what if you could get the game’s best player?
Look what James did Monday with a collection of scrap metal.
OK, that’s a bit harsh. Just kidding. But that is an old Cavs team with no cap room. Shaq’s on his last gasp. Zydrunas Ilgauskas probably will leave, anyway, after a falling out with the team this season. Plus, he is 35 soon and slowed. Jamison’s best days are past. Same with Parker. They’ve got some young guys, like J.J. Hickson, and, well nobody.
There still really isn’t that great second, the Scottie Pippen to Jordan, the Worthy and Kareem for Magic, the McHale and Parish for Bird.
Chicago’s got Nos. 2 and 3.
How good would they be with No. 1?
How many championships could James claim?
Hey, there’s room for another statue on the west side of the United Center.
It’s probably the main reason why it was so important the Bulls made the playoffs, especially against the Cavs.
Noah, who came up big in Game 2 with 25 points and 13 rebounds, wasn’t exactly conceding, and he never would. But he did take a bit of a big picture look after Game 2.
“This is great for our team,” said Noah. “Competition does not get higher than this. We understand this is great for us. In the big picture, when we go into the summer we can say (if we lose) we played against the best team and we know what we’ve got to do to get better. It’s all about getting better and trying to win ball games.”
Noah added he expected the team to win Game 3 back in Chicago Thursday, though, look, the Bulls finished 20 games behind the Cavs.
But it’s also why I felt it was important for the franchise to make the playoffs.
It’s not that they couldn’t get a free agent if they didn’t make the playoffs. But even trailing 0-2, what do you think is the reputation of the Bulls now compared to the Raptors, who missed out by that one game in Toronto.
The point is to show what you have on the big stage, and the Bulls did a good job of that Monday.
Sure, they lost, and the idea is to win. Second isn’t good in games.
But the Bulls showed not only impressive resolve in the way the Bulls played the Cavs but that they have at least a pair of high level NBA stars.
That’s why, I believe, the Bulls privately were hoping if they made the playoffs to get the Cavs.
They’d be a big underdog against any of the top four teams, obviously.
So show LeBron James, likely the biggest free agent prize in NBA history along with Shaq in 1996, what kind of talent you have, the way the team plays, hard and committed, and then let him get a look at life in Chicago in the playoffs.
There are few better venues.
It’s why it’s always been the foolish who suggested the Bulls should miss the playoffs for a chance for a top lottery pick. Yes, they got lucky for Rose, but it’s less than a one percent chance to move up like that from where they would have been this season.
I think that’s less than the chance James would see what he likes and maybe make the surprise decision.
You’ll notice Noah had some fun with the city of Cleveland, but he showed only respect to James and the Cavs.
We’ve all—including me—believed James was going to resign with the Cavs. Home, perhaps a championship, the most available money, and treatment like maybe no player ever has received from his team. It’s hard to argue how much the Cavs done to accommodate James.
But what if the Cavs don’t win?
It’s not like they looked like a championship team in Game 2.
Shaq was ineffective and you wonder if the one day of rest, which he’ll see more of in subsequent rounds, isn’t enough. There are two day breaks before games 3 and 4 in this series, which should benefit O’Neal.
Suddenly, if Anderson Varejao isn’t having a big game—and he doesn’t score, anyway—the front line looks overmatched. Noah ran them and outworked them badly and Taj Gibson out toughed them with 11 points and seven rebounds.
James, alone, can get you by a team like the Bulls. But then you probably have to deal with the athletic and deep Hawks and the Magic and Dwight Howard, who sent the Cavs out last season.
Of course, with Miami having Dwyane Wade and the excess salary cap room to add a maximum free agent and another high salaried player, maybe that looks better to James. Though you’d still have to find a center, which is difficult.
The notion was the Cavs responded to the Magic loss last year with the acquisition of Shaq to give fouls on Howard, and Jamison to match the Orlando forward scoring. Maybe it will work.
But there’s hardly any guarantee. After all, it took a phenomenal shooting performance–and at home–by James, 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to beat the .500 Bulls without Ben Gordon, John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas. And that’s with four threes from Jamario Moon, who hadn’t hit one in 109 minutes in the last four games of the regular season. Moon, once a Globetrotter, was just a 32 percent three point shooter in the season. Yes, as it was noted by my colleague Mark Heisler, “once in a Jamario moon.”
The Magic is deeper and a better defensive team, and the way Shaq looked after one day rest it’s difficult to imagine him being much but an annoyance to Howard.
And these things can become very emotional decisions. After the Cavs were knocked out by the Magic last season, it was clear James was anguished.
How much patience would he have again if it occurs?
And say James does win that first title. If he is about winning, as he says, and he has the opportunity through free agency, wouldn’t his future look a lot better with the likes of Rose and Noah or, say, Wade and Stoudemire, than with Shaq, Jamison, Parker and Williams?
Even the Bulls may not fully realize how big this playoff series is. It has the potential of changing the balance of power in the NBA. It’s why getting there and playing like they have thus far has been so potentially significant.
Maybe the Bulls can dream royally.

Bulls cannot rise like a phoenix against Suns

What’s that I’m seeing in the distance, very hazy, faint, just really a speck now?
Yes, that’s it. The Bulls’ playoff hopes.
The Bulls Tuesday suffered a brutal, perhaps playoff fatal 111-105 loss at the United Center to the Phoenix Suns as Steve Nash carved up the Bulls down the stretch, and though the Bulls again were victimized by injury with Kirk Hinrich going out with an ankle sprain, the season long lack of a structured offense and limited use of the depth proved lethal.
“They hit big shots and made big plays and there was nothing we could do about it,” indicted Derrick Rose, who tried valiantly and in vain to save the Bulls down the stretch. “We’re still trying to make a push for the playoffs. But as I said, they executed their plays and that’s why they won.”
It was a terrific, entertaining, playoff like game, and a Suns clinic in late game offense as the Suns won their eighth straight to go to 48-26 and clinch a playoff spot. Playoffs! The Bulls are on the verge of forgetting about them as they fell to 35-39 and one and one half games behind Toronto for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with Toronto having the tiebreaker. And now the Raptors Wednesday host the Clippers, who after being blown out by the Bucks are playing the second in a back to back on the road without injured Baron Davis.
The Bulls probably have to just about win out now to make the playoffs, perhaps with enough room to lose a game or two at the most and playing five teams with winning records not counting the Raptors on the road. And this from a team that has lost 12 of its last 16. Joakim Noah played 27 minutes and had his first double/double since Jan 29. But Hinrich went out in the first half and didn’t return and Luol Deng remained out, but is expected to return for limited play this weekend. It could be too late.
“We have not been able to get over the hump against some of the better teams,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “Give Phoenix credit. They executed when they had to. That is why they have been so successful over the years and lately this year. Players have to make plays down the stretch. We ran some good sets but were unable to convert. We had some turnovers early, but we controlled the turnovers over the last three quarters. It just comes down to getting some stops. Thirty points is too many in the fourth quarter. We did some positive things, we just came up a little short.”
Not good enough this time of year.
But what stood out as the Suns scored in their last six possessions and nine of their last 11 to overcome a four-point Bulls lead with 4:50 left was the way the Suns had something to go to, the old basketball cliché about having something to hang your hat on.
It was Nash not only with 22 points and 10 assists and nine points and four assists in the fourth. But it was what they had going with Nash.
The Suns went to pick and roll with Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, getting Stoudemire rolling or a pick and pop with Channing Frye popping out. Frye had with the big three pointer with 41.6 seconds left coming off a nice down screen to break a 103 tie as the Suns blazed with 14 of 28 threes. The Bulls’ defense collapses into a shell, thus leaving the perimeter generally open.
There was Nash getting mismatches in that screen/roll, Jason Richardson posting against the smaller guards, usually Rose with Jannero Pargo basically having no shot against Nash, and then Nash, as slow as he seems, driving by Pargo for, effectively, the clinching basket and 108-105 lead with 23.2 seconds left as Flip Murray had to come and help, leaving Grant Hill open for the pass and two handed flush.
“I was taking so many meds for my back and cold that I actually felt a little loopy,” laughed Nash. “It helped my back but I was a little dizzy out there. At the end of the game, I just tried to hang in. We had a chance to win and I was fortunate to make some plays when it counted.”
Rose had 23 points and 10 assists to basically offset Nash, but the problem was when the Bulls needed plays down the stretch it was Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose.
They had nothing else going, little movement, no other actions as Rose made some amazing moves and drives as he was the only Bull to score after Brad Miller’s three for that 97-93 lead with 4:50 left.
You can’t ask Rose to do everything, even with the injuries, and then after Hill’s slam, though the Bulls were coming out of a tiemout trailing 108-105 with 23.2 seconds left, they clearly went looking for a three to tie instead of extending the game. Rose missed a wild, quick, forced shot with Hill all over him.
“I felt like I should take it,” Rose said. “I had to adjust.”
The Bulls had plenty of time there to attack the basket and extend the game. Granted, the Suns are terrific down the stretch and great free throw shooters. But you can’t give up like that and go for the quick tie and then give them that much time even if you make it.
Obviously, the Bulls missed Hinrich, who sprained his ankle stepping on Noah’s foot late in the second quarter and couldn’t return. “I think Hinrich is the best on-ball defender in the NBA at his position. That was another injury that hurt them as well,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry.
Hinrich plays Nash probably as well as you can play him, so perhaps Nash doesn’t make every play down the stretch like he did. But what choice did the Bulls have now as they rarely used Devin Brown, a more physical defender, and Acie Law. So when Hinrich couldn’t return, they were pretty much stuck with Pargo, who was five of 15 and zero for four in the fourth quarter.
While Flip Murray was having another huge game with 23 points and nine rebounds and hitting four three pointers. Yet, with Pargo even playing some point in the fourth with Rose, inexplicably, off the ball, Murray was three of five shooting in the fourth quarter. But he didn’t get a shot in the last six minutes after his goaltending score gave the Bulls a 94-91 lead. Again, the Bulls failed to recognize or go to the hot guy while Pargo missed four jumpers in that stretch when Murray never got a shot.
So it was a brutal, disappointing way to conclude a basically well played and good effort by the Bulls, who didn’t quit and aren’t laying down. They had an impressive 26 assists on 36 field goals and a 20-7 edge in fast break points. They were diving for loose balls and delivering hard fouls. The bench was terrific, especially in the second quarter when the Bulls recovered from Stoudemire and Richardson dominating the first quarter for a 36-25 lead.
Stoudemire didn’t so much afterward and ended with 21 points and 11 rebounds while Richardson led the Suns with 27 points. Though Stoudemire, another of the potential big free agents this summer, did get James Johnson for one of those uh oh poster slams early in the game.
Murray in the second quarter exploded for 14 points in hitting a trio of three pointers and a 60 foot hook that swished just after the halftime buzzer. And Noah was his old explosive, hustling self running himself into back to back dunks to open the quarter and beating Stoudemire down the court repeatedly. I don’t know Noah’s pain, but for the Bulls to have any playoff chance at al, he’s got to be back in the starting lineup Friday when the Bulls travel to Washington.
The Bulls got ahead 60-57 at halftime when Noah just before the half got a costly technical for questioning a Chris Richard flagrant foul just before the half. But the Bulls fought off the Suns throughout the third and took a three point lead into the fourth quarter and quickly made it six on a Murray three.
“It was a tough loss tonight,” said Noah, whose energy, as usual, has been contagious. “We had our chances. I thought we played with good energy. It’s just a really tough loss especially when late in the game you have chances to win.”
The Bulls had them against a Suns team currently fourth in the tough Western Conference and playing as well as anyone the last two months.
“We’re a totally different team (from the team the Bulls beat in Phoenix in January),” said Richardson. “Two months ago, we were a team that had big leads that we’d end up giving back. We weren’t focused on the defensive end. This half of the season now we’re really focused on the defensive end and helping each other out. The way we’re playing now is huge. We’re going to need to play like this in the playoffs. With the game on the line you have to come up with stops to get wins.”
Yes, that’s the Suns talking defense and making at least enough plays down the stretch, though they couldn’t really handle Rose, at least at the end. The Suns made a nice defensive switch to have Hill on Rose much of the mid part of the game, giving Rose some trouble with size. Rose would beat Hill late, but the move seemed to make him less aggressive. Thus the Suns were able to rest Nash for the close as he moved to defending Johnson, who did little on offense and committed a crucial late turnover when he eschewed a wide open look and passed the ball out of bounds as everyone expected the shot. He got yanked after that.
The Suns finally wrestled the lead away from the Bulls, their first fourth quarter lead after opening the period trailing 84-81, on a Richardson three with 3:01 left. It came after the Suns drew Noah out on a Frye three and Richardson got the offensive rebound. Simple basketball. The Suns keep bodies moving and moving the defense.
Rose then put on the after burners and got into the lane for a seven-foot fallaway to answer.
Richardson went into the post, where he’d been basically abusing the much smaller Rose. But he missed. Rose then got caught between a floater and a jumper and pushed it long. Nash then hit a nice fading shot over Pargo for a 100-99 Suns with 1:54 lead.
The Bulls almost blew the next possession with Miller throwing an inventive behind the back pass inside that went off the Suns. But Miller was hustling. Should Taj Gibson, who had 14 and 10, been in there with the Suns playing smaller with Frye? He did get back in with under a minute left, but couldn’t get out to Frye in time for that big three.
Pargo missed a jumper after the Bulls got the ball back on that Miller pass, but Miller got the rebound and got it to Rose who was fouled on a drive and made both. Nash then got Miller on a switch running that pick and roll, which would be the call for Taj. Nash went by Miller on a crossover and laid the ball up left handed and was fouled for a 103-101 lead. Rose came right back, and you can’t say he’s not getting the calls as he forced contact at the basket at Stoudemire and got two free throws, making both to tie it at 103 with 59.8 second left.
Frye then came up on top as Nash drew Noah on the switch and passed back to Frye as the defense began to collapse to avoid another Nash drive.
“Steve Nash dribbled around and they tried to get Frye to pop out,” explained Del Negro. “He has good range. They keep setting screens for Steve to create. If you rotate to Frye, they dump into Amar’e in single coverage. They spread you out in a triangle, which is tough. They have other guys who can spread it out. They open up the lane for Amar’e and if you double down, they make you pay.”
The Bulls paid as Frye hit the three for the 106-103 lead.
Rose made an amazingly tough drive past Hill lurching at the basket and scoring to get the Bulls within 106-105 with 37.7 seconds left.
But then Nash beat them again with that pass off to Hill, and then cam that forced, quick Rose three and the end of the game, if not the season.

Bulls look to keep momentum going

By Adam Fluck
After winning four out of their last five games, the Bulls would love nothing more than to complete a season sweep of the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday at the United Center and inch closer to a playoff spot.
However, the Suns come in with an overall mark of 47-26 and a seven-game winning streak, thus securing a victory which would pull Chicago to within a half-game of 8th place in the Eastern Conference won’t be easy.
The good news is that rookie James Johnson is expected to play despite a right foot strain, Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro said prior to the game.
“He battled through it last game and sat out this morning’s shootaround,” said Del Negro. “I know he’s playing through some pain, so we try to pick our spots with him. We’ll need him .”
Del Negro also reported progress with Luol Deng (right calf strain), who began running on Tuesday, but said that no target date had been set for his return.
“We’re hoping that every day he’ll get a little bit better. It’s got to be a little bit of a process—we can’t just throw him out there or he’ll re-injure himself,” said Del Negro. “He said he is feeling better, so we’ll take it a day at a time. Hopefully, we’ll get him back for the next game or the following one; I just don’t know how his leg is going to react.”
On March 19, Del Negro announced that Deng would likely miss two to three weeks with his calf strain. Thus, the two-week mark hits this Friday, when the Bulls hit the road to face the Washington Wizards. Chicago will return home the following night to host the Charlotte Bobcats, currently seventh place in the East.
“Did you not get the memo? Derrick Rose can go upstairs!”
The Bulls’ 115-104 triumph over the Suns in Phoenix on Jan. 22 was one of five consecutive wins over above-.500 Western Conference teams on the road, a first in NBA history. On that night, Rose unleashed a dunk that will perhaps go down as the highlight of the year.
Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry was asked if he offered any advice to Goran Dragic, who attempted to unsuccessfully challenge Rose’s attack on the rim.
“We told him he’s got to be a little smarter, unless he likes seeing himself on SportsCenter,” said Gentry. “He’s a competitor. The same thing happened two nights later when a guy went in and he blocked a dunk. You just have to pick your places—I don’t know that you want to try that with Derrick Rose.
“To me, it didn’t surprise me that Derrick made that play,” Gentry added. “I think he’s really improved. The thing that hurt us is that we did a great job of keeping him out of the lane, but he made eight jump shots. If he makes eight jump shots against you, you’re almost rendered helpless. He’s a great player. I love his court temperament. That was the most emotion I’ve ever seen him show on the court after that dunk. He does a great job of playing with the utmost composure. He’s never really up and he’s never really down.”
Rose has enjoyed a good amount of success against the Suns and two-time MVP Steve Nash. Rose averaged 22.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 5.0 apg in 36.0 mpg last year against Phoenix, while Nash posted 10.5 ppg, 7.5 apg and 1.0 rpg in 31.0 mpg in two games versus the Bulls last year.
The Bulls are 38-21 all-time versus the Suns in Chicago, including 9-7 at the United Center. Chicago has won three of its last four games in Phoenix. Last year, the Bulls swept the season series for the first time since 1996-97.
Audio—Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro talks about what has worked for the Suns as of late and the run that Amar’e Stoudemire has had since the NBA All-Star break (03.30.10):

Bulls prepare for Suns as playoff underdogs

Well, that was a fun playoff race while it lasted.
Remember when it got going for real after the Bulls beat the Pistons in Auburn Hills Sunday afternoon? It didn’t look so good about 24 hours later when the seemingly dysfunctional Toronto Raptors went into Charlotte and outplayed the Bobcats 103-101.
It gives the Raptors a full one game lead on the Bulls for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference along with the tiebreaker, so, in effect, a two game lead. And the Raptors now play the pretty-much-giving-up Clippers, 76ers and Warriors.
You can get hurt jumping off this bandwagon so often. It’s tough to be a front runner when you don’t know which direction the parade is heading.
“We can’t afford to lose any games at this point and obviously we put ourselves in this situation during the first part of March,” Brad Miller said after Sunday’s win in Detroit. “All we can do now is win. We have had some tough games and these last couple (New Jersey and Detroit) is kind of our little breather before we play Phoenix, Boston, Cleveland and Toronto. We play everyone in front of us so Toronto is obviously going to be a big game.”
At least on paper, the Bulls schedule the rest of the way is more difficult than Toronto’s. The Raptors have just three games left against winning teams. The Bulls have six, and that’s not counting the April 11 game in Toronto. The Bulls’ opponents have a combined 51 percent winning percentage compared with 47 percent for Toronto’s. Though if the Bulls fall short, it could be on Michael Jordan, who is no Kevin McHale.
You’ll recall how McHale gifted his former team Kevin Garnett and a title while Jordan’s Bobcats Monday lost at home to reeling Toronto, which had benched Hedo Turkoglu for apparently having too much nighttime fun while allegedly hurt. Yet, there was Charlotte with a chance to at least tie at the end and Raymond Felton is throwing a pick and roll pass to a diving Tyson Chandler. You could see Mike grimace as he knew Tyson had no chance of catching that low pass. The Bulls grimaced as well.
And now with Charlotte stumbling some they’re not about to lie down as the Bulls host them Saturday and then close the season April 14 in Charlotte. How ironic would that be for Jordan’s team to knock out the Bulls on the last day?
But there’s a lot of getting there until then, and they don’t come much tougher for the Bulls than Tuesday against visiting Phoenix.
The Suns at 47-26 have been the league’s hottest team the last two months, winning 21 of their last 26 and working on seven straight. They’re now fourth in the West and a game and a half out of second. They’re still leading the league in scoring, but are much more efficient defensively, ranking 11th in field goal defense.
The Bulls get a break with center Robin Lopez not on the trip with a back injury. His center defense has been crucial and allowed Amar’e Stoudemire to play his natural power forward position.
The Suns started Jarron Collins in Minnesota Sunday, and the Bulls could only hope. But it’s more likely the Suns go back to their spread-the-court game with Channing Frye at center, whom the Bulls worked over pretty good in a Phoenix in January. Though that was when Joakim Noah and Luol Deng were playing and playing well. Deng remains out with a calf injury and Noah hopes to be up to about 20 minutes with his plantar fasciitis. James Johnson remains day to day with his.
It also was the scene of the great Derrick Rose dunk on Goran Dragic, who has been perhaps the first real point guard sub the Suns have had for Steve Nash as Dragic avoided deportation after being dunked on like that. The Suns also have Leandro Barbosa back.
But the big thing has been Stoudemire, who has been as good as anyone in the NBA the last two months.
He’s averaging 28.8 points and 10.3 rebounds and shooting 59 percent in March with an average of 11.4 free throws per game and converting 86 percent. He’s making opponents cower and cry he’s been so dominant and scary. In February, he averaged 25.3 points and 10.1 rebounds.
Which has been great for the Suns. But also a head scratcher.
Where’s that been for six years?
Oh, right, Stoudemire can be a free agent this summer. And he welcomes discussing it as he’s basically gone around the league like Scottie Pippen in 1994 saying he’d love to play everywhere.
The Suns had Stoudemire available at the trading deadline the last two years, but never got a great offer even as he’s been, at least, a great offensive player for years. Will they pay him with a large payroll? Can they afford not to? Will he stay the way he’s been made available? He’s never been high on the Bulls list of free agents. Just because of the kind of reservations the Suns have.
Teammates say it’s a different Stoudemire, no longer so remote and moody and while playing defense and rebounding, two jobs he previously eschewed. It’s been sort of a running joke the last five or six years in Phoenix as Stoudemire, when healthy, would put up huge scoring numbers. And before games opposing coaches would come over to then Mike D’Antoni or now Alvin Gentry and apologize but say whomever Stoudemire was guarding would be in the pick and roll, and he was scoring most every time.
That’s changed as Stoudemire has changed. But is it a salary drive or Memorex? Sorry, old commercial.
It’s going to make for a heck of a summer for the Suns as GM Steve Kerr, after a choppy start, has seen implemented the few tweaks he once sought that drove D’Antoni off. They play defense and they use the bench. Otherwise, they’re mostly the same Suns. Which means good and dangerous and fun to watch.
Thinking of Stoudemire, I am reminded of Tyrus Thomas.
Tyrus missed Monday’s game against the Raptors with an ankle injury, and yes, still is hurting the Bulls from afar.
Fans ask me about picking him in the 2006 draft over LaMarcus Aldridge. And the reason was the Bulls believed then Thomas was the next Stoudemire. If they were right, and they weren’t the only ones who thought so, then it was the right pick.
Physically they are similar with Stoudemire being a bit stronger. But Tyrus was young and the Bulls assumed he’d fill out. Their games looked similar at the same age with Tyrus having a nice jump shot and form and amazing leaping ability and athleticism, like Stoudemire. And Stoudemire didn’t go until 9th in 2002 as a project. He averaged 13.5 and 8.8 rebounds as a rookie, numbers the Bulls projected for Thomas.
Of course, we know it didn’t work as perhaps no one could have seen Thomas having, at least in my memory, the worst attitude toward people and most anger of perhaps anyone I’d seen come into the NBA.
Really, Thomas should have been Stoudemire, so perhaps that’s what puts Stoudemire farther down on the Bulls free agent power forward list. But Stoudemire is much more approachable, especially lately, and, obviously, far more talented. And suddenly, after serious knee and eye surgery, a player capable of leading his team.
It’s a $100 million guess to find out if it’s for real.
But he sure has been putting on a show these days. And not one the Bulls are thrilled about seeing this time.

Bulls dominate Nets behind Pargo and Gibson

I wrote Saturday I didn’t believe, based on the way the Bulls collapsed Thursday at home against the Miami Heat, that they could beat the New Jersey Nets.
It looks like my plan worked.
The Bulls needed someone to call them out, and I decided it had to be me at this point.
Yes, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
“Last game was really tough for us,” said Jannero Pargo, of all guys, who scored a season high 27 points to lead the Bulls 106-83 victory Saturday. “That was the biggest game. Really, any game this time of the year is the biggest game. And, it was a really big loss for us (Thursday). It was nice to bounce back tonight.”
It was a super ball bounce backas the Bulls were on the right side of a laugher for a change, avoided the ignominy of being swept at home by the now 9-64 Nets, and suddenly can begin to dream of Cleveland and the playoffs as the Bulls pulled within a game and a half of the idle and slumping Toronto Raptors.
“It was kind of an easy game,” said Derrick Rose, who was not much needed with seven points and nine assists without a turnover. “We did what we were supposed to do and get the win. We just have to carry it over to tomorrow (in Detroit). We needed tonight’s win a lot. We really need to go on a run. Everyone on this team is going to make a push. We’re trying to make the playoffs. That’s our goal for this season.”
Well, it’s nice to hear because they certainly hadn’t been playing like it.
Yes, there were the 10 consecutive losses with Joakim Noah out and Rose for the latter part of that streak. Luol Deng went out with a calf injury and remains out, perhaps for another week. And Saturday James Johnson didn’t play with a plantar fasciitis injury (yes, another guy) suffered in Thursday’s national TNT loss.
The result is the Bulls don’t have anyone who even can model as a small forward, perhaps with the exception, if you stretch it, of Hakim Warrick, who is more the power forward, anyway.
So the Bulls went with Kirk Hinrich at small forward with Rose and Pargo in the backcourt in a mini lineup that looked more dangerous to itself.
Pargo has been the target of fans’ ire this season shooting career lows in field goals and three pointers. And he’s not known as a high percentage shooter to start with.
But he had a dozen in the second quarter when the Bulls broke out to a 21-point lead.
“All year I’ve been thinking too much and not playing my game,” said Pargo. “It was nice to get out there tonight and take what came to me. It was nice to contribute.”
The big guy, though, was rookie Taj Gibson, who got the Bulls off to a good start, which they desperately need these days as mostly a front running team, with 14 in the first quarter as the Bulls went ahead 28-23 after one.
Gibson finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds with eight of 10 free throws and you wonder about the offseason talk about acquiring a power forward like Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire. Just a rookie, and a deserving one for all rookie first team, Gibson is quietly becoming Carlos Boozer. Gibson had his fourth double/double in the last five games and his rookie statistics are similar to Boozer’s when he was a rookie with the Cavs.
A little undersized with a nice free throw line jumper and a willingness to run the court as he was overlooked by the pro scouts, much like Boozer.
Why invest big money in someone like Boozer, who is five years older?
Gibson also was big in helping the Bulls hold Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian, who were 26 for 32 in Friday’s win over Detroit, to five of 20 shooting for a combined 14 points. The Bulls dominated the paint scoring 42-20 and outrebounded the Nets 54-42. New Jersey shot just 35.8 percent.
The Nets trailed 53-37 at halftime, and then gave the Bulls their only scare of the game as Jarvis Hayes hit three consecutive three pointers to bring New Jersey within 53-46.
But Gibson played a key role in the defense as Lopez turned the ball over on a trap and Gibson blocked a Lopez shot after Lopez missed a short shot. Yi also missed twice in that sequence as Gibson also got him for a block.
Meanwhile, the Bulls were back to competing, thanks, in part, to Noah, whose presence, though just for 13 minutes, is proving inspirational as he’s emerging as the only true emotional leader on the team. So Noah being out hurts not only in his effect on the boards.
“Good players make a difference,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “You can see how valuable Joakim is with his length and size. He was blocking shots and getting us out on the fast break. He is effective and can change the complexion of the game. We hope to build up Joakim’s minutes and his conditioning because he is a big part of that.”
With the Nets getting back into the game, Noah dunked on a long pass from Pargo for a three point play and returned the favor with a pass leading to a Gibson fast break, and Pargo added a big three.
“JP is a pro,” said Del Negro. “He has kind of been the odd man out with limited minutes early in the season. He understands his role well. He came up big. We need him to do that the rest of the season to win us some games. He was a big factor in the win tonight. It does not surprise me. The guys respect that. He puts his work in every day. He may not play for two, three or four games and then you put him in there and he’s ready to go. He’s not shot as well as he’s capable of, but his minutes have been inconsistent. When he gets consistent minutes, he shoots better.”
Noah then dunked on Lopez as Noah had five points and three rebounds in the third quarter while the Bulls pulled away for an 82-56 lead after three and Gibson, Hinrich and Rose played little after that.
“It felt good to play and get the win,” said Noah. “We just got to keep it going and carry it over. They’re not a good team, but we lost to them before, so you still have to go out and compete. It was good to come in tonight with the right mentality. I thought we played with a little bit of an edge.”
Yes, finally.
So if that’s all it takes, then maybe they can play into late April or May. It’s really up to them. I can only do so much.

Bulls defenseless again in loss to Jazz

There’s a famous story from the 1998 playoffs I was reminded of watching the Bulls submit and lose to the Utah Jazz Tuesday, 132-108, the team’s fifth consecutive loss in falling to ninth place and, at least for now, out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
The Lakers were trailing 3-0 in the Western Conference finals and just finished up what everyone knew was their final practice of the season before Game 4. Players usually gather at the end of practice for some sort of unity exclamation. The Lakers was, “One, two, three, win.”
So the team huddled and all stretched their arms in and in unison began, “One, two, three…” when Nick Van Exel quickly added, “Cancun.”
Yes, the season was over and it was time for the beach.
And while the Bulls have 19 games remaining and are just a half game out of seventh at 31-32, they clearly are playing the poorest of all the bottom contenders for a playoff spot and are facing even more injuries with Luol Deng scheduled for an MRI Wednesday morning for a calf strain he suffered against the Jazz.
It’s looking like an early vacation.
Deng is not likely to make the road trip to Orlando and Miami this week. Taj Gibson, according to coach Vinny Del Negro, had a flareup of his plantar fasciitis in his poorest game of the season with zero points and one rebound in fouling out in 13 minutes.
Plus, the Bulls, who recently had worked up to No. 1 in opponents field goal percentage, the league’s key defensive barometer, gave up better than 52 percent shooting for the third consecutive game and now have given up at least 100 points in the last eight games and an average of 115 per game in the current five game losing streak.
Mike D’Antoni and Paul Westhead would be proud.
“We don’t (have answers),” said a somber Del Negro after the game. “We can’t control the paint right now. We didn’t have any answers for them defensively.
“We emphasize defense all the time,” said Del Negro. “It’s not like it’s a one game thing here. Before the injuries (Noah out three weeks with plantar fasciitis), we led the league in field goal (defensive) percentage. We were all on the same page and working. The trade deadline came, we incorporate a few new players….Joakim being out is a big factor. There have been some injuries to deal with, Luol’s knee. We had a few days of practice, but most guys were on the sideline trying to heal up.
“We’ve got to keep battling,” said Del Negro. “There’s no question we’ve won this season by holding teams to a low field goal percentage and controlling tempo better. We’ve proven when we try to outscore teams, the way we’re made up now we haven’t had much success. We have to reevaluate. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played. Hopefully, we’ll play much better and get guys healthy. Now we have to try to weather the storm, stay confident, stay together and keep working.”
No, it’s not time to give up . The Bulls have two games left with Charlotte, two with the Nets and games with the Wizards, Bucks, Raptors and Pistons. There are wins to get, at least once the Bulls get through this stretch with the road trip to Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas and then Cleveland at home.
Say they lose them all, which seems likely the way they are going now, and fall to 31-37? Over? No. But they’d probably need a strong close to nine or 10 of the next 14. So, yes, it would be tough. Because the teams ahead of them like Charlotte, Miami and Milwaukee, all were involved in tense, low scoring playoff type games Tuesday. And Toronto got beat at the buzzer in L.A. by a Kobe Bryant shot.
The Bulls gave up a season high 132 points.
It’s not only what you are doing, but how you are doing it. And right now this Bulls team has lost its edge. No, I wouldn’t say they’ve given up. But you get the sense watching and being around them they are closing in on accepting their fate.
“It seems like we’ve gone away from what’s been successful for us,” said Kirk Hinrich. “We’re scoring the ball at a high rate (averaging 112 the last two games), but we’re having a hard time getting stops right now.”
The obvious answer is the lack of size and length and athleticism at the rim with Noah out, Tyrus Thomas traded and Gibson now slowing with injury as well. The Jazz, 41-22 and in the Western Conference race, have been a high scoring team this season and always run an offense that produces a lot of layups and inside scores.
But they also hit a dozen threes, half by reserve C.J. Miles, as the Bulls concentrate on shutting down the paint in their defense.
“I’d rather have them taking contested jump shots instead of points in the paint on layups,” said Del Negro. “But tonight they got them both.”
It’s also a delicate point for Del Negro, though he alluded to it: The team made deals to insure it’s position this summer in free agency, moves they had to make in case they’d have a shot at star players like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer.
But in doing so—and with the injury to Noah—the roster which had become defensive oriented with speed and size and was working well together with continuity, which is the key to team defense, changed drastically. Coaches aren’t supposed to say they’ve got to have the players, and that wouldn’t exactly endear Del Negro with management.
But it may be too late to change.
Derrick Rose got a lot of the blame for those Miles threes. Rose was brilliant on offense with a memorable duel with the Jazz’ Deron Williams. But you could see Rose trying to adhere to the team’s defensive principles to close the paint and form that defensive shell inside. It just so happened Miles was hot with four threes in the fourth and one late in the third when the Jazz broke from a close game.
So Rose has to react to the hot shooter. Or someone has to tell him to forget the inside help and get that guy! Apparently, he didn’t and no one did.
But the Bulls hardly lost because of that, and, as usual, they’d have been nowhere near competing without another brilliant game from Rose, who had 25 points and a career equaling 13 assists. The Bulls were no slouches, shooting 52.9 percent for the game, which was just about what they Jazz shot, and the Bulls shot 62.5 percent in the first half.
The Bulls still trailed at the time 63-61, which was the disturbing news, but it also showed that Rose can be a high assist player if teammates make shots, as well as a high scorer.
“Rose played a great game and put pressure on us all night,” said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. “I like to see guys compete out there. It doesn’t matter if it’s practice or in a game. Tonight those guys (Rose and Williams, the latter with 28 points and 17 assists and both with double/doubles by halftime) competed hard the whole game. With Deron, we’re fortunate that here we have had two great point guards (with John Stockton). He knows how to play the game. It’s really pretty simple. The game needs to be played with other people involved. He knows that and does a great job with his teammates.”
Williams was terrific, and he got the highlight play on a two-on-one break with Rose retreating with the Jazz ahead 81-77 with just under four minutes left in the third quarter.
It was a game.
But Paul Millsap got the ball from Deng in a turnover, who soon went out for the game, and Williams got a pass from Wesley Matthews and dunked in the face of Rose.
I don’t know if it was a collective shock among Bulls players to see Rose be victimized by one of those dunks. But the Bulls were outscored 11-4 to end the third, and them after pulling within 92-87 early in the fourth with an active group of reserves pressuring, the Jazz outscored the Bulls 20-12 with Miles hitting a trio of three pointers and pulling away as Del Negro gave up and pulled the starters down by 14 with 3:26 remaining.
Though it isn’t any group I’d like to see in the game regularly—Jannero Pargo, Chris Richard, Hakim Warrick, James Jphnson and Flip Murray—the fivesome played the best defense of the game for the Bulls, pressing in the backcourt and causing a pair of Jazz turnovers to open the fourth and outscoring Utah 6-1 to get within 93-87 with 10:22 left.
But Del Negro, as he’s done of late, went back quickly to his starters, though no one but Rose really was much help after halftime. I actually thought Warrick finally was having an impact with his activity and even Richard was doing some nice things bothering Boozer and Johnson was active.
Sometimes you need to shake up the starters, who have played huge minutes this season, and go with a group that’s getting some things done. It didn’t happen, and when the regulars came back they made little impact and had no legs left as they were fouling and sending Jazz players to the line, getting beaten to loose balls and not getting out to Miles making those threes and ending with 26 points.
“We had a couple of opportunities,” said Del Negro. “But they got their hands on (balls) and got in the open court and made layups.”
There were a lot of layups in an another entertaining, high scoring, Phoenix Suns style game with the Bulls trailing 35-30 after one with both teams shooting over 60 percent and the Jazz ahead 63-61 at halftime and the Bulls shooting 62.5 percent and trailing.
The Bulls got a dozen from Deng in the first half and 15 from Brad Miller. But Rose was alone in the second half as no other starter had more than five. Rose added 15 in the second half with some stunning drives as Williams defended him and Rose on one occasion blew by Williams and beat both Paul Millsap and Matthews at the basket for a slick reverse layup and foul. That three point play got the Bulls within 113-102 with 5:19 left. But Kyle Korver answered with a three and as the Bulls scored on the next two possessions the Jazz scored on seven of he next eight.
You can’t catch up when they keep scoring.
The Jazz answered the Bulls early surrender with their bench players, who included D-league callup Othyus Jeffers, the U. of Illinois/Chicago product who had more than 100 family and friends at the game for his dream of playing in the NBA in the United Center.
Jeffers is from the West Side and came through the hard way having had two brothers shot to death. He also was shot in 2007 defending his sister. He went to Italy this season but came back to the D-league, where he starred last year, to get a chance at the NBA.
He earned it.
It also was a relatively quiet game for Carlos Boozer, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds and had seven of the Jazz’ 39 free throw attempts. He’s one of the so called second tier of free agents this summer, and though there have been questions about his health and commitment, he supposedly has talked about wanting to play in Chicago and would have looked good at power forward for the Bulls Tuesday. Before Boozer arrived, he told the Salt Lake Tribune the Bulls are “a good, young team that plays hard every night” and Rose is “something special, a stud.”
Rose was again Tuesday, but it hasn’t been nearly enough for the Bulls.
“When somebody scores like that, no defense,” agreed Rose. “They weren’t missing any shots either, so that didn’t help. When you lose a guy like (Noah), it’s always going to hurt the team. Some guys have come in and they are trying to pick up the slack. But there really can’t be any excuses in the NBA. (We have to) just come in and work on it. That’s really all you can do. Come in to practice, work on it and hope that it transfers to the game. We just have to find a way.”
Asked if the team’s confidence was shaken, Miller, who finished with 20, agreed.
“Obviously a little,” he said. “But you just have to keep your head up and know that there are a lot of games left to play. In this league you can win five games in a row just as quickly as you can lose five games in a row. We have to find a way to right this ship.”
Before someone brings up Micheal Ray Richardson, a famous maritime man in his own right, who once observed about his team, “The ship be sinkin.”
Not yet, but the Bulls are taking on lots of water.