Tag Archives: chris paul

Bulls lose again, and now comes the good teams

So much for the easy part of the Bulls two week Western Conference road trip.
Uh oh.
The Bulls, after losing 104-97 Wednesday to the now 19-22 Clippers after Monday’s loss to the then 11-27 Warriors, starting Friday in Phoenix face five teams all with winning records and all in a desperate fight for the playoffs, thus making every game for them important.
Yes, the Bulls are staring dead into a seven-loss trip and closing in on what could be the beginning of the end of their season.
And everything looked so promising a few days ago.
“We gave up too many points tonight,” offered Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “There were times we settled and we did not follow our shots and we let easy baskets go. We had the numbers to convert, but did not follow through. I am disappointed that we lost. But I am happy that this young team is trying hard.”
Though you wondered at times with the halting first three quarters and then a frenzied finish.
“We were short handed tonight and the rest of the team tried very hard to step up their game and get shots,” said Del Negro. “Some of our key players shot well and had their confidence taking the ball to the basket. As a young team we go through the ups and downs. We are playing hard, we competed well and its all about confidence and opportunity. We need to make better decisions and execute better. Their veterans came back, hitting big shots.”
That was Baron Davis, who ruined a perfectly good comeback as the Bulls, after trailing by 14 with just over six minutes remaining, got within four points four different times, the first time with more than four minutes left.
Plenty of time to steal a game the Bulls had to have after Monday’s brutal loss in Golden State against Monta and the D-leaguers.
I asked a scout friend about that game and he said he watched it because he works the D-league games a lot.
“Those guys weren’t even the best guys down there,” he said. “We wondered what they (Warriors) were thinking.”
So the Bulls are there in this game, up nine early and trailing only 75-70 going into the fourth quarter. This despite being outscored 24-10 in fast break points, the category the Bulls must win to have success given their lack of outside shooting. But the Clippers would miss 16 free throws, giving the Bulls plenty of chances.
And it wasn’t your typical road crowd. The Lakers fans’ are into the Lakers. The Clippers fans tend to be curious about the rest of the NBA, and on the day when the NBA announced Derrick Rose’s jersey was the fourth most popular in sales, there were many in a crowd that often seemed as supportive of the Bulls. Yet, it was a worrisome sign for the Bulls to play without great thrust—as Del Negro likes to say, through much of the first three quarters as they were dominated both off the boards and in fast break points, for example.
Marcus Camby was having a huge rebounding game and would finish with 25 rebounds. At one point in the first quarter, he had 11 rebounds, matching the Bulls total. And this was against the league’s No.1 rebounding teams coming into the game.
But the game began to get away from the Bulls to open the fourth as Jannero Pargo and Brad Miller missed and Kirk Hinrich, back from his bout with flu, committed a turnover while the Clippers reserves with Al Thornton, Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith and Ricky Davis were scoring and adding in a steal and block.
Hinrich was throwing himself around impressively chasing loose balls, apparently replacing whatever hurling he was doing in his hotel room in Golden State. But Hinrich was a nauseating three of 14 shooting. John Salmons replaced Hinrich on the sick list with stomach flu, though it’s apparently not true that he had eaten a bad piece of salmon.
Del Negro rushed Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng back into the game with 90 seconds gone in the fourth quarter and the Bulls trailing 81-70.
It was unusually soon given Del Negro’s habit of leaving those regulars out for about the first five minutes of the fourth. It suggested Del Negro’s desperation as well and knowing this was the game to get.
It didn’t get much better right away as the Bulls missed six of their next seven shots, though Tyrus Thomas, making a rare appearance for almost the entire fourth quarter, was earning it with aggression, helping keep the Bulls close with a steal and dash and getting fouled, and a block of a Smith attempt.
Thomas would finish with his best performance in three weeks with 18 points on an efficient eight of 11 shooting, six rebounds and three blocks.
The Bulls would bottom out at 88-74 with 6:36 left, and then finally seemed to grow as desperate as Del Negro.
Deng, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds, hit a three. Thomas made a steal and then ran out and got a pass from Rose for a slam dunk. Rose made a steal from Telfair and drove for a score, and Noah took the ball from Chris Kaman and put back his own miss.
Rose would finish with 23 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks, though he’s still not getting the calls with just four free throws. There’s this odd notion as I travel around the league as coaches and executives say to me Rose is not having the year he had last season. And I say he’s way better, that he was injured and insisted on playing through it and his numbers suffered, but the guy has been playing great and without Ben Gordon asked to do so much more. But it seems if you repeat a lie or a misrepresentation, it doesn’t matter what the reality is. Rose has been terrific, and Wednesday he just ran out of time.
Suddenly, after that great sequence of desperate anxiety, the Bulls trailed just 90-86 with 4:09 left.
But Davis, who finished with 23 points including 11 in the fourth quarter, hit a long three over Rose. Thomas answered with a 20 footer, but Davis hit again, this time from about 20 feet.
“Toward the end I wanted to take it upon myself,” said Davis. “I had a good rhythm offensively just from being aggressive defensively.”
Davis, really, can do that anytime he wants, but he’s one of the more mercurial players in the NBA. Given his strength and abilities, he can dominate just about any guard in the league. But he’s known to come committed to play about once a week, or in spurts. Sometimes he seems to take off whole seasons, like he did last year. And he doesn’t have much relationship with coach Mike Dunleavy, not that Davis has been a favorite of any of his coaches. But something got into him late Wednesday, and he was his unstoppable best.
Thomas was fouled and made one of two and then Noah got a Camby shot and Rose drove all the way, making it Clippers 95-91 with 2:25 left. Kaman, who has been terrific this season and ended with 20 points and eight rebounds, missed a jumper and it seemed the Bulls had a good chance.
But Rose got too far under on a drive and missed, and Thomas committed the blunder of the quarter, going for a Davis fake 28 feet from the basket and fouling him. Davis made two of the three free throws for a 97-91 lead with 1:51 left.
Thomas then slipped inside and took an alley oop for a dunk from Hinrich, though you hate to see Thomas just about every time he scores complain openly to the referees for a foul. He did it again with an exaggerated hand motion with arms outstretched and you know this isn’t helping at all the officials’ feelings toward the Bulls. I know. It’s supposed to be objective. But if you keep showing someone up, they remember.
Kaman then got deep post position on Noah on the right block, and Kaman is deadly there when he spins right, and he did so and banked in a six footer for 99-93 lead with 1:19 left. The Bulls came right back as Noah, with 14 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks, beat Kaman down court and dunked again to get the Bulls within four, though time was running out.
Just one more stop.
But Davis, again, hit a runner this time with 48 seconds for a 101-95 lead.
Timeout Bulls. They weren’t making up enough ground, but the Bulls don’t have that three point threat to get them back in games quickly. But they gave it a shot, a long shot, as it were. The Bulls ran a play for Deng to shoot a three, at least from the short right corner. But Deng missed—the Bulls were two of 11 on threes—and Thomas fouled Camby, who conveniently missed both free throws. And then it became a game between two losing teams. Kaman picked off an awful crosscourt pass from Thomas, and threw ahead to Davis. Who for some reason tried to score right away and missed. Kaman got the rebound, but threw the ball into the backcourt for a turnover.
Thomas then missed a jumper, but Rose forced himself in for the rebound and scored and it was back to four again, though with 22.4 seconds. The Bulls fouled Davis, who made both, and Rose effectively ended it with a bad, desperate pass off the backboard for a turnover and a rare show of angry frustration from the usually unflappable guard. That made it 0-2 for California. It was storming in usually sunny L.A. as the Bulls added to it with their tears.
“We came up short tonight,” said Rose. “We have a tough team coming up on Friday. We are going to have to play harder. We have to come out with much more energy. The shots that we usually hit were not falling tonight. We need to try to get the lead and keep it. Our focus was not there. Our foul trouble down the penalty caused us a lot of trouble. They have great players. They played defense and executed throughout the whole game. That is why they got the win.”
So here’s what the next week looks like:
Phoenix with Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, 25-18.
Houston with nobody and averaging more than 100, 23-18.
San Antonio with Duncan, Parker and Manu, 25-16.
Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant, 24-18.
New Orleans with Chris Paul, 22-19.
The Bulls fell to 18-22 and pretty much in a battle for just the final playoff spot with Charlotte, Miami and Toronto seemingly taking those five, six and seven spots after the Cavs, Celtics, Magic and Hawks. And still a half season to go after the Bulls hit the official midway point in Game 41 Friday.
It’s supposed to storm even in Phoenix. Yes, a dark cloud seems to be settling in over the Bulls season as well.

Bulls swat Hornets in big return of Tyrus Thomas

Can Tyrus Thomas save the Bulls? Can Thomas save Vinny Del Negro? Can Thomas save the season? Can Thomas turn the Bulls into serious playoff contenders this season and get consideration for league MVP? Can Thomas be traded?
Yes, Bulls fan can smile again, maybe only briefly, as the much anticipated return of Tyrus Thomas from a fractured arm turned out to be worth waiting for.
Thomas had 21 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, a steal and numerous changed shots in inspiring the Bulls to a 96-85 victory over the New Orleans Hornets, just the second time all season the Bulls have won a game by double digits.
“You saw what his athleticism does for us,” said Bulls coach, Beleaguered Vinny Del Negro (yes, it’s said so often that “Beleaguered” is now officially part of his name). “He was very productive. I liked his activity. It was tough to take him out because he was so productive.”
It was the new look, new lineup, newly energized Bulls in the wacky Eastern Conference whose win thrust (favorite Del Negro word) them to a tie for eighth in the conference at 11-17, just a game and a half behind Toronto for sixth.
We’re No. 8!
“It feels good right now just to get a win and to get one with a margin of victory that we haven’t had for some time,” said Joakim Noah, who had 17 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks and simply dominated Emeka Okafor. “It just feels really good.”
You watch those two teams Saturday in the United Center and you’d never want Okafor in trade for Noah or Thomas. Heck, you wouldn’t take him and that contract for Lindsey Hunter. David West or Thomas? Not even close. West mostly lumbered around trying to post up Taj Gibson without much success, and you wondered why you’d ever though he’d be an improvement. Chris Paul? Either he’s hurt or already asked to be traded. He was awful.
Derrick Rose, who had 14 points, nine assists and six rebounds including four offensive, did a decent job but nothing special as Rose mostly went under screens. Kirk Hinrich, who replaced John Salmons in the starting lineup and helped change the attitude of the lineup, helped out on Paul as the Bulls worked to close the middle against penetration. But Paul has seen that before, and from better defensive teams. Hinrich actually did a better job after halftime on Devin Brown, who scored 22 points in the first half hitting four three pointers. Hinrich stayed with Brown in the third quarter as the Bulls broke open the game with a 23-9 defensive stand more reminiscent of the way they played a few years ago, and Brown didn’t score in the second half.
“They were really effective defensively tonight,” said New Orleans coach/general manager Jeff Bower. “Their bigs were a big factor tonight.”
Who ever said that before?
But it was true.
Noah and Thomas were a great tandem inside, protecting the middle with shot blocking, changing shots and forcing the Hornets to settle for jump shots, a script usually reserved for the Bulls on offense.
The jump shooting Bulls had a staggering 54-16 edge on points in the paint.
Tyrus’ Believe it or Not!
Thomas was the story. He was returning from that bizarre weight lifting accident when he fractured his left arm. The Bulls went 7-15 since then, though when he went out the enigmatic Thomas wasn’t exactly headed toward his first All Star appearance.
Thomas was averaging 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds and was coming off a benching in the team’s big road win in Cleveland when Thomas played just 12 minutes. It seemed the same old story with Thomas of so much potential and tease and so little satisfaction. It seemed to be the beginning of the end for Thomas in Chicago.
But Thomas returned Saturday with the aggressiveness, activity and ability that made him a lottery favorite in the 2006 draft. Here was almost 6-10 of explosive leaping that could help anchor a defense and produce offense. Paired with Noah, it was the kind of size the Bulls haven’t had on the front line for a decade.
And then you began to think what the old timers tell you, that it takes four to five years for big men to mature, and you thought, maybe, just maybe, this could be a breakthrough for Thomas, the injury a blessing of sorts as the sensitive Thomas found himself missed and longed for by Bulls fans and the team. Finally, love instead of condemnation.
“It felt like the first day of school all day,” said Thomas, “a new backpack, supplies, everything. Tonight was just about getting in a rhythm, slowing myself down and getting into the flow of the game. I haven’t played for seven weeks, so I really just needed to be able to slow things down and not play too fast. I was a little rusty, but I just got to keep running hard and everything else will come. As a team, we’ve just got to play hard for 48 minutes on both ends of the court. That’s the most important thing right now.”
When players come back after a long layoff they can have fresh legs and a big first game. They could be off on timing and play badly. They often play early on adrenalin, but that may wear off late in the game or as the first week goes on. So we’ll see. But if the Tyrus of Saturday night was the new Tyrus, the Bulls just might have something.
And something to consider since the speculation has been for some time the Bulls were looking to trade Thomas. If you trade this Thomas, you better come back with something special the way that game with the Hornets went. Then again maybe Thomas never plays as well again. That’s why management is so tough. How do you know with a history like Tyrus has had? But if you can get this kind of production—or anything close to it on a regular basis—you may just have the kind of team you thought you had to open the season that might look very appealing to a top star free agent.
The new starting lineup with Gibson back for Brad Miller and Hinrich for John Salmons did what was hoped for, an energized group that got the Bulls off fast, though they trailed 27-24 after one quarter.
Salmons and Miller never did get it going, combining for five points as Salmons looked hesitant every time he had the ball, as if he were afraid to make a mistake. That was troublesome for the Bulls in the fourth quarter with James Johnson getting a long stretch. Both he and Salmons seemed uncertain and seemed to keep seeking out Rose late in the shot clock to do something.
The Bulls had taken a 15-point lead with under eight minutes left, but Jannero Pargo missed and Johnson committed an offensive foul and you began to think Sacramento and that 35-point blown lead.
“When we got the lead, I knew you guys were thinking about that,” Deng joked to reporters afterward. “I thought we did a good job even though at times we panicked a little bit.”
Del Negro got Johnson and Salmons out, and Noah grabbed a big offensive rebound on another Pargo miss and Pargo scored on a short jumper just before being replaced by Rose. Thomas stayed down on a James Posey shot fake and drew an offensive foul in a smart defensive play. Yes, Tyrus! And then Thomas followed that with a jumper from the elbow as you wanted him to take that 18 footer. Everyone would wince when Tyrus shot, but when you work that hard you earn the shot. Shoot, Tyrus shoot!
Thomas really was all over the pace, going back on defense after that jumper to deflect an inside pass attempt to Posey. Thomas added another elbow jumper as he came off another Hinrich down screen. Hinrich was luring big men into hard screens like John Stockton used to do in that interior Jazz offense. Thomas’ 20 footer was good for a 91-76 lead with 4:11 left, and then Rose, who was trapped all game, fought off two defenders to retrieve the ball and passed out to Hinrich for a three to give the Bulls just enough room.
Oddly, Paul hit a three to bring the Hornets within 13 with just under three minutes left, and we’ve seen the Bulls lose those leads. But the Hornets, for some reason, emptied their bench and gave up despite the Bulls being in the midst of five straight misses and a turnover.
No, they still don’t have that closer, though that’s a problem for another night.
“It feels great to have Tyrus Thomas back,” said Noah. “He was huge. He brings a dimension to us that we just don’t have without him. We are better in transition because of the way he runs the floor and we are also better defensively.”
All of that was obvious pretty much as soon as Thomas entered the game to a nice ovation with 8:52 left in the first half with Gibson in foul trouble.
Del Negro said he’s not going to rush things and not put Thomas back into the starting lineup, which probably is smart.
Thomas certainly wants to start and generally has been resentful when he hasn’t.
But like with Salmons and Miller, perhaps Del Negro is sending a new message of players having to earn that spot. And perhaps it is that carrot that will work with Thomas, that if he comes off the bench for a time he’ll appreciate the chance to start more and work harder to get there.
“I want to leave it the way it is,” said Del Negro. “Let’s not rush into anything. Tyrus gives us great versatility off the bench. He can play the three or four spot. With that new line-up, Kirk gives us a nice thrust and takes pressure off Derrick because he is a guy who makes plays in the open court. We want to have a pace game but also control the tempo and be smart about it. If we can stay healthy and have some good practices, those things should work themselves out.”
Thomas made his presence known right away changing an Okafor shot and then blocking what seemed like a sure dunk for Okafor, who was zero for five for four points and out of place in the Hornets’ offense. The trade of Tyson Chandler, even though Chandler is out again, looks like a disaster for the Hornets as Paul and Okafor clearly have no chemistry.
It would be no surprise if there is some sort of fire sale with that franchise as the team looks disjointed.
“I take my hat off to Joakim Noah. His energy on the glass tonight was great and really big for them,” said Paul. “I told the guys when they were talking about the big lead loss the other night that this was a good team. I told them their personnel are quick and would be a problem for us.”
The Bulls would be.
Later in the first quarter after Paul missed on a drive, Rose took off and found Hinrich who hit a running Thomas for a layup, the kind of easy points the Bulls need to break out of their scoring doldrums, 29th in scoring and shooting coming into the game. Hinrich would add seven assists as the Bulls ball movement was so much better as they had a season high 28 assists on their 42 baskets.
The little known Brown befuddled the Bulls in the first half with 22 points as he kept stepping farther and farther out to shoot those threes, and the Bulls fell behind 42-31 midway through the second quarter.
But Noah kept breaking the momentum, even on offense, the first time with a dunk after a driving miss from Deng. Deng finished with 12 points after five straight games of at least 20, and his scoring could suffer some with Thomas back.
Hinrich dropped in a three on a nice find by Deng, Noah dunked on a Rose inbounds pass on a nice play, Salmons hit a three for his only points (he was one of five), and then Rose had a fabulous spinning layup past the grounded West. Tyrus then picked West clean and ran out for a score and the Bulls were back in it and trailing 51-50 at halftime.
The third quarter was a defensive clinic for the Bulls as they got off fast on offense with Noah again beating Okafor downcourt for a layup and Deng with a nice driving score. Hinrich tailed Brown and Noah and Thomas did a nice job stepping up whenever Paul tried to penetrate. Rose then had time to recover and the Hornets were reduced to one bad shot and out.
As the quarter went on, Gibson had a strong dunk trailing on the break as Rose dropped a pass off, Noah threw in a nice half hook, Tyrus slammed on a good pick and roll with Salmons and even James Johnson got in on the fun with a runner on an assist from Thomas.
Can Tyrus lead the Bulls to a championship?
Will he score four points the next game?
Will he be benched and traded?
Will he become the leader the team so desperately needs?
Is he truly the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma?
Tune in next time for Part II, “The Adventures of Tyrus.”

All-Star voting and Vinny speaks

The NBA Thursday released its first All-Star game fan balloting results, and another year seems like it may go by without a Bulls player being voted to the All-Star team, which would make 11 years.
The fans select the starters and the coaches vote for the reserves. The way the Bulls have been playing this season, it may hurt the chances of anyone from the Bulls getting a coach’s vote, though it seems Derrick Rose remains a possibility.
Rose will be invited to the weekend of events in Dallas to play in the rookie/sophomore game, likely along with Taj Gibson. Rose may also be invited to defend his skills challenge championship from last season’s All-Star game.
In the first balloting, Rose was fifth among Eastern Conference guards, Brad Miller was 10th among East centers and Luol Deng was 11th among East forwards. Joakim Noah, perhaps the team’s most consistent player this season, was not listed on the ballot as the committee of media members preparing the ballot apparently did not know he was a starter although he started much of last season and in the classic first round playoff series.
Here are the East leaders:
Forwards:  LeBron  James (Clev) 649,327; Kevin Garnett (Bos) 533,187; ChrisBosh  (Tor)  303,550;  Paul Pierce (Bos) 131,379; Josh Smith (Atl) 109,404;Danny  Granger  (Ind) 100,122; Andre Iguodala (Phi) 75,146; Michael Beasley(Mia) 58,461; Hedo Turkoglu (Tor) 55,416); Rashard Lewis (Orl) 46,073; LuolDeng (Chi) 37,428.
Guards:  Dwyane  Wade  (Mia)  672,227;  Vince Carter (Orl) 292,002; GilbertArenas  (Was)  212,526; Ray Allen (Bos) 208,276 Derrick Rose (Chi) 196,059;Allen  Iverson (Phi) 136,976*; Joe Johnson (Atl) 118,964; Rajon Rondo (Bos)113,371; Jose Calderon (Tor) 68,084; Mike Bibby (Atl) 48,935.
Centers:  Dwight  Howard  (Orl)  625,279;  Shaquille  O’Neal (Cle) 206,657;Andrea  Bargnani  (Tor) 67,310; Al Horford (Atl) 52,747; Andrew Bogut (Mil)45,920;  Brook  Lopez  (NJ)  39,420;  Jermaine O’Neal (Mia) 38,956; RasheedWallace  (Bos)  36,855;  Kendrick  Perkins  (Bos) 19,408; Brad Miller (Chi)17,188; Tyson Chandler (Cha) 14,062; Samuel Dalembert, S. (Phi) 13,969.
If it holds to form, which seems likely, the East starting lineup will be as it is with LeBron James and Kevin Garnett at forward, Dwyane Wade and Vince Carter at guard and Dwight Howard at center.
The obvious choices, it seems to me, for reserves are Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Joe Johnson. That would leave three spots with Gilbert Arenas, Josh Smith, Brook Lopez, Andre Iguodala and Rose leading candidates.
In the Western Conference, the starters from the initial results are: Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki at forward, Kobe Bryant and, amazingly, since he has yet to play, Tracy McGrady at guard and Amar’e Stoudemire at center. The McGrady situation is intriguing as the Rockets continue to hold him out, allegedly for injury. Steve Nash and Chris Paul are close behind and league officials likely are hoping they pass McGrady in later results.
The delicious irony in the West is with the Spurs, who objected in previous years when Tim Duncan was listed as a center in an effort to purge the ballot of undeserving big men given the league requires 12 centers to be listed. Feeling Yao Ming would get so many votes from Asia, the Spurs requested—and the NBA complied—for Duncan to be listed as a forward. Now, Duncan is fourth among forwards without Yao among the leaders as he’s out for the season.
Meanwhile, back at the Berto Center, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro addressed rumors his job is on the line given the team’s slump and spate of recent blowout losses. Here are some of Del Negro’s comments to reporters Thursday:
“It’s easy to sit back on the sidelines, and everyone has all these great ideas and all these things that people think they know what they’re talking about. But until you live it and do it, no one has an idea. All you (reporters) have to write and do your job and come up with stories and things, and that’s all great, and you have to do that, but you guys really don’t know what it’s like, because you’ve never done it. My thing is, I’m a fighter. We fight as a team. We stick together as a team, and that’s all you control is your effort, your preparation, the opportunity that’s ahead of you. The NBA is tough. Pro sports is tough. You can’t be soft. You got to after it. Guys want to rip your heart out. And you just got to be tough enough to continually persevere and find ways to get better. You can’t take a position like this and not think you’re going to get criticized. It’s part of the deal. If you can’t live with criticism and the heat, then you shouldn’t take the job. You shouldn’t be in pro sports. You got to be able to suck it up and understand it. I get frustrated too, when we’re not playing well. But you just got to keep on pounding the pavement and go to work.”
The Bulls open a stretch of six consecutive home games starting Friday against Golden State. I have personally heard no indication the Bulls are planning to make a change. Of course, I’m not exactly consulted on these things.
I also must say I’ve seen many coaches in this position before with fans screaming for their job and national commentators predicting their departure. Vinny has continued to deal with everyone on a professional basis, hasn’t lashed out bitterly like Tim Floyd was fond of doing toward the end of his tenure and has given no indication it is interfering with his preparation.

Is Tim Floyd the Hornets head hoach in waiting?

How about that Tim Floyd. Hired for yet another NBA head coaching job, this time with a second run as coach of the New Orleans Hornets.
Yes, yes, I know the media release from the Hornets Thursday read they fired coach Byron Scott and replaced him fulltime with general manager Jeff Bower, who also will retain his duties as general manager.
But this is one thing everyone in NBA management knows: You stay in the front office as long as you can because then you are two steps removed from being fired. The coach is first. Look at Scott: In 2008 he was Coach of the Year (that’s why Phil Jackson always says not to win the award) when the Hornets won 56 games. Last season they “slumped” to 49 wins. So that’s an average of 52.5 wins and a 3-6 start. Yes, fired!
As an aside, it was noted that the Hornets with several new players started with the third most difficult schedule playing against teams with a 58 percent winning percentage. The team facing the toughest schedule thus far has been the Bulls, whose opponents have won 65 percent of their games. Of the Bulls eight opponents, four are in first in their divisions and two in second. And that doesn’t include the Spurs. And that’s with road games against Boston, Cleveland, Miami and Toronto. So 4-4 is pretty good. Of course, after Saturday against the 76ers, the Bulls play six straight on the road before returning home to play Ben Gordon and the Pistons.
Anyway, back to our Tim.
Floyd, who coached the Hornets for one season in 2003-04 and who lately had to resign at USC after an apparent payment violation to a player or players, was named the lead assistant. As for the USC stuff, big deal. College basketball is rife with hypocrisy and occasionally someone gets spit out as an example. No problem there. Though it is nice to know Tim after breaking up a much publicized casino fight recently between very angry women with big hair likely won’t be afraid to enforce discipline if and when he becomes head coach again.
Clearly, this seems to me to be a tryout for Floyd to find out if Chris Paul wants to play for him.
I don’t know if Paul had Scott fired, but great players usually do when it comes like this. And Paul is that franchise. He has to be accommodated. That’s the reality with stars. You think Mike Brown would be in Cleveland if it wasn’t OK with LeBron?
Floyd didn’t have a great hand his last time with the Hornets given he had a rebellious Baron Davis and Jamaal Magloire, who divided the team. College coaches generally don’t succeed in the NBA because while they can enforce discipline and accountability in college with their power over scholarships and playing time—and Floyd did before he came to the Bulls in 1998—they don’t have that same cache and ability in the pros because they don’t know the game and the players. So they often lose respect and authority.
It happened to Floyd in Chicago and New Orleans. But he’s always been popular in Louisiana where he went to school and coached previously. So he steps to the head of the line behind Bower, who was an assistant to Floyd when Floyd first coached the Hornets, and no doubt will return to the safety of the front office after this season.
“Accountability was our theme this past summer,” said Hornets Vice President of Basketball Chad Shinn in a team press release. “We talked about the fact that everyone on our staff is held to a certain standard of performance and we didn’t feel this was happening at the head coach level. We feel like we still have an opportunity with our nucleus to get to where we want and Jeff is the right guy, right now to move us in that direction from the bench.”
Said Bower: “As we look at our long-term coaching plans, it’s not about who the head coach is, it’s about the role of the head coach to get the team to perform to their capabilities and reaching our potential this season.”
Which translated means making Paul happy. So who do you want as coach, Chris?
It’s been clear to everyone who has watched the Hornets there were issues. Forward David West, who has been one of the main underachievers, was at the team’s press conference Thursday and talked of the usual philosophical differences (probably referring to Scott’s preference for Sarte and his for Nietzsche) and a stagnant offense. Perhaps if West worked harder it would have been less stagnant.
But that’s when a team sacrifices its coach.
The Hornets are over the luxury tax this season and next with Paul having an opt out in the summer of 2012. Which suggests they have some time to fix things, though stars don’t have much patience.
It could be a heck of a challenge if it does fall to our old friend, Tim
“I’ve obviously known Tim for a long time,” said Bulls general manager Gar Forman, who was brought to the Bulls by Floyd when Forman was an assistant to Floyd at Iowa State. “He’s a terrific basketball coach with a great defensive mind. He’s an even better person. I think it’s great that he’s back in the league. He’ll do a tremendous job for the Hornets.”

You want NBA opinions? I’ve got plenty!

It’s a Monday-no game for the Bulls but I’m always thinking, eating and talking hoops. I love it!
Shameless plug: BullsTV right here on Bulls.com is outstanding with GREAT content. The staff at BullsTV has passion, enthusiasm and vision and they are hungry..I love it!
Carmelo Anthony-NBA Western Conference Player of the Week. Really? This guy is going off big time.
Reportedly Rudy Gay and O J Mayo are at odds . That’s a surprise. Can they ever get their act together in Memphis?
Brandon Jennings is getting it done for the Bucks and Derrick Rose will have to be ready for Jennings speed and ability to change gears.
Wish Michael Redd could stay healthy but we may never seen him go the 82 again.
Boston had no other choice than to give Boston’s Rajon Rondo a 5 year 55 million dollar deal.
The Raptors can flat out score with anyone and I mean anyone in the NBA. The key is can they make stops?
Trust me, Orlando is a lot better than people think after reshuffling the deck in the off season.
Give me Chris Paul any day of the week. He is one of the nicest people on the face of the Earth but once game time arrives he will destroy you. I love players who are competitive and play with a controlled anger, passion and spirit.
The sooner Denver gets a deal done with the general manager and coach the better. Not a big believer in paying coaches tons of money but if you’ve got a winner-keep him.
How many points are the Knicks giving up per game?
Bill Walton is the greatest college basketball ever. Not greatest player-ever . That’s MJ. But Walton made his teammates better. Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) at UCLA was awesome but he was a one man gang. Walton is leaving ESPN to take care of his health.
Don’t get me wrong, I want the Bears to win the NFC North but I loved what Brett Farve did to the Packers. Never-ever have liked the Packers. If they went 0-16 I’d love it.
Back to hoops.
I miss the fact that cities like Seattle and Vancouver are no longer in the league.
Why do I have a hunch the Warriors want to make a trade?
OK, so you don’t like the coach but do Pistons players have to constantly throw Michael Curry under the bus? He is gone. Fired. Disappeared. Let it go!
After watching Tim Duncan at the United Center last Thursday I hope fans truly appreciate how fundamentally sound he is.
Twitter is here to stay. I love getting “Tweets” from fans during the game. Follow me- Chuck Swirsky or Swirsk054.
Dwayne Wade doesn’t like the rims at the UC. Well, you can always fix them! Speaking of Wade, on Sunday he went over the 10-thousand career points mark becoming the first Heat player to accomplish that feat in franchise history. Not even a standing ovation in front of “15-thousand” spectators. What’s up with that?
Thought on the Bulls, NBA? E-mail me at cswirsky@bulls.com
Always a pleasure.

Joakim Noah for Most Improved?

Now, this has nothing to do with the Cavs losing to the Celtics on opening night Tuesday. Actually, LeBron James was terrific, if very much alone, in a magnificent fourth quarter in trying to rally the Cavs back in a game the Celtics mostly dominated. Hello, Mike Brown! Are you awake yet? Put in a play. Enough of the LeBron one-on-four.
Anyway, I’m a day late getting to my preseason awards, and I didn’t have James as the league MVP. The Bulls started Bulls TV this week—it’s really good even with my face projected as big as it is–and I was on the record Monday stating my choice of Dwight Howard for MVP. All these awards are questionable, to an extent, because there is no actual criterion. Basically, the MVP generally goes to the best player on the team with the most wins. It’s a bit skewed because of the vagaries of a few wins in the regular season. In any case, if that formula is followed, James will be at a disadvantage because I don’t think the Cavs will come close to that 66 wins of last season. Maybe 52? As Rasheed Wallace astutely noted Tuesday night of the new Shaq Cavs, “They’re not the greatest in pick-and-rolls,” he said. “Just keep running the pick-and-roll and keep moving the ball. You’ll eventually find an open shot someone.” Somewhat less astutely, Wallace said the Celtics could match the Bulls’ 72 win season. So did the Lakers’ Ron Artest. You figure it was those two guys to make that prediction. Anyway, here’s one view of the 2009-10 award winners:
MVP: Howard, Orlando Magic. Lebron, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Howard all are finalists. If you make the argument of who means most to the team, anyone can win because the teams revolve so much around each. But Howard is becoming such a major force and his team looks like it’s going to win a lot of games.
Coach of the Year: Stan Van Gundy, Magic. I thought he should have won it last season, though I may have voted for Rick Ademan. I don’t think anyone had the Magic in the Finals last season, though post season doesn’t count in the voting. The Magic almost is remaking its team after going to the Finals, which isn’t easy for any coach. Yes, he’s got Howard, but all the great coaches have great players: Jackson with Jordan and Kobe, Popovich with Duncan, Sloan with Malone and Stockton, Riley with Magic and Kareem. You don’t become great without great players. Van Gundy gets them to compete, improves seemingly every season and remains demanding. He may even get the best out of Vince Carter.
Most Improved: Joakim Noah, Bulls. This one is almost impossible to pick because there are even fewer standards than with the MVP. I don’t think you should be most improved if you were the top choice in the draft because you were supposed to be a star. But many are predicting Greg Oden, though he had injuries. I usually like to pick guys who were low or second round draft picks because they truly have improved if they gain notice, and the award often goes that way with recent winners including Monta Ellis, Hedo Turkoglu, Boris Diaw and Gilbert Arenas. So Noah is a bit of a reach as he was the No. 9 pick, though the way the NBA draft breaks, usually the top five or six are the sure shots. But Noah could be a double/double guy with this Bulls team, a long way from where he’s been. Others to watch are undrafted Anthony Morrow, Roy Hibbert, Rudy Fernandez and Andrew Bynum.
Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings. A week ago I gave this with no runnerup to Blake Griffin. Ooops. He’s injured and this is the third time in a relatively short while he’s out. It doesn’t bode well for the rookie season. Too bad. Evans doesn’t have much of a perimeter shot yet, but he’s tough and strong and physically overmatches most of the guards he’ll play. He’ll get lots of time on a bad team and could produce big numbers. If Griffin returns before Christmas and remains healthy, he might overtake him. But who knows now. After that it’s the little guards like Jonny Flynn, Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry.
Sixth Man: Ben Gordon, Detroit Pistons. The contenders are mostly the recent winners, including Manu Ginobili, Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa and Gordon. Perhaps Paul Millsap if the Jazz doesn’t trade Carlos Boozer. Maybe Rasheed Wallace or Rudy Fernandez or Randy Foye or one of those Washington other guards. It looks like the Pistons will play lots of three and even four-guard lineups, so Ben should get plenty of shots.
Defensive Player: Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics. The general consensus is Howard given rebounds and blocks, though I think Oden also is going to have good numbers there. Ron Artest will get some mention, but he looks a little thicker to me and slower. I like big guys who also can defend the perimeter and Garnett generally is the leader of the league’s best defense.

How some see the Bulls and NBA this season

So what’s the view of the Bulls from the outside coming into this season? It seems actually a bit more optimistic from the Vegas guys than it does from the NBA guys. Which I actually think is a good thing for the Bulls as the Vegas guys’ jobs depend on paying closer attention to all the teams.
The NBA released its annual survey from its general managers last week and earlier this week I received a look at the odds from Bodog.com.
Bodog.com analyzed each team and is suggesting, at least on the Bulls, that no one exactly replaces Ben Gordon, but that Derrick Rose is the leading scorer at 18 points and with seven assists followed by John Salmons at 17 points. Sort of the scoring being made up across the board. The odds service listed those numbers for an over/under figure and listed other Bulls as follows: Luol Deng, 15.7; Tyrus Thomas 11.8 points and 7.5 rebounds; Joakim Noah at 7.4 points and eight rebounds.
Like the general managers, the bodog folks had the Lakers the favorites to win the championship followed by the Cavs and then Celtics and Spurs.
The Bodog.com estimates had the Bulls at 45-1 to win the title, tied for 11th with the Pistons, Hawks and Heat. That would have the Bulls in chances tied for fourth in the East, and I think they’d take that today if they could. The odds listed the Wizards, Raptors and 76ers just behind the Bulls. After the Spurs and before the Bulls’ group were the Magic, Nuggets, Trailblazers, Jazz, Mavericks and Hornets.
The estimate had the Bulls regular season win total at 41.5, though I assume that rounds up. In wins, that put the Bulls tied for fifth in the East with Washington, which, at this point, I think the Bulls also would take. The oddsmakers had Atlanta better with 44.5 wins, but Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia and Toronto just behind at 40.5.
That seemed relatively positive for the Bulls as a fifth spot in the East gives a team a good chance to make it to the second round of the playoffs.
The GM’s didn’t seem as sanguine about the Bulls.
There were some 60 categories and the Bulls and their players barely registered.
The only recognized Bull in the regular voting was Derrick Rose, fourth behind Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Aaron Brooks as fastest with the ball.
There were “others receiving votes” in most categories. Tyrus Thomas got into that list for Most Athletic, which was led by LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Josh Smith. The only other Bull mentioned was in the “others” category as well with John Salmons in the Doing the Most with Least. The leaders were Mehmet Okur, Matt Bonner, Chuck Hayes, David Lee, Luis Scola and Hedo Turkoglu.
Here are some other leaders according to the GM’s
Toughest: Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade.
Highest IQ: Steve Nash, Bryant, Garnett and Jason Kidd.
Taking the Last Shot: Bryant, Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony
Head Coach: Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Jerry Sloan.
Most Improved Teams: Wizards, Clippers, Thunder, Raptors
Biggest Offseason Impact: Vince Carter, Ron Artest, Richard Jefferson, Shaquille O’Neal, Rasheed Wallace
Most Underrated Moves: Anthony Parker, Antonio McDyess, Rashed Wallace, Trevor Ariza, Brandon Bass, Shawn Marion.
Best Leader: Chauncey Billups, Bryant, Tim Duncan, Garnett, Kidd, Nash, Paul.
Best Finisher: James, Wade, Howard, Bryant.
Best Passer: Nash, Paul, Kidd.
Best at Getting Own Shot: Bryant, James, Wade.
Moving without the Ball: Richard Hamilton, Manu Ginobili, Ray Allen, Kevin Martin.
Best Shooter: Ray Allen, Jason Kopono. Also receiving votes were Joe Johnson, Kyle Korver, Rashard Lewis, Kevin Martin, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and J.R. Smith.
Best Home Court Advantage: Cleveland, Utah, Lakers, Portland
Most Fun to Watch: Lakers, Orlando, Denver, Cleveland, Golden State, New York.
Player to Start Franchise with Today: James, Howard, Bryant.
Most Likely Breakout: Kevin Durant, Anthony Randolph, Russell Westbrook, Louis Williams.
Best Point Guard: Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash.
Best Power Forward: Duncan, Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki
Best Center: Howard, Duncan.
Best Shooting Guard: Bryant.
Best Small Forward: James, Anthony.

Ben Wallace to Return to Detroit Pistons

You can go home again. Ben Wallace did Friday when he reportedly agreed to a minimum deal to return to the Detroit Pistons, and his story is a great object lesson of the evils of greed for professional athletes.
Will Wallace’s life be any different because of the $60 million contract he signed with the Bulls in 2006 compared with the $48 million deal offered by the Detroit Pistons? Can Wallace get back these last few miserable years of his career when he clearly was an unhappy, lost player with no constituency and more critics than fans?
Was it worth it?
I often wonder why players go for the last dollar instead of a better lifestyle. I know the answer. Because money is the measuring stick and the biggest pile wins. But I still go through the exercise of trying to figure out how your life can be any different with say $40 million versus $60 million. So why not go where it is most comfortable and where you want to be?
Wallace certainly didn’t do it to go with a winner, as the players like to say. The Pistons were a better team than the Bulls and Wallace had a much better chance of playing for another championship in Detroit than with Chicago.
It was that old disrespecting thing you hear from the players all the time. What, $12 million a year is a lack of respect? The Bulls upped it to $15 million, and we heard back channel that Wallace was more than gently nudged by family and representatives to take the bigger payday.
You could see from the first day he was with the Bulls he wished he were back in Detroit.
The Bulls have pretty much admitted the signing was a mistake, but that’s because it didn’t work out. I wrote at the time I wouldn’t have gone for Wallace, but I didn’t criticize the signing because it made sense.
Wallace was the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, even if the award that season was more on reputation for past accomplishments. Still, Wallace seemed to fit the Bulls need. Fans were down on Tyson Chandler, whom I am fairly sure is going to have a miserable time and be a lot less productive in Charlotte playing for Larry Brown and with Ray Felton instead of Chris Paul. Paul threw lobs to Chandler for about half his points. Chandler will have to wrestle Felton to the ground to get the ball away from him.
The Bulls were a developing defensive team at the time under Scott Skiles, and it made sense to add a veteran who would get the benefit of the calls on defense and who knew how to play without fouling since Chandler always was in foul trouble. Plus, the Bulls had free agent money to spend that summer which would not be available again for a few years because of extensions for other players, and Wallace was the consensus best free agent available.
So I thought it had a chance of working. After all, you were also taking away an All Star from one of your main rivals.
But you could see from the moment Wallace arrived his heart wasn’t in it. I remember five games into his playing for the Bulls I wrote an obituary-like story saying Wallace’s basketball career had died. I am into a bit of hyperbole, but just for the entertainment value.
There was much speculation that Wallace would have difficulties with Skiles, but that was just a minor issue, even with Wallace’s famous head band defiance. It turns out I later heard several other players who were feuding with Skiles put a reluctant Wallace up to the stunt.
The truth is Wallace came ready to play. He worked hard and was prepared. But what the Bulls and most of the rest of the NBA didn’t fully understand was how much the rest of the Pistons organization and team enabled Wallace so they could get the best out of him.
He was fairly shy and no leader, though he seemed that way in Detroit. The players, recognizing Wallace’s insecurities as an undrafted player always craving recognition, pushed him into the public leadership role he didn’t maintain internally. Those Pistons were known as a smart team, but we didn’t really realize how smart.
Ben, really, is about 6-7, and the key to his success, though Ben had super rebounding numbers before, was the addition of Rasheed Wallace. Rasheed, for all his dysfunctional behavior, is an unselfish teammate who doesn’t want the spotlight. He was able to defend the taller opponents who gave Ben trouble and provide an offensive option to keep the defense wary so Ben could roam free. Ben really wasn’t a center, and the Bulls didn’t have the offensive interior player to complement Ben with the likes of P.J. Brown from the Chandler trade, Michael Sweetney and Malik Allen.
But the Bulls were better with Ben. They won 49 games, swept the defending champion Heat and then lost to the Pistons as they choked away a big lead that could have gotten them a seventh game. It wasn’t Wallace’s fault the Bulls collapsed with players becoming unnerved over Kobe Bryant trade talk and pursuing their own richer contracts and then Skiles being fired.
So Wallace became a journeyman, traded to Cleveland, were he was a starter of little value, moved on to the Suns and bought out to save money, and now going back where he never should have left.
The fans and media loved Ben in Detroit and he loved being there. Yes, the Pistons are headed down, but perhaps more than anyone Ben was the symbol of those wonderful Pistons teams, a group of players pretty much given up on, a blue collar, hard working, lunch pail bunch more heart than talent. Of course, you have to have tremendous talent to get where they did and for so long. But their collective spirit also represented something more, and Ben was in the forefront of that, if not the actual leader.
He also should be something of an object lesson to other players. Money doesn’t buy happiness, as we’ve been told. The belief is if the Bulls had to do it over again, they probably wouldn’t. But it’s not what set them back. Do you think if Ben had to do it over again he would?
Ben will get the ovations again that he missed the last few years, at least the rare times he plays this season. I’m glad for him because his career is a role model because he demonstrated where you can go and what you can accomplish despite what others tell you if you believe and go to work. It’s too bad that money guided his thinking for a few years. It’s never what he was about and not what made him who he is.

Bulls Show the Spirit in Beating 76ers

The Bulls likely accomplished a few nice things in Thursday’s going away 113-99 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
That playoff spot seems almost certain now, just one win or Charlotte loss away and even a chance to get as high as sixth with the slumping 76ers still with three of their last four against the Cavs and Celtics.
Derrick Rose, with 16 points and eight assists in an at times breathtaking display of speed and athleticism, likely locked up rookie of the year honors with the game on national TNT cable.
“They are getting into a rhythm at the right time,” complimented the 76ers Andre Miller, who led Philadelphia with 20 points. “They are moving the ball and sharing. They are playing well off each other. They are taking advantage of their shooters and the fast break. Their point guard is playing some good basketball.”Oh, that guy.
And Tyrus Thomas, who scored a season high with 24 points as he was 14 of 14 on free throws, may also have not only officially introduced himself to the basketball world. But he also may have provided the first Bulls bulletin board material for opponents in years.
“We’re the most dangerous team going into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference right now,” Thomas said after the Bulls won their sixth straight at home and 13th of the last 14 at the United Center. “I wouldn’t say anyone is counting us out, but we’re the underdog right now. I think we’re going to come out and shock a lot of people.”Perhaps, we were most shocked that Thomas, usually oblique and politically correct in comments this season, offered such a bold statement.
But it might just be a very good sign.
Because now Thomas also knows he has to back it up. He did so Thursday. And, certainly among all the so called first round underdogs, the Bulls have been playing easily the best basketball and are taking on the look of a team that can scare someone, not unlike the offensive minded Golden State Warriors of a few seasons back who came in and shocked the No. 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks.
Advantage, Bulls?
Hardly. The Bulls still can’t find the key. So forget locking down. The 76ers still shot 52 percent. And you supposedly win in the playoffs with defense, stops. But as that Warriors team showed, not always. Confidence, speed, athleticism and an underdog mentality has scared its share of favorites.
And this Bulls team is starting to feel good about itself even as it’s only 39-40.
“We know we can win games,” said Rose. “We just have to come out and be aggressive from the beginning. We have a lot of confidence.”
Coming down the stretch hot is a major element as well of playoff basketball, and the Bulls have that in this topsy turvey season that had coach Vinny Del Negro under fire in January and general manager John Paxson booed at home in February.
But then came the trades that helped transform the team with Brad Miller and John Salmons coming from Sacramento, and the disruptive Larry Hughes going to New York for Tim Thomas, the latter expected to return from family issues Saturday.
“I thought we were making improvements before the trade,” said Del Negro. “We were 7-3 in our last 10 before the trade, but there is no question that Brad and John and Tim have made a difference with their experience. We have more weapons, more players we can go to.”
Salmons had a solid effort with 14 points and kept Andre Iguodala from getting out of control, and Miller again was understated and terrific with 15 points, six rebounds and six assists, his passing from the post and for a big man as good as we’ve ever seen in Chicago.
I’ve always got a favorite Miller moment in a game.
The fan favorite probably was Miller’s three point play with about seven minutes left that extended the Bulls lead to 99-82 and effectively put the 76ers away. Miller set a screen and dropped off and took a pass from Salmons, drove down the left side and put up a reverse layup with spin off the backboard as he was being hit.
Even Miller was shocked, and you could see him saying, “Ooooooo.”
Though I liked better the previous defensive sequence when Salmons had Willie Green along the sideline and Miller came up quickly, blocking Green’s escape and causing a jump ball, which the Bulls won and led to the three point play.
The Bulls took control of the game, actually, in the second quarter after they had fallen behind 38-24.
Rose was absolutely brilliant in speed not seen by Philadelphia since the Franklin relays.
The key sequence was with the Bulls trailing 44-36.
Rose blew out after a Lou Williams miss for a layup, the first of several rushes where Rose ran by the retreating 76ers’ defenders like Jerry Rice beating the safeties.
Then with the Bulls trailing 46-40, Ben Gordon, with 24 to equal Thomas, hit a three off a nice Joakim Noah screen. Williams tried to run out as Rose did. But Rose caught him from behind with a spectacular, highlight show block, and then ran back and found Gordon for another three and the Bulls had erased all that 14-point deficit in six minutes.
Then Miller stepped in an on Andre Miller pass and gave it a Wes Unseld outlet pass about 80 feet to Rose for a layup. Then Miller would step in for a shot, drawing the defense, and passing to Thomas for a slam dunk to tie the game at 50 at halftime.
Then it was Thomas’ time.
The often inconsistent and oft-maligned forward was terrific, and he practically called it.
For the TNT game, Thomas did a pregame interview that was played in the first half. Thomas said, “I know I have a lot of talent and ability. I want to be one of those guys mentioned with Kobe, LeBron, Chris Paul.”
Strong stuff, and you had to wonder as Tyrus was playing a sleepy first half, and early in the third quarter stood and watched Samuel Dalemert beat him to a loose ball and throw back to Iguodala for a bold slam dunk and 54-52 76ers lead.
It wouldn’t last for long.
First Rose would split Andre Miller and Reggie Evans on a double and go by Dalembert, getting a bit too far under and rifling a perfect pass back to Gordon all alone for a three and a 61-61 tie with seven minutes left in the third quarter.
Rose simply baffled the 76ers, who fell to 40-38.
Like most teams, they opened the game laying off him, going under screens to prevent penetration, and Rose hit four 20 footers after the 76ers got off to a 9-2 start, though the Bulls trailed 29-22 after one.
After that, the 76ers began to trap Rose off the screen/roll. But Rose was so fast he was beating it and splitting the two defenders, and then passing out for open shots. So then beginning to eye Rose more carefully, Thomas was able to get much deeper position in the lane. Rose found him and Thomas was fouled and then dunked, and the Bulls began to pull away, leading 82-72 after three quarters. Thomas would do a lot of the heavy lifting with 10 in the third in the Bulls 20-6 run.
Thomas, who has been criticized for not attacking the basket enough while settling for jumpers, then continued to dive at the basket, taking a lob from Rose for a dunk and then being fouled and going six for six on free throws in the fourth quarter as the Bulls pulled away easily.
“I thought Tyrus was fantastic in the second half, really getting to the free-throw line, being aggressive, making them pay on the rotations,” said Del Negro. Tyrus is so athletic and he can do so many things defensively and offensively with his versatility around the glass. You have to scheme for him, because if you don’t put a body on him and let him roam around, he’s going to hurt you. Tyrus was ducking in and getting layups, a couple dunks, and then he got to the free throw line. He was aggressive when they tried to guard him. Tyrus, like I’ve always said, can change the complexion of the game with his athleticism. As he becomes a little more comfortable, older and experienced, he’ll find his niche a little more consistently, and that will be a big factor for us.”
The 76ers moaned some about missing injured Thaddeus Young, but Paxson told reporters before the game the Bulls were shutting down injured Luol Deng at least through the beginning of the playoffs. It’s likely for as far as the Bulls might go in the playoffs.
Farther, suggests Thomas, than many might think.

Bulls and Gordon Ripple Nets to Move Closer to Playoffs

Was that the shot that extended Ben Gordon’s career as a Bull?
Was that the play call that established Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro?
It certainly was the shot, a three pointer from Ben Gordon with 58 seconds left Saturday afternoon after Gordon had missed his first 10 shots, that saved the Bulls as they went on to beat the New Jersey Nets 103-94.
Happy 26th birthday, Ben. You gave the Bulls quite a nice present.
“I planned that tonight,” joked Gordon, who had 12 of his team high 18 in the fourth quarter. “I wanted to make it exciting. I wanted to get the Big Mac for the fans. It was a little part of my master plan.”
That, of course, was a reference to the now controversial cheeseburger prize when the team scores 100 points. Even in some wins lately when the Bulls fell short of that mark, the home fans had booed Bulls players, causing a new debate on the nature of the home support.
But there’s no debate of the nice position the Bulls now find themselves in with five games left in the regular season.
They even have a magic number—four—to assure a playoff spot. And with Saturday’s win after blowing all of a 16-point lead and trailing with 2:49 left, the Bulls moved past Detroit into seventh in the Eastern Conference and 2.5 games ahead of ninth place Charlotte.
“It was big for us,” said John Salmons, who had 17 points despite being slowed somewhat by his groin injury. “We definitely needed this game. We’ve just got to keep it rolling. We can’t really worry about what other people are doing. (Now seventh) you are not the last team in and mentally it does make a difference. Record wise, you’re not the worst team in. It’s good to have a chance to finish seventh.”
Just making the playoffs would be a terrific recovery for this Bulls team that was 33-49 last season, and mostly out of playoff contention all season since the February trades that brought Salmons and Brad Miller.
Though it was ol’ reliable Ben again, missing badly all game, but still shooting and making the big one.
It renews the BG debate once again.
Despite Gordon’s flaws, and they’ve been much discussed, like defensive and ball handling weaknesses, he’s never afraid to take a big shot and willing to take responsibility. Perhaps he’s not good enough to be the ultimate guy who does that, like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. But it’s a rare trait in the NBA and difficult to find. Though Gordon never has been picked as an All Star, he ranks fifth among NBA scorers who average 20 points with the percentage of his points scored in the fourth quarter. Gordon is behind only Chris Paul, Danny Granger, Joe Johnson and Brandon Roy.
So here’s the situation:
It’s a minute left and Ben had been awful, two of 13 at this point after that zero for 10 start. The Bulls are about to blow a game they seemed to have easily with Vince Carter doing almost nothing with a strained Achilles and Devin Harris out for long stretches in the second half in another of Nets’ coach Lawrence Frank’s disciplinary ploys that reports in New Jersey suggest could cost him his job after this season.
The Bulls still had been ahead by seven with under eight minutes left when they lost Jarvis Hayes twice and he made a pair of threes. The Bulls had been playing a zone much of the fourth quarter, and the left corner three was open on almost every possession, and the Nets recognized it.
The Bulls regained some footing as Gordon and Salmons hit threes to go back ahead 91-88 with four minutes left. But the Nets finally rediscovered Brook Lopez, who led them with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and put him in the post, where he scored on three straight possessions over Miller, who had no help. The Bulls would finally begin trapping Lopez after that, and it enabled the Bulls to inch back ahead 95-94.
Then came the controversial play and the closing play. And the “whew” play.
That first one was with Miller just putting the Bulls back ahead with two free throws at 95-94 with 1:49 left. The Nets found Ryan Anderson alone—and no one was within 10 feet of him—for a three. Sometimes, as we know, the most open ones are the most difficult. And Anderson missed.
Then after Lopez blocked Salmons, Salmons, even slowed, came up from behind Harris, poking the ball away to Derrick Rose. “Even though he wasn’t 100 percent, he made big plays,” said Gordon. “It was good to have him out there.”
Rose fired ahead to a running Salmons, who was lassoed from behind by Harris as Salmons went in for a potential layup. Salmons missed, but a flagrant instead of hard foul was called.
“I’ve seen worse,” said Harris. “You can’t really do anything about it now. It wasn’t that hard of a foul. Obviously they know I’m going to try to grab him at that point. But what can you do?”
Salmons made one of two free throws for a 96-94 lead. But the Bulls retained possession and called a timeout with 1:04 left.
Gordon inbounded to Rose and then ran off a pair of brush screens from first Tyrus Thomas then Joakim Noah with Keyon Dooling trailing. Salmons did a nice job of clearing out Hayes by cutting inside and Gordon ran right to his spot above the circle on the left side and without hesitating hit the three for a 99-94 lead with 55 seconds left.
It was a classic example of a shooter doing what he does: Shoot. For great shooters, the only one that matters is the next one. Most everyone remembers the last 10 misses. And credit Del Negro for not hesitating to draw up that play despite Gordon’s miserable afternoon.
“The thing with BG is there are not a lot of shots that he takes that you can say, ‘Oh that’s a terrible shot,’ because you know he’s capable of making it,” said Noah, who had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four steals. “He’s really been huge for this ballclub hitting big shots. He’s been doing that since he’s been here.”
Noah then knocked away a Harris post pass meant for Lopez. Rose had Tyrus Thomas on a break, but Thomas, inexplicably, missed a lob dunk for what could have been a clincher. You know whatever happens, this Bulls team never will make it easy.
Dooling then dribbled up, stopped and pulled up for a quick three with 33 seconds left, which Salmons rebounded. Gordon was fouled intentionally after Rose quickly gave the ball up to the Bulls clutch shooter, and Gordon made both for a 101-94 lead with 25 seconds left. Hayes then missed and Tyrus wrestled the rebound away from Dooling to enable the Bulls to get their eighth win in the last 11 and some decent playoff breathing room.
“Chicago is a team that plays with a lot of energy and tenacity,” applauded Dooling. “We were able to match that for most of the game, but down the stretch they seemed to make more plays than us.”
And so stretch runs are built. I know, I know. It’s just the bottom of the playoff ladder and still below .500 at 37-40. But Saturday’s game was instrumental in the way the Bulls were able to rely on Gordon for a big shot. The Bulls don’t have that take-over-the-game star. But Gordon demonstrated that cool ability even during an off game to make the big plays. And big plays are what playoff series are about. No, I’m hardly predicting the Bulls winning a first round series, assuming they make the playoffs. But it again raises the thorny question the Bulls have faced on and off for the last two years, about moving forward with Gordon.
Likewise, Del Negro, who’d been hesitant at times this season to trust Gordon and had often relied on Rose and even Salmons for late game situations, faced the possibility of a collapse and awful loss and put his faith in Gordon in a play that seemed to have one option: Ben and done!
“It was a big win for us,” said Gordon. “We came out and weren’t very sharp from the get go, but we finally took control of the game. We did a great job of getting stops when we needed them. We started to score a little more easy on the offensive end. It was nice to close them out the way we did.”
So now its five games left with the 76ers Thursday the only team with a winning record. But as teams like the Nets, Pacers and Raptors have shown in the past week as the Bulls lost two of three and almost all of them, there are no easy games when you are under .500 and have pressure on you for the first time all season.
“It was a huge (win),” said Rose, who had 15 points and five assists playing through foul trouble. “It was a sloppy game, but we got the win. We just wanted to play hard and make sure this one didn’t slip away like some of the other one’s have. I don’t really watch the (standings) because if we continue to win we’ll be fine.”
It’s beginning to look that way, though you’d never want to count anything with this Bulls team. I thought 37 wins would be enough to make the playoffs in the East, which Atlanta had last season for eighth. If Charlotte, the only team with a realistic chance to move up, wins out, they get to 40-42. The chances are slight with five of their last six on the road, starting Sunday in Detroit. So you assume if the Bulls can get two of the last five, they’d have 39 wins and probably enough to get in. Though still too many ifs, ands and buts.
The Bulls were into it and hustling to start Saturday after what players described as an aggressive practice Friday. Noah got a tip in after Tyrus started with a running bank shot and then Tyrus with a followup slam for a 6-0 lead.
Noah drew early foul trouble again. But Miller came in and scored eight points on his own variety of upfakes and slow drives, pick and pop jumpers and offensive rebound folos. I was talking to a general manager the other day who long has followed the Bulls because he is close with some organization members, and he said the midseason trades absolutely reenergized the team. “They were going nowhere until then,” he said.
There’s been some debate about Miller finishing games, and he did get taken advantage of by the quicker Lopez late before Noah switched onto him and the Bulls provided some help. But Miller, who had 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench, gives the Bulls that scoring option Noah doesn’t and spreads the court better than Tyrus, who isn’t guarded much on the perimeter, especially late in games. Sometimes Tyrus on offense stands instead of moves when someone else has the ball. So the defense is able to collapse more easily because they lay off Tyrus and zone the middle. So it also was no surprise the way the Bulls have played of late for Tyrus to play just one minute in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls led 22-16 after one quarter, and then got a nice push from Tim Thomas, who finished with 12 points in 15 minutes.
Tim Thomas had a follow dunk off a Miller miss to cap off 7-0 Bulls run to open the second and give the Bulls a 29-16 lead. Tim Thomas also hit a three when the Nets went into a zone, and then Kirk Hinrich did what he does at times: Saves you and breaks your heart.
With the Nets closing within 34-29 as Frank began going more to the bench, like Rose’s collegiate teammate Chris Douglas-Roberts, Hinrich hit a pair of jumpers and a clever stop and go banker to put the Bulls back ahead 41-31.
The Nets looked like they’d had a late night on Rush Street and were about ready to be done as they fell behind 50-34 with about two minutes left in the first half. But then Hinrich had a shot blocked by Lopez and missed a wide open layup, and the Nets behind Ryan Anderson with 17 points and 10 rebounds, closed with 55-44 at halftime.
“I think early their pressure got to us,” Frank said of the Bulls trapping in the backcourt to open the game. “It also didn’t help we missed a couple of free throws, layups and open threes that would have helped us get back in. In the second half, we started to recover and we controlled the paint after they had done it for most of the first half. The moment of truth came, I thought, late in the game when we cut their lead and had two chances. Then we had a missed shot, a flagrant foul call and the Gordon three. That finished it.”
The Nets got back into the game in another of those dry Bulls stretches, this time midway through the third quarter when Gordon overdribbled looking for a shot as he clearly was trying to get himself going. The offense grew stagnant as there was a shot clock violation and Gordon trying a behind the back pass for no real reason on the break an committing an offensive foul. Then came a three second violation with Salmons backing in. and Tim Thomas with a turnover. The Nets began attacking at that point out of their set offense, and closed with eight free throws in the last half of the third and within 73-69. The Nets might even have had the lead if Tim Thomas didn’t add another key three.
The Bull to seemed to regain control open the fourth as Gordon, zero for eight shooting through three quarters, added two more misses before a jumper coming out of a timeout to make it 79-74 Bulls with about nine minutes left and then being fouled on a drive, though Gordon made one of two. But Gordon wasn’t hesitating.
“You just keep shooting,” said the shootist.
It may have shot the Bulls into the playoffs. Party time? Not yet. But perhaps getting close.