Tag Archives: dwight howard

Bulls and Coach Del Negro facing elimination game

It was an appropriate setting Monday in the Berto Center for what could have been the Bulls last full practice of the 2009-10 NBA season and perhaps Vinny Del Negro’s last as Bulls coach.

Yes, coach Vinny Del Negro had his back to the wall.

“Everyone is frustrated because we know we can play better,” said Del Negro of the Bulls being down 3-1 after Sunday’s 121-98 loss to the Cavs and LeBron James’ triple double and six three pointers. “But give Cleveland credit. They made plays. It’s not like we didn’t want to play better. They put us back on our heels a little. They made a run at the end of the first half and then jumped on us to start the third. Derrick (Rose) hurt his ankle and we got out of the flow a little. But our defense wasn’t good enough. We have to do a better job defending and making it harder on them. We did it in spurts, but we didn’t have consistency.”

It’s not a particularly upbeat time for the Bulls, and not only because of the playoff deficit to the league’s winningest team and likely MVP.

Rose and Luol Deng didn’t practice because of minor injuries.

Rose had an MRI on his ankle injury suffered early in the second half. It was negative, but he was sore. He traveled with the team to Cleveland and is expected to play Tuesday in Game 5.

Deng aggravated long standing knee and calf injuries.

“(Rose) was sore,” said Del Negro. ” He jammed it on Shaq’s foot. He was limping a little today, so hopefully he’ll feel better tomorrow. Luol’s knee and calf were a little sore. It’s that time of year. Things are going to happen. You have to get the guys out there who are healthy. Obviously we need both those guys to play at a high level. I think they’ll both be fine, ready to play. Who is 100 percent at this time of year? Not many guys.”

Well, the Cavs for 12.

James is playing at a tremendous level after sitting out the last four games of the regular season to rest while the Bulls had to play their way in with, effectively, three win-or-go-home situations. It has to have taken a toll, especially now facing a team which finished 20 games ahead of the Bulls.

James crowed about not returning to Chicago after Game 4, and it was not unlike the confident claims Michael Jordan would make in the 1990’s.

In that era, first round series were best of five. After the Bulls would win the first two, Jordan would generally tell his teammates to pack for one game.

He never was wrong. In the Bulls’ six championships, they never lost a first round game.

There also has been speculation about Del Negro’s job future basically going on since January of Del Negro’s first season, and it only has grown with a recent confrontation between Del Negro and Bulls vice president John Paxson.

It was a travel day for the Bulls Monday, so after a short practice, only Del Negro and Joakim Noah addressed reporters.

Del Negro had been asked some before the last regular season game about it being perhaps his final game as Bulls coach and he said he’d prepare as he always does and deal with other circumstances after the season. The question didn’t come up Monday.

Noah was asked about the speculation and reports regarding Del Negro, and said it hasn’t been an issue with the players, and that clearly seemed to be the case the way the Bulls overcame the Raptors late to make the playoffs.

“Those are things that we as players can’t control,” said Noah. “Our mindset is just to be ready for tomorrow’s game. We’re in this all together. A lot of things can happen and there’s a lot of rumors and speculation. But some things are better kept internally, kind of like a family or a frat, you know? Kind of like that.

“(It) doesn’t mean you guys have to know everything,” Noah told reporters. “As long as we fight every day on the court for you guys, what else do you need to know?

“How about we focus on this game tomorrow and see what happens and then when the season is over you figure it out?” Noah said. “It’s important to live in the moment. I’m enjoying this. Even though we got slapped by 30, I still think we’re in a good situation getting to play on the biggest stage in the world and battle it out tomorrow against the best players in the world. I think that’s pretty cool.”

It’s the ultimate optimism of youth. And the way the Bulls have played to come back from a March 10-game losing streak, you can never truly count them out.

Rose is averaging 25.8 points and 7.5 assists while Noah is averaging 16.5 points and 14 rebounds. The Bulls have been able to count on them, and Deng has been consistent averaging 17 points. The question will be whether the Bulls can get Kirk Hinrich rolling again. He is averaging 12.5 points on 41.9 percent shooting, but 58.3 percent on threes.

Overall, I feel the Bulls have played the Cavs the right way.

They’ve pretty much shut off the middle in Del Negro’s “elbows, boxes and nails” defense, which is a shorthand for the way the team provides a shell of a defense around the lane.

The key in playing the Cavs is keeping James out of driving the middle, where he then can attack the basket or pass off into the corners for threes.

Though James was scoring the first three games, the Bulls limited the other shooters. In Game 4 Sunday, James got into the middle more to free Antawn Jamison, who had 24 points and Mo Williams and Anthony Parker, who combined for five threes. James added another six, and the Bulls could not score at that level.

The Bulls have to push the ball to get over 100 points to match the Cavs, but the Cavs shot the ball so well Sunday the Bulls couldn’t run, and then, as Noah noted after the game, lost their enthusiasm and allowed the Cavs to run away.

Rarely have the Bulls when healthy played two poor games in a row, so if Rose’s ankle is OK I can see them making a good effort.

The elemental weakness the Bulls have on offense is the lack of a true post player, which they really haven’t had since, well, ever, and the lack of a consistent three point threat.

The Cavs have made 42 threes in this series. The Bulls have attempted 44.

That’s right, the Cavs have made 28 more threes in the four games while outscoring the Bulls by a combined by 44 points.

It’s the right strategy. See if they can beat you “over the top,” the shorthand for long distance shooting, and the Cavs have.

And why not try that given James shot 28.5 percent on threes in the regular season since the beginning of February, one of 14 in April.

“At times, you can live with, but when he’s (James) making six, you have to get up in him a little and come with the double-team,” said Del Negro, who did very late in Game 4 to finally take the ball out of James’ hands a few times. “You have to pick your spots with him. It wasn’t like we didn’t do that. He made one step across halfcourt, banked one in, things are going to happen. Those are the tough shots. That’s why it’s so important to take the easy ones away. The one where he splits you and takes a dunk, those you can’t have because you know he’s going to make some difficult ones.”

So I suggested to dare James to do it again. It’s easy to say you take the ball out of his hand with double teams, but that compromises your defense and rebounding, putting everyone out of position and helping. Great players do great things and James is great. And they do these things at big times. LeBron qualifies with some memorable playoff performances. But I think he’s more dangerous when he gets those other guys good shots, which comes when the defense is scrambling. Hey, LeBron, I’d say, you can’t shoot threes. Do it again!

You have to use some gamesmanship when you are behind and some innovation when you are a big underdog. Del Negro isn’t much a believer in that.

“Shouldn’t the message be he can’t do this again, let him try?” I asked Del Negro.

“No,” said Del Negro. “That’s your message. That would not be my message. It’s not one guy. Antawn played very well for them. They isolated him on the wings. He’s a very tough cover one-on-one. Mo is always Mo and you have to find him. It’s not just LeBron who is going to fill up the stat sheet. You have to have a huge amount of attention on him. But they’re very good for a reason. The reason starts with LeBron. But they have other players who are capable.”

I don’t deny that, but you have to try to lure the Cavs into doing things they don’t usually. Look, they are better and more talented and have the best player in the series.

So call out LeBron and see if he forgets he’s playing with the other guys. We know he’s got a giant ego, and maybe he wants to show you.

The Bulls had one of these elimination games last year in the Boston series, but it took three overtimes to finally win at home and go back to Boston for a seventh game.

Another key for the Cavs, I thought, was Shaq getting in foul trouble. That brought in J.J. Hickson, who runs the court and finishes strong and fits better with James in a smaller lineup in wich they are able to open the court better and get to the middle. Coach Mike Brown basically is looking two series ahead and trying to get Shaq ready for the Magic and Dwight Howard. Take advantage of that.

I’d put Jannero Pargo on Shaq.

Actually, Vinny hasn’t been very good with his bench, basically rarely using guys or so inconstantly that when he puts them in now for a short stint it’s difficult for them to do anything. So he pretty much has to stay with seven guys with Brad Miller and Flip Murray off the bench. James Johnson came in and committed several fouls on James when the Cavs closed the first half fast to get a 62-52 lead. But James is the Bulls best reserve matchup with James because of his size and basically has been told to play James physically. So he went a bit far in Game 4, but it was hardly his fault.

Given wildly fluctuating minutes, Hakim Warrick has been inconsistent.

I’d also liked to have seen Pargo some to match some three point shooting.

But you know making a move like that with Pargo on Shaq would force the Cavs and the sensitive Shaq to go at Pargo. Challenge the Cavs to beat you with Shaq. I don’t see how given how long he’s been out he could score much, and he might waste a lot of time doing so and slow the Cavs and take them out of their running and three-point shooting game.

It’s called junking up the game, but it’s OK when you are in a desperate situation. It doesn’t get more desperate for the Bulls than Tuesday.

“I think there was frustration because guys were so excited to play,” said Del Negro. “We were in the game and then we gave up some scores and free throws late in the half. We felt good at halftime with some of the stats we had (leading 16-5 in fast breaks and 26-19 on the boards). Then in the third quarter they jumped on us and Derrick hurt his ankle and we took quick shots and they built that lead on us. LeBron was hitting threes. There was frustration. But it’s been a very resilient group all year. I expect us to come out tomorrow. Our backs are against the wall.”

We’ll see if it’s a firing squad looking at all of them.

Rose to be next Bulls Hall of Famer after Pippen?

Here’s my MVP ballot for this season:

LeBron James

Kobe Bryant

Dwight Howard

Kevin Durant

Dwyane Wade

Here’s my MVP ballot for 2015:

Kevin Durant

Derrick Rose

LeBron James

John Wall

Blake Griffin

The talk coming into this Bulls/Cleveland Cavaliers series, which resumes 2:30 p.m. Sunday with the Cavs ahead 2-1, was all about LeBron James.

James hasn’t disappointed, averaging 34.3 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three blocks.

But now, it’s about James and Derrick Rose.

“He’s a really good talent,” James said after Cavs practice Saturday. “We’ve got to find a way to contain him.”

Rose, like he did last year in opening the playoffs tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s playoff debut scoring record, is drawing praise and homage for his impressive play.

The subject of discussion at Cavs practice, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was what to do about Rose.

Rose missed Bulls practice once last week because of the death of a close relative and has been leaving early to be with family.

Still, he has been remarkable in the three games in averaging 27.3 points and 8.3 assists. After seven turnovers in Game 1, Rose has had just one in the last two games while averaging almost 43 minutes and attempting 50 shots. With just about every Cav wing player, including James the last four and a half minutes of Game 3, taking turns defending Rose.

“We all need to take a crack at him,” James said. “Just to show him a different person in front of him. A different length, a different speed to keep him a little contained.”

All of this, for a 21-year-old in his second NBA season, has even left veteran Bulls players trying to figure out where Rose will fit in NBA history.

This is a special player whom you will be talking about for years to come if he remains healthy and about whom you’ll be able to say you saw him at the beginning.

“Me, (Jannero) Pargo and Hakim (Warrick) were talking about this,” said Lindsey Hunter, now a special coach who played guard in the NBA 17 years and broke in backing up Isiah Thomas. “There hasn’t been a guy to compare athletically with him at point guard.

“You look at Steve Francis and he was explosive to the rim, but he couldn’t change ends like Derrick,” said Hunter. “Jason Kidd. He couldn’t play over the rim like Derrick. Isiah wasn’t as big and fast. He’s really in a class of his own.”

Hunter says when you look at the top point guards today, you’d probably go with Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Steve Nash. But Hunter believes Rose combines all their attributes and soon will pass them all.

“I cannot think of a guard who combines everything he does,” says Hunter. “I try all the time. He’s in the mold of Deron Williams with body size. He has the speed of the kid at New Jersey (Devin Harris) and has the hands and passing ability of Chris Paul.

“The athleticism of who?” laughs Hunter. “There is nobody.

“He’s like a mini, compact LeBron,” says Hunter. “He’s a point guard with those attributes. And the way his jump shot is coming along, you can’t stop him. I tell people other than the kid at Utah, Paul when he’s healthy, and you still have to put Nash in there, it’s him. And slowly he’s passing all those guys.”

The critics, of course, say, well, Rose can score but he’s really no point guard. Hunter says he just laughs.

“What is a pure point?” asks Hunter, who has worked with Rose the last two seasons. “I came in during a time when they did not want you to be a scorer (at point). They try to make you conform, but it takes away from who you are. It put me on my heels. You want guys to play in the comfort zone for what they do. Imagine if Derrick played with (three point) shooters and could space the floor. He’d get double figure assists and you could not stop him.”

Hunter said teams know the basic plays and know the Bulls reliance on the pick and roll. It’s no secret.

“He beats a double team and then beats the help and then he’ll finish above the bigs at the rim,” Hunter said laughing at what he just said. “Now his defense is coming. By next year, I think he’ll be in that MVP talk. That’s big.”

So I decided to give it some thought.

It is just Rose’s second season, but this is some pretty special stuff already. And I’ve tried to think if there’s ever been a point guard like Rose with that kind of power and offensive explosion above the rim. I couldn’t really think of any.

So I made a list of the players primarily point guards in the Basketball Hall of Fame and offer my ranking:

Oscar Robertson

Magic Johnson

Isiah Thomas

Bob Cousy

John Stockton

Lenny Wilkens

Walt Frazier

Earl Monroe

K.C. Jones

Tiny Archibald

Slater Martin

Bob Davies

Dick McGuire

Calvin Murphy

I left off Pete Maravich, Dave Bing, Gail Goodrich and Jerry West who were big scorers but also facilitators in an era when guards were just guards.

I think when he’s done Rose could rank behind only Oscar and Magic. Obviously, a lot has to occur and he has to be fortunate to avoid injury and get some better teammates. But Rose’s talent is extraordinary and something most around the NBA never have seen before.

It’s something now to enjoy. Next act: Sunday.

Game 4 looking bigger for both Bulls and Cavs

Change seems to be coming for Game 4 in this playoff series between the Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.

But could it be LeBron James or Mike Brown leaving the Cavs?

Tune in Sunday. This is starting to get very interesting.

The Bulls Thursday drew within 2-1 of the heavily favored Cavaliers in the first round playoff series with the Bulls 108-106 victory.

The Bulls for the second straight game against the supposedly rugged, defensive oriented Cavs scored more than 100 points, averaged 12 more points in the paint per game and totaled 25 more field goal attempts.

Playoffs are said to be all about adjustments, and so far the Bulls are easily winning that battle with a solid game plan that invites James to score—he’s averaging 34.3 points—while controlling his teammates and accelerating the game against the Cavs dinosaurs inside.

“I think they shot the ball very well in the fourth (coming back from a 21-point deficit and almost stealing the game),” said Joakim Noah after Bulls practice Friday. “They were hitting contested threes. That’s our game plan.

“LeBron talked (after Game 1) about making his shot again and again and again and again,” Noah said about James suggesting the Bulls taunting from the bench goaded him into a big shooting finish. “‘You’re going to keep shooting them again and again and again and again, too. Keep shooting the ball.’ We’d rather that then that tractor coming at us.”

That strategy has worked well. But the Cavs late in Game 3 countered with a “No-Shaq, No-Z, No-V zone” small lineup that scored 38 fourth quarter points on 54.2 percent shooting in a furious comeback that barely fell short only because of huge plays down the stretch by Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Noah.

After the game, James talked frankly about the effectiveness of the Cavs small lineup.

“We’ve been really, really good this year when we play small,” James said Thursday night.  “We become more athletic, we become faster and that helps our rotation move faster.  That doesn’t take away from our big line-up because we can also go big, but we play really good basketball when we’ve been able to go small.  If that’s something that’s going to be successful for us, then we have to do that.  We have to look at match-ups, but it’s a really effective line-up for us.”

James is a very bright basketball player, and it perhaps was no coincidence when he was asked about playing Rose late in the game he said it was his idea.

The joke, of course, is he is the league’s only player/coach.

James, particularly because he can be a free agent this summer, has an unusually strong hold on the Cavs’ franchise, and they perhaps are facing more than a strategy adjustment for Sunday’s Game 4 than a referendum on James and James’ and Brown’s future with the franchise.

The Cavs didn’t practice Friday, but met with reporters at the team hotel.

James was quoted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer saying he wanted J.J. Hickson to play more as Shaquille O’Neal has slowed the Cavs and enabled the Bulls to take a big lead in Game 3. Hickson also has been a favorite of Cleveland fans, who have been bombarding the media and team with pleas for him to play as when Shaq was out most of the last two months the Cavs played better with a smaller, quicker, more fluid lineup.

“I think personally I would love to see J.J. on the court,” said James, who has made Hickson a personal project. “I don’t know if he’s ready, but I think he will be.”

Hickson has played 96 seconds of garbage time in the three games.

In the last 11 games with O’Neal out, Hickson averaged 12.7 points and 7.6 rebounds on 56 percent shooting with three games of at least 20 points and another with 16 rebounds against the Hawks, an athletic team like the Bulls. Hickson had a double/double against the Celtics and the Cavs were 16-3 with Hickson playing more and Shaq out until James sat out the last four games and the Cavs lost.

“Is there any plan of going to J.J. for a few minutes? Not right now,” said Brown in response to a question. “I’ve got to get Shaq on the floor a little bit more and other than that, that is my main goal right now with my bigs. We’ll go small if we need to. That is something we always have done in the past if we think it is effective. I’ve got to get (Shaq) more involved in the series. He had some great looks that popped out but those will go down. He can be a big factor for us.”


“For me, I’m not going to say what lineups we should use,” James said. “But I know the game, I know the feel of the game. I’m not trying to make a pitch for J.J., but we all saw what he was able to do during the regular season: With his size, his athleticism and his ability to put pressure on the rim. That is something you can’t substitute. I said before the series started that we’re going to need J.J.”

I don’t know what ring they are in, but I’m taking LeBron.

Get ready for Hicksonmania.

The general consensus around the NBA is the Cavs are best when they spread the court for James. Opponents cannot then crowd the lane. You then almost have to bring help against James, which the Bulls mostly have not had to do. And if you do, he can find his shooters and drivers, involve his teammates and become the power team that led the league in wins.

But the Cavs brought Shaq in with the future in mind. They believe they need Shaq to have a chance to beat the Magic with Dwight Howard. And since Shaq has been out with a thumb injury for almost two months, Brown knows he needs to play him to get him back in game shape for the rest of the playoffs.

Is it worth giving up another game to do that?

Clearly, James, the competitor, doesn’t think so.

James is trying to be delicate about Shaq, but he sees what we all do, that the great center has little lift anymore and is a plodding figure whom the Bulls can control with their aggression and energy. And while Shaq is laboring for position, the Cavs’ offense comes to a standstill.

This, perhaps, is as direct a challenge as James has made to Brown, which suggests he recognizes the fear of allowing a young team to get too much confidence and knows what happened to the Celtics last season against the likes of Derrick Rose and Noah, who are playing better than any of his teammates.

“It shows the kind of player Derrick is taking on the challenge (of James guarding him),” noted Noah. “People talk about LeBron on D. Rose and guarding him. He did not really do a great job. D. Rose was giving him buckets.

“We can’t control what they do (in matchup changes),” said Noah. “We can control what we do. Our best can beat them. So we just focus on the things we can control. I think we’ll be fine (if they go small). It kind of works to our advantage. I think right now we’re really confident and really loose. I like our chances.”

There also seems to be a philosophical rift developing with the Cavs.

Brown is a defensive minded coach who pays little attention to the offensive side and mostly lets assistants handle that. Defensive guys like bigs and size in the lane, but Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas have been too slow for the Bulls front line. And Antawn Jamison is not regarded as a top defender.

James is basically saying these guys against a team like the Bulls aren’t good enough for us to win as defensive team. Which is obvious the way the Bulls have shot and scored the last two games.

I also don’t think the Cavs defensive plan has been very good.

Their traps on Rose are too high and away from the lane. It’s enabled Rose even when he’s given up the ball to find Noah, who is a good decision maker in the lane and make passes or attacks a defense out of position. Also, those Cavs bigs are poor on the pick and roll and generally lay back to zone the lane, leaving pretty open jump shots, which Kirk Hinrich feasted off for 27 points in Game 3 to go with Rose’s 31.

James is a competitor and looks at those two and says something like, “If that’s what they have, we can take that.”

But the game has to be faster and the defensive players quicker.

Brown is a more traditional defensive guy in creating a shell in packing the lane and seeing if a poor jump shooting team can beat you over the top. It sounds right. Just not to the most important man in the Cleveland organization.

What will Mike Brown do?

What will LeBron do?

What will the Bulls do?

I can’t wait.

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.

How the Bulls can beat the Cavs

The Bulls made the playoffs. Great. Now what do they do? Or more precisely, how do they beat LeBron James, surely the league’s MVP, and the Cavs, the NBA’s winningest team?

I’m glad I asked because I know how to do it. Unfortunately, I am not coaching the Bulls, so I cannot be responsible if the Cavs win, as everyone expects.
Look, the Bulls aren’t supposed to win this series, or really even make it close. This is supposed to be a Cavs team on a mission after being upset in the conference finals last season and reloading with Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison.

This is a Bulls team whose priority is this summer and free agency, so they let go Ben Gordon, the scoring star of last season’s great playoff series with the Celtics, along with trades of John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas, two other major contributors. Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick have come in their place, though Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro rarely uses Warrick.
Perhaps the Cavs’ biggest early opponent is expectations.
You are supposed to walk through this series. After all, the Bulls lost 10 straight games in March and got to .500 by winning 10 of their last 14 to barely pass Toronto for the final playoff spot. But Derrick Rose, who just was named player of the month, and Joakim Noah are playing at All Star levels, and, the Cavs had just one All Star this season.
Will Mo Williams start missing shots again like he did in last year’s playoffs? Shaq’s just returning from being out six weeks. Jamison hasn’t shot as well. Can James embolden them? Will he have to?
The Bulls should look at this as an easy series in which they have nothing to lose. They weren’t supposed to be here. Few expect them to get even a game or two. So what if they don’t? Big deal.
So be creative. Be imaginative. Make the Cavs think. And make ‘em sweat a little.
I don’t really expect it because Del Negro prefers to play a traditional game.
On defense, the Bulls will play Deng on James and Noah and later Miller on Shaq, though Shaq probably won’t play that much in his first game back. The Bulls general defensive plan will be to deny middle and when someone penetrates to bring a double.
I wouldn’t do that, but I’ll explain.
The Bulls will stunt with the guards when Shaq or someone is posting, and they’ll probably bring someone in a double along the baseline, which has been their preferred position to double. They’ve been burned some bringing the other big from across the lane because then you have a mismatch with a guard dropping down, and teams have exploited that. Better, perhaps, to bring the wing player on the shooter who’ll be in the opposite corner. It’s a longer run to make the double, but keeps your matchups.
The Bulls stay traditional, and that’s where I’d change.
Look, the Cavs are way better than the Bulls.
So what you’ve got to do is get them off balance. Their coach, Mike  Brown, isn’t very good making in game adjustments. So make them think.
LeBron, obviously, is the key.
The last half of this season he’s begun to play more like Michael Jordan, at least in the last three championships. LeBron won’t look for his scoring early. He sort of lopes into games, looking to get interior guys going, then working with the perimeter guys before he takes over scoring later.
I’d put Kirk Hinrich on him. Del Negro will likely have Hinrich on Mo Williams in a cross match with Rose as Williams gives Rose trouble running off screens. Teams like to put Rose in screen/roll since he has trouble with them, just as the Bulls will have to put Shaq or Zydrunas Ilgauskas in screen/roll since they don’t particularly play them.
Obviously, James would see the mismatch against Hinrich, who is a pesky defender. You need that kind of defender on James. No one stops him. But you need to stay up on him and bother him, not give him space.
You also want to lure him into trying to score, especially in the post as he doesn’t like to play out of the post.
It’s a variation on what Don Nelson once did to upset the second seeded Jazz when he had the Warriors at seventh seed. He put Tim Hardaway on 7-3 Mark Eaton, daring the Jazz to try to score. The result was the Jazz going away from their ball movement game, and the Warriors won the series.
You have to do the same with the Cavs.
The key to playing the Cavs, I believe, is to let LeBron try to beat you. He really doesn’t want to score that much. He is a willing passer, much more so than the likes of Jordan or Kobe Bryant. It also keeps his teammates more engaged, and, especially at home, the crowd responds when the “supporting cast” begins hitting threes and dunking.
So you stay home on the shooters and don’t double off. Let LeBron get going, but it takes the others out of the game. They get to standing around and can get lethargic in transition.
Because that’s the offensive priority for the Bulls.
There’s this notion the Bulls have to keep the score low because they don’t have as many weapons, and in a low scoring, closer game they can get bailed out by Rose.
But you want to run the Cavs. Shaq is old. Z is old. Jamison is old. That was what worked for the Bulls when they upset the defending champion Heat in 2007. Run and don’t let them set their defense.
The Cavs are best when they can set their defense. They are not a good defensive team contesting shots. It’s actually surprising how bad they are at that. You can get shots up against them. But they are very good in what’s called loading to the ball, which means stacking a defense to create a sort of wall against the offensive play.
You want to keep them out of those formations. You do that with speed and transition.
Also, you have to get in front of James and make the refs call charges. James gets a free pass like no one going to the basket because he is so quick and strong it seems guys don’t want to take charges or feel they won’t get a call against him as he’s called for the fewest fouls in the league for the star players.
Make the refs make a call. Get in front of him. Forget blocking a shot. Let him take those threes, which he can hit, but is hit or miss more often.
Also, make him defend. James has perhaps the most bogus reputation in the league as a defender because he makes so many of those highlight blocks from behind. But he doesn’t like to play much man to man and direct contact. He likes to play passing lanes and avoids a lot of direct defensive contact. If he’s on you, you have to go at him and attack. Make him make a play. Challenge the refs to make calls. They won’t to start. But you have to go back at him.
So I’d have Hinrich harassing him and see if he forgets about his teammates. The Bulls will play Taj Gibson on Jamison, but I’d have Deng more on Jamison. I’d play Jamison like teams play Dirk Nowitzki. He’s too fast and clever for a big who wants to stay by the basket, anyway, like Gibson does. Deng has good length and enough quickness to bother Jamison, who can shoot the three and then would beat Gibson with his quickness.
These aren’t matchups to start the game, which would be more traditional, but things to spring on the Cavs.
Initially, they’ll go to Shaq and I’d have Noah fronting. It’s not easy and no one generally tries with Shaq as he’ll try to seal you. Noah is quick enough to do it. The Cavs with Shaq like to post and repost and fighting him like that will take time off the clock and force him into a quicker shot, which is usually isn’t good at even when in condition.
So when I’ve got Kirk on LeBron and Deng on Jamison, it’s a small team. But the Bulls are small in this series. Use what you have. The Cavs eventually will go small in the backcourt a lot with Williams and Delonte West, so it won’t hurt you that much.
But Del Negro has to go to the bench. It’s too bad he lost faith in Devin Brown, who is a better defender than Jannero Pargo or Flip Murray and knows the Cavs well from playing there. The Cavs privately are happy not to see him as they felt he was one of their tougher players.
The Bulls will have to stay away from their high pick and roll, which they use way too much, anyway. Cleveland defends that well by loading to the ball, so the Bulls should go more side pick and roll in half court sets.
You’d say get Deng in more pick and rolls, but he doesn’t screen particularly well, and once you leave the screener, who usually is Noah, it happens that Noah is one of the better decision makers with the ball and can now make that jumper reasonably often. Brad Miller can pop out in that and the Bulls will try to use Miller as much as possible when Shaq plays other than starting.
The Bulls also have to move the ball, make those extra passes in the halfcourt to keep the Cavs moving, especially when they go with their slower bigs. The Cavs will go with Hickson a lot at center in what has been their best lineup because they spread the court and give James more options, which is when I’d have someone like Hinrich on him to just stay with him and see if he’ll go for 50. The Pistons always used to bait Jordan like that and take teammates out of the game.
The Cavs on defense are going to pick up Rose high and trap him early, as teams have done more of late. But they’ll have to be small to do that more effectively, and then the Bulls may be able to run more. And we saw in that last game when James didn’t play the Bulls laid off Varejao and he couldn’t make a play.
And then if the Bulls can get a lead, with the expectations hovering over them, can the Cavs exorcise those Bulls demons haunting their past and show themselves as the favorite they are supposed to be.
The Bulls should be loose and should be able to play free and easy. It’s house money just being in the playoffs. So take some chances and go for a jackpot. What have you go to lose?
Point Guard: Derrick Rose vs Mo Williams. This is going to be a cross match situation. Most likely, the Bulls will play Rose, their weakest defender but getting better with some nice blocks and staying more in front lately, on Anthony Parker. Williams plays off LeBron well and runs pick and pops with him and spots up. Hinrich likely will play Williams, who had a huge game earlier this month against the Bulls with LeBron not playing. Williams has not been good in big game settings and strained to make shots in last year’s playoffs. Rose is making up for the loss of Ben Gordon from last season and averaged more than 30 the last three games when the Bulls had to win and is the player of the month. The Cavs, like everyone else, will aggressively try to trap him, though it will only work some when Varejao plays. Rose has shown like in stealing Game 1 last season he’s a big game player.
Edge: Bulls
Shooting Guard: Kirk Hinrich vs Anthony Parker. Parker can make some threes and will likely be defended by Rose since he’s not one of the primary scoring options. The Cavs probably will use a lot more of Delonte West as he’s more of a scorer off the dribble and could give Rose trouble in the pick and roll. Parker is a streaky shooter and can get hot if left alone, which is why I wouldn’t necessarily be aggressively doubling with Rose. Hinrich is the Bulls best perimeter defender and has been shooting the ball well lately coming off that down screen and dribble handoff the Bulls run for him. He’s finally giving the team some court spacing with his threes.
Edge: Bulls
Small Forward: Luol Deng vs LeBron James. Obviously, no one has the edge on the league MVP. James pretty much does what he wants, though I’ve noticed of late he’s taken to the Jordan model of getting teammates off first and then looking for his scoring later in the game. He’ll tend to fall in love with the three a bit too much, and his free throw shooting is shaky with the Cavs last in the league in free throw shooting. But when he decides no one can stop him at the basket. It’s almost as if everyone is afraid to step in front, figuring either they’ll get hurt or they’ll never get the call. You’ve got to step in and make the refs call something. Deng missed last season’s playoffs and is determined to harass James sand make it difficult for him. Deng’s calf injury has acted up, and his scoring has dropped off. But he’s got to be aggressive to make LeBron work.
Edge: Cavs (big)
Power Forward: Taj Gibson vs Antawn Jamison. We’ll see if he’s the final piece. You’ve got to give the Cavs credit for being aggressive with adding personnel, obviously to try to get James to resign. Jamison’s a tough matchup for Gibson as he’s not a traditional four since he can go outside and hit the three and is unusually quick inside and never quite gets in the shooting motion with his assortment of floaters. Gibson had a big game against him earlier, but in the last game without James playing Gibson was lost as he is best inside and around the basket. He’s probably not strong enough to punish Jamison in the post.
Edge: Cavs
Center: Joakim Noah vs Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal has been out more than a month with a hand injury and probably won’t play that much given his conditioning. He’s mostly on the team for the expected later matchup with Orlando and Dwight Howard. Without Shaq, they’ve been playing J.J. Hickson at center in a smaller, quicker lineup that opens the floor, and they’re really best that way. They’ll bring Varejao off the bench, though he’ll finish more games than Hickson because of his defensive abilities. Shaq will try to overwhelm Noah, who is more like the active Varejao. James likes to find Hickson in pick and roll and transition situations slashing and finishing, which is why the Bulls could have trouble if they continue to blitz the pick and roll, which is a staple of their defense. Brad Miller is the team’s choice on Shaq, so after the initial matchup Miller will probably match with O’Neal. Noah will run whomever is guarding him and the Cavs’ big guys with Ilgauskas don’t want to do that, and Hickson is too small for Noah.
Edge: Bulls
Bench: Varejao is the defensive key off the bench for the Cavs along with Ilgauskas, who can be dangerous as a spot up shooter. The Cavs have pretty much ignored his value this season and he’ll probably move on to another team next season. Delonte West is another key for them, though you wonder as the playoffs go on if the pressure will have an affect on his personality disorder, which the Cavs tend to pretend doesn’t exist. The Bulls have done a poor job this season developing and using the bench. James Johnson never got much playing time and is pretty lost now as a result. After playing some after the trade, the same with Hakim Warrick, who could be useful. They went with their starters down the stretch for huge minutes to get into the playoffs, and they did, so it worked. But the bench has tended to turn selfish as a result given limited time and quick hooks for mistakes.
Edge: Cavs
Coaching: Vinny Del Negro vs Mike Brown. It’s been a surreal last week for Del Negro with the revelations of an incident with vice president John Paxson and additional media scrutiny. Brown is the reigning coach of the year, so it’s not a fair fight, anyway. Brown remains essentially a defensive coach with little apparent input on the offensive end as James and Williams basically call all the plays and James isolates to close games and runs what he chooses. But he is a bright player and an asset that way. They are a tough defensive team that sets up a wall well on one side with good rotation, which is why you cannot let them get into a set defense. Del Negro hasn’t created much with the Bulls offense, which runs mostly high pick and roll and some weak side action of down screens. The lack of bench development shouldn’t hurt as much in a series with the games spread out, especially in the first round.
Pick: Cavs in five. Maybe six if they listen to me more.

Bulls playoffs and amazing MJ and LeBron stuff

Forget passing Toronto for the final playoff spot in Eastern Conference.

Yes, first the Bulls have to win in Washington Friday against a makeshift, decimated lineup, which, by the way, beat the Bulls in Washington at the end of February.

But if the Bulls can do that, their quickly disappearing best chance to sneak into the playoffs probably starts and ends with Saturday’s home game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Raptors with Wednesday’s win over the Clippers are 37-37 while the Bobcats with Wednesday’s win over Philadelphia are 39-35. The Bulls are 35-39.

But Toronto holds the tiebreaker against the Bulls and has the easiest schedule of the three with only three of their last eight games against teams with winning records.

Although the Bulls trail the Bobcats by four games and the Raptors by two, the Bulls have two games left with the Bobcats. Thus they still can win the tiebreaker. In addition, the Bobcats have a tougher closing schedule with road games in Milwaukee, New Orleans and Houston, a home game against Atlanta and twice against the Bulls.

Yes, it would take a classic collapse by the now Mikecats, majority owned by Michael Jordan. But it seems now perhaps the better target for the Bulls given the games Saturday and in the season finale in Charlotte.

The reality is the Bulls are in deep trouble for making the playoffs in either case. Last season 41-41 got them in comfortably. It looked much of this season like one or two East teams would qualify for the playoffs with sub-.500 records. But now it looks like the Bulls need at least a 6-2 finish for 41-41 to have a chance to make the playoffs. It probably would take 7-1 with a sweep of the Bobcats and a win in Toronto to get in.

The Bulls got some decent injury news Wednesday with word Kirk Hinrich’s ankle injury isn’t serious and he should be OK for Washington. Luol Deng is expected to play at least by Saturday against the Bobcats, and Joakim Noah looks like he’s ready to get a full rotation of perhaps 30 minutes or more.

That would be as healthy as the team has been practically all season. Which probably means they’ll enjoy the summer more, at least.

Meanwhile, around the NBA some things remain curious.

Like Jordan and the Bobcats. I’d never liken Jordan to Mark Cuban as I have too much regard for Jordan. I’ve seen Jordan of late a lot more engaged with the Bobcats. Which is what everyone there has been seeking. But Jordan’s been sitting at the end of the bench and seen often yelling at the referees. Cuban’s done that for years, though he finally moved away from the bench a few years ago after Dirk Nowitzki basically told him after the 2006 Finals it was enough. I’m not saying anyone can be influenced, but if Michael Jordan is yelling at you and you are officiating a game, can you ignore that? It’s Michael Jordan, after all. This also could not bode well for the Bulls playoff chances.

Though it didn’t help the Mavs as Dwyane Wade got a foul call every time Cuban opened his mouth in that series, which pretty much shut it since.

I didn’t see the game, so I cannot speak with authority about it. But the Cavs edged out the Bucks 101-98. The Cavs attempted 45 free throws to nine for Milwaukee. The Cavs attempted 17 free throws in the fourth quarter to zero for the Bucks.

Now, c’mon, how is that possible?

I’m not accusing anyone of anything, and I’m not sure what would be the point at this stage with the Cavs close to clinching home court for all playoff rounds they last.

I know LeBron James is a great player and probably deserving the MVP. But he must be the cleanest player in history, especially in this era of perimeter touch fouls. I noted last season the incredible sequence when James went five full games without committing a foul, at least officially. So James is averaging even fewer fouls per game this season, and he became a first team all-NBA defensive team member last season. How can you play great defense and never foul? Dwight Howard usually gets two in the layup line. James is averaging a career low 1.6 fouls per game. And in the last two months, James hasn’t committed more than two personal fouls in any game.

Now, c’mon, how is that possible?

Yes, Amazing does happen.

LeBron James is coming to Chicago

LeBron James is coming to Chicago, sources have assured me.
What? What’d ya say? Oh?
Sources have confirmed to me exclusively that LeBron James is coming to Chicago…
…Friday to play against the Bulls.
I knew it sounded too good, but I’m betting some internet service reads the first paragraph and we get a story out of it.
James and his Cleveland Cavaliers—as we used to hear about Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls—are in Chicago Friday to play the Bulls, or, at least, several of them.
Joakim Noah remains out with plantar fasciitis, so he’ll be in good position to review James’ dancing moves, which James practiced in a blowout win over the Bulls a few months back. Noah objected, James came over in sort of a menacing move, though it soon occurred to James while he was in his arena he was in the other team’s huddle, and someone might take a poke at him. Yes, even the Bulls. They seemed to be feeling feistier then.
Noah, though, is expected to return for limited minutes starting Saturday in Philadelphia.
Luol Deng, who defends James, or at least tries, as everyone does, also is out. He has a calf injury. Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said before Friday’s game Deng’s injury has worsened, as an MRI showed, and Deng is out at least two more weeks. The probability now is Deng will be out the remainder of the season after having played in 62 games and averaged 18 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Derrick Rose also is out. He has a wrist injury from his latest collision with Dwight Howard. Rose remains possible for Saturday’s game in Philadelphia, but Del Negro said it won’t be known until game time whether Rose will play. 
The Bulls have fallen to the edge of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, two and a half games behind Toronto with 15 games left and without the tiebreaker. They, thus, remain longshots to make the playoffs.
The Cavs look like the 1991 Bulls headed for their first NBA championship.
James is headed for another MVP award, the Cavs have the league’s best record and are playing great. James took a few games off to rest an ankle injury, and the Cavs beat the Spurs at home without James. They are playing faster with a smaller lineup of late, and James has been Jordanesque by cruising through the first half of games to let his teammates get going and then turning it on down the stretch to clinch wins, like he did in a showdown game against the Celtics last week.
And this week they can resign center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who was traded to Washington in the Antawn Jamison deal and then bought out. Later, they’ll get back Shaquille O’Neal from a wrist injury and have a pair of seven footers ready for the slower pace of playoff basketball. They are the team to beat.
The Cavs lead the Bulls by 21 games in the Central Division, which the Cavs just clinched. Just in case you wondered.
But all you were really wondering, I know, was whether James would leave the Cavs as a free agent to sign with teams holding money under the salary cap, like the Bulls/Nets/Knicks/Clippers/Heat/Timberwolves….
OK, OK, you get the point.
This season, perhaps more than any season in NBA history, has been more about next season because of the massive potential free agency involving many of the game’s stars.
But James towers over all of them as he’s on the path—heresy, in Chicago, I know—to be considered the greatest player in NBA history. If he gets multiple championships, he will be able to make the case. He’s 26 years old working on his second MVP and second Finals appearance.
So what will he do?
James has pretty much left everyone guessing as he talked about free agency some when the season started, saw it was becoming annoying and then stopped cold and refused to entertain any questions since.
It hasn’t stopped everyone else from regular speculation.
Which is more fun than listening to his denials, anyway.
It’s all left Cavs management and fans with a season long tummy ache.
The Knicks have remained the big name because they have enough money under the salary cap now to sign two maximum money free agents, which means James could pair with someone like Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh in the city with the World’s Smelliest and Dankest Arena, Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks have a few pieces to go along with that, though no big men. Though the notion is if you get James and Wade or Bosh, then top players will come for minimum salaries just to be part of something great. At least, that’s’ the Knicks’ story and they are sticking with it.
It seems doubtful anyone else has much chance to attract James.
The Nets’ ownership includes James’ friend Jay-Z, the husband of Beyonce, but they are headed to play in Newark, wherever that is, for the next two years while a new arena in built in Brooklyn. The Clippers pretty much dumped their entire management recently. This is what that means: We have talent and you, LeBron, can be coach and GM or hire your own.
There’s been some suggestion about twisting the Cavs arms into a sign and trade for Andrew Bynum so LeBron could join Kobe and Pau with the Lakers and at least we wouldn’t have to worry anymore about who would win each season.
The Bulls?
Oh, right. Rose and Deng and Noah and Kirk Hinrich, which seems the most solid group of players James could surround himself with an approximate a team.
Not that the Bulls wouldn’t love to have James and find a way for it to work. But James loves to have the ball in his hand, like Jordan did, and have guys play off him, especially in crucial times of the game. Can Rose become a stand still three point shooter? He’d have to start practicing.
Though it’s difficult to see how James could pass on the Cavs. They have a big guy in Anderson Varejao and could finesse Shaq back into the mix. They’ve now got an All Star in Jamison and some good role players who fit around James in Mo Williams, Anthony Parker and J.J. Hickson. James seems to love being around his teammates and his team.
The guy’s dancing during working hours. How badly can he be feeling?
And no player I ever have heard about anywhere is given more latitude by the franchise than James is by the Cavs. Heck, they built the practice facility near his home so he wouldn’t have to travel much.
So would you leave if you were him?
And if you do leave and the Cavs don’t do a sign and trade, which they likely wouldn’t so they could begin to invest in the free agent market, you’d have to accept a shorter term deal and lower annual increases, which would mean perhaps $30 million less in the length of the contract.
Which means everyone is hoping the Cavs stumble in the playoffs, maybe lose somewhere before the Finals. That thus makes LeBron mad and he imagines it will be better somewhere else. It happens.
You’ve got a great life, a great team, a great ownership willing to spend money well above the luxury tax and a community which worships and idolizes you. Is the grass really greener?
We know, like in Chicago, it’s brown now in Cleveland. Friday’s is the first of two visits this season for James to Chicago. If the Bulls were somehow able to sneak into the playoffs, they’d draw James and the Cavs in the first round. That would be great fun, if not a recipe for playoff success. But it’s also why missing the playoffs is such a potential setback. What if the Bulls could get to eight and beat the Cavs in the first round? I know. Big time fantasy. But it would be a heck of a selling point for free agency.
My guess is April 8 will be the final James visit to Chicago before James gets his first NBA championship and resigns with the Cavs and they run out of rose petals as James asks they be laid out for him forever wherever he walks.

Bulls make soft comeback again in 9th straight loss

So I’m hearing now despite the Bulls losing again, 113-106 to the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday, that there were a lot of positive signs.
Like Acie Law with 22 points on just eight field goal attempts as he got to the line with seven free throws. Like James Johnson back in the starting lineup and running the wing aggressively for 11 points and several dunks. Like Hakim Warrick off the bench for 13 points and the Bulls again fighting back with a big fourth quarter to get within striking distance of a win with plenty of time left in the game.
Nonsense! The Bulls once again in losing their ninth straight were uncompetitive and had the opponents effectively laughing at them. They gagged as soon as the game became relatively close and for the second straight game fell behind by 25 points.
And not exactly to the ’96 Bulls or ’86 Celtics.
This was a Mavs team blown out by the Knicks at home in their last game. The Grizzlies, who wrecked the Bulls Tuesday, aren’t even a playoff team and lost badly Wednesday to another non playoff team, Houston.
The Mavs didn’t even play Jason Kidd in the fourth quarter.
Yes, yes, I know. The Bulls remain without Derrick Rose, who’ll probably be back against Cleveland Friday from a sprained wrist, Joakim Noah, who should be back Saturday in Philadelphia, though for limited minutes with his plantar fasciitis, and Luol Deng, who’s calf injury doesn’t seem to be improving and isn’t expected back this week. Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro Wednesday said Deng suffered a setback trying to run these last few days.
Still, I recall the Bulls going into Golden State and playing a bunch of D-leaguers and losing.
It’s not that difficult. You aren’t looking at Oscar, Bird, Wilt, Michael and Malone out there.
The Bulls got their butts kicked down the stretch when it mattered by J.J. Barea, with Rodrique Beaubois the two midget Mavs combining for 26 for the game on 10 of 14 shooting.
But Barea did kick butt in the D-league a few years back.
Think they’ll be playing much when the Mavs play the Lakers or Nuggets or Spurs?
Del Negro wasn’t fooled. I give him credit. He’s not being conned by these faux comebacks. It’s easy to play after you are behind by 25. There’s no pressure, and no one expects anything of you, including the opposition. There aren’t any more Jordans. They don’t try to kill you anymore when you are losing. Otherwise, how could they hug like all the players do these days after games? C’mon, at least pretend you’re upset when you lose.
Someone tried to throw Del Negro a softball question in the postgame about Law playing well, and Vinny was having none of it.
Good for him. It would be easy in classic Cubs-fans-in-September fashion to look at the kids and say how bright the future could be and what depth we’ll have. But Vinny knows. He knows you can compete with all the first round picks and NBA players the Bulls have on the roster without Rose, Deng and Noah. If they wanted to. Vinny hasn’t seen that they have.
Asked if his play will earn Law more time, Del Negro veered off.
“Everyone has got to improve,” he said. “I never really worry about guys’ offensive tools. I think Acie has proven that he can get to the basket and do some things. But we’ve got to tighten up some things defensively. That’s how we won early in the season. We can’t control the paint and we’re not controlling penetration as well as we’d like.”
In other words, don’t stand there admiring shooters, as Law and Warrick and several of the new and young guys did. Warrick was active offensively down the stretch, but he had one rebound. C’mon, you’re 6-9. You ought to get hit in the head by at least one rebound without even trying.
You know the old saying, “Nice game, you got one more rebound than a dead man.”
This is the Mavs, after all, not exactly your lock down defensive team.
They call him Irk Nowitzki. You know, no D.
“It (defense) was a little bit better in both games in the second half,” said Del Negro, shrugging about an observation regarding the second straight second half comeback from 25 behind. “It wasn’t anything anyone’s real pleased about. We should be able to play a little bit better defensively, I feel. When we’ve gotten into people and more aggressive.”
Which the Bulls weren’t much once again.
Kirk Hinrich was back from his one game suspension, and while he doesn’t look as flashy as Law driving to the basket and scoring, he, at least, was trying to get up on defense, pressure and compete. And then when he looked around he was alone. The frustration boiled over once again as the Bulls were headed to giving up at least 100 points for the 12th straight game.
Nowitzki gave Hinrich a push going for a loose ball with about two minutes remaining and the Bulls trailing by 10. Hinrich retaliated with an elbow to Nowitzki’s. Big, bad Kirk. But, hey, at least someone showed some fight. It’s why I would have put Joe Alexander in as he’s bolted to the bench even with all the injuries. I recalled against the Hawks toward the beginning of this month of blowouts, he was in for some garbage time and threw a nice cross body block chasing a loose ball. When everyone hid when Dwight Howard ko’d Rose again, Alexander came in late and committed four fouls. I don’t know his skill level, but he seems to want to compete.
I’m afraid I haven’t seen much of that of late.
Doesn’t anyone get tired of being beaten and beat up every game?
Taj Gibson, after a poor effort against Memphis as he fights his plantar fasciitis, came out with a strong move to the basket and followup slam. But the Bulls were shockingly indifferent in allowing Mavs shooters open look after open look. The Mavs shot almost 70 percent in the first quarter to lead 32-20. The Mavs pushed the ball in transition whenever they could and pulled up for open shots. It was almost like the state three-point shooting contest in Illinois this week, which includes some familiar names like James Stack, the son of former Bulls executive Jim, making his second consecutive appearance, and Charlie Morrissey, son of my former newspaper colleague, Rick Morrissey.
They’ll be guarded in the contest about like the Bulls were defending the Mavs shooters Wednesday, at least through three quarters.
It got worse in the second quarter as the Bulls were so soft I thought I saw some tissue paper company executives trying to sign up some of the players for endorsement deals.
“This tissue is so soft you can use it to guard Mavs and Grizzlies players like we do.”
The Mavs laughed their way to a 60-35 lead after a Barea three as I swore I saw someone signal to the Bulls bench for a camera so they could get a good, close up shot of him shooting.
“In the first half we gave up a lot of fast break points,” noticed Hinrich, trying to be diplomatic.
Asked generally how the team could improve, he said: “Well, defensively.”
“I don’t know they finished up the game with but in the first half they were shooting a very high percentage (just 65.8 percent). I’m assuming they finished the game that way,” said Hinrich, though the Mavs eased off considerably and ended at 52 percent. “We’ve got to dig in on defense. We’re shorthanded. Everybody’s got to step up.”
The Mavs led 64-44 at halftime, and you could almost hear Bulls players proudly thinking they’re not as bad as the Timberwolves, who gave up 152 on Tuesday. The Bulls attempted four free throws in the first half. So what do you think they were doing other than admiring their long jumpers?
The Mavs kept the lead around 20 most of the third quarter until Law ended the third with a three to bring the Bulls within 88-72.
And here come the Bulls!
Hello, as Norm used to say, “Give me 48 minutes.”
Not 12!
The Bulls have become pretty impressive 12-minute men of late and they scored on 11 of their first 12 possessions of the fourth quarter.
Chris Richard, who does try despite his limitations, got a dunk on a Warrick pass and a nice follow. He had a team high nine rebounds in just 14 minutes. Law has strong moves to the basket and spun by Barea for a drive and three point play. He’s never really gotten a chance to play behind Mike Bibby in Atlanta and with guard oriented teams in Charlotte and Golden State. But he’s not really a point guard as he doesn’t pass much. He’s a good scorer, but also kept going way under screens against Barea, who lit up the Bulls for 10 fourth quarter points on four of five shooting with a pair of threes.
“JJ really stepped up big in the fourth quarter and saved us,” said Nowitzki, who had 26 while Caron Butler added 27 with 14 of 16 from the line. “He made some big shots, two big three’s, two pull up jumpers behind the screens because they left him open and he really used the screen and knocked some shots down.”
The guy’s about 5-10 and 170 pounds. You can’t guard that guy? But, yeah, he did kill at Northeastern. Oh, that’s right. He averaged 7.2 as a senior.
Warrick had a pretty baseline slam dunk and Law a nice baseline drive where he used his body to hold off the defense and scored. He does have talent. That got the Bulls within 98-90 with 6:30 left. Game on, eh?
Nowitzki missed, but Johnson then ran down out of control and lost the ball with a chance to get to six.
Law then got a nice view of a Barea jumper from about six feet away without even trying to get to him as Dallas went back up by 10. It was hardly only Law, and I know he’s not used to playing this much, and they wouldn’t have been close without him and it’s not like Rose is Michael Cooper. But at least make the effort.
Brad Miller got it back to seven with a three point play and Jason Terry missed a jumper. It’s 100-93 with 5:34 left.
You know what’s coming. Hinrich handed off to Johnson, who decided to make a side to side move and traveled. Ooops, turnover again.
Barea then got a three over Hinrich. Murray missed a three, but Hinrich stole a pass the other way and pitched ahead to Murray, who threw the ball away, the third turnover in the last five Bulls possessions once they got within seven. And then Barea did beat them to the basket with a finger roll after Shawn Marion got an offensive rebound for a 105-93 lead. Hinrich then committed an offensive foul on a ridiculous Barea flop. I loved Barea trying to take the ball from Hinrich after the call and Hinrich slapping his arm away.
He’s Bad Bad Kirk, meaner than a junk yard dog.
Barea then stepped back over the three point line with Law again six feet from him and dropped in a three to make it 108-93 with 3:36 left. Make it 10 straight points for J.J. Barea, superstar.
So when Dallas had to play, they basically sent anyone out to beat the Bulls.
That left the Bulls at 31-36 and with Toronto and Charlotte winning, the Bulls fell two and a half games out of eighth (with Toronto having the tiebreaker) and three games behind in the loss column. That’s pretty far behind. You began to wonder with the Clippers winning whether the Bulls now were better off losing all their games to fall behind the Clippers for the 10th worst record.
That way they wouldn’t have to swap picks with the Bucks. Though the Clippers are six back, and the Bulls are not out of it, especially with Rose and Noah returning. But that swap of picks seems almost certain as the Bulls have the 11th worst record now and could hardly fall behind the Clippers without completely dumping the rest of the schedule. Which we really don’t want to see. The Bulls ought to be able to compete even despite the injuries, and you have to hope for much better than we’ve seen lately.
It’s up to them.

Do the Bulls have a plan to make the playoffs?

If the Bulls want to have a chance to make the playoffs, it looks like they’ll have to lose the next three games.
Stay with me here as that seems to make sense.
No one is suggesting the Bulls are going to lose on purpose. But if there’s a week to rest up for a last stand this would be it.
The Bulls play in Memphis Tuesday and Dallas Wednesday, and then back home to face Cleveland Friday before going to Philadelphia Saturday.
Even healthy, the Bulls would be big underdogs on the road against winning Memphis and Dallas teams and at home against the Cavs, the league’s hottest team.
So with Derrick Rose with a sprained wrist from Thursday’s collision with Dwight Howard, Luol Deng with a calf injury and Joakim Noah with plantar fasciitis and out anyway, it makes sense to sit all three until Saturday in Philadelphia and then make one last run for the playoffs.
It sounds like that’s what’s happening, anyway, as Rose said at practice Monday he’d like to play Tuesday where he played his college ball but has been told not to rush. Deng suggested after Friday’s loss in Miami he’s not ready and Noah has only begun workouts with the team.
Maybe bring both back rested for the 76ers, who are the next sub-.500 team the Bulls will see after a run of nine straight games against winning teams. The Bulls should be working on a 10-game losing streak by then, and, yes, still with a chance to make the playoffs. No, that’s not saying much for the Eastern Conference. Or, at least, the Raptors.
Toronto is in the same playoff death spiral as the Bulls with nine losses in their last 10 games and falling below .500 at 32-33 and one game ahead of the Bulls, though with the playoff tiebreaker. Which means the Bulls must finish one game ahead of the Raptors to make the playoffs.
Yes, it’s possible the Bucks, Heat or Bobcats fall as Miami and Charlotte are just three games ahead of the Bulls. But those three teams have been playing well and barring a major injury seem likely to remain ahead of Toronto and the Bulls.
I know it’s not in the spirit of competition to give up games. But there’s also the matter of protecting your valuable assets, meaning players. The Cavs already have been sitting out LeBron James some games to preserve him. It’s relatively common now around the NBA. Rose is the cornerstone of the franchise and you cannot afford to risk further injury in a few games that he’d obviously have to extend himself to have the team compete. Sure, there are exceptions, like the Knicks winning in Dallas last week. And if the Knicks can why not the Bulls? If not now, when? If not us, who?
Sure, it’s possible. And Rose and Deng could return at any point.
But there are all sorts of gambles going on, and you have to look at playing the odds.
The odds suggest the Bulls have the best chance to get some wins when the schedule begins to turn Saturday. They play eight games against winning teams after that, but only two against so called super teams, meaning those at least 10 games over .500. And both of those games, against the Suns and Cavs, are at home, and the Cavs could have clinched home court advantage by then and might be resting players.
Starting this week, the Bulls and Raptors have similar closing schedules in terms of difficulty.
Both teams have 17 games remaining, each with nine at home. Both have five back to back sets. The Bulls play 11 against teams with winning records and the Raptors nine. But the Raptors have seven games against those at least 10 over .500 while the Bulls have four against those top teams, including two in the last week of the season when the Cavs and Celtics could be resting players.
The combined record of the teams the Bulls are playing to finish the season is 551-568.
The combined record of the teams the Raptors are playing to finish the season is 538-581.
The Bulls face three winning teams on the road, though only one, Charlotte in the final game of the season April 14, after Wednesday.
The Raptors face four winning teams on the road, including Cleveland and Atlanta, and a back to back set in Miami and Charlotte later this month.
Chris Bosh blasted the team after they lost in Golden State Saturday. Coach Jay Triano benched Jarrett Jack and Andrea Bargnani Sunday night in the loss to Portland for dispirited play. Is it better to have injured players or healthy ones playing poorly?
Not a great choice.
After Saturday’s game in Philadelphia, where coach Eddie Jordan is under siege and he already has started playing kids for veterans, the Bulls play seven of nine at home with the road games in Detroit and Washington.
So that would seem to be the time to make a run if the team still is capable. If they are, you’d want Rose and Deng healthier, which presumably they would be with at least a week each off. And there is the likelihood Noah would begin to play at least limited minutes next week. Perhaps March 25 against Miami, which would be four weeks since his last game. There still would be 12 games left.
The Bulls are 31-34. You figure 41 wins gives you a good chance to make the playoffs. Say the Bulls lose the next three to fall to 31-37. They’d need a 10-4 finish, though only two of those games are against teams well above .500. You’d think with a heavy home schedule the Bulls would have a shot at that, or at least a chance to get to April 11 in Toronto and make that game meaningful. And then see what happens.
So maybe this week the lineup of Jannero Pargo, Flip Murray, James Johnson, Taj Gibson (maybe rest him for Hakim Warrick) and Brad Miller steals a game this week. Ouch. OK, maybe not. So what.
Get as close to healthy as you can be by Saturday and then see what you have. Sounds like a plan to me. After all, it’s not like you are doing any of this for extra lottery balls. It’s to make the playoffs, and that’s worth whatever it takes.

Hinrich to be suspended one game

The NBA is suspending Kirk Hinrich one game for bumping referee Bennie Adams in Friday’s loss to Miami.
He will miss Tuesday’s game in Memphis. The league announced the decision Saturday afternoon.
Hinrich was ejected with a second technical foul after objecting to a flagrant foul call against Brad Miller on Dwyane Wade. Miller also drew a technical after coach Vinny Del Negro earlier in the game was assessed a technical foul.
The Bulls are hoping Derrick Rose with a wrist injury and Luol Deng with a calf injury will be able to return for the trip to Memphis and Dallas. Joakim Noah has been practicing with his plantar fasciitis and the Bulls plan to extend his workouts this week, but he is not expected to play for at least another week.
The Bulls started Jannero Pargo for Rose Friday. If Rose cannot play, it’s assumed Pargo starts again at point guard and Flip Murray at shooting guard as Murray has been first guard off the bench. James Johnson is coming off his best game as a pro, a career high 20 points, and he has the offensive abilities to play in the backcourt, if necessary.
The Bulls were hopeful Hinrich wouldn’t be suspended as coach Vinny Del Negro said after the game Hinrich inadvertantly walked into the referee.
The referee stopped,” said Del Negro. “That’s the only reason he bumped him. I was right there. He was walking toward him and the referee was walking away and the referee turned and walked toward him. And they bumped. Kirk wasn’t going to bump him. There was some contact, but it was because the referee stopped right in front of him.
“You’re playing in the game, competing, and you’re playing hard and trying to get back in it and you’re not pleased with the outcome of some of those decisions,” Del Negro said about the late outburst of frustration as Miami attempted 15 more free throws and the Bulls felt Miami was allowed leeway to play physically while the Bulls were not. “You’ve got to battle through it. You have to keep your emotions in check, but you also have to battle hard and be the aggressor.”
Rookie Taj Gibson also felt victimized by what he believed were cheap shots by Wade, who later in the Heat locker room said “Brad should stop whining” about questioning foul calls and the Bulls being shorthanded as the Heat was shorthanded as well with Michael Beasley and Dorrell Wright out.
The ref flinched and he flinched into Kirk both times,” Gibson said. “Kirk’s a good guy. He just went up to him to see what was going on. That’s what he normally does (as captain). When he went up to him the ref flinched because he thought someone was going to tackle him.
“Dwyane undercut me and I was (upset) because rhe refreee saw it and he just asked me, ‘Are you OK.’ I was like “Am I OK?'” related Gibson.”I was just (upset), but I learned to control my anger,” said Gibson. “I’m a rookie. I’m not gojg to explode on anyone. I felt like exploding on him because that was a dangerous play. The play was over and he ran up on me. We played a physical, tough game. Calls were tough on us. It took the fun out of the game. It’s the NBA. You try to keep playing and hope they see the tape and try to make it better.”
That makes it consecutive games it seemed there were some unnecessary blows against Bulls players from Dwight Howard’s knockdown of Rose that caused his sprained wrist to Wade’s shot at Gibson with Miller coming back to protect his teammate.So the Bulls did fight back, and the hope is it carries over with one more tough week on the schedule with
Memphis and Dallas on the road and then home to play Cleveland. Then it’s Philadelphia, Houston, Miami, the Nets. Pistons and Suns to end March. By then the Bulls should have a pretty good idea if the April games against Charlotte twice, Milwaukee and Toronto will have any significance toward making the playoffs.