Tag Archives: hakim warrick

Bulls roster madness to begin with end of season

So what happens next?
The Bulls Tuesday in losing the opening round playoff series to the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-1 concluded what generally was a successful season with a second straight 41-41 record and first round playoff elimination. Yes, even with another first round out. This was to be the appetizer.
But given injuries that cost Joakim Noah 18 games and parts of several others, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich missing another 20 combined—only Brad Miller, of all guys, and Taj Gibson played all 82 games—and the midseason trade of John Salmons, it was a positive to get to the playoffs and give the Cavs a scare, if not a seventh game.
This season with the loss of Ben Gordon as a free agent was aimed toward acquiring a free agent this summer. That process begins July 1, and the initial targets likely will be Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, David Lee and Carlos Boozer. The general belief is Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, the two elite free agents, will remain with their teams. But with Miami’s poor playoff performance around Wade and the possibility the Cavs could lose to the Celtics in the second round, their objectives could change. Free agency tends to be a financial and emotional process.
Though he was no where near the caliber, Trevor Ariza essentially took the same offer from the Rockets as he could have gotten from the Lakers because he was mad at them. The Heat doesn’t have near the players for a sign and trade the Bulls do, so if Miami comes up short, Wade could go shopping. Same with LeBron. It’s LeBron’s seventh season and if there’s no championship, maybe there’s a different itch he wants to scratch, that seven year itch.
And if Joe Johnson doesn’t have a rash the way the Hawks have fallen behind the no name Bucks 3-2 after Wednesday’s home loss, then maybe you have to wonder about him. Could he want to stay with that team under any circumstances if they lose to the Bucks?
Basically, everyone on the Bulls roster but Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah is available. It’s not like the Bulls are looking to move Taj Gibson or Kirk Hinrich, for instance, but they’d like to use a player in trade and then perhaps money to sign a free agent.
There will be dozens of possibilities. I’ve previously mentioned trading for Golden State’s Monta Ellis and signing Lee. Neither is a first tier free agent, generally considered James and Wade, and then Bosh and Johnson—but the Bulls would love to find both a shooting guard and interior scorer.
Ellis likely will be available and the Warriors during the season made various attempts at acquiring Hinrich. The Jazz also has liked Hinrich and there’s some talk they might resign Boozer and trade Paul Millsap. The Timberwolves will be active, as they’ve promised, and given the rough relationship between Kevin Love and coach Kurt Rambis, Love probably could be gotten. The team, for now, seems to be asking way too much for Al Jefferson, namely an All-Star or someone like Noah.
There also will be other free agents who would come more cheaply, like Anthony Morrow, Brendan Haywood, Raja Bell, Steve Blake, Drew Gooden, Jermaine O’Neal, Al Harrington, Juwan Howard, Roger Mason and Kyle Korver. Maybe you take a shot at a restricted free agent like Rudy Gay or Randy Foye.
And the Bulls finally will bring in 2008 draft pick Omer Asik. He is a seven-footer who has been injured the last two years with knee surgery and a broken collarbone but has ranked among the best shotblockers in Euroleagus history. The Bulls will get a good look at him at the World Championships in his native Turkey this summer. He is expected to be available to the Bulls for next season.
So there will be plenty of potential permutations before the Bulls have a roster for the 2010-11 season.
Here’s a look at what will happen with this group:
Derrick Rose: He’s the anchor of the team’s future as even LeBron James after Game 5 was calling Rose maybe the league’s best point guard. Deron Williams, by the way, objected, and said at shootaround Wednesday he was the best. Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah. Rose has one more season before he can negotiate an extension, which will be at the maximum salary. He’s not available to anyone. He earned $5.2 million this season and will be under team option one more season, unless he adds an extension after the 2011-12 season.
Chance of returning: 100 percent.
Joakim Noah: He’s the other untouchable. The organization will not even listen to any sign and trade offers with the possible exception of LeBron James, and then only possibly because of James’ bum elbow. Noah earned $2.5 million this season and is eligible for an extension this summer. I assume he signs one as players will want to get in under the old rules as the current collective bargaining agreement expires after next season and long term deals are expected to be reduced. The Bulls can get free agents first, but that’s why they will spend their money this summer because they likely won’t have for beyond once Noah commits. They could make some short term deals to go into 2011 free agency, but with the labor uncertainty it’s not likely. So what’s Noah worth? He’s made himself a star player, though still as an eight figure earner will be one of the only NBA players who probably won’t make as much as his father, former tennis and now European music star Yannick Noah.
Chance of returning: 100 percent.
Luol Deng: After all the preseason uncertainty coming off his stress fracture, Deng had a good season, averaging 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in 70 games. He makes $11.3 million next season and has a contract through 2013-14, the team’s longest now. He’ll likely be dangled in sign and trade talks as that will be a key in trying to attract someone like Bosh or Johnson. He has value around the league, but his contract length limits that with no one sure what will happen with the labor talks. And then the Bulls would need a small forward, so they won’t give him up easily.
Chance of returning: 75 percent.
Kirk Hinrich: He is fairly unflappable and sounded the most after Game 5 like he didn’t know if he’d be back. As Hinrich acknowledged, his name has come up in rumors for years. The reason is so many teams like what he brings and he has a descending contract that ends at $8 million in 2011-12, not much above the mid level for a guy who can play point guard and defend. With Joe Johnson and Rose, he’d give the Bulls likely the best guard rotation in the league. But it could cost the Bulls Hinrich in a sign and trade to get someone like Johnson. His name will come up in numerous scenarios starting at draft time, though the Bulls would like to have him back.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Taj Gibson: Along with Noah, he was the surprise of the season coming from the 26th pick in the draft to starting 70 games, second most to Rose. He made $1 million and was one of the league’s best bargains. He averaged nine points and 7.5 rebounds and with Noah made the Bulls one of the league’s best rebounding teams. He does have trouble against bigger players, but is a relentless worker. He’s got to improve his shooting and strength. If the Bulls can get Bosh, he’ll either be in a sign-and-trade or make up a heck of a front line with Noah. He gives the Bulls the option to explore fixing their shooting issues first because he can be a starting power forward, if not at an All-Star level.
Chance of returning: 70 percent.
James Johnson: The sixth player the Bulls have under contract for next season. He made $1.6 million this season, but barely played the first half and then sparingly as that was one of the key issues between management and coach Vinny Del Negro. He was a risk/reward draft pick, selected to make a hit or bust. He had a rocky start with punctuality issues and maturity, but has begun to come around. He’ll likely go to summer league, which can give him a chance to gain confidence. He probably would have been in the D-league at times if the team had more depth. The Bulls still want to give him a chance and feel he’ll virtually be a rookie again.
Chance of returning: 90 percent.
Brad Miller: He’s coming off a $90 million long term deal in which he made $12.25 million this season. Remarkably, he played all 82 games, albeit slowly. He really liked his teammates and bonds well with the support staff, though he was closest with Hinrich. Career wise his numbers are in decline at 34 as he shot a career low 43 percent and 28 percent on threes. He had some big games, but generally takes a few months to get back into condition. He’s a good backup center, though the Bulls won’t have much money after signing free agents and won’t get into a bidding fight for him. They’d probably give him a few million dollars for a year with a team option and would like to have him back. But at his age he remains a risk.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Hakim Warrick: He was acquired in the John Salmons deal and seemed like he’d be a good fit, but he quickly fell out of favor with Del Negro, who never quite found a role for him. He made $3 million this season and probably will look for something in that range or a bit less. It probably would be too much for the Bulls. He averaged 8.7 points and 3.6 rebounds for the Bulls, but in just 19 minutes per game when he played and rarely in the playoffs. He’s not a physical player, but can score with a decent mid range jumper and is a good athlete.
Chance of returning: 10 percent.
Flip Murray: He came in the Tyrus Thomas deal and became a relatively trusted sixth man type as an instant scorer. He got more time than Warrick, but not consistently. He averaged 10.1 for the Bulls, but shot just under 40 percent and 31 percent on threes. The Bulls would like to him have back as he’s a pro shooter and scorer, if streaky. But teams like him as a bench player and he’ll probably command more than the Bulls feel is worth paying.
Chance of returning: 10 percent.
Jannero Pargo: He never gained the regular trust of Del Negro and, as a result, had a tough shooting season with erratic playing time, shooting just 27.5 percent on threes. He got the $1.9 million mid level exception this season. With a bit more discipline and accountability, I think he could be a better average shooter. He’s a popular locker room guy and if he’d take close to the veteran’s minimum might be worth another look.
Chance of returning: 25 percent.
Acie Law: He came with Murray in the Thomas deal and never got much chance to play, 12 games and one start and mostly DNP’s. He’s a clever ball handler who can get to the basket, but he’s determined to get a chance, which he’s never had in being shuttled around. He made $2.2 million on the end of his rookie deal as 11th pick in 2007. I talked to him and he says he can see the Bulls getting Johnson and with Rose and Hinrich there’d be no minutes again. He doesn’t fit with Rose since he’s a penetrator and is more a scoring point guard. If he gets a chance several teams may regret giving him up.
Chances of returning: 5 percent.
Joe Alexander: Came in the Salmons deal and is an unusually gifted athlete who dominates the one-one-one games in practices. When it gets to full court something seems to change. He’s a dedicated worker and one of those guys coaches don’t seem to know why he’s not better. He says it’s been injuries and the lack of a chance. He made $2.6 million as the eighth pick in 2008, but the Bucks passed on his team option. He’ll likely take a minimum deal and the Bulls will be looking for players who’ll take a minimum but have had experience.
Chance of returning: 50 percent.
Chris Richard: The power forward from Florida became a popular guy around the locker room, easy going and friendly. He can bang around and was back and forth on some 10 day deals. He could be an asset in some sign and trade possibilities and might get a shot with the summer league team.
Chances of returning: 20 percent.
Rob Kurz: Picked up late so the team could take a look at him for perhaps a minimum deal as one of those shooting, so called stretch four forwards who can play a guy like Antawn Jamison, if not quite in that class. Also could be in a sign and trade and likely summer league as well.
Chances of returning: 20 percent.
Devin Brown: Came for Aaron Gray and pretty much got forgotten about once the team added Murray. Never got a chance to shoot himself out of his poor start, which was a long way from starting with the Hornets and making about $1.2 million.
Chances of returning: Zero.

Bulls shooting for three: Three more games

As what may be the Bulls final shootaround of the 2009-10 season was ending, several of the players were practicing half court, LeBron James style jump shots.
When James Johnson came up short on one, Kirk Hinrich joked, “Better get in the weight room.”
At least the weight of playing perhaps their final game of the season, trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers 3-1 in this opening round playoff series, was not pulling the Bulls down.
“Today is one of those days everyone is feeling fine and shooting well and focused,” said Derrick Rose. “I think we’re gonna get a win tonight.”
Reporters asking questions were far more subdued than the Bulls players as Rose playfully talked about James’ half court three from Game 4 and said he’s still working on making three pointers.
Rose reported no ill effects from the sprained ankle in Game 4 and precautionary MRI Monday.
“I thought I was going to have a shot before the game the way I was feeling after the game and yesterday,” said Rose. “I got treatment, was taking pills and putting cream on it (and sleeping in a boot). It hurt (afterward) when I walked. It feels good now. If I did not have the brace on it would have been worse.”
Rose doesn’t tape his ankles like most players, but wears a brace.
Luol Deng, who has knee and calf problems, also is fine to play.
The Bulls seem to be bracing for a fight, at least.
“They’ll play tonight,” said coach Vinny Del Negro. “They both feel a little better. They’re sore, but they’ll be out there. They’ve been battling all year and fighting through different (injury) things.”
But trailing 3-1, the Bulls will have to do some different things as well, especially with LeBron James, who dominated the game with 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
You just can’t say you take the ball out of his hands with double teams as that compromises your defense and leaves too many open shooters.
Deng has been trying against James and doing a decent job, but the Cavs adjusted well and got the ball to James higher with more steam coming up court. The result was he was able to get into the middle of the court better and spread the ball to shooters.
I expect the Bulls to change up some and put Kirk Hinrich on James more. They’ve done some of this, but Hinrich will get up on him and bother James physically, and while it may seem like a fly on an elephant, James doesn’t generally like defenders like that. Sure, it could leave post up options, but James doesn’t generally like to play out of the post. And if he does, he ends up controlling the ball more and stopping their offense, and then mostly becomes a passer. I’d try to lure him into more of that.
The Bulls were getting burned on that pick and roll play where Deng was switching onto Antawn Jamison and Jamison was dominating Deng.
There also comes a time you have to, as they say, “man up,” and Deng will have to be more physical with Jamison in those situations. Though he had a rough go in Game 4, I still expect to see James Johnson in those situations as well because of his size and quickness and Del Negro’s uncertainty about playing Hakim Warrick with troubling matchups with the Cavs.
Also, on offense, I’d like to see the Bulls put James in pick and roll as well as he likes to play more free safety. James isn’t a great—or much interested—pick and roll player, so you want to make him work on defense. So I also look for Deng to be more aggressive shooting.
You got the feeling around the Bulls Tuesday morning that, as John Belushi famously said, “It ain’t over until we decide it’s over. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” Germans?
“This can be our last game,” noted Rose. “We’ve got to give it our all. Go out and play hard. I know I will and I know the team will.”

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.

Bulls have a foul taste about Game 1 and want change

Derrick Rose had just made one of those plays in the Game 1 loss to the Cavaliers Saturday, a double move, slipping the trap on top, driving into the lane, changing direction, getting banged again by Shaquille O’Neal, who got credit for a block.

Rose paused and bent a bit, as if saying to himself, “What do I have to do?”

Rose never says much to referees, or anyone, really. None of those histrionics after every drive or screams of faux pain with every contact. Rose does it the way the NBA asks, being professional and classy and allowing the officials to do their job.

But not much later in a stoppage of play he wandered over to one of the referees and said:

“I did not make it into this league by shooting jump shots.”

Silence. There was no response.

Derrick Rose was the No.1 overall pick in the 2008 draft with the reputation of a player who could not shoot. We know differently, and Rose has worked to become better. But how do you become the consensus best player in the draft when you are not known as a shooter? OK, so you are a guy who drives the ball.

But in the Bulls 96-83 loss to the Cavaliers Saturday, Rose with 28 shots—and not many jumpers—got two free throws, both on a drive with 3:11 left in the game and the Bulls trailing 88-77.

So you mean to tell me Rose was on the floor for more than 40 minutes, he was the focus of the entire Cavs defensive game plan and he attempted 27 shots to that point, about double the next most on the Bulls, and he never once was fouled?

Not once!

Not by Shaq lumbering around and jumping in front or LeBron coming up from behind for those blocks, the usual one or two being goal tending which aren’t called, by Anderson Varejao trapping him and chasing Rose everywhere and a guard deep in his grill?

These must be the greatest defensive players in the history of basketball to come up with almost a dozen blocks and never once make enough contact to foul maybe the fastest guard in the NBA, a fearless competitor who got inside the paint 18 times for shots.

And not once did anyone make any serious contact with him!

“We need to put more pressure on them,” Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said after practice Sunday. “I wasn’t happy with us only getting 11 free throws. We need to not settle and attack off the dribble and get to the line more (eight of 11 free throws overall). We have a tendency to settle for jumpers.”

Del Negro is right, but he needs to do something about it.

I mention this is considering the bracelet I wear that reads, “WWPD.”

That being What Would Phil Do.

Phil would note that Anthony Parker, who needs a roadmap to find the lane, got more free throws than Derrick Rose. How is that possible? Phil would put the referees on notice they are not treating his team fairly. Actually, he’d have said it before the game to let the officials know he’s watching.

Yes, Phil got fined last week $35,000 for noting how many free throws Kevin Durant shoots, which was the NBA’s way of sending a message to all the other coaches. And Phil makes $12 million annually and no one else does, certainly not Vinny.

Sorry, but in the playoffs you have to stand up for your team. And for your best player.

This kid is being treated like a pinball. OK, that’s an ancient reference, though the last video game I played was pong where a dot bounces back and forth off immoveable objects. Yes, that was Rose in Game 1.

Vinny needed Sunday to make this about the referees. I do argue against that at times, and the NBA has been warning coaches and players to stop it. But then you see James scream like he was knifed every time he goes to the basket and Rose keeps his mouth shut and merely surveys his bruises after the game.

I won’t make this argument for Kirk Hinrich, who didn’t attempt a free throw in Game 1, but he generally doesn’t attack the defense, certainly not like Rose.

I thought Rose was terrific Saturday and had no problem with his 28 shots. He doesn’t want to take them, but when he looks around and no one can hit a shot and the game is getting away, what else can he do?

Del Negro defended him Sunday and he was right.

“I did not agree with that (criticism about) 28 shots,” said Del Negro. “We need Derrick to score and get to the basket. He has to cut down on his turnovers (maybe if someone can make a shot and the Cavs can’t send three guys at Rose every time). We need to play well defensively, get out and run and get easy ones and make them guard. There were too many one pass shots. We have to do a better job moving the ball and taking higher percentage shots.”

That’s true, and Del Negro went through all the usual stuff about boxing out, moving the ball, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Yes, the Bulls do have to move the ball better, though to free up Rose. The Cavs are attacking on his first penetration. He’s got to give it up, swing the ball and then get it back for more side isolations.

There was this fuss about Shaq and he likened himself to a diesel truck. I agree. He can’t turn. He had 12 points and five rebounds. C’mon. Hakim Warrick does that in 25 minutes, too. Let’s not get carried away.

Rose, as usual, showed unusual equanimity about his dilemma.

“That’s the way they call the game,” he said. “I can’t say nothing about that. Hopefully, the refs look at what they are doing. We’re still gonna go out and play the game and see if we can get some calls. I know one day it’s gonna change. I cannot get mad. I learned from the New Jersey game (seven turnovers) the refs weren’t calling it right and I got frustrated a little bit. It’s got to change one day.

“The only thing I’ll tell you,” said Rose, “is it’s gonna change one day and when it does it’s going to be scary.”

I also happened to get a message this weekend from one of the coaches whose team is in the playoffs. He had watched the Cavs and Bulls and commented, “It’s like a middleweight against a heavyweight.”

Yes, that is what generally happens in 1 vs 8 matchups, though Rose, not surprisingly, could see only positives in that.

“I want to make history by beating them,” said Rose. “I’ll probably never have this chance again, or if I do hopefully I’m in their position (being No. 1 vs No. 8). I know for the future I’m probably not going to get another chance like this (to upset a No. 1 seed), being this big an underdog. That’s why we want to put it all out there.”

Hey, maybe he knows something about the team getting free agents we don’t.

Still, the Bulls didn’t play very aggressively in Game 1 and got pushed around by the Cavs. The players pretty much acknowledged that and insisted it would be different for Game 2 Monday, that they might be stepping up in class.

Maybe look like at least light heavies.

“Yeah, definitely,” said Joakim Noah. “We were a little bit timid yesterday. We’ll be ready to go Monday. All this is a great learning experience. We’ve just got to keep fighting. They’re very good. There’s no denying that. But at the same time we feel we can compete with them and feel we can win Monday.”

The Bulls certainly looked and sounded confident and relaxed. As Noah spoke, the reserves were involved in heated one-on-one games with Noah providing exclamations of support. James Johnson was impressive, and the hope is he gets some time against James Monday as Johnson can at least deliver some hard fouls. It is time to show some of that kickboxing expertise.

Actually, Joe Alexander was one of the best, though the rap on him has been—fair or not—he’s best at playground one-on-one and up to three-on-three games but suffers in full court games.

Noah said he enjoyed watching so much because he went through that trail by fire of his own.

“You get tired and you really get (upset) at the coaches (calling fouls),” said Noah. “It is adversity at its rawest. It’s interesting to me.”

Noah said his games were with “Tyrus and big Pookie.”

Asked who was Pookie, Noah exclaimed, “Aaron Gray! C’mon, man, you forgot the pookster!”

But it should be no joking come Monday evening.

“We definitely talked about it today,” said Rose. “We’ve got to go out and be totally opposite of how we were last game. I think we were not that aggressive on the defensive end. We have to have some type of swagger or nastiness about ourselves. You’ll see tomorrow.

“No excuses,” said Rose. “Tomorrow we’ve got to come out and start hitting people. No And 1’s. We got to hit people first. If somebody comes down the middle, we’ve got to be aggressive. Tomorrow’s gonna be an aggressive game.”

Bulls lose Game 1 to Cavs; need to make changes

The first game of a playoff series is something of a feeling out process, getting a sense of what your opponent will do and where you are.
The Bulls, in losing Saturday 96-83 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, not only are trailing 1-0 in the series. But it should be obvious—and to no one’s surprise since the Cavs had the best record in the league—the Cavs are a much better team with LeBron James casually scoring 24 points, Mo Williams adding 18, Shaquille O’Neal returning with 12 points and three blocks and Anderson Varejao with 15 rebounds off the bench.
The Cavs took away the Bulls hopes and strength with a 50-38 rebounding edge, matching them in fast break points and holding a 38-14 edge in inside points through the first three quarters before finishing 42-26.
“They’re big,” noticed Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “They keep coming at you.”
That’s because the Cavs loaded up for a championship drive after last season’s conference finals loss by adding O’Neal and Antawn Jamison, and they feel it is their time.
“We’re confident,” said James, deigning to remove his sun glasses as he spoke to reporters after a long post game break. “Our goal now is to win an NBA championship. We have the look of a champion.”
There was little doubt of that Saturday as the Bulls had the look of a team just grateful to be there, satisfied about having closed the season strong with 10 of 14 to vindicate themselves after a 10-game losing streak in March.
So you say, maybe it was just nerves as the Bulls fell behind by 22 early in the third quarter before getting it together and getting within seven a few times midway through the fourth quarter.
“We can’t wait to play (Game 2 Monday),” said Derrick Rose, who led the Bulls with 28 points and 10 assists. “I know I can’t (wait).  It’s going to be a fun series. This is something I live for. I think about every day, every minute of the day, playing against the best team in the NBA, one of the best players in the NBA.”
But if the Bulls have any intention of winning—after all, what are you here for otherwise?—or making it a competitive series, there are going to have to be some major changes.
Look, you can say the Bulls outplayed the Cavs in the second half, outrebounded them 20-19, outshot them 45-41 percent, held them to four of 14 on threes after halftime and forced eight turnovers. If only the Bulls could have hit a few more shots, eh? But you are kidding yourselves. The Cavs aren’t quite the truly great team yet, so they took their foot off the gas a bit and began casting jumpers with a 22-point lead.
“It doesn’t matter,” said James when asked about maybe giving the Bulls life. “We wear down teams. We don’t always win by 20, 30. In the end, we won by 13. That’s still psychological (because) it was a tough game for them. We let them back in the game because we turned the ball over 18 times. Probably 14 were unforced and they were able to convert when we missed easy jumpers. Winning by 20, 10, five, if we take care of business we’ll be fine.”
No, the Bulls didn’t put the slightest scare into the Cavs, and, frankly, didn’t come at them very hard. So much so that James almost was apologizing for them.
Yes, there was some yakking late in the second quarter when Brad Miller took a James elbow that cut his chin and drew a foul.
“Just taking an elbow to the damn chin and bleeding. My foul,” Miller observed wryly.
Joakim Noah, who was booed relentlessly because of a few runins he had with James, including daring to challenge James for acting like a horse’s behind when James was dancing during one big win over the Bulls, exchanged some words with James. And given it was the playoffs, at least the players finally stopped hugging one another after the game.
“At the end of the day I have no friends in that locker room except Danny Green,” said Noah. “I don’t know nobody on that team and I don’t care. I just want to win.”
It was a rough game for Noah, pushed around by O’Neal, and victimized by a pretty O’Neal spin move that was reminiscent of the days when Shaq could shake.
“That’s the patented move,” offered O’Neal, proud of his return after being out almost two months with a thumb injury. “I’ve been doing it for years. That’s the ‘Diesel Truck with No Brakes’. You see when I get into that move, people get out of the way because they know I’m (going) and don’t have any brakes.”
Noah was flummoxed trying to deal with O’Neal, getting into foul trouble and with 10 points and eight rebounds.
“He knows how to use that 350 pounds,” Noah sighed.
Which is where the changes have to start. I doubt after all Noah has done this season to help the Bulls into the playoffs, Del Negro would try, but the Cavs made it clear they are better, they know they are better, and the Bulls played like they know the Cavs are better.
Again, it has to be about so called “junking up” the game when you are such a big underdog, doing the unexpected and untraditional, and forcing the opponent into radical adjustments.
The Cavs responded with the better subtle adjustments Saturday, like getting Noah stuck on Jamison a few times and Jamison getting easy looks and James going right at Hakim Warrick when he got into the game as Warrick really cannot play threes.
So start with Noah. Or, actually, don’t start him.
Change the lineup—no offense to Noah—and start Brad Miller, who is better on Shaq and whose foul trouble won’t matter as Shaq was tiring at about 20 minutes and limited to just under 25.
The Bulls need to get Shaq moving on screen rolls as he doesn’t play them, though when asked about it after the game he said he was great at it.
“I’ve been here 17 years and I haven’t been beaten on screen/roll yet,” insisted O’Neal. “Not that I’m a great pick and roll defender. It’s just the game is called differently for me, so I have to be careful (read that unaggressive). I’ve been around. No one has beaten me with that yet. They want to run. We can run. It’s gonna he hard for people to run and bang with me. I’m built for both.”
OK, I’d take that chance.
Publicly, it would be viewed as a demotion, but I believe Noah is too much a team player to care. Miller matches better with Shaq and can pull him out on the pick and pop. Or not, as Shaq doesn’t go out to contest shots.
“I think Noah is a valuable piece,” reminded Cavs guard Williams. “And he has to go to sleep worried about what he has to do with Shaq on Monday.”
Instead, Noah can match against Varejao, who killed the Bulls with that game high 15 rebounds, four offensive as the Cavs doubled the Bulls on second chance points.
“Varejao’s activity,” noted Del Negro. “You always have to know where he is. You have to get a body on him.”
Noah has the body for that.
The Bulls have to win that hustle board to have success against a team like the Cavs, and they were dominated instead.
I’d change most of the matchups because the Bulls stayed traditional and it was fatal.
Taj Gibson cannot play Jamison, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Deng cannot play James. Look, no one can play James, but you have to also put your players in position to succeed.
Rose, even with some questioning about 28 shots and seven turnovers, was breathtaking and the only serious scorer for the Bulls. And this was with the Cavs playing bumper pool with him. No one came out on Noah. They left Gibson alone. Sometimes Varejao came out and trapped Rose near halfcourt. Whenever Rose went inside, the Cavs closed with multiple big men and Rose took a pounding.
He desperately needs help and didn’t get much Saturday. And he still scored 28 points! Remarkable.
Hello, Joe Johnson. Help!
Right now, they’re keeping that guy on me until I pass the ball,” noted Rose. “Joakim was a little bit off in the beginning of the first quarter (shooting unguarded) and the first half, but those are shots that they are going to have to take. Brad, Joakim and Taj, if they make some shots, it frees me up and frees everybody else up.”
If “if’s and buts” were candy and nuts…
They don’t generally make those shots.
As I said to open the series, I’d get Kirk Hinrich on James. Not only to draw him into ignoring his teammates, but Hinrich will play him tougher than anyone. It was disappointing to see the Bulls play the Cavs with too much respect, so much so James almost apologized for them.
“I’ve been in playoff series before where guys tried to hard foul me, put me on the ground,” said James, suggesting this wasn’t one. “I’m not saying Brad was trying to do that.”
It’s OK with us. Go ahead.
As LeBron said, “Harness our emotions? There’s no such thing in the playoffs.”
So I’d play Hinrich on James, and though it probably isn’t fair to him because he’s played so little—which is a lost opportunity for this time of year and this situation—I’d probably give James Johnson a run at James because Johnson is big and athletic and maybe can bother him and will play physically if asked. He’ll probably get foul calls, and the Bulls got more than their share, especially Noah.
“I know we’re playing against an All-Star like Shaq, somebody who has been in this position many times, won a lot of championships, but if I say anything about calls, is that a fine or something like that?” Noah wondered. “I’m not criticizing anybody. Of course I’m biased. Overall I don’t think some of those calls were fair.”
Then I’d put Deng at power forward to play Jamison.
The Bulls got tricked on matchups several times, Noah caught on Jamison when Miller was in guarding Shaq, and Jamison had a few key scores coming up on top off screens.
Deng is more similar to Jamison and can follow him outside and give him trouble with those inside flip shots. Plus, you have to get Deng some confidence as he was five of 15 shooting for 12 points, again often stuck on the weak side watching too much. He’s a good rebounder. Let him get inside.
And then you also make yourself a bench.
The Cavs reserves, particularly Varejao, were far more effective while Del Negro doesn’t use his bench much. But you mix up the starting lineup and that gives you some different looks off the bench. Then you play Flip Murray with Rose as Murray can space the court reasonably well with his shooting and the Cavs quietly respect him as one of the Cavs told me he was one of the toughest players they’ve ever had. Also, he had a nice run Saturday with nine points in 11 minutes.
The Cavs off guards don’t beat you, anyway, and you have to get Rose more space.
I’d isolate him more on the side or on top and not put him that screen/roll so much as well.
The Bulls just made it too easy on the Cavs Saturday.
Jamison abused Noah late in the first quarter after Deng actually got a call on a charge against James. We thought that was illegal. But the Bulls got caught in a bad mismatch right away as the Cavs went with their quicker, smaller lineup while the Bulls got stuck with Miller on Varejao and Noah trying to corral Jamison. It was a disaster as the Cavs went from leading 13-10 to a 32-18 lead after the first quarter. As Jamison had nine after Shaq had seven to open the quarter and the Bulls seven turnovers with the Cavs smothering Rose.
“I wasn’t really happy with the way I played today,” said Noah. “I feel like I have to come out and bring a little more energy. We had that one stretch where we kind of lost it a little bit in the first quarter, but besides that, we fought pretty hard as a team. We just have to really understand that we can play with this team, and we can compete, but at the end of the day, they won the game. It doesn’t matter if we lost by 20 or one, we lost, and we’ll be ready to play on Monday.”
James wasn’t unusually aggressive in the game, though he got into it  a little bit with Miller in the second quarter when they both got technicals as James pushed off hard when Miller was grabbing him to stop a score. The Bulls went with Warrick, who tried to post LeBron, and made one score. But LeBron caught him right away on a back cut for a slam dunk, which you have to avoid to keep the fans from their frenzy.
Gibson got welcomed to his first playoffs with a couple of blocked shots with James coming from behind as James got  four of the Cavs’ impressive 12, and the Cavs led 56-41 at halftime.
It looked over when the Bulls got caught helping—bad idea—and Williams and Anthony Parker opened the third with a pair of threes, Shaq got that spin on Noah and Jamison got a runout as the Cavs went up 68-46.
Yes, the Cavs seemed rested and ready and a little prickly about the criticism they took for sitting James to end the season.
“I think there were a lot of things written, a lot of opinions that people had,” said Williams.   “I think with us, we have a bunker mentality where we are worried about home (and) the 15 guys in the locker room, including the coaching staff.  We knew that a lot of things were going to be written and a lot of things were going to be said, and we knew that the rest was good.  It showed today.”
And James insisted he let everyone know in a pregame speech what this is all about.
“This is what we all have waited for,” he said he told the team.  “‘This is why we play hard – throughout the whole season, throughout the regular season and throughout practices – is to get to this point.’  As much as we loved the regular season, we love the postseason even more. Once we got here the day before the game, we were all prepared.  We were all mentally focused and I knew the guys were ready to play.”
Though they seemed to lose some interest with that big lead. We’ll see if that helps the Bulls’ confidence or helps wake up the Cavs to finish.
The Bulls threw some zone at the Cavs in a nice adjustment, and the Cavs fell for it with a lot of jump shots and a scoring drought of more than seven minutes. The Bulls got some amazing drives and floaters from Rose, and suddenly it was 68-58 with a murmur in the crowd.
Gibson missed a wide open jumper to try to get it to eight, and then James scored on a pair of drives to close the third with the Cavs up 13.
Deng finally got a nice cut and score on a Rose pass and Noah began to feel confident in that unguarded elbow jumper. Murray hit a three and Gibson a 15 footer to get the Bulls within 78-71 with 7:25 left. Still, you felt it was the Cavs’ game.
Jamison hit a 20 footer, but Murray got a runout slam on a pass from Rose after Varejao missed a small. Still seven with 5:36 remaining. But Delonte West and Williams answered with jumpers, Rose was still out of bounds in just missing a terrific inbounds play Del Negro drew up, and Varejao began getting open diving to the basket as the Bulls reacted too slowly to his roll. The Bulls defensive philosophy is to blitz the screen/roll, but Varejao cut them up diving quickly and there was no rotation to help.
The Bulls also continued to switch the pick and roll too much, leaving some bad matchups, instead of playing hard over the screens.
And when James ran out and was fouled after a Deng turnover, he signaled with his arm extended, so at least the Bulls kept him from dancing. That three point play gave the Cavs a 91-79 lead with just over two minutes left to effectively clinch the win.
“Give Cleveland credit,” said Del Negro. “It’s a long series (they hope). Our guys are excited about it. They know we can play better than we did tonight. We have to get off to a better start. We were back on our heels a little bit. We fought back and cut it (the lead) a little bit and then LeBron made a couple of plays.”
That’s not enough. Make them react. Make them think. Make them adjust. What have you got to lose but a series you are supposed to lose?

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 come up big and win in Toronto

It was clearly written for the Bulls on the board as soon as you walked into the locker room before Sunday’s potential playoff playin game with the Toronto Raptors.
“How bad do we want it?”
It might have needed an adverb, but the message was clear.
Joakim Noah got it, and everyone followed along for a 104-88 domination in which the Bulls led by double figures the entire second half and by 25 with seven minutes left, the Bulls best win in the season’s biggest game.
“I knew it was a really important game,” Noah was saying, his foot resting in a bucket of ice while the hot fever of the win resonated in a raucous locker room around him. “I was really focused. I wanted to go out there and impose my will as much as I could, be aggressive offensively and defensively. I wanted to make sure our team played harder than their team.”
Derrick Rose, who had a team high 26 points, seven assists and just one turnover, is the Bulls best player.
Noah is the MVP and leader.
Yes, finally, ponytail and all, the Bulls have a leader.
Need it, and he will come.
The Bulls now are 39-41, one game ahead of the Raptors for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and winners of eight of their last 12. That came after 10 consecutive losses with Noah out with plantar fasciitis.
“(Noah’s) a guy always energetic, always yelling, talking,” said Rose. “He’s giving all his energy when he’s out there and you want to do the same when you see him do that stuff.
“He was telling people (Sunday) there was no need to play around, on the layup line no bs-ing, making sure everyone goes hard,” said Rose. “In the locker room, on the bus. He was focused the whole time.”
And biggest of all, Noah took the Raptors’ heart away. And win the hearts of his teammates, who even were cheering for him as he came into the locker room after the game.
Yes, he’s a keeper.
The Raptors are down with Chris Bosh out for the rest of the regular season and Antoine Wright out.
“If you take Derrick Rose off their team and take out Joakim Noah, are they a playoff team?” whined Jarrett Jack. “Nothing against the others guys…”
Yes, in the end the Raptors had nothing.
Still, they were home and the crowd was engaged and energized.
This one could have gotten away quickly, and the Bulls aren’t exactly fast starters.
But Noah took command right away.
He dove on a pick and roll to open the Bulls scoring, hit Taj Gibson with a hi-low pass for a slam dunk, Gibson back from a mini slump and going hard to the glass, and rattled in a jumper, even calling for the ball.
“I’m playing with confidence and feel like being able to knock down a few jumpers keeps the defense honest and helps our team because hitting shots makes my driving opportunities better and I’m able to make plays for other people,” Noah said.
This was the guy a year ago who wouldn’t even look at the basket when he got the ball.
The Bulls broke from a 16-16 tie with a pair of Noah free throws, a Gibson jumper and then slam on another Noah pass, a 10-2 run that gave the Bulls a 28-23 lead after one.
Noah had six points, four rebounds and three assists and by halftime 10 points, 10 rebounds and six assists on the way to 18 points, 19 rebounds and a career high equaling seven assists.
Look that up in the phrase dictionary for “Coming up big.”
“I was really excited about the game,” Noah acknowledged. “My mom was here. She flew out. I did not even know she was coming. It was good to have her in the crowd.”
I’ve seen Noah’s mom, the former Miss Sweden, and she may be the most enthusiastic fan I’ve ever seen, and certainly a loyal mom. She cheers for everything Noah does, whether it’s a pass, a free throw, a rebound or retying his ponytail.
“I knew whoever won this game would have a better chance of making the playoffs,” said Noah. “It feels good we’re in that position right now. And we’ve just got to keep it up.”
With a burst out of the locker room after halftime with a 13-4 run as Rose began to exert his will, the home crowd began booing loudly and chanting slogans which suggested the Raptors were enjoying Popsicles.
You could see the Raptors giving up and Bosh perhaps watching somewhere thinking, “Chicago? New York? Miami?”
It was the season’s biggest game because the Bulls and Raptors were tied, but Toronto retains the tiebreaker. That means they still could make the playoffs over the Bulls. The Bulls magic number is now two, which means if the Bulls beat the Celtics Tuesday and Bobcats Wednesday or the Raptors lose to the Pistons Monday and Knicks Wednesday the Bulls are in. Or if each team splits. If the Raptors split and the Bulls lose both the Raptors are in. If the Bulls split and the Raptors win both, Toronto is in.
The odds finally favor the Bulls, but losses to the Bucks without Andrew Bogut and in New Jersey suggest nothing is sure with this Bulls team.
“I think we’ve been a team like this all season,” Noah said. “We can beat the best teams and lose to the worst teams. With us it’s a question of a mindset and coming ready to play. No denying, this was really an important game.
“What’s good is we have Boston coming up,” Noah went on, the first player reporters went to as the hoots and laugher were loud around him. “That’s an easy game to get up for. Playing in front of 2,000 in New Jersey is a little different situation. We understand what’s at stake. We (now) control our own destiny.”
Yes, there was plenty of noise as Noah spoke, but it was less the celebration of achievement than the character of this Bulls team, for good and bad.
They don’t get that upset, and maybe you’d like them to more after a loss. But this is who they are, and they did demonstrate they can get up for a big game.
“I try to keep the guys as focused as possible,” Noah said, the din rising. We’re a close group. It’s always like this in the locker room… when we win.”
Noah did pause a bit, and while there isn’t wild celebrating after a loss, there are no dirges playing, either.
After Sunday’s win, the players were chiding Rose, who was shyly blushing, over an inside joke they had going with the kid since practice Saturday. And it was egalitarian. Chris Richard chimed in loudly. Flip Murray, dour with outsiders, happily went around telling others what had happened. Stars and reserves are equal. Players dissolved into laugher. It usually isn’t that funny once you hear about it. But it is the camaraderie of guys on teams, and it’s been this way through ups and down with this group.
Though it also was something of a relief to have something tangible to enjoy.
Especially for Rose, who’d been laboring some under the weight of having to do so much and be so perfect while Noah recovered and worked his way up in minutes. Noah’s limitations were lifted after Friday’s loss in New Jersey, and Rose breathed a sigh of relief.
He’d committed seven turnovers in that game, and Sunday had just one, that coming with 4:19 left and the game long over with Patrick O’Bryant and Marcus Banks in the game for Toronto.
“It’s been crazy (the last few days) thinking about a lot of stuff,” said Rose. “Yesterday was great for me, away from home, not worried. I laid down and looked at TV all day. (I got that turnover) toward the end of the game. I was so mad. The ref told me he missed (the call, allowing a turnover). So as long as he knew, it was fine.”
Rose’s scoring was essential, really the one/two punch with Noah that made the difference. The defense still plays off Noah, so those jumpers are open. No one still believes that spinning tornado will do in.
Rose gets the defensive attention because he is the scorer and teams generally challenge anyone else on the Bulls to beat them.
The Bulls got a nice all around game with six players in double figures, including big contributions from Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick with 10 each off the bench.
The Bulls outrebounded Toronto 49-41 and had a nice 26 assists on 42 baskets and just 10 turnovers.
Rose had an agenda. He doesn’t usually come out shooting, but he was armed and ready Sunday and had an unusually high nine shots up in the first quarter.
“Attack,” said Rose of his game plan. “Play like it’s the last game. Go to the hole early. Some of my shots were going in and out, but I knew the majority would go in. I know if I attack the whole game, people get open and everyone else plays aggressive. The guys on me were closing out kind of sloppy, so I was taking it. Their big man were not stepping out on the elbow shots and I was taking them.”
Yes, the Raptors are an awful defensive team, scattered and uncommitted. Still, you have to make the shots and plays, and the Bulls did.
They got out on the break in the second quarter and Murray even showed off some with one of those Jordanesque switch hand layins. The Raptors did get within 47-44, but Rose hit a jumper, Noah beat his man downcourt again and pushed in a Murray miss, letting out a scream, and Warrick closed the half with a slam dunk on a great Luol Deng find as the Bulls pulled away to a 58-48 margin.
Then came that boomlet to open the third. The Raptors tried a zone, which always gets the Bulls shooting jumpers as they rarely adjust well. It was then Rose took over and, effectively, ended the game.
It was an appropriate, “Get out of my way” moment.
Down 73-54 and the crowd in unison apparently calling for Lou (Amundson), the Raptors got a pair of free throws and a three from Jose Calderon and were only trailing 74-63.
Enough of that, figured Rose.
He cupped the ball with his right hand and finished a tough drive for a score, the Raptors missed a three and getting Andrea Bargnani in a switch, Rose went left and up for another layup, shredding what serves as the Raptors interior. Rose then was fouled and made both free throws.
“They were better than us, obviously,” said Raptors coach Jay Triano.
And when Noah backed up and made a 17 footer, the Bulls were back ahead 84-65 after three quarters and the Bulls were thinking green thoughts with the Celtics next.
“We’ve still got a long way to go,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, who was hopping around and using so much English as every shot went up I think he got a call from Dancing with the Stars. “We’ve got to refocus and get our energy back for Tuesday. “Every game is a playoff game for us. This is one step in the right direction, but there still are a lot of things to handle. We’ve put ourselves in this situation. Now, we’ve got to handle it.”
They showed at least once they do want it. Badly.

Playoffs now hang on Sunday as Bulls lose to Nets

It now comes down, as we probably always figured, to Sunday in Toronto.
With the Bulls’ heartbreaking 127-116 double overtime loss to the New Jersey Nets Friday in which they blew a seven-point lead with 1:09 left in the first overtime, the Bulls head for Toronto at 38-41 tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with the Raptors.
The Raptors own the tiebreaker no matter who wins Sunday. So the Bulls need to win Sunday. If they do not, the only way the Bulls can make the playoffs is if they sweep their last two over Boston and Charlotte and the Raptors lose both to the Pistons and Knicks.
“We had it in hand,” sighed Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “(Now) we’ve got a huge game against Toronto Sunday. You can’t hang your head. You don’t have time. There are no excuses. No one will feel sorry for you. We should have made some plays and didn’t and now we’ve got to go to Toronto and battle.
“All these (final) games, your season is on the line,” acknowledged Del Negro. “That’s the way it is set up. That’s the position you are in. Usually, you get what you deserve. We turned it over and didn’t make free throws. If we handled it a little bit better it would have been a different story. Now, we’ve got to stick together and get the energy back and go at it Sunday.”
This has been a resilient Bulls team, but this one will be tough to come off the floor after as the Bulls appeared to have the game after a furious fourth quarter comeback when Brook Lopez slammed back a Courtney Lee miss that looked like offensive interference with one tenth of second left.
“I thought it was a goal tend,” said Derrick Rose, watching underneath. “I thought it was going to hit the rim one more time. But they called it in.”
Del Negro said he asked for a replay review with the game at the end, but he said the officials told him the ball had come off the rim and there was no need for a review. The referees were asked later whether they could review that kind of situation and sent back word to reporters that it was not a reviewable situation.
The Bulls felt they got the short end of the whistle several times, including a curious flagrant foul call against Rose trying to go over a screen early in the fourth quarter that led to a four-point play and the Nets gaining momentum and going out to a 90-78 lead before the Bulls fought back behind Brad Miller with a dozen in the fourth quarter and 27 points and 10 rebounds for the game.
Miller was so upset and frustrated after the game at the failure to call basket interference and a late seemingly bad possession call against the Bulls, he blew out of the dressing room and onto the team bus before reporters could enter the locker room.
It was a quiet, stunned Bulls team slowly dressing after the game, including a dazed looking Rose, who had his arm obviously grabbed and held down as he drove with the Bulls leading 112-108 with 50 seconds left in the first overtime.
The ball then went out of bounds, called off Rose.
The referees actually stopped to review that call as possession plays are reviewable in overtime. But they upheld the call because they cannot change to a foul call even though it seemed obvious Rose’s arm was hammered down.
But with the NBA so sensitive about criticism of referees and fines so heavy, the Bulls were being cautious about saying much.
“I guess they made the right call,” said Rose. “I definitely (felt contact). But it’s not my decision to make that call. It’s up to the refs. I was just trying to get to the hole. I guess he said he hit it off me. I guess it was last in my hand from pulling on my arm.”
And then there was Joakim Noah, who was not on the floor at the end of regulation when Lopez had his put back and played just 12 seconds in the two overtimes combined.
Noah has been on an increasing minutes limit since he returned from his plantar fasciitis issues and Del Negro said that 35 minutes limit was reached late in regulation and he had to pull Noah.
“He is at a 35-minute limit and he was at 35:50 or something in there and I had to get him out of the game,” said Del Negro. “And that’s what I needed to do.”
After Del Negro made his remarks, reporters asked general manager Gar Forman about the situation. Forman said assistant Lindsey Hunter asked Forman after regulation about playing Noah in the overtimes. Forman said he and executive vice president John Paxson consulted and determined Noah could play and relayed word back to the bench.
So it wasn’t clear whether Del Negro remained concerned about Noah’s health or didn’t get the message communicated correctly or chose to leave out Noah.
Management and Del Negro have had issues in several games since Noah’s return about minutes with heated discussions after the Bulls beat Portland in overtime in February and at the end of March against the Suns, both times when Noah was allowed to exceed his minutes limit.
Noah, also, was unavailable for comment after the game.
“You’ve got to make your own breaks,” said Kirk Hinrich. “It felt like early in the game we let them hang around and were sloppy with the ball, and when you do that stuff it can cost you at the end and unfortunately it did.
“They hit shots (in the first overtime) and we went two or three possessions without getting a bucket,” said Hinrich. “We had our chances. You cannot blame it on the officiating. It’s a game we should have won. Now the season is on the line. It’s win or go home. We need this win and hopefully we’ll have one of our better performances. We needed to get some buckets to put the game away and we couldn’t do it.”
So perhaps it is coming down to the way it should.
Something of a play in game for two teams playing like they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. The Raptors are losing every game with Chris Bosh gone for the season and the Bulls lost to the Bucks at home without Andrew Bogut, hung on to beat the Cavs without LeBron James and lost to the now 12-67 Nets, thus losing the season series to New Jersey.
Miller was terrific in 43 minutes, his best effort of the season. Rose had 25 points and some tough driving scores down the stretch, but seemed often to lose concentration with the defense relentlessly attacking him and committed seven turnovers and missed another crucial free throw, this one with three seconds left in the first overtime right before Lopez’ follow.
“If anything, I’m mad about losing this game. Turnovers,” Rose offered, mumbling the word. “I think I had 500 of them. It felt like that.”
Rose did have a big chance for redemption, though he again made huge driving plays when everyone else was running away from shots.
After bolting out with seven straight for a 110-103 lead in the first overtime and still leading 112-105 with 1:09 left after Rose made two free throws, the Nets got a three from Lee, a pair of Devin Harris free throws on a drive and Lopez rebounding his own miss and getting fouled and making both free throws with 12.8 seconds left.
That was sandwiched around Rose dribbling off his foot out of bounds coming up court and that drive and questionable out of bounds when Rose seemed hacked. Still, the Bulls had the shot for the win.
With 12.8 seconds left in the first overtime, they went to Rose, who tried the middle, which I would have done as I thought the refs owed Rose a call after they had to see on the replay how badly they missed calling that foul and blew the play.
Rose probed, found the middle too clogged, but liked his chances from the left elbow, his favorite jumper position. 
“They clogged the lane and I usually shoot that step back shot. I shoot it every day (in practice),” said Rose. “That was a shot I was willing to take.”
But it went wide hitting the side of the rim and bounced away for overtime No. 2.
The Bulls were fried, scrambled and done by then on the back to back.
The Nets scored the first nine points and the Bulls didn’t score until 1:20 was left, and it was over as Terrence Williams  rubbed it in going for his triple double. The Bulls missed with 20 seconds left trailing by 10 and Williams rebounded. He admitted fans were yelling he needed one more assist for triple double and he acknowledged he was looking for it.
Players usually hold the ball to end the game there. But Williams threw down court to Lopez for a dunk for a 12-point lead as Williams ended with 27 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
Yes, the Nets were rubbing it in, and perhaps the Bulls deserved it.
Miller, you could see, was furious, and all the Bulls streamed off the court right afterward instead of the usual mingling that goes on after games.
Williams, known as something of a knucklehead, was saying after the game he’d gotten a number of text messages from friends on the Raptors thanking him for the win. And maybe the humiliation.
“There is only a few games (left),” noted Rose. “There is no room for error now. We laid an egg. This cannot continue to happen or we’ll be on vacation somewhere.”
It was supposed to be something like that in the penultimate game in the Meadowlands before the Nets move to Newark next season and perhaps Brooklyn in two years. After all, this was the Nets challenging the worst record ever all season.
But in the end they outrebounded the Bulls 55-51, caused 17 turnovers for a whopping 28 points, held a 64-44 margin in the paint as the Bulls fell in love early with the jump shot and outran the Bulls, 21-11 on fast breaks.
Frankly, the way the Bulls handled the game they were about to steal one they didn’t deserve.
They opened up well enough with a 28-24 first quarter lead on 59 percent shooting, though Hinrich erred late as he did hit a three but left too much time and Williams banked in a three at the first quarter buzzer. How many times has that happened?
The Bulls then began to hit some threes and fell too much in love with the jumper. After Luol Deng with 19 points hit a pair of threes and Hinrich with 13 followed with another, the Bulls led 47-36. But they then missed another two threes while the Nets got inside and left the Bulls leading 53-52 at halftime.
The Nets took a 75-69 lead after three as the Bulls with Flip Murray zero for six in the quarter began bricking jumpers and Del Negro began pulling in his rotation as Hakim Warrick again would get just four minutes.
Then early in the fourth came the beginning of the calls that all seemed to go against the Bulls. Those of you who read me regularly know I defend the NBA refs as the world’s best. But this was not a good night for this crew, at least for the Bulls.
Rose had just missed both free throws after a nice back door pass from Miller when he was called for a foul trying to get around a Kris Humphries screen.
The Nets repeated the play and Rose went hard into Humphries and was called, amazingly, for a flagrant foul.
I can’t remember Rose ever being close to one. In fact, he’s rarely close to his man. As great as he is and has been, he has not been a good defender. One of his biggest issues is going way under screens, and you can understand as teams target him. I noticed the other night when the Bulls played Charlotte, Larry Brown had on the grease board in the locker room where the game keys are written to put Rose in every screen roll. The reasons are he isn’t good at them and opponents want to beat him up with screens to wear him down.
So Rose actually tries to go over the screen and is called for a flagrant foul?
Rose was still stupefied after the game.
“How can you get a flagrant over that?” Rose asked. “Is that a flagrant? It’s just (a) foul, right?  I was just making a tough play, trying to fight over the screen. The first time he held my hand so the second time I just tried to be aggressive over it. His body was square into my shoulder and that’s why we hit.”
The resulting four-point  play gave the Nets a nine point lead and they stretched it to 90-78 with 7:40 left on a Lee three. It looked over  for the Bulls with 4:43 left on a Yi Jianlian jumper for a 96-86 lead after Rose kept the Bulls in with a pair of no-way-you’re-stopping-me drives as he was still seething from the flagrant.
“At that time I didn’t want to talk to them (referees), so I stayed away,” said Rose.
Miller then got pop out passes from Rose as the Nets were by now picking him up higher and Miller made a pair of threes and suddenly the Bulls were breathing again.
“Brad was great,” said Del Negro. “He was giving it everything he had.”
Rose got a score on another strong drive, fending off the defense and hanging onto the ball as few guards can. Miller then scored on a backdoor cut on a Hinrich pass and overplayed Williams and stole the ball and raced in for a dramatic score to bring the Bulls within 99-98 with 1:22 left.
“The guys played hard,” said Del Negro. “And we got some good defensive stops when we had to.”
After Williams missed, Rose drove and Noah in basically his last action of the game tipped in the miss and pumped his fist for a 100-99 lead with 48.1 seconds left.
Could the Bulls have stolen this one? It was the Nets.
Yi then missed a 20 footer and Rose went up between everyone for the rebound. The Nets curiously fouled Miller at the end of the shot clock with 9.1 seconds left and he made both for a 102-99 lead. Devin Harris then ran a curl out of bounds for  a layup to bring the Nets within one with 4.6 seconds left.
The Bulls called timeout, but Hinrich couldn’t get the ball to Miller. He passed to Rose, who was fouled and made just one of two, seven of 12 overall after missing those two late against the Cavs Thursday.
“Turnovers, missed free throws, we had our chances,” lamented Del Negro. “We battled back.”
And then came Lee’s drive, Lopez’ follow, a blown first overtime lead and perhaps a blown season.
“I hope this is going to make us stronger,” said Rose. “Playing this game, hopefully, is getting us prepared for the future, and the playoffs. The next one is important and we need it. We’ve got to be ready.”

Bulls are deer in headlights in loss to Bucks

I know if you were a Bulls fan what you wanted to do if you were watching Tuesday’s awful, 79-74 Milwaukee Bucks victory over the Bulls, especially with Toronto losing in Cleveland with a chance to tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
After kicking in your TV screen.
Sign a shooter. Can’t anyone here make a shot? Hello, Joe Johnson?
Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose combined to shoot four for 15 in the fourth quarter with all playing 12 minutes as the Bulls recovered from a 12-point third quarter deficit to take a lead with 6:33 left and then miss 11 of their next 13 shots.
“Early in the game we were moving the ball (27-14 first quarter lead) and getting good looks,” said Hinrich. “They picked up their defensive pressure and we did a poor job of handling it. From the second quarter on, I felt like they outworked us. We kind of have a tendency when we struggle to go on our own (no pass and quick shot). We have to make the extra pass. We were not tonight. I felt like we missed some good, open looks. I don’t know if they wore us down or what. It seems like they were guarding the crap out of us.”
What the heck was Brad Miller doing driving the ball coming out of a timeout with 13.2 seconds left trailing 77-74? That was the play?
“We were trying to get a three over the top,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “If not, get the quick two and foul. Brad tried to dribble and slipped.”
Yes, turnover. Though Miller did make a big three point play on a run out for a slam and three-point play to bring the Bulls within 72-72 with 2:34 left. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds and reasonable four of nine shooting in 17 minutes. But there were no three point shooters on the floor. Flip Murray, who had been hot and was three of four for the game, and Jannero Pargo were out. Murray came in for defense when the Bulls had to foul after Miller’s travel.
The Bucks committed their fourth team foul with about four minutes left in the fourth quarter, yet five of the Bulls next seven shots were jumpers. For the game, the Bulls attempted 11 free throws to 22 for the visiting Bucks playing, by the way, without injured center Andrew Bogut.
“We only got to the line 11 times, so we were not attacking the basket and settling for too many jump shots,” agreed Vinny Del Negro. “Milwaukee was drawing and kicking, got good performances from some guys (former Bull John Salmons with 26). We held them to 36 percent shooting and rebounding was pretty equal. The bottom line is they made plays down the stretch and they made shots; we didn’t. We did hold them to 79. You are not going to beat many teams scoring 74 points. It was not a solid 48 minutes for us.”
It was just a brutal night, a wasted opportunity with Toronto’s loss and Chris Bosh being injured, the Bucks without their best player in Bogut, the Bucks shooting even worse than the Bulls at 36.4 percent, yet much more committed as the Bucks clinched a playoff spot with the win while the Bulls, in even a more desperate situation, played more indifferently.
Hard to believe at a time like this as the Bulls fell to 37-40 on the season.
Milwaukee wasn’t better or more talented. They started little used Kurt Thomas, averaging about 13 minutes and three rebounds and he led everyone with 14 rebounds. The starters other than Salmons shot a combined six for 26. Ersan Ilyasova had 17 points and seven rebounds and Luke Ridnour 13 points, though each was one of five on threes in the Bucks’ overall seven of 29 on threes.
This game was there for the taking, especially when the Bulls busted out to that 13-point lead and shot almost 70 percent in the first quarter.
But they got lazy and sloppy with the ball and were outscored by an amazing 28-9 in the second quarter.
“We came out all right,” said Rose, who had 12 points and 11 assists but six turnovers. “But then the turnovers and no one could get in the groove and pull us out. Usually, one of the guards can pull us out and couldn’t tonight. We let them back in the game. We should have got them out of there. They fought their way back. We weren’t moving the ball and when we were moving it, it was me making dumb passes or making the wrong pass and that really hurt us. Turnovers. I had almost all of them.”
But give the Bucks, and especially coach Scott Skiles credit.
Skiles was especially pumped up with the win, exulting on the sideline with fist pumps and touchdown signals on the late plays when Miller traveled and then Hinrich missed.
But the Bucks were well prepared and outplayed the Bulls.
The Bulls defense, though the Bucks shot poorly, was generally lazy. Instead of aggressive man to man principles to force turnovers, the Bulls switched constantly, leaving mismatches all over the floor and the Bucks getting some good looks.
“We shot like 36 percent from the field and without the defense we didn’t have a chance,” said Skiles. “In the second quarter, we picked it up and created turnovers that helped us finish the first half. We were able to take a lead and get the momentum on our side. We had open shots all night but just weren’t making them.” The Bucks do a beautiful job of driving, kicking the ball out and then moving it around.
“They moved the ball real well,” admired Taj Gibson. “They play a fast, real up-tempo game knowing Bogut is out. They just came in ready to play. Salmons came back and hit a bunch of big shots. We just couldn’t do it on the other end. We just had shots that didn’t fall tonight.”
Salmons benefitted from the ball movement and player movement and said that’s one reason he’s played better in this second half.
“The ball is in my hands a lot,” Salmons said. “I’m not standing around. There’s more movement and it just fits me better.”
Salmons had complained earlier this season about being left to stand in the corner without movement.
The Bucks also did as good a job on Rose as any team this season. They basically dared the Bulls to hit shots—a good dare as it turned out—so they trapped Rose but stayed with him and always kept another big man behind in case Rose turned the corner or beat the double or a guard dropping down. It also didn’t help having Joakim Noah in so many of those screen/rolls as Noah isn’t much threat, though he did make some jumpers and had eight points and 11 rebounds.
Deng led the Bulls with 16 points and 10 rebounds, but along with Hinrich going 44 minutes, seemed to wear out down the stretch. Deng did also play 44 minutes after being out a month and without much practice or conditioning time since. Hakim Warrick only played four minutes.
“Our goal with him is like it is for all the good ones and twos in this league,” said Skiles of defending Rose. “That is to make them play in a crowd. We need to make them pass like we did tonight. Sometimes our big guys did it and others our guards collapsed on them.”
The game probably was lost in the second quarter after the Bulls dominated with the Bucks were in their first game without Bogut. But the Bulls missed 14 of 17 second quarter shots, 10 of them long jumpers. It gave the Bucks life, and they took a 42-36 halftime lead.
What’s this, NCAA?
“They outworked us in the second quarter and that changed the momentum of the game,” said Hinrich. “Anytime you lose it’s a lost opportunity. We have a tendency to relax (with leads). We relaxed and they cranked it up and got more aggressive and we didn’t have an answer.”
Milwaukee controlled the third quarter as the Bulls played into their scheme by holding the ball as the Bucks pressured and played aggressively over screens.
“We definitely knew we’d have to win this game at the defensive end,” said Salmons. “At the start of the second quarter, we turned it up, got some stops and that’s what turned our offense on. This is a big win for a lot of reasons. It’s the first with Andrew out and our playoffs are clinched. Scott took this team and has turned it around. Even before I got here, we knew when we played the Bucks it would be a tough game and they’d play hard. Tonight you saw that. We didn’t score a lot of points but we got the win.”
So here were the Bulls with 51 points heading into the fourth quarter, trailing 60-51.
But they got a huge boost from the bench with Murray scoring on a drive and slam, a runout pass from Rose and a runner while Miller hit a jumper and a driving slam. When Rose exploded through the trap and scored, the Bulls were at 63-63 with 8:08 left and the crowd into the game.
They should have taken it from there.
What an opportunity with Toronto’s loss already posted to make an improbably playoff run.
The Bucks then came up empty on three straight jumpers while the Bulls missed a pair before Hinrich finally hit a 20 footer for a 65-63 lead with 6:33 remaining.
The Bulls still are limiting Noah’s minutes and he had to go out then to have another run left late in the game. But the jumpers kept coming up empty as Hinrich, Deng and Rose all missed as the Bulls settled for the least resistance.
Ilyasova got a run out for a slam dunk and Salmons drained a 20 footer over pretty good Hinrich defense for a 69-65 Bucks lead with 4:34 left.
Deng got a 15 footer to go, but then missed before Carlos Delfino dropped in a three for a 72-67 edge with 3:14 left. Miller then got that run out slam on a long, upcourt pass from Rose and it seemed possible.
But after a Hinrich miss, Thomas hit a jumper on a switch, Miller missed a three on a pop out and Salmons beat Deng on a nifty baseline reverse to basically put it out of reach at 76-70 with 1:08 left.
Rose responded with a 20 footer and Taj Gibson knocked in a 15 footer with 15 seconds left after Delfino missed a three. The Bulls had to foul and Salmons gave them a chance missing one of two. But Miller committed that travel, and the Bucks were walking on air back up I-94 while the Bulls were left wondering whether they have enough.
“We’re still one game behind. We’ve just got to keep playing,” said Deng. “They did a good job clogging the middle. We’re a jump shooting team. We just did not make them tonight. All day we were saying this was a winnable game. I thought we played hard enough to win it. At the end, they executed and we did not.”
And the Bulls have to hope this loss doesn’t become their playoff execution.

Salmons pushing Bucks ahead in the East

By Adam Fluck
Tuesday marked the first time that the Bulls and Bucks hooked up following the three-player deal between the organizations on Feb. 18. On that day, Chicago sent John Salmons to Milwaukee in exchange for Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander.
While the Bulls have struggled with injuries these last few months and are fighting for a postseason spot, the arrival of Salmons has helped the Bucks to an impressive 18-6 mark since the trade. They currently have the sixth-best record in the East, largely thanks to Salmons and their post-trade deadline surge.
Over that span, Salmons is averaging a team-high 20.0 points to go with 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He has led or tied for the team lead in scoring in 12 of those games and scored in double-figures in 22 of the 24.
“He’s playing like he did for us when he got here last year,” said Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro. “John played very well for us, he’s a really good guy, and had a great impact on the team here. They lost Michael Redd and he stepped in there. John is a good player. He’s been very productive there, just like he was here. He’s helped them like he helped us; that’s what good players do.”
Del Negro cited the switch from small forward, which Salmons primarily played with the Bulls last season in Luol Deng’s absence, to shooting guard as one factor in why he struggled a bit in Chicago to start the year.
Salmons has tallied 12 games with 20 points or more since joining Milwaukee, including 20-plus performances in nine of his last 13 games. The eighth-year NBA veteran is shooting 46.3 percent with the Bucks, including 38.9 percent from long range.
“I’m trying to make this a regular game,” said Salmons on Tuesday about his return to Chicago. “I don’t need any extra motivation.”
Salmons was originally drafted by the San Antonio Spurs with the 26th selection out of Miami (Florida) in the 2002 NBA Draft and traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, where he spent the first four years of his career. He was then signed as a free agent with Sacramento prior to the 2006-07 campaign and played two-plus seasons for the Kings before being traded to Chicago last February.
“I think when you come to a team, you always want it to work out,” said Salmons when asked if he wanted to stay in Chicago long-term. “You never want to be traded or something like that. You want it work out wherever you’re at. When I came here, I wanted it to work out for the long run, but it just didn’t happen.”
As for his adjustment to Milwaukee, Salmons said he received a voicemail from EVP-Basketball Operations John Paxson letting him know what to expect out of Bucks Head Coach Scott Skiles.
“He told me I’d enjoy playing for Coach Skiles and he was one of the best coaches he’s been around,” said Salmons. “For a guy who has been around some good coaches to say something like that, it’s a good complement.”
Audio—Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro on the status of James Johnson, facing the Bucks without Andrew Bogut, and Salmons’ impact in Milwaukee (04.06.10):