Tag Archives: james johnson

Bulls go down 2-0 to Cavs, but may have a plan

The Cleveland Cavaliers Monday needed probably the world’s best basketball player having one of his best ever playoff games to beat the eighth-seeded Bulls at home, the 112-102 victory sending the Cavs up 2-0 in this playoff opening series.
So if you are the Bulls you don’t feel great about losing, but you know now you can play with this team and you’ve come up with a game plan to beat them.
Now all you have to do is take it back home for Game 3 at the United Center Thursday.
“I think we played real hard tonight,” said Joakim Noah, who led the Bulls with 25 points and 13 rebounds, seven offensive. “They hit some real tough shots down the stretch (15 of LeBron James’ 40 in the last eight minutes). They did not get fazed by our runs. We can’t get discouraged. We’re down 2-0. They did what they were supposed to do.
“They just took care of what they had to,” said Noah. “At home, we’ll have our fans ready for the next game and we’ll be ready to go.”
If the Bulls attack the Cavs as they did Monday, running the floor before the defense could set, switching effectively on the inside to ward off penetration, making James work on defense so he couldn’t play free safety and cause turnovers for fast breaks, stay away from the jumpers as Luol Deng was slashing more for 20 points and get a boost from the bench like Flip Murray’s 14, then, perhaps, there’ll be a series here.
This is supposed to be just a warmup appetizer for the top-seeded Cavs, and so far they do have two double digit wins.
Now, they have to take it on the road, and we’ll see whether they have that championship look they insist is theirs and whether the Bulls have the moxie to stand in the way and at least take the series back to Cleveland.
Of course, the joke is no one wants to go back the way Noah playfully inflamed the locals with mocking comments about Cleveland. You had to be there at practice Sunday as Noah said it all with a laugh and a wink, as he does many things, but it also was another impressive sign of leadership.
Everyone knows what that brings: The wrath of the community. They make fun of their city, as anyone living in Cleveland would. After all, as someone noted, the fish can’t even stand the smell of the lake. Don’t let some outsider do it, though.
But the subtle message was lost on the Clevelanders.
After the Bulls were dominated in Game 1 Saturday and Shaquille O’Neal was celebrated as an actual, living NBA player with 12 points and five rebounds, Noah was, in effect, saying to his teammates he’d take the wrath of the community and the pressure of the game and you all can relax because he’d be there.
So after a pedestrian 10 points and eight rebounds and foul trouble in Game 1, Noah ran Shaq out of the game, and ran by just about everyone on the Cavs, almost all the way to an improbable victory.
“He was great,” said Deng about Noah. “He played hard. He gets rebounds and gave us second chance points. That’s what he’s done all year.”
The Bulls were tied at 77 entering the fourth quarter and trailed just 91-88 with six minutes remaining.
The Cavs then scored on their next seven possessions with unlikely Jamario Moon hitting his third among four three pointers in five attempts, and James with three back breaking scores, a drive and step in fake by Noah for a layup, and then a pair of 20 footers isolated on the right wing, both defended well by Deng and Kirk Hinrich.
That put the Cavs up 107-98 with about 90 seconds left, and Moon clinched it with another three.
“He was probably the main reason we won,” said James, generously.
It was a heck of a run for the Cavs and mostly by James, who was jawing with the Bulls bench as he knocked in those jumpers, the Bulls taunting him to shoot as he’s not known for his perimeter game and James, to his credit, answering.
“They were talking the whole game,” said James. “Every time I caught the ball there (Bulls bench), they were daring me to shoot the ball, telling me I couldn’t shoot or ‘You can’t make jump shots, so take the shot.’ So that’s what I did. They asked me to shoot a jumper and I did that, over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.”
You gotta give it to him as the Cavs fans had to give it to the Bulls No. 23 two decades ago.
“It’s a sight to see,” marveled Antawn Jamison. “To see how close the game was and to see him take over you have to realize you are witnessing history.”
I know, I know, we are all witnesses. Boring.
“You could see it in his eyes,” said Jamison. “Guys like that strive off those moments. He was in a zone.”
But it took that from James and unlikely shooting from Moon for the Cavs to escape.
“That’s shots you want (James) to take,” said Deng, who also had six rebounds and five assists. “We did a good job keeping him out of the paint. He was hitting some unbelievable shots, fading back. You’ve got to live with that.”
I agree, and I thought Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro played it right. You can second guess taking the ball out of James’ hands. But the Cavs are best when James involves his teammates, as he did in Game 1. When he had to pretty much go it alone you’ve got your best chance because he has to be super. It was the Bulls bad fortune he was.
“We wanted to win (and are disappointed),” said Deng. But we are (also) happy. We’re going back home and the way we played is encouraging. We’ve got to come out and play like that again. If he keeps hitting shots like that the whole series, we’ve got no chance. We just have to play him like we did tonight.”
I agree. I thought the Bulls had a good plan and it produced results.
For one, Deng got off that line at 20 feet and began going to the basket against James. It was illuminating in the locker room to listen to he and Rose before the game discussing the angles of where Deng could cut from in order to get a slashing score from Rose and when he has to stay home to spread the court better for Rose.
After they finished a 10-minute discussion on it, Deng said, “I have a good feeling about tonight.”
And Deng played a big part.
One of the things you have to do with James is keep him active on defense. He likes to cheat and play the lanes like a free safety, drop down toward the post, stunting and disrupting plays. The Bulls committed 14 turnovers in Game 1, and James was a big part of that by dropping low off Deng to squeeze the court.
Deng went aggressively at James, who had to work hard to stay in front of Deng. And while Deng had a good game, what was more important was James could not help out and the Bulls committed just four turnovers.
“I did a good job slashing in there and not settling for jump shots like I did in the first game,” admitted Deng.
The Bulls made a few subtle switches, and I thought they worked out well. In Game 1, they played a cross match with Kirk Hinrich on Mo Williams because Williams is the better scorer and Rose is the weaker defender. But the result was Williams with 19 because the Bulls use Hinrich as a help defender on the big men.
By guarding Williams, Hinrich was too far on top. So the Bulls switched Rose to Williams. Rose has been better on defense lately, and Williams was just two of eight for 12 points while Hinrich played Anthony Parker. Parker did have three three pointers, but Parker plays below the foul line in the corner, so Hinrich was able to help more inside by not having to go so far and the Cavs bigs were less effective as Anderson Varejao, Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas combined for 18 points and 16 rebounds after 22 points and 22 rebounds in Game 1.
It, obviously, was more than that helping as the Bulls switched the bigs on screen rolls since Taj Gibson, Noah and Brad Miller aren’t particularly overmatched by the slow Cavs bigs and it didn’t compromise the defense with the screen rolls, thus keeping the Cavs more on the outside.
Yes, they hit shots, but that’s way more difficult on the road, especially for reserves like Moon.
“If anything,” said Rose, who had 23 points and eight assists, “we’d rather have (James) hit those shots than drive to the hole and get other people involved.”
Another key was transition.
The Bulls got out and pushed the ball much more, which enables Noah to use his edge running the court, and also doesn’t allow the lumbering Cavs’ bigs to set up their defensive wall that so inhibited Rose.
Rose was 10 of 24, but he also had those eight assists with just one turnover after seven in Game 1, and especially in the third quarter the Cavs spent a lot of time chasing. The Bulls want to get the game over 100 points, which they did, and then it changes the personnel and the Cavs have to rely more on modest talents like Moon, Delonte West and Parker. Del Negro also did a nice job getting Murray in against West, whom Murray was able to overpower and finally get some scoring off the bench.
“I’m pleased with the effort, not the result,” said Del Negro. “I think our guys feel better than they did the other (game) in terms of how we played. We were sharper and much better off the glass. If you go into the fourth quarter tied (on the road) you have an opportunity, which is what we were looking for. I thought we played well enough to steal a game, but they earned it.”
If I had a quarrel with the Bulls, it was they weren’t as physical as I’d like to have seen them. But they don’t have the depth to match the Cavs, so that’s an issue. You wear guys down in the playoffs with hard screens all game and it catches up to you late. The Bulls don’t do enough of that and the Cavs enjoyed 66.7 percent fourth quarter shooting.
Though there’ll be replays of James huge slam dunk over James Johnson in the first quarter, I thought Johnson came in with the right attitude to play James aggressively. I thought he did a good job staying in front of James most of the time and should get some time on James the rest of the series. He committed fouls, and James felt them. That’s what you have to do.
“He came out with a lot of energy,” James acknowledged of Johnson. “Bench players do try to make their mark on the game. I felt I could slow down and counter his energy. I did that and got in attack mode.”
The Bulls also made a point to not allow Jamison to rest and roam around like he did in Game 1, and had Taj Gibson go at him. Gibson had 11 points and seven rebounds, and Jamison played just three minutes in the fourth quarter.
“Taj has been huge for us all year,” complimented Noah. “He’s someone who works hard on his game. We wouldn’t be in this position if not for Taj Gibson. He is an underrated player with what he brings to us.”
The game began with the expected booing of Noah, who’d had some fun at Cleveland’s expense with some derogatory comments about Cleveland not necessarily being a great place to visit. Or live. All in fun, though.
Noah was booed on introduction and most every time he touched the ball, and the scoreboard posted his quotes from Sunday’s practice of Cleveland, “I don’t know about Cleveland, man. There’s nothing going on. It’s bad, man. It’s bad……What? That Cleveland sucks?”
Noah said he’d been booed many times before.
“My whole life,” said Noah. “College. Boston, they don’t like me there. They don’t like me here, either. It’s OK. I have my friends. I don’t care.”
Noah also joked when asked whether he regretted what he said that it’s not like people are vacationing in Cleveland.
“What’s so good about Cleveland?” Noah asked.
Oh, right. The Cavs.
They got ahead 28-22 after one quarter as James had 10 points, including that hammer dunk after blowing by Johnson.
But this wasn’t the same, tentative Bulls team from Game 1, and they showed in an impressive stretch midway through the second quarter that turned the game.
Noah sealed O’Neal and scored, Deng jab stepped LeBron and shot over him, Deng ran out on a forced James jumper and dunked as James got no help, Rose hit from on top, Noah scored on a clever interior pass from Deng and Noah tipped in a Rose drive, again the Cavs unable to build that defensive wall against Rose as the Bulls’ transition left the court more open.
The Bulls pulled within 52-50 at halftime, and James was the only Cav in double figures. Good sign.
When he scores and doesn’t involve his teammates as much, the Cavs stop moving on offense and it makes their defense more passive.
The third quarter was a beauty with 15 lead changes and seven tied as the Bulls continued to push the ball, and Gibson scored twice inside down the stretch of the quarter while Noah blew by Varejao for a layup to tie the game at 77 after three.
But the Bulls could never get the lead after the Cavs opened the fourth with a Jamison runner, a West spin by Hinrich and a Moon three.
“We had a lot of guys (five in double figures) make big plays and big shots, and that’s what we need,” said Rose.
The Bulls never backed down, and there was one impressive sequence when Moon blocked a Noah shot with the Bulls down 89-84. But then Deng hustled back and blocked a Williams fast break and Noah ran out and scored to get the Bulls back within three, the closest they would get.
“We couldn’t pull away,” lamented Rose. “They’d make a big shot or make a big play.”
J.J. Hickson, who’s been benched with Shaq back, signaled like a baseball manager signals for a closer—James was actually asked by a Cleveland sycophant after the game if he discusses these things with baseball’s Mariano Rivera—and James came in and did close it out.
“I feel the fourth quarter is when I make my mark as an individual. I’ve always been a confident player. It’s a great feeling on every shot to believe it is going in no matter who is guarding you. They call me The Closer every time I come in in the fourth quarter,” said James, who made 16 of 23 shots. “That’s my time to put the game away or do what I do best, and that’s just try to close the game the right way. Am I always successful? Not all the time, but it makes me stronger when I’m not always successful. I know how to react the next time I’m in that situation. So it’s great to actually live up to what those guys now are starting to call me, The Closer.””
It was 85-82 when he reentered and the Bulls scored on eight of their next 10 possessions. But James answered every time, including a big three over good defense from Noah at the 24-second clock for a 99-93 lead with 4:20 left. James followed that with a pair of free throws, a drive and those two jumpers, scoring on five straight possessions to refuse to let his team lose.
“I don’t think we’re discouraged,” said Noah. “If anything, we’re motivated and think we can win, especially oin our home court. It will be exciting to play in front of our home crowd in Chi. We’re looking forward to it, enjoying the competition, living in the moment and trying to win against one of the best teams in the world.”

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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.”

Joakim Noah is no great admirer of Kevin Garnett

Leave it to Joakim Noah to get right to the point of the first day of the NBA playoffs.
“That was unbelievable yesterday, that Boston/Miami game,” Noah was saying after practice Sunday while some wild one-on-one games went on among the reserves. “He’s unbelievable that guy… I’m gonna say it. He’s a dirty player. He’s a dirty player.”
That would be Kevin Garnett, and Noah said what most NBA players won’t say but all know: Garnett is a punk and a cheap shot artist, and his elbows in the late game melee at Quentin Richardson was just the latest example.
Noah does love this game.
He plays it with the joy of youth, and you can see in him the collegiate spirit. You watch Noah and you know he won’t take games off to rest, that the joy is in the playing and he would do it even if he wasn’t making the big money. As he spoke with reporters just after noon Sunday, he watched intently as James Johnson, Joe Alexander, Rob Kurz and some others who don’t play much went at it, Noah exclaiming excitedly over the best plays.
Noah would punctuate his answers to reporters with an “Oh (crap),” or “Bust his butt,” in the middle of sentences.
A lot of these talks with the players after practices become casual with general talk you’d have with colleagues, what you did, where you went, what you watched. Noah said he watched the games Saturday night after the Bulls loss to the Cavs—trust me, there’s not much to do in this city I rank 30th among my favorite NBA destinations—and offered his views on the Garnett extracurricular.
“That’s really messed up, man,” said Noah, growing serious in more a disappointed tone. “I’m really excited about that series. It’s gonna be fun. I hope they put (Jamaal) Magloire in more.”
Magloire is a noted physical player often without the most grace.
“I don’t make the decisions,” Noah said when asked whether he thought Garnett deserved a suspension. “He’s always swinging elbows, man. I’m hurting right now because of an elbow he threw. It’s unbelievable. He’s a dirty player.
“It’s one thing to be competitive,” Noah went on, getting into it now. “He’s a dirty player. It’s unbelievable. It’s one thing to be competitive and compete. But don’t be a dirty player, man,” Noah, whose Bulls are facing the Cleveland Cavaliers, said of Garnett. “He knows what he’s doing. It’s wrong. Then after that to say (Garnett’s weak post game explanation of defending a fallen teammate)… I shouldn’t even be talking about that. It’s crazy.”
And how refreshing is this kid?
To play with the emotion and joie de vivre he does, no phoniness, no games or acting, a guy who respects he game and professional behavior and will stand up for dignity.
The Bulls can be proud he’s one of them.
Cleveland Tourism
So let me elaborate on my comment on Cleveland. As they proudly say here, “At least we’re not Detroit.”
There’s an hysterical video you can find on Youtube entitled “Cleveland tourism” that pretty much sums it up. It notes you get to see the sun three times a year, you can buy a house for the price of a VCR, it leads the nation in drifters, the highlight of its downtown is poor people waiting for buses and has an economy based on LeBron James.
The suburbs are like any suburbs anywhere, comfortable with nice homes and two of every fast food place on every block. But since both the baseball stadium and basketball arena are downtown, the teams stay there and there is no more depressing center city anywhere. Among the 30 NBA stops, this always is my least favorite with barely a decent restaurant anywhere downtown, little retail and a gloomy, scary stretch of streets that are deserted once it gets dark.
Noah was in a buoyant mood after practice, obviously, given his newsmaking comments on Kevin Garnett. Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked he didn’t know Noah was in their series. Garnett got a one game suspension for his elbowing. But I also ran across a Tweet from Andrew Bogut sarcastically wondering who started that Celtics/Heat melee. You’d think the Aussies were from Brooklyn if not for the accent. Everyone around the NBA knows Garnett is a punk and relentlessly cheap shots and spews verbal lunacy about it. What a sad way for a formerly great player to be playing his last years.
Anyway, Noah was asked about being booed because he had dared question LeBron James acting like an idiot when he was dancing on the court against the Bulls a few months back. Hey, it’s Cleveland. Ever see the way they dress to the football games?
“I don’t know about Cleveland, man,” Noah moaned. “There’s nothing going on. It’s bad, man. It’s bad.”
So regarding chants of “sucks,” Noah quipped: “What? That Cleveland sucks?”
I think Detroit’s downtown may be worse, but we never stay there with the arena in Auburn Hills. But at least Detroit is close to Canada and those cheap prescription medicines we can’t get here. Hey, you think about that at my age, though Allen Iverson seemed to like it more for the Ontario gambling. Cleveland is close to Erie, Pa., I think.

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 face Celtics with playoff implications on the line

By Adam Fluck
With Toronto winning in Detroit on Monday, Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro knows that his team may need to win its final two games in order to hold on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
With a back-to-back set against two teams already in the postseason—Boston at home on Tuesday and at Charlotte on Wednesday—doing that won’t be an easy task. With just a half game lead over Toronto, which holds the tiebreaker over Chicago and finishes their regular season Wednesday at home against New York, the Bulls have to work under the assumption the Raptors will take care of business against the Knicks, thus two wins is what it may very well take.
On Tuesday, Del Negro talked about what hanging on for a postseason bid and first round match up with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers would mean.
“The guys have battled a lot of adversity throughout the year,” said Del Negro. “One of our goals this year was to get to the playoffs. We have an opportunity, but it’s no easy task. I give the guys a lot of credit. They’ve hung together, worked hard, and they’ve grown. Hopefully we can get everybody out there and play well and efficiently, and come out with a big win.”
When asked about comparing last year’s playoff experience to making it this season, Del Negro said: “Different year and different team. We’d be playing a different team. But all those experiences are a big benefit. You have Taj Gibson and James Johnson, rookies that haven’t experienced that. I know was great for Joakim and Derrick , especially being in the playoffs and getting a feel for it. It builds confidence and it helps your overall team.”
The Bulls have caught breaks recently, facing Cleveland without James and Toronto without Chris Bosh. But Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers said prior to Tuesday’s game that his regular starters would play. Currently fourth in the East, there’s still an outside chance Boston could claim the third seed with two more wins and an Atlanta loss.
“It’s important for us as well,” said Rivers of the game. “Obviously it’s important for Chicago, but we do have the chance to get the third seed. With most of the guys, they’re going to play normal minutes. With a couple guys, I’ll watch their minutes, Kevin being one of them. We know how are going to play. They’ll give us their best. I’ll find out about our guys and how important they think it is when the game starts.”
As a player, Rivers was injured when he tore a ligament in his thumb during his team’s last regular season game of the year when they had already clinched home court advantage. Though he still played in the postseason that year, he was affected by the injury and understands those things do happen.
When asked about his philosophy on resting players leading up to the playoffs, Rivers replied: “I think if you have everything clinched, which we don’t, I’m in favor of rest if I think it’s going to help you. I don’t rest because you just want rest. We are an older team and rest is important. We have to be as fresh as possible.”
Speaking of rest, Bobcats Head Coach Larry Brown indicated on Tuesday that he would not sit any of his starters when the Bulls visit Wednesday.
“That's too important to both teams. We owe it to the league to do the right thing,” said Brown, whose Bobcats have locked up the seventh seed.
Following their big win in Toronto on Sunday, the Bulls control their own destiny—win twice and you’re in. But they’ll have to earn it playing against teams that will be at or close to full strength.
Audio—Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro on facing the Celtics, making the postseason, and the reasons for Boston’s success (04.13.10):

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):