Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Bulls’

Bulls out of scoring options, out of gas?

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Taj Gibson talks to the media after the Bulls’ practice on Wednesday

A couple weeks ago, the Chicago Bulls were the team that no one in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket allegedly wanted to play.

In a matter of days, no one might have to.

Unless the Bulls find a way to generate offense late in games, unless they stop trying to beat Washington in three-and-a-half quarters while spotting the Wizards four, the grimiest, hardest-working team in basketball soon will be on extended vacation. For all its pluck, for all its spunk, Chicago is facing a hole as the series shifts to D.C. for Game 3 Friday every bit as big, historically, as losing an MVP (Derrick Rose) or trading away an All-Star (Luol Deng).

The Bulls overcame – maybe compensated for is more apt – the absences of Rose and Deng by shifting those guys’ responsibilities onto others and resolutely playing harder. But down 0-2 in this first-round series, they don’t really have any others left and they might be out of gears.

NBA past doesn’t bode well for the Bulls’ future, either. Only three teams in playoff history – the 1969 Lakers, ’94 Rockets and ’05 Mavericks – won a best-of-seven series after dropping the first two games at home. Houston finds itself in the same predicament against Portland at the moment, but never mind the company; the Bulls are coping with their own misery.

Their vaunted defense, with coach Tom Thibodeau barking orders and Joakim Noah as the newly minted Defensive Player of the Year, has been shredded for 101.5 points and the Wizards’ 48.1 field-goal percentage in two games. Despite opening double-digit leads in both, the Bulls have been outscored in the fourth quarter 51-34 while shooting 35.3 percent (12 of 34), and they missed seven of nine shots in Game 2′s overtime.

As far as seeking help from different sources, there have been no different sources. The bench is thin after Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin, and Thibodeau has coached accordingly: Of the series’ 505 available minutes so far, more than 95 percent (481:33) have been heaped on just seven guys.

Even that is misleading: Jimmy Butler (96:46, including all 53 Tuesday) and Noah (85:36) each has played nearly as much as forwards Carlos Boozer (45:22) and Mike Dunleavy (54:42) combined. Thibodeau has stuck with the rotation that earned Chicago a 36-14 record in the 2014 portion of the regular season. That means Dunleavy has logged less than 10 minutes in the fourth quarters and OT in this series and Boozer has amassed zero.

Because Boozer and Dunleavy are primarily offensive players, not playing them when the points get scarce late in games has focused heat on Thibodeau. To a lot of Bulls fans, it’s like trying to ride out a headache without uncapping the aspirin bottle. But Thibodeau is committed to the late-game lineup that worked so well for so long. And, hey, he knows Boozer and Dunleavy primarily are offensive players too.

“You have to work your way out of things,” Thibodeau said, almost by rote. “We have a lot of guys who have played well in the fourth quarter all year. … We have to do it collectively. And that’s really what we’ve done. When we lost Derrick and we lost Luol, that’s the makeup of our team.

“You can’t get wrapped up in the first two games other than you want to learn from what happened. Get ready for the next one. Don’t look ahead. That’s the way we’ve approached it all season. We’re not changing now.”

Trouble is, Washington has risen to its rare postseason occasion. The Wizards have been feistier at both ends. Defensively, they’re pressuring the ball and almost daring the Bulls’ non-shooters to shoot.

Noah, Chicago’s “point center,” has been attacked when he attempts to handle the ball, ignored if he’s shooting outside the restricted zone and squeezed when he sets up 18 feet from the basket, Wasington’s Nene crowding Noah to limit his passing angles and vision. Nene’s offense has the DPOY sweating and maybe a little rattled, with Games 1 and 2 sandwiching the award ceremony in Chicago with Noah’s entire family in town.

Augustin, this year’s Rose surrogate, has been a scoring godsend, but when 6-foot-8 Trevor Ariza volunteered to guard the smallish point guard down the stretch in Game 2, Augustin was done. He stayed stuck on 25 points over the final 13 minutes.

Wizards coach Randy Wittman even has made the more apparent and successful adjustments so far – in transferring scoring load from frontcourt (Nene, Marcin Gortat) to backcourt (John Wall, Bradley Beal), in deploying veteran backup Andre Miller in key old-school moments – and been rewarded twice. That hits Thibodeau right where his strength is, in the lab, in resiliency.

Consider this role-reversal quote from Gibson on Wednesday.

“We watched the film, it came down to we were like a fingernail short every time. Guys were diving for the balls, scrambling around, and they just made some great plays, playoff-style basketball I guess,” the Bulls’ sixth man said.

“[They are] a hungry team. … They go up, we go up, but the way they start the games off, the way they finish them, especially on defense, getting loose balls, scramble plays, rugged-basketball kind of style, that’s kind of our style if you think about it.”

Actually, it was the Bulls’ style until Saturday. Unless they get back to that in Game 3 and whatever beyond they can eke out, their postseason will become past season in a hurry.

Where was this Wizards team all season?

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards stay perfect on Chicago’s home court in playoffs

CHICAGO – In a span of two games, on the road in a tough building, the Washington Wizards have shifted the conversation from how their long-awaited taste of the postseason probably wouldn’t last more than one round to where the heck this team was all season.

When you look at what the Wizards have done in grabbing their 2-0 lead over the Chicago Bulls in the best-of-seven series and apply it to the 82 games that preceded this, it suddenly seems like their 44-38 record and certain middling stats (17th in offensive rating, 20th in rebounding, 25th in foul shooting) represent some shameful underachieving.

Consider some of the things they accomplished on their stay in the Windy City, which wrapped with the 101-99 overtime playoff nightcap:

  • Overcame a 13-point deficit in one of the most boisterous road gyms in the league to grab the series opener.
  • Toyed with Chicago’s vaunted defense at times, as in outscoring the Bulls 61-38 across the final quarter of Game 1 and the first 12 minutes of Game 2.
  • Kept their focus through some physical shenanigans first between Kirk Hinrich and Bradley Beal, later between Trevor Ariza and Joakim Noah, without getting intimidated or spinning out of control.
  • Clamped down defensively again when it mattered most. The Wizards limited Chicago to just 12 points, total, in the final six minutes of the two fourth quarters.
  • Squandered an early 17-point lead in Game 2, fell behind by 10 with seven minutes left, yet caught the Bulls with a 14-4 run to close regulation, Beal scoring nine of those Washington points.
  • Pressured Chicago just as hard at the end as they did at the beginning, limiting the home team to 2-for-9 shooting in the overtime while generating just enough offense of their own (Nene, six points)

Had the Wizards played that way all season, they might have, what … pushed toward 50 victories, which would have been good enough for the No. 3 seed? Put some heat on the Heat in the Southwest Division? Made life a lot easier on their coaches, their fans and themselves by locking up their postseason berth sooner, with a little less late-season drama?

Of course, this team isn’t that team. And vice-versa. The Wizards apparently had to go through the trials of their first 82 to prepare for the moments to which they’ve risen in Games 1 and 2.

“We’re a different team,” Ariza said. “We’re a team that learned from our mistakes. We’re learning to play hard and play through everything. Like tonight, the game, I guess, was a little chippy. We didn’t let that rattle us.”

Ariza, the small forward whose volunteer defensive work on the Bulls’ smaller shifty-quick D.J. Augustin helped to limit Chicago’s scoring options, continued: “We’re definitely more locked in. We’re paying more attention to detail in shootarounds and practice. We’re talking more – communication is a big part of being a good team. And our 1 [John Wall] and 2 [Beal], they’re maturing.”

The Wizards have gone from a 25-27 team at the All-Star break to that unpredictably dangerous bunch that Miami looks wise to avoid as long as possible. By slipping into the East’s No. 2 seed, the Heat kept Washington at bay as long as possible, the Bulls-Wizards winner due to face whichever team emerges from Pacers-Hawks.

Yes, it helps to have Nene healthy, back from his sprained left knee. And granted, tightening the screws on Chicago’s often-gasping attack isn’t the toughest task for a legitimate NBA defense. But somebody was out there sticking to the Bulls’ best weapons.

“That team is under the radar,” Bulls sixth man Taj Gibson said. “They’re a great defensive team. It shows, how poised they were come late [in the game].”

Late in the season, too. As recently as March, the Wizards were giving up 101.4 points per game. In April, that got whacked down to 92.9. Take away the overtime Tuesday and the Bulls have averaged 92.0 in the two games while shooting 42.6 percent. And Chicago has been nearly choked off at times, going six or seven minutes without a field goal.

Stacking up defensive stops like that has a cumulative effect, coach Randy Wittman said.

“It’s going to be easier even when we show ‘em the tape,” Wittman said. “When you get six, seven stops in a row when you’re down 10, that’s how you can win the game.

“We keep track of it throughout the game – how many stops we get in a row. My coaches will tell me what it is, and if it’s one or two in the course of a game, that’s not very good. We got it going there at the end of the fourth quarter where I think it was six or seven. That energizes those guys too – they take pride in it.

And lo and behold, Washington is up 2-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series for the first time since 1979.

Morning Shootaround — April 22



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers have changes in mind for Game 2 | Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starter | Report: New arena remains key for Bucks’ future | Thibodeau unhappy with Bulls’ defense | Jefferson vows to play in Game 2

No. 1: Pacers planning on some changes in Game 2 — Simply put, the Indiana Pacers were shellshocked after the Atlanta Hawks marched into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and beat the home team from start to finish. With that defeat on their minds, the Pacers are examining each and every thing they did in Game 1 and are open to making some pretty big changes on things from who guards the star of Game 1 (Atlanta’s Jeff Teague) to what kind of defense they’ll play as a team and more. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com has more:

Coach Frank Vogel was coy when pressed on the issue following Monday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not wishing to become the first coach in NBA history to reveal strategy to the opponent a day before a playoff game. But, winds of change were wafting through the building. Practice ran longer than was originally advertised to the media, and all doors were closed. Afterward, Lance Stephenson created a breeze when asked if strategic changes were forthcoming.

“Of course we’re going to make changes,” he said. “We’re not allowed to talk about the changes we made, (the Hawks) will figure it out when we play.”

Earlier, Vogel had only hinted at the possibility.

“I prefer not to make major changes,” he said.

Are you willing?

“Of course.”

Do you think you will?

“We’ll see.”

Any changes are most likely to come on defense. Offensively, Vogel simply wants his team to move the ball more quickly and more often, and for Roy Hibbert to establish better post position near the basket and for his teammates to toss the ball to him when he does. But given the way Hawks point guard Jeff Teague punctured the Pacers’ defense on Saturday, some sort of adjustment seems in order.

The players talked Monday about doing a better job of helping one another, filling gaps and all that, but would they go to the extreme of rolling out a zone defense for the first time this season? Vogel said during last season’s playoff series with Miami that he would implement it this season. He hasn’t, largely because the team’s trip to Taiwan and the Philippines for two preseason games sliced too large a chunk out of his practice time.

The bottom line is, something will be to be done to prevent Teague from running a layup line. He had nine of them on Saturday on his way to 28 points. A zone defense would be one way to do it.

“I wish we had used it more, because then I’d be more comfortable using it now,” Vogel said. “That is something we’re talking pretty lengthily about.”

At the very least, it’s likely that Paul George will defend Teague at some point. George isn’t as quick as Teague, but he is seven inches taller and the Pacers’ best perimeter defender.

George has said he wants to do it. But he wasn’t going to say he would do it.

“If the opportunity calls for it, I’ll enjoy the match-up,” he said, smiling.

“For all I know,” he added, “Hibbert’s guarding him.”


VIDEO: Frank Vogel talks about possible changes for the Pacers in Game 2

***

No. 2: Nowitzki backs Calderon as Mavs’ starting point guardMost NBA followers know that Dallas Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon is one of the best playmakers in the league … and also one of its worst defenders at the point as well. In Game 1, though, Calderon struggled a bit, amassing seven points and two assists in 16 minutes. His primary understudy, Devin Harris, had a much better game, going for 19 points and five assists in 32 minutes. So, is there a point guard quandary in Big D. ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon reports that to star Dirk Nowitzki, there’s no question who the starter is for Game 2:

Coach Rick Carlisle refused to discuss whether he’d consider starting Devin Harris instead of Jose Calderon in Game 2, using his stock line about revealing his lineup 16 minutes before tip.

However, Dirk Nowitzki readily declared about 53 hours before Wednesday’s tip in San Antonio that no change in the Mavericks’ starting lineup was forthcoming.

“We’re rolling the way we’re set up,” Nowitzki said. “Jose has been our starter the whole year. We’ve got to start the game off a little better. I think we were a little slow and we were down eight or 10 pretty quick there in the first quarter, so we’ve got to be a little better there, but Jose is our starter. He’s the guy that puts us in our plays and we’re rolling with it.”

The Mavs’ normal starting lineup has been badly overmatched against the Spurs, having been outscored by 40 points in 33 minutes in the Dallas-San Antonio meetings this season, including Game 1. The Mavs have had a 24-point advantage in the 79 minutes that Harris has played against the Spurs, but that’s also evidence of the success the Dallas bench has had against San Antonio’s second unit, a strength that Carlisle might not want to mess with.

“We’re going to approach it the way we approach it, doing it the way we feel is best,” Carlisle said. “If we get to the point where I feel major lineup changes are in order, we’ll do it, but I’m not going to talk about it two days before the game.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks after Dallas has practice Monday in San Antonio

***

No. 3: Report: New arena critical to Bucks dealLast week, Milwaukee Bucks fans got some happy news about the future of their team as longtime owner Herb Kohl announced he was selling the team to the duo of Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry for a reported $550 million. While that ownership group is committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee, they could lose the ownership rights on their team if they cannot get a new arena built for the Bucks by 2017. Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com have more: :

The NBA has the right to buy back the Milwaukee Bucks from incoming owners Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry if a deal to a bring a new arena to the city is not in place by November 2017, according to sources briefed on the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that the sale agreement announced last week to transfer the Bucks from longtime owner Herb Kohl to Edens and Lasry for a purchase price of $550 million includes a provision that allows the league to buy back the team for $575 million if construction on a new building in Milwaukee is not underway by the deadline.

Although one source said Monday that the league would likely only take that step if it didn’t see “significant progress” toward a new arena in Milwaukee by then, this provision ensures that the NBA would control the fate of the franchise from that point as opposed to Edens and Lasry.

Edens and Lasry agreed last week to pay a league-record $550 million to Kohl for the Bucks and promised to contribute an additional $100 million toward a new arena. Kohl also pledged to gift $100 million toward construction of a new facility, but more financing will be needed to get the project going, with city officials in Milwaukee estimating that a new arena would cost in excess of $400 million.

The inclusion of this clause in the sale agreement, furthermore, is an unspoken admission that neither the league nor the new owners are convinced that construction on a modern building in Milwaukee will be underway in the space of three-plus years.

Two local task forces have been assembled to study the issue, but there has already been pushback to potential public financing by politicians and community groups. The Bucks’ lease with the antiquated Bradley Center runs through the 2016-17 season, which establishes the fall of 2017 as a natural deadline to find a solution.

***

No. 4: Thibodeau calls out Bulls’ defense In Game 1 of the Bulls-Wizards series, Chicago allowed Washington to roll up 102 points as the Wizards’ big man combo of Marcin Gortat and Nene pounded away and picked apart the Bulls’ vaunted defense. That kind of performance left a bitter taste in coach Tom Thibodeau‘s mouth and he didn’t mince words during Monday’s practice about how displeased he was with Chicago’s defense, particularly the play of point guard D.J. Augustin. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times has more on what the Bulls plan to do differently in Game 2:

‘To put it on one guy, that’s not how we do it here,’’ Thibodeau said.

But that didn’t prevent the Wizards from finding that perceived weak link in the chain and attacking it, especially in their fourth-quarter comeback. Unfortunately for guard D.J. Augustin, he was the guy the Wizards went after in crunch time.

“Not only D.J., our defense,’’ Thibodeau said when asked if he thought Augustin had to improve on the defensive end. ‘‘I could go from start to finish. There’s an endless list of things that we didn’t do correctly. We’re capable of doing much better. And we’re going to have to.

“They’re a good team. In the playoffs, you have to play for 48 minutes and be disciplined. You have to stick to it. Some plays, they made tough plays. Give them credit. Others, we made mistakes. And we have to correct those mistakes.’’

According to one source, though, Thibodeau was concerned about Augustin’s defensive shortcomings being exposed, especially in the playoffs, when opposing coaches smell blood and attack. Sure enough, the Wizards’ guards seemed to go right after him down the stretch, whether it was John Wall, Bradley Beal or even 38-year-old Andre Miller, who scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Thibodeau was asked if the defensive breakdowns were more related to bad positioning or poor communication.

“It was a compilation of all those things,’’ he said. ‘‘To me, if one guy is not doing their job, it’s going to make everyone look bad. We have to be tied together. We have to have the proper amount of intensity and concentration. And we have to finish our defense. That’s one thing that we could do a lot better.”

While there will be tinkering, it didn’t sound as though Thibodeau was going to change his rotation. That means Augustin and the other players on the court at the end of games will have to find a way to deal with the Wizards’ backcourt and to slow down forward Nene, who burned the Bulls for 24 points.

***

No. 5: Jefferson: ‘I’m suiting up’ for Game 2 — Bobcats center Al Jefferson can count on one hand the number of times he’s been in the playoffs. As the big man is in the midst of just his third career playoff appearance, there’s little doubt he’s going to let anything prevent him from playing. That statement apparently applies to his bout of plantar fascia in both feet that flared up early in Charlotte’s Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat. But as Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports, Jefferson is determined to play in Game 2 … and beyond:

Jefferson was in surprisingly good spirits Monday after missing practice, undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging and several hours of treatment. He said there’s no way the injury he suffered Sunday in Game 1 of this playoff series is a season-ender.

“I’m suiting up,” Jefferson said. “It’ll take more than that to make me sit down.”

The issue for Jefferson is not so much his availability, but rather his effectiveness. He will again miss practice Tuesday and his left foot is encased in a protective walking boot.

The pain he experienced in the first quarter Sunday, after he felt a “pop” in his left foot, was excruciating – he compared it to the sudden attack of appendicitis he suffered several years ago, resulting in emergency surgery.

“Like somebody shot me. A terrible feeling. I knew something was wrong,” Jefferson recalled.

Despite that, Bobcats medical staff told him and coach Steve Clifford that Jefferson is taking no special risk by playing. He was told not to anticipate needing surgery in the off-season; that this is about pain-management now and rest in the off-season.

The plantar fascia is a thick band of fibrous material that runs along the bottom of a foot, connecting the heel bone to the toes.

There doesn’t seem to be a significant risk in Jefferson playing with this injury, so long as he can handle the pain, according to Dallas-based sports orthopedist Dr. Richard Rhodes.

“If you can fight through, and they can manage the pain (with medication), you can go on it and then heal in the off-season,” said Rhodes, describing the plantar fascia as helping the foot hold its natural arch.

The issue going forward is how Jefferson can perform in the short-run. Clifford said the injury seemed to harm Jefferson’s performance more on offense than defense. In particular, Clifford noted, Jefferson struggled to pivot off his left foot, which is key to his low-post scoring moves.

Jefferson agrees with Clifford that he spent much of the second half pulling up for jump shots or floaters, rather than completing a move to the rim. He said that was more out of initial fear after the injury than the physical inability to recreate his moves.

“I stopped short. I was afraid to continue,” Jefferson described. “It was more in my head than anything, that I was afraid to do things I normally do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Could the Hawks be gearing up for a rare No. 8-over-No. 1-seed upset?Tony Allen is doing what he normally does — frustrate Kevin Durant in the playoffs … The Clippers’ Game 2 rout of the Warriors got them back on track in several different ways … With a heavy dose of his trademark intensity, Joakim Noah took home the Kia Defensive Player of the Year award last night … These five names may be on the Utah Jazz’s short list for its new coach …

ICYMI OF THE NIGHT: Yes, the Grizzlies won Game 2 in OKC last night. But there’s no denying that Kevin Durant was doing all he could to get the win last night, as evidenced by this wild and-one 3-pointer he nailed late in regulation …


VIDEO: Kevin Durant hits the ridiculous and-one 3-pointer

Noah turns intensity into DPOY landslide

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Joakim Noah named Defensive Player of the Year

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. – If there’s one image this season that captures Joakim Noah officially as the NBA’s top defensive player and arguably as its most passionate and intense, it came in March. That’s when the Chicago Bulls center, switching off screens in a game against Miami at United Center, found himself squared up a couple of times against none other than LeBron James.

Noah, at 6-foot-11, did everything short of licking his chops. He bent low, locked James in a laser gaze and clapped his hands almost in the dangerous Heat star’s face.

There aren’t a lot of men his size who could make that look good. But Noah knows a thing or two about defensive stances when facing opponents big and small. He even teased a little about the one atop the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, which he received Monday: Too flat-footed, a little unbalanced and obviously giving up some serious height.

Poking fun at the little bronze dude didn’t get in the way at all, though, of Noah’s appreciation of the honor, the first of the five Kia Performance Awards to be presented for NBA achievements in 2013-14.

Noah, 29, shared thoughts and stories with a ballroom of reporters and cameras, expressing gratitude to his family, all in attendance – his father, former tennis pro Yannick Noah; his mother Cecilia Rodhe, Miss Sweden 1978; and his siblings. He talked of the DPOY as a team award, giving shout-outs to his Bulls teammates for the adversity they’ve endured this season.

He dedicated the award to Tyrone Green, his basketball mentor and second-father figure during the years Noah grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. With his parents divorced, it was Green – a widely known figure in youth basketball in New York – who got credit and in time love from Noah for toughening up the gawky teenager of privilege he’d been. Green died unexpectedly last week at age 63, causing Noah to take a brief personal leave from the Bulls on the brink of their first-round series against Washington.

“This award goes to somebody who I’ll never forget, somebody who just passed and meant so much to me,” Noah said, acknowledging it still was hard to talk about his friend. “Somebody who believed in me. Mr. Green, I love you and I appreciate you, and I know you’re smiling down right now, really proud. This award goes to you.”


VIDEO: Joakim Noah thanks his teammates, family and former coaches

Noah also spoke of the bond forged between him and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, away from the bright lights and the fans’ eyes, in all its nasty after-hours glory.

“I remember one day,” Noah said, “Thibs was putting me through a real brutal workout. I said, ‘If we weren’t winning games, I would really, really hate you.’ He said, ‘Trust me, Jo. I would feel the same way about you.’ “

It’s a symbiotic relationship, though, of the NBA’s most revered defensive coach and his surrogate on the court, now the league’s acclaimed best defender. No wonder Thibodeau was beaming like he needed to be passing out cigars.

“You can’t have a great defense without having great defensive players,” Thibodeau said. “He has a very unique skill set. And he’s a hard guy to measure statistically. But when you look at his athleticism, his intelligence, his ability to communicate and guard every position on the floor, that gives you a lot of weapons. And he helps sell it to the team. To me, that’s huge.”

Noah received 100 first-place votes from the panel of 125 NBA writers and broadcasters who cast ballots and got 555 points of a maximum 625 for any player. Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and the L.A. Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan each got eight first-place votes and finished second (166 points) and third (121), respectively.

Chicago ranked second in the NBA with a defensive rating of 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, second in defensive field-goal percentage (43.0) and first in points allowed per game, 91.8. Noah had a league-best defensive rating of 96, according to basketball-reference.com, while averaging 11.3 rebounds, 1.51 blocks and 1.24 steals.

Ironically, Noah earned the defensive award – he’s the first Bulls player to win it since Michael Jordan in 1988 – in a season in which his offensive game blossomed. With Derrick Rose suffering a second season-ending injury in November and leading scorer Luol Deng getting traded in January, the Bulls turned Noah as a “point center.” His passing ability, his court vision, his ball handling and the way he runs the floor reached new levels, and his awkward jump shot – dubbed “The Tornado” for its sideways rotation – has become more reliable by the day.

Still, it is Noah’s work at the other end that gives the Bulls their foundation and earned the DPOY. He protects the rim, sure, but his help defense is so schooled as to become instinctive, and he can switch onto smaller players as well as any big man since Kevin Garnett in his prime.

Some of the attributes Noah flexes defensively come from training he did as a boy alongside his father, the tennis great. “Subconsciously, I think it taught me a work ethic,” Noah said. “My father taught me how to jump rope, and I don’t think a lot of big guys are jumping rope.”

His years in New York with Green made him humble – he was a ball boy at the famous ABCD youth camp in New Jersey, fetching rebounds for James and other more-heralded kids – but set him on his path to the University of Florida and two NCAA titles with the Gators.

That’s where the basketball public caught a glimpse of Noah’s burning, team-first intensity, which still flames up on NBA courts on crucial defensive stops or at the final horn in victories. Distilling the emotions from his performances wouldn’t leave much – they’re vital, Thibodeau said, in the way he moves, in the way he recovers.

“Like the thing he talked about with his dad, he’s got unbelievable feet and great, great stamina,” the Bulls coach said. “So what it leads to is his ability to make multiple efforts. You’ll see three, four, five. There are balls he can get to that, when you’re watching, you’re amazed. He gets hit, he’ll keep going, he’ll dive out of bounds, he’ll save it.

“Those things to me are the best leadership that you can have. When another player sees that kind of effort, that does nothing but unite and inspire your team. That brings energy to your team.”

Being contagious on that end might give Noah his greatest defensive satisfaction.

“You have to really commit, sacrifice,” he said. “I just think about so many plays defensively that some of my teammates made. You might even think about a guy like Mike Dunleavy, he’s not known for his defense. There was a time during the year where he got a big gash on his head, got like 10 stictches, and came back in the third quarter. First play he takes a charge.

“He’ll never be remembered as a defensive player, but that means everything. Somebody who’s ready to sacrifice his body to win.”

Thibodeau wants Bulls in rebound shop

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau looks ahead to Game 2 vs. the Wizards

DEERFIELD, Ill. – A playoff loss at home is red meat to someone like Tom Thibodeau, coach of the Chicago Bulls, so in the 48 hours between Games 1 and 2 of the first-round series against Washington, he compiled “an endless list of things we didn’t do correctly.”

Thibodeau had neither the time nor the inclination to share such a list with media inquisitors after the Bulls’ practice Monday, but it’s safe to assume that somewhere up high is: Rebounding. The Wizards beat them on the boards 45-39, including 13-6 in the fourth quarter. Chicago missed 11 shots in that period and reclaimed only two as offensive rebounds.

“When the ball was in the air, that game was decided,” Thibodeau said.

Led by Marcin Gortat‘s 13, Washington’s front line outboarded Chicago’s 28-21.

“We talk about fundamentals,” power forward Nene said. “Box out, for example. All the players need to box out and then the rebound will choose who’s supposed to grab it.”

Oh, that won’t cut it with a coach like Thibs, who considers rebounds a birthright for his team when they’re playing correctly. The Bulls outrebounded their opponents in 65 percent of their games and 73 percent of their victories, going 35-18 on those occasions. But they did it only six times in their final 18 regular-season games.

Among the other bullet points on Thibodeau’s scroll – if it’s that long, calling it a list seems insufficient – were intensity, ball movement (only 13 assists) and defending without fouling. The Wizards shot 35 free throws and outscored Chicago from the line by six; in the regular season, the Bulls gave up the third-fewest number of free throws in the NBA and outscored foes from the line by a total of 230 points.

The Bulls coach also spoke for the third time since Sunday’s final horn of his displeasure with his players’ displeasure with the referees. They got caught complaining when they should have been getting back and defending.

“There’s an appropriate time to make a point to an official,” the Bulls coach said. “If you think they missed something, you have to wait for a dead ball. You don’t do it during the course of a game.

“These officials are good, they’ll talk to you. But it’s got to be at the appropriate time.”

One item apparently not on Thibodeau’s list: Shaking up his fourth-quarter lineups. Though that group struggled to score over Game 1′s final six minutes, prompting some to wonder if Carlos Boozer or Mike Dunleavy might see more late action Tuesday, Thibodeau said: “We’re not going to get away from the guys who have gotten us there. But there are certain things we can do to help each other get open, and we’re going to have to do that.”

Nene says no-no to Chicago’s defense

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards claim series opener in Chicago

CHICAGO – Nene, the Washington Wizards’ big man by way of Sao Carlos, Brazil, was having trouble Saturday night and Sunday morning. He couldn’t sleep. The 2014 NBA playoffs were soon to start for his team and Nene – already thrilled about coming back from a left knee sprain – didn’t know which was pumping faster: his heart or the adrenaline.

“The mental preparation is very important. Last night I couldn’t sleep well, because I started to think about the game in the middle of the night,” he said Sunday at United Center, the Wizards’ 102-93 road victory over the Chicago Bulls tucked in for the night.

“I started to think about what I was going to do. How I was going to defend. I was very excited about the playoffs. It’s a good feeling because that makes you prepare yourself. I hope I can’t sleep again, to play better.”

Sorry, Nene, but the Bulls will be in charge of the tossing and turning for the next couple of nights.

Starting for the first time since February, Nene made a big difference for the Wizards size-wise, impact-wise and excitement-wise in their first playoff game since 2008. He stepped back into the middle of their action seamlessly, scoring 24 points on 11 of 17 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists.

His aggressiveness became their aggressiveness, and Washington wound up picking apart Chicago’s vaunted defense in several uncommon ways. Teams don’t shoot 50 percent against the Bulls – but the Wizards nearly did so in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series. Their 48.6 percent was close enough, and if you combine it with the Wizards’ two January victories over Chicago, it left them at a legit 50.4 percent (115-for-228) in the three games.


VIDEO: Nene talks about winning Game 1

Bulls opponents hit half their shots or better just 12 times in 82 games but went 10-2 as their reward. If you go strictly by what Washington shot Sunday and only in postseason games, the Bulls are 1-19 since the start of the 2006 playoffs when the other guys are at 48 percent or higher.

Key to that? They embrace their third options, because they know the Bulls are going to take away the first two.

“You can’t predetermine anything,” coach Randy Wittman said. “You can’t make up your mind on a certain play that you’re going to do this. They’re so good defensively, you’ve got to react to what they’re doing. Make the simple plays and the ball moves in simple ways. When we do that, we get pretty good shots. And we’ve got guys who can shoot.

“As soon as you say ‘I’m going to split this pick-and-roll here,’ it’s a turnover. When we don’t do that, when we don’t anticipate and just react to what the defense does and what they want to take away and then go your second or third option, then we’re pretty good.”

The Wizards’ ability to read-and-react kicked in fully after halftime. They fell behind by 13 points in the first few minutes of the third, then outscored Chicago 51-29 the rest of the way. While the points-challenged Bulls shot just 39.5 percent over the final two quarters, the Wizards settled in, hitting half of their 38 attempts and, oh yeah, dominating the boards 24-15.

Nene was especially effective, with a versatility on the offensive end that kept Chicago guessing. He was reliable with his mid-range jump shot, attacked the rim multiple times and, particularly in the second half, was a crafty passer (with a couple of hockey assists mixed in).

Overall, he made life pretty difficult for Bulls center Joakim Noah, one of the favorites for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Good thing the ballots were all cast by Thursday.

Tom Thibodeau, who routinely has the sort of sleepless nights Nene experienced this weekend, lavished praise on the Wizards’ big man, even as he began plotting ways to thwart him. It won’t be easy – Washington was 30-23 when Nene played this season, 14-15 when he did not.

This was only the fourth time in 45 playoff games that he scored as many as 20 points. But he’s healthy now and doesn’t plan on missing any more games. Or fun.

“Today I feel fantastic. First of all, it’s a special day for all of us. It’s Easter Day,” Nene said. “For all humans, it’s a big day. You know, salvation day. And to be able to play playoffs on this specific day is double-blessed.”

Restoring Nene to his rightful spot, next to Wizards center Marcin Gortat, makes them double trouble. Neither big man got in the other’s way in Game 1 – in fact, after a slow start, Gortat finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, 12 and eight in the second half.

“I’m just trying to play off Nene,” Gortat said. “The most important thing is, we not run into each other in the game. Most of the time he’s on the other side of the block – wherever I am, he’s on the other side. The system we have is perfect for both of us. Each one of us is getting to a sweet spot where we can play our game.

“If I start scoring on the pick-and-rolls or put-backs, they’re going to focus a little bit more on me. That opens up things for him. He’s so aggressive, so dominant in the low post that he can create a lot of things for us.”

What Nene created for the Wizards in Game 1, with his scoring, his energy, his passing and his joy of playing again, was hope. Precisely the thing Chicago had hoped to quash.

Numbers preview: Bulls-Wizards

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: East Playoff Preview: Bulls vs. Wizards

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat hold the top two seeds, but six Eastern Conference teams had better records after the All-Star break. Two of those teams will meet in the 4-5 series.

The Chicago Bulls have once again overcome the loss of Derrick Rose. But they’ve also been better since trading Luol Deng than they were before. The Washington Wizards have been solid all season, ending a five year playoff drought with a top-10 defense and one of the league’s most improved offenses.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the 4 and 5 seeds in the East, as well as the three regular-season games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Chicago Bulls (48-34)

Pace: 92.7 (28)
OffRtg: 99.7 (28)
DefRtg: 97.8 (2)
NetRtg: +1.9 (12)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Washington: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bulls notes:

Washington Wizards (44-38)

Pace: 95.5 (19)
OffRtg: 103.3 (18)
DefRtg: 102.4 (10)
NetRtg: +0.9 (15)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Chicago: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Wizards notes:

The matchup

Season series: Wizards won 2-1 (1-1 at Washington)
Pace: 90.8
CHI OffRtg: 102.3 (15th vs. WAS)
WAS OffRtg: 100.6 (8th vs. CHI)

Matchup notes:

Analytics Art: Playoff team comparison

By Andrew Bergmann (@dubly), for NBA.com

See how your team fared against other playoff teams during the 2013-14 regular season.

NBA playoff team wins

Andrew Bergmann’s data driven design work can be found on CNN, NBA, Sports Illustrated, Deadspin, Washington Post, and USA Today. See more on www.dubly.com and twitter.com/dubly

One gear: Thibodeau, Bulls continue to grind forward

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Tom Thibodeau's intensity has set the tone for the one-speed Bulls. (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

Tom Thibodeau’s intensity has set the tone for the one-speed Bulls. (Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images)

CHICAGO – If the Chicago Bulls didn’t exist, NBA commissioner Adam Silver would have to invent them.

As this team rests its star players for a fresh start in the NBA postseason, as that team eyeballs the standings to scale its efforts on a given night to playoff positioning or lottery chances, the Chicago Bulls trudge forward, always forward.

Sometimes they march. Sometimes they plod. Every once in a while, the game flows more freely and you’d swear you saw swooshes on their work boots. But this is a one-direction, one-speed, one-gear team – forward, forever in overdrive – that doesn’t apologize when critics seize on that as a problem at this time of year: The Bulls play so hard all the time, so there’s no “next level” to which they can take their game in the playoffs.

Like that’s a bad thing.

So what if Chicago doesn’t click-clack through the shift gate like some exotic sports coupe flitting about the Riviera? Armored tanks, steamrollers and threshers seem to do fine without dual-clutch 7-speed gearboxes. So do Terminators, a.k.a., Tom Thibodeau.

“We’re not changing,” Thibodeau said after the 108-95 victory over Orlando in the Bulls’ home finale. “We’re trying to win games. … We’re not changing our approach: Every game, analyze what we’re doing well, what we’re doing not as well as we would like, make our corrections, move on to the next one, know the opponent well, keep moving forward. That’s all we can do.”

You could stump a few Chicagoans by asking to identify the source of the following quote: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” Who said that: Michael Biehn‘s character in the original “Terminator?” Or a Bulls player, requesting anonymity, in describing Thibs?

Forward Taj Gibson didn’t take the unnamed route when he went there Monday.

“You guys have been around for a minute now,” Gibson, a top Sixth Man candidate, told reporters. “You guys should know that guy in the other room over there, he’s not going to tell anybody to take any rest. He’s old school. He doesn’t believe in that. He just believes in pushing forward.


VIDEO: The passion of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau

“Like he said, ‘The finish line is ahead. You’ve got to just run through it. You can’t slow up, you can’t try to trot through. You’ve got to run full speed ahead through it and whatever happens, happens.’ He told us, ‘We want to walk through the fire together as a team, as a unit. Nobody’s going to take that from you. You’ve just got to keep walking through it. Don’t stop for anything.’ “

OK, so there’s no ring collection in the Chicago locker room. Backup center Nazr Mohammed is the only player to have reached The Finals, never mind win the title, and the Bulls’ collection of Larry O’Brien trophies has fit on the same shelf for 16 years now.

But then, Thibodeau and his crew aren’t preachy about their relentless ways – heck, it might scare off some free agents the way tales of Pat Riley‘s taped, full-contact, two-hour “shootarounds” used to. Grinding steadily forward simply is what has worked for Chicago.

There really wasn’t much choice, after the long-anticipated return of MVP candidate Derrick Rose ended just 10 games in. Rose’s second season-ending knee injury and the subsequent trade of All-Star Luol Deng threatened to do more than just slam shut this Bulls edition’s championship window. It had some fans luridly licking their chops over lottery slots. They, of course, were the ones who know nothing about Thibodeau.

The Bulls are 21-8 since the All-Star break and 34-17 since trading Deng in early January. Their defense is a constant, the relentless embodiment of their head coach. And though Chicago ranks ranks 28th in offensive rating (102.7), the Bulls lately have been almost breezy, scoring 100 points or more in five of their past seven.

With Gibson and Joakim Noah developing as scoring options, with shooter Mike Dunleavy moving into a starting spot up front and with D.J. Augustin dusting off his career as Thibodeau’s latest point-guard reclamation project, the offense has hit triple digits 14 times in its 29 post-break games vs. 11 times in the 52 before it.

Their 100-89 loss Sunday in New York snapped a seven-game winning streak, but at least it wasn’t the result of guessing at the Indiana-Miami flip-flopping atop the conference and trying to game the playoff seedings. If anything the Bulls Game 7 everything.

“It’s made us who we are,” guard Kirk Hinrich said after the Magic victory. “That’s just kind of the makeup of this group and the beliefs that [Thibodeau] goes by. Us as players, there’s something to be said about just coming in, preparing. You feel prepared, you’re confident, and that goes a long way.”

Dunleavy occasionally has rolled his eyes at the work-load demands he has faced under Thibodeau. Then again, the 6-foot-9 forward didn’t play on a .500 team in his first 11 NBA seasons, so he’s not complaining.

“Playing with high intensity like we do all year helps,” he said. “I certainly am going to keep the same approach in the playoffs. It’s just another game because I think we prepare for every regular-season game like it’s a playoff game. That’s the way we’ve been doing it, and hopefully we roll right through in terms of smoothness and transition into the postseason.”

Roll? Typically by this time each spring, the Bulls are limping and bleeding. Once the smoke and smell of sulfur from Rose’s latest demise cleared, though, the rest of the roster got and largely has remained healthy. As hard as Thibodeau pushes, they have become true believers in the ol’ “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” ethos.

“We believe in ourselves, we believe in our abilities,” Noah said. “We think we’re going to be a tough out. We’re going to go out there and give them hell.”

Forty-eight minutes of it, sometimes served up that way per man (see Jimmy Butler, 2013 postseason). All in one gear, at one speed.

Analytics Art: MVP leader stats

By Andrew Bergmann (@dubly), for NBA.com

Here are some key stats on the current MVP race leaders.

Tweet who you think should win the 2013-14 Most Valuable Player Award: Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, LeBron James or Joakim Noah, and watch The Starters’ “Starties Awards Show” tonight at 6 ET on NBA TV.

mvp-leaderstats

MVP Leader Stats

Andrew Bergmann’s data driven design work can be found on CNN, NBA, Sports Illustrated, Deadspin, Washington Post and USA Today. See more on www.dubly.com and twitter.com/dubly. Thanks to Tracy Weissenberg for the tip.