Posts Tagged ‘Nazr Mohammed’

Rose Returns, His Reputation (For Some Bulls Backers) To Follow


VIDEO: Derrick Rose talks with TNT’s David Aldridge about his return

CHICAGO – Derrick Rose smiled the other day — see, it is a new season — while talking about his toddler son, “P.J.,” and the 1-year-old’s budding love of the game. Little man already is working on his handle, Rose said, though he’s prone to double-dribbling.

But the whole time and space continuum still is a challenge for “P.J.,” it sounds like.

“He’s still confused when he sees me on TV,” Rose said. “Or sees a poster of me anywhere, it confuses him. I can’t wait till the day he knows I’m actually playing.”

Ahem. The same could be said for a whole bunch of fans of the Chicago Bulls who have been plenty confused themselves trying to figure out whether and when Rose would be playing.

For at least half of the past 18 months, Rose’s will-he-or-won’t-he endless rehabilitation from left knee surgery has sparked some of the fiercest Chicago barroom debates since Steve Bartman and Moises Alou tried to catch the same foul ball.

Was discretion truly the better part of valor, as in Rose’s decision — cobbled together missed game by missed game, from around the All-Star break last February until the Bulls’ season ran out — not to participate at all in 2012-13? Or had he somehow let his team, fans, city, sport and, ultimately, himself down by not adhering to a more conventional timetable? Should he have returned after about 10 months to face the rust and take some inevitable lumps with the idea that even a sub-par Rose could have helped the overachieving-but-undermanned Bulls?

Rose will be out there Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, TNT), officially ending his layoff (after four preseason United Center appearances) when the Bulls face the New York Knicks in their home opener. Soon, he or someone from the family will get “P.J.” to understand the difference between Daddy at home and Daddy on TV running up and down a basketball court.

It might take a little longer for greater Chicagoland and the nation’s Bulls fans to do so.

“When he comes out Thursday, it’s going to be real inspirational,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said this week. “I know he’s meant a lot to the city of Chicago, being from there. People love him. I felt it even when he didn’t play last year. Because he’s a hometown kid. It’s rare you get a No. 1 overall pick superstar playing for the hometown team.”

Playing being the operative word though.

Windy City’s Mt. Rushmore


VIDEO: Derrick Rose reads fan letters on ‘Inside Stuff’

As the biggest of the “Rust Belt” cities, with a crazy quilt of sports success and heartbreak — Bulls in the 1990s, Blackhawks nowadays vs. Cubs in the 20th and 21st centuries — Chicago has love-hate relationships with many of its athletes. But those on the top tier remain indisputably loved, and Rose already was climbing rungs in the Top 10 when he fell to the floor and grabbed his left knee, his ACL torn by the torque of his own explosive power in Game 1 against Philadelphia on April 28, 2012.

“If Derrick can stay healthy, he’ll end up on the Mt. Rushmore of Chicago sports,” said Chuck Swirsky, the radio play-by-play voice of the Bulls who began his Chicago sportscasting career more than three decades ago. “His skill level is off the charts. But will he stay healthy? No one can answer that.”

The Rushmore metaphor, strictly speaking, goes only four deep. But we’ll work with a slightly longer list. It begins with Michael Jordan, of course, then includes other beloved sports stars such as Walter Payton, Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Dick Butkus and Mike Ditka (more as coach than player).

Of the bunch, though, only Butkus – the ferocious linebacker who went to Chicago Vocational School and the University of Illinois before being picked by the Bears No. 3 in the 1965 NFL draft (along with No. 4, running back Gayle Sayers) – was a native son. Jordan was from North Carolina. Payton, Mississippi. Banks grew up in Dallas and Santo in Seattle. Ditka came out of Pittsburgh football country, and Hull (Point Anne, Ontario) and Mikita (Czechoslovakia) might as well have been from Mars.

Rose grew up nine miles south of Chicago Stadium and later United Center, born a few years before Jordan and Scottie Pippen began winning championships. The Englewood neighborhood where his mother Brenda raised four boys — and those boys raised each subsequent boy, with Derrick (Pooh) Martell Rose as the youngest — is one of the poorest and most dangerous on Chicago’s South Side.

And on this list, that matters.

“Absolutely,” Swirsky said. “The speaking engagements I go to … always, they say, ‘He’s one of us.’ That’s one of the phrases that comes off the tongues of men, women and kids. They’re saying, he’s part of the fabric of Chicagoland. You can take a kid from [suburban] Glen Ellyn who idolizes the same athlete as somebody from Englewood. With all due respect to [Blackhawks Jonathan] Toews and [Patrick] Kane and the others, he is the No. 1 guy in this market.”

A hometown success story


VIDEO: Playing for hometown club a thrill for Rose

Asiaha Butler, a founder and president of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, isn’t a sports fans but her husband is, and so are their neighbors. Which means they’re Rose fans.

“Englewood is one of those places where you only hear about the worst news,” Butler said. “So any good news is inspiring. We work with some schools in the area and I know there are kids who are elated that he’s back.”

The Bulls knew all about Rose’s roots when they made him the No. 1 pick in the 2008 Draft, taking him in spite of his connections more than because of them. Plenty of sports franchises had witnessed the trouble that can come when hometown hero tries to grow up professionally while his old life tugs at his current one.

“There was always this philosophy that you don’t want to take a guy and have him play in his hometown because of the outside influences,” Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “But in Derrick’s case, he had such a strong core of family and friends, that was never an issue.

“Chicago is a blue-collar town for the most part, always has been. Derrick, even with his athleticism, he still embraces that mentality of hard work and pride in where he’s from. Every time he talks about playing, he generally references Chicago. He takes pride in it, so it’s very easy for it all to work.”

Ed Pinckney, an assistant on coach Tom Thibodeau‘s staff, shakes his head thinking about himself, had he begun his 12-year NBA career in his native New York.

“In my hometown, my head would be swollen,” said Pinckney, who starred at Villanova in Philadelphia. “I don’t know how they deal with it on a daily basis. How do you manage your time, making people feel good, not slight people and still maintain a level of humbleness about you? I would feel, like, claustrophobic. I just know, the people around me, when they talk about Derrick, they talk in glowing terms.”

Reach the levels of notoriety Rose has in this (or any other) sports-crazed city and everyone wants a piece of you. Grant DePorter, president and manager of the five Harry Caray‘s sports restaurants, considers Rose “the closest thing Chicago’s had to Michael Jordan since Michael Jordan.” He has seen the similarities on nights the Bulls are on TV and the TVs in Harry Caray’s are on.

“When he’s playing, the place is packed. Everybody wants to watch Derrick Rose,” DePorter said. “And once he got injured, you really saw a difference in the fans’ enthusiasm. Enthusiasm equals revenue because people are going to eat and drink and celebrate, and they thought he was the second coming of Jordan. Him being from Chicago only helped.”

The Rose kids grew up playing basketball at Murray Park, a playground that had grown shaggy and rundown before the Bulls point guard pumped in some money a couple years back. They had their sports heroes, same as the young ballers now.

“It’s weird walking down the street,” said Reggie Rose, the most visible of Rose’s brothers and 14 years his senior. “When I was younger, I’d see kids wearing M.J. jerseys running around. Now I see kids running down the street with the No. 1 and ‘Rose’ on the backs of their jerseys. That’s really big to me.”

Reggie Rose spoke about the structure in their household growing up, with those surrogate dads in a single-parent home. “We still treat him as the little brother, even though he’s making a lot of money,” Reggie said. “There’s still structure and respect within the family, and we don’t let anybody try to do any divide-and-conquer, any cracks in it. We kind of just keep it moving. We’re a simple-minded family.”

Little brother Derrick treats his Chicago-ness like a warm embrace wrapped around a responsibility. He has the team’s P.A. announcer introduce him as “From Chicago…” rather than that one-year pit stop at the University of Memphis. He scarcely can imagine playing anywhere else.

“For me it’s a positive,” Rose said. “Every time I take the ball, the crowd is really into it. I take it all in, just knowing that — of course I know that everybody in the crowd is not cheering for me, but that’s the way I think about it when I’m on the court.”

That love of Chicago’s own might explain why some of the feelings of betrayal ran so deep when Rose did not come back for the Bulls last spring, and why they linger for some to this day. The player claims the criticism never has stung him.

“Not at all,” Rose said. “Because I look at it through their eyes, where if I had a favorite player and I was a fan, I would want him on the court too. I could see where they was coming from.”

‘Tiresome process’ for MVP


VIDEO: Rose opens up about his knee rehab

Dan Bernstein has been on the wall for the anger, frustration and gnashing of teeth over Rose’s prolonged rehab and delayed comeback. As a co-host of the afternoon drive show on Chicago’s WSCR AM-670, he has presided over, fueled and sampled it in all its permutations.

“There is no question that Derrick has used up some of his capital throughout this tiresome process,” Bernstein said. “Fans of his are confused and disappointed. There will always be anger on the fringes, but I don’t think that anger represents the larger portion of his real fans, who are more disappointed.

“The good news is, once the games start and even with some difficulties in this final stage of his rehabilitation to be expected, I think he can rebuild that capital very quickly.”

Confusion and downright crankiness crept in sometime in March, by which time Rose had been cleared by Bulls doctors to participate in 5-on-5 practices. He was 10 months along in his recovery process, right in the middle of the range laid out by his surgeon, Dr. Brian Cole. Other NBA players had returned to action on a similar schedule, such as Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio and New York’s Iman Shumpert. And then there was Adrian Peterson of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, hurrying back in nine months and rushing for more than 2,000 yards.

When Rose showed up only as a warm-up attraction, shooting countless jumpers in the hour or two before Bulls games, right through the Eastern Conference semifinals between his Bulls and Miami, frustration and grumbling from the fans followed. That sneaker campaign by adidas featuring Rose — “The Return” — wound up feeling like a big tease to ticket buyers and home viewers fighting and losing against impatience. Fans started to question his courage. Others wondered if, hey, maybe he’s more selfish than they thought.

“I think it was some combination of all of that,” Bernstein said. “Sports fans now have information at their disposal to understand, this is not an experimental procedure. Even though it’s serious, it has become routine surgery. Fans can read what the doctors said. They can see what other players have done and are doing.

“So it was his return timetable raising eyebrows because people who do what he does for a living just don’t do that, unless there was something else going on. And we never really found out what that was.”

Even this month, after Rose’s sweltering summer workouts in Los Angeles and his arrival on time to training camp, questions lingered. When the Bulls chose to hold him out of the Oct. 12 game in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — a big-deal Global Game exhibition — the reaction of some folks was swift and unforgiving. Among the reader comments in the Chicago Tribune:

  • “If I were D. Rose, I would sit out this year too, just to be sure.”
  • “Good thing he has a long-term contract with a lot of guaranteed money. He will never need to look a fan in the eye again.:
  • “Expect this to happen a lot. Especially for big games and the playoffs.”
  • “I really hate this guy!! Knee seems good enough to make all the stupid commercials he is currently rolling out!! Suck it up!”

So what was going on that took so long? Bernstein guessed that it was a disconnect on the final stage of rehab, where the standard process of playing through some rust and challenging games didn’t mesh with Rose’s sense of how much he trusted his repaired joint and coping with having to play as something less than “Derrick Rose, 2011 MVP” for a spell.

Rose has spoken of “feeling safe” this fall, a threshold that he cannot pinpoint but knows he has crossed.

“I can’t remember [when]. But for me, I feel normal right now,” he said. “I’m not worried about anything. I don’t have any aches. I’m not having any nagging injuries or anything. I’m really taking care of my body and preparing myself for this long season.”

Watching Rose swarmed by Miami’s double-teams and traps Tuesday night, certainly, made one wonder how he would have fared against that five months ago. At least by waiting, Rose could level the field a little, his layoff just a little longer than the typical layoff all NBA players have each offseason.

It would have helped, too, if the Bulls and Rose had handled better the whole messaging of his absence. Management never just declared his 2012-13 season over. The coaches kept treating him as a day-to-day option. And Rose’s presence on the court before each game down the stretch was more of a tease than a source of encouragement.

Bill Wennington, Swirsky’s partner and a former Bulls center, contrasted Rose’s layoff with what the L.A. Clippers did when Blake Griffin, the No. 1 pick in 2009, suffered a fractured kneecap in the final preseason game that fall. After treatment and rest weren’t enough, Griffin headed to surgery and the Clippers by mid-January declared his rookie season over before it ever began.

“In my opinion, Derrick made the right decision,” Wennington said. “But was it handled properly? Probably not. It left a lot of questions and expectations that didn’t happen. People who say ‘Derrick should have played,’ if they listen to the whole story and understand it’s his career and how others coming back from surgery can get reinjured or it takes a whole year anyway, they start to get it.

“Derrick’s game is so different, both the explosion he has going from 0-to-60 and then the elevation that he powers to the rim, and the landing and the absorbing the body weight. … I think people have seen already that he looks pretty good. He’s showing no ill signs from being out, and as long as that continues, his reputation and legend will grow here in Chicago.”

Throughout the league, it’s taking only brief glimpses of Rose’s restored quickness and aggressiveness to convince players and coaches that waiting was the better choice. Denver coach Brian Shaw had cautioned him about that last season, mentioning Penny Hardaway as one of several ex-NBA stars who might have rushed back too soon.

But, you don’t want to swap a feel-good moment for a career of future highlights. That’s the worst-case scenario the Rose family considered, in convening about their NBA star’s predicament.

“At that time, us as a family and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, we all had to sit down and look at his best interest,” Reggie Rose said. “We were like, ‘Why go in for just one year when he has more than 10 years of basketball left in him?’ For us, it was let him sit one year and play 10 instead of try to play one and don’t play 10.”

Winning, health cure all


VIDEO: Aschburner with Rose during Media Day

As Bulls camp opened, Thibodeau, appreciative and fiercely protective of Rose, flippantly dismissed grumpy fans and media critics as people who “don’t know what they’re talking about.” A month later, he had softened just a bit.

“I think the real fans supported him the entire time,” the Bulls coach said. “The ones who didn’t were misguided. He had to make a tough decision.”

Teammates, for all public consumption and even in private, seem to have had Rose’s back throughout.

“We’re a family,” veteran center Nazr Mohammed said. “We all supported his decision. If he was my brother, I would have told him, ‘Do the wise thing and come back when you’re ready.’ We’re all seeing the benefits of it right now.”

That nightly tease fans saw last season? That actually helped him with the other players. He wasn’t out in L.A. doing his rehab while they were grinding through the season. He was practicing with them at the Berto Center and was sweating hard beside them before each game.

“One of our hardest workers,” Mohammed called him. “He prepared as if he was trying to play the next game, and we all knew it. Every single day. He was trying his best. He just didn’t get there.”

If only the communication had been better, Bulls to media, Rose to fans and so on.

“Derrick always, at every level, has let his game speak for him,” Bernstein said. “He’s not good at speaking. He’s not a politician, he’s not a public relations expert and he hasn’t surrounded himself with people who seem to care about messaging. There hasn’t been that kind of considered outreach or ‘spin.’ Some might find that refreshing, but his game speaks for him and when his game is on hiatus, it allows for all kinds of open spaces to be filled in around him and projected upon him.

“Once his game returns, that’s his way of communicating with his fans. If that looks right and is right, I think it takes care of everything.”

Rose said the other day that he never encountered any face-to-face griping and only hears support around town. “I rarely go places,” he said. “But if there was any criticism or anything like that, I didn’t hear it. Not while I was in a place. Of course you hear about it [from] people writing about it or people reporting about it.”

TNT broadcaster Steve Kerr was vocal that way and had a network forum on which he said Rose needed to at least try to play last spring. But any lingering resentment now, from not having done so? Not a long-term problem, Kerr said.

“Derrick built up a lot of trust with the Chicago fan base before last year,” Kerr said. “He’s always carried himself so well. He’s a modest guy, soft-spoken and plays so hard. Even though there was frustration last year and a lot of people called him out on-air, including me, I think all that goes out the window. I think the fans will be so excited to see him back.”

In a what-have-you-done-for-me-today world, Rose and the Bulls have an opportunity — the stinky performance against the Heat Tuesday not withstanding — to put everything about 2012-13 in the all-gone machine.

“If he stays healthy and they win, the fans won’t even second-guess his decision to miss all of last season,” TNT’s Reggie Miller said. “All players are the CEO of their own companies. Derrick had to do what is right for him. … If he stays relatively healthy and they win, the fans will let it go.”

Most will, probably.

Said Bernstein: “I don’t think anybody has said, ‘I’m done with this guy.’ I think everybody is tired of the story. It hasn’t been fun. Derrick Rose was so much fun for everybody. And then it became such a downer for so long. The good news is there’s every reason to believe that a repaired knee can mean a repaired game and a repaired image and repaired feelings.”

Rose, though cooperative, doesn’t really engage in the whole controversy about last season or his inner thoughts during the layoff. He is a basketball player who is, fortunately, playing basketball again.

Of his critics, he said: “That’s the last thing I can think about. I know that I’m back on the court and I know that I’m playing with a bunch of guys that have my back, so my confidence is super high right now. I’ve just got to continue to play the way that I play and be aggressive throughout the whole game.”

And that – this – is a big deal, right?

“I’m pumped,” Rose said. “I’m a guy who don’t show that much emotion. I don’t know if you want me to yell or anything.”


VIDEO: Rose on his on- and off-court changes

Birdman Should Sit For Manhandling Ref

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When the Eastern Conference finals shifts back to Indianapolis for Game 6 Saturday night, Miami’s Chris “Birdman” Andersen needs to spectate from his hotel room or his aviary or whatever other perch he can find outside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Because the NBA needs to deliver a one-game suspension for Andersen’s actions in a second-quarter skirmish.

Not just for what Andersen did to Pacers reserve forward Tyler Hansbrough, either. For his tussle with referee Marc Davis.

By now, the sequence of events involving Andersen and Hansbrough is widely known: Miami’s tightly wound big man, while trying to rebound, got nudged from behind by Indiana’s Paul George. Only he didn’t get George’s license plate — he apparently thought Hansbrough had delivered the bump. So as the two ran upcourt behind the play, he bumped “back” at Hansbrough, the collision sending the Indiana player sprawling.

Hansbrough, startled at first, took exception and Andersen was all too willing to continue what he had started. The two closed the distance between them and bumped chests, at which point Andersen sharply shoved Hansbrough back with two hands.

OK, that should have been enough to eject Andersen right there. The only difference between what Andersen did on the shove and what Chicago’s Nazr Mohammed did in shoving LeBron James in Game 3 of the semifinals was that James went sprawling, sliding several feet in what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau referred to as a “flop.”

Hansbrough’s mistake, even as the NBA seems ripe to wring out flopping, looks to be not (ahem) selling the play to refs Danny Crawford, Jim Capers and Davis. He couldn’t even had he tried, because teammate Roy Hibbert was there to catch him.

So Andersen delivers two blows — both of which sure looked to be “unnecessary” and “excessive” — and yet, upon review, gets slapped only with a flagrant-1 foul. But the skirmish wasn’t over.

One of the referees, Davis, gets in front of Andersen and moves him backward away from Hansbrough to stop a possible escalation of the beef. What does Andersen do? He pushes back. He grabs Davis’ wrist with his right hand. He pushes on the referee’s arm with his left. All of this physical contact with a game official because he’s steamed, because he didn’t like getting bumped from behind or because, in some misguided way, he’s trying to ignite (incite?) his Heat teammates and/or the crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena.

That was the most disturbing thing about the incident. Andersen did enough to be ejected then — or, a little late, suspended now for one game — with his hits on Hansbrough. But he crossed the line by getting physical with Davis.

No way should any NBA referee be subject to that sort of wrestling or manhandling, lest people assume they’re just part of the act in Andersen’s dumb WWE display.

Push Comes To Shove For Outnumbered Bulls

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CHICAGO – Shorthanded from their first practice of training camp through the 104-94 Game 3 loss to the Miami Heat Friday night at United Center in their Eastern Conference semifinals series, the Chicago Bulls have remained stoic throughout — sphinx-like, even.

At no point during a season defined as much by who hasn’t played as who has – no Derrick Rose at all, no Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich for about half of this playoff run now – have they whined. No grousing, no feeling sorry for themselves, no covetous glances or comments about the relative health of their opponents.

The Bulls have fallen in line behind their coach, Tom Thibodeau, who replays the same half dozen or so responses to any questions he fields about the team’s shortage of healthy players. More than enough to win. Do your job. Next man up. More than answers, they’re mantras and affirmations, repeated so often now that the fellows in Chicago’s dressing room truly believe.

Only it’s gone on too long now. The manpower disadvantage Chicago drags onto the court each game in this series against the NBA’s defending champions is starting to seize up on them. It’s frustrating, facing mighty Miami outnumbered and undermanned, and it’s starting to poke through not as woe-are-we grumbles about their injury plight but in a creeping sense of persecution.

Maybe it’s not merely the unfairness of relying on the same seven or eight players night after night, the Bulls more than hinted after Friday’s defeat, while the Heat can draw a rotation from 10 or 12. Maybe it’s the impossibility of winning basketball games five-on-eight, when three on the other side have whistles.

Yes, for the last few days, Thibodeau and the Bulls have gone there.

“We’re well aware of what’s going on,” the coach said after a game in which his backup center Nazr Mohammed got ejected for pushing Miami’s LeBron James in the second quarter and his starter Joakim Noah got called on what might have been an offensive rebound in the final minutes.

The former, a stunning moment that saw the NBA’s Most Valuable Player toppling backwards (and looking for the best place to land as he fell), cost Chicago Mohammed’s services, which typically provide 10 or 15 minutes rest for Noah. The latter, with the Bulls down 88-83 with 3:15 to play, might have triggered a four- or five-point swing when Noah’s foul coughed up the ball and the Heat’s Chris Bosh sank two free throws.

“When you play this team, you have to have a lot of mental, physical and emotional toughness,” Thibodeau said. “And things aren’t going to go your way. We’re not going to get calls. That’s reality. We’ve still got to find a way to get it done. And we can.”

That might read like typical Thibs-ese, but there are insinuations in it of a double standard at work. Thibodeau has dropped in comments about the Bulls “not getting calls” each day since their 115-78 meltdown in Game 2 Wednesday, when Chicago players were slapped with six technical fouls and both Noah and Taj Gibson were ejected.

Fact is, the sense that Miami might try to muscle up in this series dates back to Chicago’s streak-busting victory on March 27. After that game, in which the Heat’s run of consecutive victories ended at 27, James complained publicly about the Bulls being overly aggressive – particularly two “not basketball plays” in which Hinrich tackled him and Gibson knocked him down awkwardly in the lane. James acted out his frustration that night, slamming into Bulls forward Carlos Boozer to earn his own flagrant foul.

But the tone was set.

Game 1 flew below the radar, Miami searching for its game and its edge beneath some layoff rust and a lack of urgency dating back weeks. But Game 2 got snarly – in the tradition of Dwyane Wade pushing Rip Hamilton into the seats last season – and Game 3 wanted to go that way, too, if not for referee Joey Crawford, and his notoriously short fuse, working as the night’s top cop.

Still, it didn’t stop Mohammed. After the backup center fouled James to prevent a fast break, the Miami star pushed back – harder – sending the bigger man to the floor. Mohammed got up and, without even realizing James had just earned a technical foul for that move, shoved back. James went reeling, lost his balance or folded in a little theatrics exaggerating the impact enough that Mohammed was a sure goner from the game. Easy ejection.

The Bulls, however, didn’t see it that way.

“From my angle, I just saw a guy basically flop,” Thibodeau said. “And … I’m gonna leave it at that.”

Only he didn’t. Asked specifically about the refs’ decision to eject Mohammed, the Bulls coach said: “I didn’t think it warranted an ejection. I understand a flagrant foul. I understand that. But an ejection? No. No. Nope.”

Mohammed said he never imagined he would get tossed, given James’ shove triggered his reaction. And that’s where the context of what had happened – the way the series has gone, the way most of the games between Chicago and Miami have gone the past three seasons – bubbled to the surface.

“I look at some plays that have happened through the series already,” Mohammed said. “Guys jumping on [Nate Robinson‘s] face. [A] Guy tackling Marco Belinelli out of bounds. Guy takes out Nate first play of the game. I mean, there have been a lot of plays that didn’t [get] ejections.

“I’m disappointed in myself. I let my teammates down, I could have been out there to help. I’m disappointed in myself also because my son was probably watching the game. I don’t want him to see that type of behavior on the court. But I’m also disappointed it warranted an ejection for something like a push when I got pushed down first.”

There also was a heated moment late in the first quarter when Miami’s Chris “Birdman” Anderson fell atop Robinson along the baseline and wasn’t getting off him fast enough to suit Noah. The Heat do seem to aim their falls so they land on opposing players, so Noah rushed over and shoved Andersen, as he was untangling from the Bulls guard. It was a sneak preview of the Mohammed-James altercation.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra brushed aside questions about the dust-ups, calling them “inconsequential” to the outcome. And, mostly, Spoelstra was right. Chicago could not get stops when it needed them down the stretch and the Heat got a big game from Bosh, unexpected help from backup guard Norris Cole and timely scoring late from James.

But the Mohammed and Noah incidents did matter to Chicago, same as nudge foul by Jimmy Butler on James for a three-point play that made it 99-90. The series is one of attrition for the Bulls, so more than doling out free throws, any disparity in how fouls are assessed further shortens their bench and dictates which players Thibodeau can keep on the floor, for fear of maxing out with six.

Miami can play with abandon, as the Bulls see it, because it has numbers on them. Its stars rarely veer into foul trouble – James had only three games this season of more than three fouls and never fouled out, while Wade had one disqualification and five more with more than three – and there is depth for everyone else.

“I’m watching how things are going,” Thibodeau said. “I see how things are going. I watch very closely. And what I’m seeing, we’ll adjust accordingly.”

Coming from a guy who’d rather sing the anthem pregame than make excuses or shift responsibility anywhere but within, it was telling. A sign, it seemed, that the toothache of missing players had pounded on too long.

Also telling: Noah’s reaction when asked late Friday if that March 27 game and James’ gripes about it had bled into how Miami was playing and the refs were calling things now.

“Nah, I don’t think so,” the Bulls center said.

His words said one thing. His eye roll, broad enough for Broadway, said another.

Good Nate, Bad Nate, Late Nate, Great Nate!

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CHICAGO – The team for which nothing comes easy these days got bailed out by the player for whom nothing comes easy ever.

Nate Robinson is a lot of things. He’s a remarkable athlete and presumably a dynamite NFL cornerback, had he ever pursued that, but at a fudged 5-foot-9, vertically challenged for his chosen field. Robinson is a parlor trick among NBA performers, a three-time Slam Dunk champion. He is that rare love-him-and-hate-him player, someone whose exploits and mishaps can flip the switch for teammates and fans without notice, frequently on consecutive possessions.

For those who have coached him at this level, he is a part super-sub, part pact with the devil. Coach Tom Thibodeau, Doc Rivers, Scott Brooks and the others face-palm over his shot selection, rail at his reckless passes and shake their heads when his needle hits red. Sometimes, even Nate can’t recall moments later why he did what he just did, except that his temper or his shenanigans probably put points on the board for the other guys.

Mostly, though, Robinson is one of those basketball itinerants who has built his NBA resume contract year by contract year, sometimes contract game by contract game. Ever since debuting as a rookie with the New York Knicks and fraying nerves there for 4 1/2 years, Robinson has been in motion. Five teams in the past four seasons and, chances are, six in five when he lands elsewhere by October for 2013-14.

But then he goes and does what he did to the Brooklyn Nets Saturday afternoon at United Center, slapping paddles on a game long gone and zapping it back to life for him and his teammates of the moment. Contract game? Lil Nate had himself a podium game. Three overtimes high.

“That was one of the greatest playoff performances I’ve seen,” veteran Bulls center Nazr Mohammed said an hour after Chicago beat the Nets 142-134 in triple-OT. “Especially in the second half. He willed us back … we were what, down 14 at the time? He just made offensive play after offensive play and put us in position to even get this victory.

“I mean, this game is Nate’s win.”

Aw heck, why stop there? For a good stretch of an amazing afternoon in the Windy City, it was Nate’s world. Everyone else either was grinding through three overtimes alongside him, watching slack-jawed or both. That silly cliche about only the last five minutes mattering in an NBA game? The trick Saturday was knowing which five minutes would be the last.

“It was amazing. He put on a straight show out there,” Chicago’s Carlos Boozer said. “It was like he couldn’t miss. We just kept giving him the ball and let him do what he does.”

The fourth quarter began routinely enough, with Brooklyn dusted off from an early hole and pushing ahead by eight, then 10. Robinson’s first nine points of the period were shrug-worthy, because the Bulls slipped further behind, trailing 109-95 with 3:45 left.

Dozens of fans got up and headed to the exits, though most of them are lying about it already.

So it was going to get worse when Nets guard C.J. Watson stole the ball from Robinson and broke downcourt for what, for him, was an uncharacteristic dunk attempt (ex-Bull, rubbing it in a little, right?). Except Watson missed – the crowd hooted, stoked by some earlier shoves between Robinson and Watson. Brooklyn’s Reggie Evans got the ball, got fouled – and missed both free throws.

That’s when Nate happened. He drained a 3-pointer. He burst in for a driving layup. He nailed a 16-foot jumper. He got whacked from behind the arc and coolly made all three free throws. Then, at 1:11, he pulled up at the right elbow and shot over Nets center Brook Lopez to get Chicago within 109-107.

“We got a stop and we got the ball to Nate,” Boozer said.

Robinson’s 23 points in the quarter came within one of tying Michael Jordan (his hero) for the most in a single period in Bulls’ playoff history. Then something truly amazing happened. Next time down for the Bulls, Robinson went pure point guard and found Boozer, whose reverse layup tied it at 109, at 55.4 seconds left. There would be seven more ties across the next 15-plus minutes before anyone could go home.

“It’s not necessarily me taking over,” Robinson said. “The team needed a lift and that’s when I’m usually at my best. … I always feel like I’m on fire. That way, in a game, I can play with a lot of confidence.”

Not always with Thibodeau’s blessing, however. Every so often, Robinson yo-yos the ball too long to eat up precious shot clock or, as he did in the second quarter on a fast break, launches a 3-pointer too quickly. When it drops, Thibodeau and the rest of ‘em have to swallow their bile. When it doesn’t …

“It seems every shot I take, he’s mad,” Robinson joked afterward. “He’s like a drill sergeant but I know there’s a heart in there somewhere. I just keep shooting and hope to make them. Then he can’t say much.”

Thibodeau was seen actually cracking a smile after the game, though Robinson probably won’t believe it.

Robinson wasn’t done quite yet. He almost won it in the first overtime when, in “iso” mode at 119-119, he hoisted a running bank shot from 22 feet that improbably dropped through. Left with two seconds on the clock, though, Joe Johnson‘s jumper queued up another five minutes.

And then, finally, Nate was done. At 127-126 Bulls, he shoved off against Deron Williams for his sixth foul with 1:03 left in the second overtime. The jumper cables were off, yet the engine kept running. In time, Joakim Noah (who already had blown through his sore-foot minutes limit by 10) and Taj Gibson would foul out, too, but each man who subbed in – Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Mohammed late – seemed to draw from Robinson’s energy or at least example.

The Bulls’ dressing room after looked like a train had rolled through. Players slumped in their chairs, ice bags and ice tubs everywhere. The minutes load had been ridiculous: Nearly 60 minutes on the floor for Kirk Hinrich. Almost 57 for Luol Deng. It was the same thing 30 yards down the hall – 58 minutes for Williams, 51 for Lopez, Gerald Wallace and Evans fouling out in overtime, and so on – yet at the Bulls’ end, the bodies were drained but the eyes burned bright.

They were up 3-1 in the first-round series, all that work hadn’t been for naught and their character-in-residence had gone Seussian: Good Nate, bad Nate, late Nate, great Nate!

“The basketball gods were on our side,” said Noah, “because being down 10 [14 actually] with 3 1/2, four minutes left, we just stayed with it and Nate took over offensively. That’s what he does. He’s done that for us more than a few times this year. He did it on a huge, huge stage. To be able to play in a triple-overtime game and to win, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

The best feeling, and a far different mood than the one that permeated United Center 364 days earlier, when a certain irrepressible Bulls guard not named Nate became the story late in a Saturday playoff matinee for all the wrong reasons. Robinson thrilled people in the building like Derrick Rose Saturday, and there was nothing small about that.

Series Hub: Nets vs. Bulls

Nets Might Need A Bigger Boat

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BROOKLYN – As P.J. Carlesimo, the Brooklyn Nets’ coach, talked about the Chicago Bulls’ halfcourt defense early in the evening Monday night, his tone gradually morphed from respect to reverence to … something darker. Suddenly, he was Robert Shaw as Quint in “Jaws,” scaring the hell out of Brody and Hooper with his tale of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, 1100 men into the water, 316 coming out and those black, lifeless eyes.

The Bulls brought the black, lifeless eyes of their defense at its best to the Barclays Center for Game 2 of the teams’ first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.

Eleven Nets players checked into the game, only a few came out unscathed.

Bulls center Joakim Noah will get more of the headlines in the Windy City for his courageous-slash-reckless performance in helping Chicago even the best-of-seven series 1-1. Noah reached double figures in points (11) and rebounds (10) while going single figures in feet, running and jumping – trying to, anyway – on a nasty case of plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Plantar fasciitis being Latin, of course, for “hot needles jammed into the sole of one’s foot.”

If Noah played a familiar, vital role as the Bulls’ heart — pumping blood into their bounce-back game for the first victory by a road team in these 2013 playoffs — the Chicago defense handled the predator end of it, draining the lifeblood right out of Brooklyn’s attack.

Forty-eight hours after the Nets hung 89 points on the Bulls through three quarters, they needed all four to reach 82. Two days earlier, Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace had combined to score 36 points on 14-for-22 shooting, with Brooklyn hitting nearly 56 percent overall. This time, Williams and Wallace went 2-for-16 and the Nets shot 35 percent.

“Their defense was very good,” Carlesimo said afterward, “But our execution was not as good as it needs to be. … When they made an adjustment or when they increased their defensive pressure, we didn’t handle it or react as well as we needed to. … Their interior defense was better, they contested a lot better and they didn’t let [Williams] turn the corner.”

The dorsal fins showed up in full in the third quarter. With Chicago crowding Nets center Brook Lopez some, staying aggressive on Williams’ attempts at pick-and-rolls and zealously patrolling the defensive glass, Brooklyn scored only 11 points and missed 17 of its 19 shots, including the last 10. What resumed after halftime as a one-point game pushed out to 12 by the end of the third quarter, 69-57. (more…)

Chicago Shifts Gears, Hopes Loose Playoff Schedule Good For Health

NEW YORK – Think of the difference between the NBA’s regular season and its postseason like this: You’re taking a college course that meets four times weekly, covers a fresh topic each class and grades you on daily multiple-choice quizzes, each of which represents only a sliver of your overall mark.

Then, late in the semester, everything changes: twice a week sessions, same narrow subject matter drilled down into again and again and one lengthy, hand-cramping essay exam at the end that makes or breaks your final grade.

The former is the regular season. The latter, the playoffs. Some teams are better at shifting gears than others.

“That’s NBA basketball,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said before the Bulls’ shootaround Saturday morning. They went through their workout/walk-through at a gym on Manhattan’s west side but cross over to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for Game 1 of their first-round series Saturday night against the Nets.

“That’s what you enjoy. That’s the challenge of it,” Thibodeau said. “But you’re playing against a great team. To me, you play the regular season to put yourself in the best position you can. But once that’s been determined, now you’ve got to go out and try to get it done.”

For a gym rat and grinder like Thibodeau, the playoffs are an opportunity to lock in on one opponent for as many as seven straight games. So it’s all about adjustments in between, from one to the next. Back-to-backs are over, there always is time for practice and what worked one night might be the thing your foe takes away from you the next from tipoff to final horn.

Of course, the smart guys at the other end of the floor are doing precisely the same thing.

“You have to earn your wings” Thibodeau said. “You’ve got to be at your best. You’ve got to have a lot of toughness. You have to be able to get through things.”

In Chicago’s case, that means injuries. The playoffs lend a different approach to those, too. On one hand, there’s recovery time between games. On the other, every game a hobbled player sits out gets him two, three or four extra days of healing.

The Bulls’ most pressing injury belongs to center Joakim Noah, hampered by plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Noah warmed up for shootaround, then had a long chat with Thibodeau at center court. He was considered a game-time decision even to test his foot in limited minutes.

Forward Taj Gibson, who is back from a sprained left knee and healed enough to don a smaller brace than he had been wearing, said: “Anytime we can give Jo time to heal up and rest, it’s great. We were in the same position last year when Joakim turned his ankle [in the first-round elimination by Philadelphia]. We’re just trying to give him some time to get back and get right.”

That puts pressure on Gibson and likely starter veteran Nazr Mohammed to contain Brooklyn’s All-Star big man, Brook Lopez. Said Gibson: “We’ve got to throw bodies at him. We’ve got to be strong with fouls. Just got to contest a lot of shots.”

Stretching the schedule out in the playoffs also provides even more time for injured Bulls guard Derrick Rose – who has yet to play since blowing out the anterior cruciate ligament in 2012’s playoff opener – to theoretically get healthier. Thibodeau repeated the team’s stance that it will give Rose minutes whenever he’s ready for them – “that’d be fine” even in mid-series, the coach said – before veering close to saying what most people have assumed.

“I mean, most likely [he’s] out, but you never know,” Thibodeau said. “The playoffs are stretched out, too, so you have to factor that in. Who knows another week from now where he is. You always want to leave that possibility open.”

Rose is on the roster. There’s nothing to be gained from ruling him out. But Noah’s injury and day-to-day status is the one matters most to Chicago now.

Noah Serves As Source Of Bulls’ Energy, Emotion — And Offense

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CHICAGO
– To say Joakim Noah plays with energy or brings emotion to the court for the Chicago Bulls is to say that the sun plays with light and brings heat to the Earth. See, it’s so much more than that.

Noah radiates that stuff.

If coach Tom Thibodeau is Chicago’s single-mindedness and hard-headedness, if Derrick Rose when healthy is the team’s heart, Noah is its soul. Always quick to rouse and praise the 22,000-plus who fill United Center for each game, the truth is none of them burns for the Bulls the way he does. None of them grabs them by their horns and hoists them on his back the way Noah has done lately, either, putting up big numbers that only scratch the surface of the impact he’s having these days.

Noah crammed the score sheet Saturday night in the Bulls’ thorough beating of Brooklyn with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals. He made 10 of his 13 field-goal attempts – and one of those was a halfcourt heave at the third-quarter buzzer that more stats-conscious players always seem to fling an instant too late to avoid dinging their percentages.

In Chicago’s previous game, their spanking of Philadelphia on TNT Thursday, his numbers truly conveyed the spectacular performance he gave: 23 points (8 of 12 from the floor), 21 rebounds and 11 blocked shots. He became only the sixth player since the NBA began tabulating blocks (sorry, Wilt and Russ) to go 20-20-10 in quite that way. The others: Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shawn Bradley, Shaquille O’Neal and Elvin Hayes.

Late in the Sixers game, as Noah shot a pair of free throws in United Center’s west end, the crowd swelled up with a familiar chant of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” In Noah’s case, “D-P-O-Y! D-P-O-Y!” would have been a better fit, for it is the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award for which he’ll get serious consideration.

But the “MVP” stuff was a link of sorts, too, to Rose, the Bulls’ missing All-Star now in the late stages of  his rehab from left knee surgery. Not having Rose available for the season’s first four months has led some Chicagoans to keep the team at arm’s length, as if they’re not sure whether to invest emotionally or otherwise in what Bulls management has been selling this season.

Noah, meanwhile, is incapable of such detachment. The vision he has for the Bulls is true. The last two games, it’s as if he slit open a vein and spilled it all over the court for the world to see.

“I don’t have a choice,” Noah said after the Brooklyn game. “This is my job and this is my life. Everything is built around, y’know, this. There’s nothing better right now than winning basketball games. It’s been an up-and-down year. But I really feel like when we’re playing our best, we can really beat a lot of people. So the potential is definitely there.”

Noah has been leading the way, not by rounding up two of everything the way that Biblical version did but by grabbing a whole bunch of many things, from rebounds to blocks to, his latest wrinkle, field goals. He never had run off consecutive 20-point games until now, and his offensive inclinations alone have made a difference: When the 6-foot-11 center takes at least 10 shots, the Bulls are 22-7 this season.

“Most people don’t expect Jo to shoot the ball,” said forward Carlos Boozer, after heaping all sorts of DPOY love on Noah. “But when he’s aggressive and he’s going to the hoop and he’s hitting the jump shot, teams don’t know what to do. Because now you’ve got five guys that can put the ball in the hole.”

Said Noah: “It’s just opportunity. Just diving harder to the basket. My teammates are looking for me. I’m not really doing anything different than I’ve been doing. It’s just … stats, I guess.”

Stats don’t much move Noah’s needle. Winning does. Winning postseason games does. Teammates plugging into his power source, that’s pretty good too.

And pretty standard now, with Noah consciously stepping into the breach of Rose’s absence.

“With Derrick being gone this year, from what I’ve seen, he’s been that leader since Day 1,” said veteran backup Nazr Mohammed. “He’s also a guy who leads by example. You come in and see his energy, his focus before games.”

Sometimes there’s an (over) abundance. Noah was called for a foul just 85 seconds into the game Saturday, then griped his way to a technical from ref Scott Foster. But he stuck around to play 41 minutes, picking up only two more personals.

There was a stormy game against Memphis in January when Thibodeau yanked Noah and kept him out, the player apologizing the next day for some untoward words.

Most nights now, he harnesses it. Lately, he’s channeling it.

“You have to take what you get from guys,” Mohammed said. “If a guy’s emotional, you take that away from him, you affect his game.”

The Bulls are better off with Noah radiating and spilling over to teammates. The talking he does defensively, to clue in forwards and guard on the defensive floor he sees in front of him, is only part of it.

“I think that’s a big aspect of his game also to get real excited when a big play goes down,” forward Jimmy Butler said, “not if he does it but when somebody else does it. That’s part of being a leader, which he’s great at being.

“I feel like everybody feeds off his energy. Everybody feeds off his emotion. You see him yelling, it’s like something in you is like, ‘I’m gonna do it too.’ “

On the good nights, those other Bulls wind up as moons, reflecting what their pony-tailed, free spirit center throws off. As for Noah himself, well, he doesn’t have a choice.

Even Waldo Wonders, Where’s Joakim?


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CHICAGO – As the Bulls clawed their way back into their home game against Memphis Saturday night, outscoring the Grizzlies 29-16 in the fourth quarter to force overtime, Joakim Noah sat. Well, sure, coach Tom Thibodeau was sticking with the five guys who brought Chicago back. That had to be it.

When the Bulls slipped behind 83-80 in the final minute of an OT session and were searching again for offense at the bitter end, Noah sat. Why of course, Thibodeau needed shooters on the floor. That had to be it.

But when Taj Gibson picked up his sixth foul with 39.1 seconds left and Noah still was sitting, attempts to guess at Thibodeau’s reasoning hit a wall. Nazr Mohammed was sent into the game for the Bulls for size, Memphis’ Zach Randolph on the line. Z-Bo missed two, Carlos Boozer grabbed the second and, with 37.9 seconds to go, Mohammed checked out.

That li’l window of 2.3 seconds made it obvious that something else was afoot.

“That’s just a coaching decision,” Thibodeau said.

Noah didn’t say anything, at least not to reporters. Rare for him, he exited the locker room before the media arrived.

Noah wound up playing 26:40, with 10 points and five rebounds, never returning after subbing out at 5:53 of the third.

Yes, it was Chicago’s third consecutive overtime game and yes, Noah had logged 47:40 at Toronto Wednesday and 45:29 at Boston Friday. But the Bulls already were without forward Luol Deng, out with a strained right hamstring, and of course haven’t had guard Derrick Rose at all. Now they were trying to push through Memphis, by choice, without a guy who might wind up on the East All-Star squad next month.

Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins credited his side’s offensive rebounding – they had seven in the fourth quarter and overtime – with salvaging possessions and ultimately the game. Noah had started strong enough – 10 points, three assists and two boards in a feisty first quarter – but went scoreless, shooting 0-of-3 with three rebounds over his next 14-plus minutes.

He had struggled in previous games against the Grizzlies (4.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg in his career) and Noah’s man, Randolph, finished with 13 points and 19 boards. Still, the Bulls center had posted double-doubles in three of his last four games. Memphis surely expected to see him return.

“Yeah,” Grizz center Marc Gasol said. “Well … yeah.”

Did Thibodeau see something on the United Center floor Saturday that he didn’t like? Had Noah been listening to too much All-Star jazz? Did he just need a blow after those long minutes against the Raptors and the Celtics? Boozer said he spoke to Noah briefly after the game, revealed nothing of what they said, but added: “He’ll be fine.”

He was conspicuous by his absence for 2.3 seconds, at least.

Rockets Appear To Have Landed Asik





HANG TIME, Texas — Maybe it’s time the Rockets struck up a partnership with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. You know the motto: “We always get our man.”

The Rockets appear set to go 2-for-2 in their pursuit of free agents, reeling in center Omer Asik from the Bulls just a week after landing point guard Jeremy Lin from the Knicks.

Chicago has until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday to match the Houston offer sheet, which is a similar $25.1 million bookend to the deal they gave Lin. But it seems the Bulls have already made their decision, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

And just as the Rockets spent that Saturday lockup up a replacement, the Bulls agreed Saturday with a player who could fill in for Asik.

“The Knicks signaled their intention to let Lin go when they reached a sign-and-trade agreement with Raymond Felton. The Bulls appear ready to sign center Nazr Mohammed to replace Asik, with Mohammed indicating via Twitter he is leaving the Thunder.

The Rockets had reached agreement with Asik in the first full day of free agency after meeting with him as soon as the free agency recruiting period began at midnight July 1. They tried to trade for Asik, a stellar defensive player off the Bulls’ bench, the past two seasons. He averaged 3.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game last season.

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Thunder Need Perkins For Next Round





HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – The status of Thunder center Kendrick Perkins for the Western Conference semifinals remains a bit of a mystery.

The Thunder’s week off after sweeping the Mavericks in the first round should benefit Perkins, who suffered a right hip muscle strain early in Game 4 against the Mavericks and did not return. But there has been no officials update on his condition, leaving Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman to wonder exactly what the recovery process (10-14 days potentially?) has in store for the big man and his team.

We will let the medical professionals handle the prognostications about his return and instead try to sift through the words of his head coach for a few morsels of information about where things stand.

“In the next couple of days we’ll have a better understanding of where he’s at,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after his team’s practice Monday. “We know the next couple of days he’ll continue to get worked on by our medical staff. I have a lot of respect for what they do. And it’s always about the players, so they’ll make sure [Perkins] is ready to play at the level he’s used to playing at … the extra few days of rest will be good for everybody.”

If the Lakers can finish off the Nuggets tonight in Game 5, that will set up a rematch of a first-round series the two teams played two postseasons ago. It will also ramp up the importance of Perkins returning to action as soon as possible. The Lakers have two 7-footers in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol that will demand serious attention. A potential matchup against Perkins and the league’s shot blocking champ, Serge Ibaka, would be another interesting twist to the series.

Nick Collison is the third member of the Thunder’s big man rotation, with Nazr Mohammed capable of handling some minutes as well if Perkins is limited or unable to go for the start of the next series.

But a healthy Perkins is vital to the Thunder’s championship pursuit and, more immediately, their chances of defeating the Lakers.