Chicago Sun-Times

April 2010 Archives

Bulls' Rose ready to go, confident

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CLEVELAND -- After declaring himself good to go for Game 5 tonight despite a sore left ankle, Derrick Rose said the assumptions that the Bulls have no chance of extending their first-round series against Cleveland Cavaliers to a Game 6 are just wrong.

"Today is one of those days when everybody's feeling good, shooting the ball well," Rose said after the Bulls' morning shootaround in Quicken Loans Arena. "Everybody's focused and I think we can get a win tonight.

"I know they're the best team in the NBA, but I think we can get some more wins."

Of course, his health will be a big factor in whether the Bulls can pull the upset tonight. Rose injured his ankle in the third quarter of Game 4 when he handed on the foot of Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal.

Following a timeout to let him walk off the initial pain, Rose stayed in the game. But after the game, the ankle flared up and the Bulls sent him for a precautionary MRI on Monday.

Rose, though, said the ankle felt much better this morning and he participated in the shootaround.

"It's fine," he said. "I thought I was gonna have to take a shot before the game the way it was feeling right afterwards and [Monday]. But I got treatment, put cream on it, took some pills and today it feels good."

Forward Luol Deng, who's bothered by a sore right calf and left knee, also is expected to play tonight.

"They feel a little bit better," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "They're sore, but they'll be out there. They'll be ready to go. They've been battling all year, fighting through different things, so I'll expect the same tonight."

The Bulls closed the regular season with essentially three must-wins just to make the playoffs. If they lost any of those games, their season would have been over, so the situation they face in Game 5 shouldn't be foreign to them.

"Knowing that this can be our last game, we just have to give it our all and go out there and play hard," Rose said. "I know I am. I know the team is."

For what it's worth, the Bulls seemed remarkably upbeat and relaxed following the shootaround.

"We just have to go in with the right mindset and try to get a win in a hostile environment," center Joakim Noah said. "If we don't, it's over, so I think we're all gonna be on edge and focused and we'll try to bring this thing back to Chicago for Game 6."

Instead of dreading what could prove to be an elimination game, Noah said he was looking forward to the challenge.

"I'm very excited," he said. "It's an unbelievable stage to play on against one of the best teams in the world. It's exciting."

Noah also was light-hearted when asked what has to chance from Game 4 for the Bulls to have a chance.

"Hopefully, LeBron [James] doesn't make half-court shots," Noah said. "That would be a start. Hopefully, they don't shoot as well from the three and, hopefully, we can be a little more aggressive at both ends and understand what's at stake. We're looking forward to competing."

Rose sent for MRI

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With practice still going on in the Berto Center early Monday afternoon, point guard Derrick Rose left the building to get an MRI on his left ankle before the team departed for Cleveland.

Rose suffered the injury at the start of the third quarter of Game 4 on Sunday when he landed on the foot of Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal. The Bulls called a timeout and Rose was able to shake off the injury and stay in the game.

But the ankle was bothering him Monday morning and he did not participate in practice. Coach Vinny Del Negro said the MRI was a precaution and he expects Rose to play in Game 5 Tuesday night in Cleveland.

"He was sore today," Del Negro said of Rose. "He jammed it on Shaq's foot. He was limping a little, so hopefully he'll feel better tomorrow."

Forward Luol Deng also sat out practice with a sore right calf and left knee, but he also is expected to play in Game 5.

"We just have to get those guys some rest and get out there tomorrow," Del Negro said. "I think they'll both be fine and ready to play. But who's 100 percent at this time of the year? Not many guys."

Cavs' Powe assesses Bulls

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Cleveland Cavaliers forward Leon Powe has yet to play in the first-round playoff series, but he does have experience against the Bulls from last year's Bulls-Boston Celtics series.

"[The Bulls] have a lot of talent, but they have a lot of fight in them," Powe told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "They've got a motto: Never give up. They always think they're going to win the game. When you face a team like that, you don't want them to get any confidence. You've got to try to take their confidence early.

"A team like this, you can't play with them. You've got to go there and take the game from them. They just never give up. They keep attacking, keep attacking. That's what you get with a young talented team. They really don't know how to win at the end, but they just keep fighting and trying to find a way to get it done."

Powe suffered a knee injury in Game 2 of the Bulls-Celtics series and had to undergo reconstructive surgery. He got to watch the rest of the seven-game series and was impressed with Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, who was a rookie last year.

"That was [Rose's] coming out party," Powe said. "That gave him a tremendous amount of confidence going on down the road. He's much better now. He's hitting that mid-range jump shot, and then he's got that little push-floater shot that he's knocking down every single time."

Powe said Bulls center Joakim Noah has improved as well.

"He's understanding the game more," Powe said. "He's making plays, pushing the ball a lot more and just getting into the game. His teammates feed off of that stuff. That's what he does best. He's like a mirror image of [Cavs forward] Anderson Varejao. He runs around and causes trouble on both ends.

"But Andy doesn't like to talk like [Noah] does."

Bulls get a call against LeBron

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As Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro often says, winning playoffs games usually comes down to making plays down the stretch.

The Bulls made plays at both ends of the court to hold on for a 108-106 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Thursday night in Game 3 of the first-round series, but the biggest two plays came on the defensive end when they forced consecutive turnovers by LeBron James - a charge drawn by Luol Deng and a strip by Bulls center Joakim Noah -- in the final 1:18.

The charge call was crucial - and controversial.

With the Bulls leading 102-96, James came up with a steal on the defensive end and then looked to drive to the basket on the left side of the lane. He collided with Deng and then flipped the ball up and into the basket.

A three-point play would have trimmed the Bulls' lead to three points, but the officials called James for a charge, giving the ball back to the Bulls with 1:18 to play.

Replays appeared to show Deng moving into James' path, but the Bulls got the call against the likely winner of the NBA's Most Valuable Player award.

Afterward, James was asked what he saw on the play.

"I saw me and Luol, I saw him back peddling," James said. "Me as a driver, I'm watching the defender's feet and I'm seeing if he's stationary or [if] he's still moving. To me, I felt like he was still back peddling. As soon as I saw him back peddling, that's when I decided to take off.

"They called a charge. I haven't seen a replay, but I know exactly what I saw on the court with the defender right in front of me."

After the whistle, the Bulls held their collective breath waiting for the call.

"On Lu's charge, I was real worried about it because the ball went in," Noah said. "I think one of the refs was about to call a block and then he looked at the other ref because he wasn't sure and the other ref, thank God, he called a charge.

"That was a huge play for us. I'm really happy that play went our way, but to me - I think I'm kind of biased -- but to me I thought it was a charge the whole time."

Del Negro wants more calls

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It's not the sort of comment that's going to draw the attention - and wrath - of the NBA office, but Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro planted the seed that he hopes to get more calls in Game 3 of the series with the Cleveland Cavaliers now that the scene of the series has shifted to the United Center.

"We've got to get to the free-throw line more," he said. "We have to get some calls. The aggressor usually gets calls and, hopefully, that will be the case. We have to somehow stay away from Shaquille [O'Neal]'s elbows, you know, get our heads out of the way of those elbows.

"Shaquille is, obviously, difficult to ref against and play against just because of his size and where his elbows are coming from. The refs just need to be cautious of that and, hopefully, we'll get some calls going our way on that and be aggressive going to the basket. If you keep doing that, hopefully, eventually things will go your way."

Who's better: MJ or LeBron? Del Negro answers

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On the eve of LeBron James playing his first playoff game in the United Center (the house that his idol, Michael Jordan, built) current Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro was asked who is better: Jordan or James?

"They're different," Del Negro said. "That's an impossible thing to answer, obviously. Michael, right now, because of his legacy and what he did in the game, to evolve the game.

"I'm not a big guy in comparing guys just because I don't think it's fair. I think to compare anybody to Michael right now is not fair just because of the MVPs and championships, all the things he's accomplished.

"And LeBron's at a stage where he's only 25. He has a long career left. Staying healthy and being consistent and all of those things will determine [his legacy]."

Later, in discussing James' 40-point effort on 16-for-23 shooting in Game 2 despite good defense from the Bulls, Del Negro sort of compared James to Jordan.

"The people in Chicago know," Del Negro said. "You had a guy here that was pretty good for a long time that wore 23. You know how that is. You can have all the great defenses you want, but some guys just can make plays over the top of you whether you bring one, two or three guys.

"So we're just gonna have to get into him, make it as hard as possible and just be effective in the areas we need to be."

Bulls deny daring LeBron to shoot

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Apparently another thing LeBron James has in common with Michael Jordan is the ability to invent things to motivate him.

Following his torrid 16-for-23 shooting display in Game 2, the Cleveland Cavaliers star said he was egged on by the Bulls' bench.

"They were talking the whole game," James said. "Every time I caught the ball over there [by the Bulls' bench], they were daring me to shoot the ball, telling me that I couldn't shoot or 'You can't make jump shots, so take the shot.' So that's what I did."

Great story. Except, the Bulls say it never happened.

"I have a lot of respect for LeBron and think he's a great player," Bulls guard Jannero Pargo said. "But there was no one telling him to shoot. We were talking to our guys, like Luol [Deng], telling them to get up on [James]."

Rose not at Bulls practice

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Point guard Derrick Rose was excused from Bulls practice on Wednesday because of a family emergency. Rose is expected to play Thursday night in Game 3 of the series with the Cleveland Cavaliers at the United Center.

"It was different without Derrick, no question," coach Vinny Del Negro said of practice. "We did our film work, we went over some things offensively and defensively, got a lot of shots up and worked on some things."

In other words, Rose didn't miss a lot. He'll be able to catch up Thursday when the Bulls conduct their walkthrough at 3 p.m. at the UC. Because of the early 6 p.m. start time for Game 3, they won't conduct their usual morning shootaround at the Berto Center.

Bulls' Noah: Cleveland doesn't rock

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CLEVELAND -- Joakim Noah already was on Cleveland's public enemies list before the start of the Bulls' first-round playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There was that incident back in December when Noah called out Cavaliers star LeBron James and accused him of showing up the Bulls by dancing on the sidelines during the game. Then there were Noah's comments before the series that the Bulls were going to "shock the world."

Noah was booed loudly during the introductions before Game 1 and the Quicken Loans Arena crowd booed every time Noah scored or did something noteworthy.

Well, that reception figures to be tame compared to the reaction Noah draws tonight during Game 2 because of some negative comments he made about the city of Cleveland on Sunday.

"I don't know about Cleveland, man," Noah said following Bulls' practice on Sunday. "There is nothing going on. It's bad, man."

When asked if his dislike for the town would motivate him more in the series, Noah said: "What, that Cleveland sucks?"

No doubt, Noah likely was expressing the sentiments of most of his teammates. The weather was cold and rainy and downtown Cleveland (where the Bulls are staying) was a virtual ghost town on Sunday.

But with nothing else going on, the Cleveland Plain Dealer played up Noah's brief, offhand comments in its lead story on the series in Monday's edition.

It certainly got the Cleveland media riled up. At the Bulls' shootaround Monday morning, just about every local media outlet was present, including all of the local television stations.

Noah, though, didn't speak with reporters. He left the court to do an interview with TNT - which will broadcast tonight's game - and didn't return to the court as the horde of media waited for him.

The other Bulls players say they get a kick out of the attention Noah receives as the villain on the road.

"That's Jo; he's just trying to win," Derrick Rose said. "That's the way he plays, that's the way he talks. You always know he's in the room.

"Actually, it makes us all play hard because you know every arena we go to everybody hates him. It makes us player harder and we love shutting the crowd up."

Rose then was asked what he thought of Cleveland and had a more diplomatic response:

"It's different from Chicago, I'll say that."

Noah calls out Boston's Garnett

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CLEVELAND -- Some players get so wrapped up in their own playoff series, they essentially ignore all the other series around the NBA, but not Bulls center Joakim Noah.

After the Bulls' Game 1 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, Noah said he watched the other three Game 1s later that day and had some interesting commentary on the heated (no pun intended) game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat.

"That was unbelievable yesterday, that Boston-Miami game," Noah said Sunday following the Bulls' workout at Quicken Loans Arena. "He's unbelievable, that guy. I'm gonna say it: He's a dirty player, man. That's messed up."

The dirty player in question is Boston's Kevin Garnett, who was ejected for hitting Miami' Quentin Richardson with an elbow during a stoppage. After his unsolicited condemnation of Garnett, Noah was asked if the Celtics All-Star should be suspended for Game 2.

"I don't make the decisions, but he's always swinging elbows, man," Noah said. "I'm hurting right now because of an elbow he threw. It's unbelievable, man. He's a dirty player. I mean, it's one thing to be competitive and compete and all that, but don't be a dirty player. He's a dirty player.

"He knows what he's doing it's wrong. And then afterward he says ... I shouldn't even be talking about this stuff. It's crazy."

Uh, too late for that.

Rose not exactly overjoyed by honor

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Derrick Rose was named the NBA's Eastern Conference player of the month on Friday. It's the first time he's won that honor, but the award didn't exactly have Rose jumping for joy.

"Everybody was texting me saying what happened or whatever," Rose said before Game 1 of the Bulls' first-round series with the Cleveland Cavaliers. "It's alright, but, hopefully, one year I want to be the best player in the league.

"That's fine, though. But it didn't get me excited."

Should Del Negro return? You decide

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At this point, it doesn't appear that Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro will be back this season, regardless of what the Bulls do in the playoffs.

But on the eve of the first-round series with the Cleveland Cavaliers beginning, we wanted to get your input:

Should Del Negro return for a third season or should he be fired?

Leave your comments below.

Del Negro confident as big game approaches

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An hour before the tip-off of tonight's play-in game between the Bulls and the Toronto Raptors, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro was calm and confident that his team would bounce back from a double-overtime loss in New Jersey on Friday.

"Like I've said all year long, we have good character guys," Del Negro said. "I think they'll bounce back. I feel we'll play well today and we have to execute the game plan. We know Toronto is gonna come out and play hard and we have to match the energy of the game."

Del Negro defends his use of Noah

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TORONTO -- After seemingly being questioned by general manager Gar Forman for not playing center Joakim Noah more in the two overtime periods of the Bulls' 127-116 double-overtime loss to the New Jersey Nets on Friday night, coach Vinny Del Negro offered his side following Saturday's practice session at the Air Canada Centre.

"I wasn't gonna play him 40, 45 minutes or something like that just because it was back-to-back games and Joakim's future and his health is a big concern to everyone," Del Negro said. "It was the first time he played back-to-back those many minutes.

"Would I have liked to have played him more? Of course, but his future and his health is the most important thing. There's been a lot of things that have gone into it. I would have liked to have played him more, but we just couldn't do that [Friday] night."

Noah, who has been on a steady-rising minutes limit because of plantar fasciitis of the left foot, was supposed to play no more than 35 minutes on Friday. When he exited the game with 48.1 seconds left in regulation, Noah had played 35:39.

Because of the importance of the game, Del Negro dispatched player development assistant Lindsey Hunter to seek out general manager Gar Forman in the Izod Center and ask if it was OK to extend Noah a bit more.

By the time Del Negro got the go ahead, the game had gone to overtime. Noah saw only 12 seconds of action in the first overtime when Del Negro inserted the center for defense with 25.2 seconds remaining with the Bulls clinching to a two-point lead.

After the game, Forman made it appear Noah had been cleared to play more, but Del Negro said he had only asked to use Noah for defense when they needed a crucial stop - like at the end of the first overtime.

"My interpretation of that was not to go play him three, four, five, six, 10 minutes and get him to 40, 45 minutes, but if we needed him for a stop," Del Negro said. "We did, so that's why I put him back in.

"I would have loved to have played him some more minutes, especially in the overtime. But that was my understanding. There was probably a little miscommunication there as well."

Noah, who had 16 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, had a big impact on the game and had a crucial tip-in to give the Bulls 100-99 lead just before exiting in regulation. But all he could do was watch and cheer on his teammates during virtually of both overtimes.

"I really don't have much to say about it," Noah said Saturday. "I think all I can do is get ready for tomorrow's game. I can only control the things I can control as a player."

By the way, Del Negro said Noah should have no minute restrictions when the Bulls face the Toronto Raptors Sunday night in what amounts to a playoff game for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

"I don't think there will be a mandate on him tomorrow," Del Negro said. "I'll play him as fit. I'll see how he feels after shootaround and talk to [trainer] Fred [Tedeschi] and get a good understanding of it."

Bulls waive James, sign Kurz

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With just six days remaining in the regular season, it's seems an odd time to make a roster move, but the Bulls announced Friday they have waived center Jerome James and signed forward Rob Kurz.

Kurz, 25, played at Notre Dame and most recently was with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Developmental League where he averaged 17.5 points and 10.1 rebounds in 39 games.

James was acquired in a trade with the New York Knicks in February 2009. He was injured at the time (Achilles surgery) and never played for the Bulls.

Kurz, a 6-9 forward, is unlikely to see any playing time this season. He was signed with an eye towards the summer league team and perhaps training camp next fall.

No LeBron tonight vs. Bulls

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LeBron James will be inactive when the Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Bulls tonight at the United Center.

"He's got some bumps and bruises and we just decided to rest him tonight," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said of James.

The Cavaliers already have clinched the best record in the NBA and James said a few days ago that he wanted to get some rest down the stretch to be better prepared for the playoffs.

James not playing is a huge break for the Bulls, who are battling the Toronto Raptors for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"Obviously, that's a big factor, but Cleveland is still very talented," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "[Andrew] Bogut was out last game and it didn't do us much good. We have to play well and we have to find a way to get it."

Playoff spot is there for the Bulls to take

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With the Toronto Raptors' loss against the Boston Celtics Wednesday night, the math for the Bulls is simple:

If they will all of their remaining five games, they are in the playoffs -- regardless of what the Raptors do the rest of the way.

But I doubt if the Bulls will have to win out to finish ahead of the sliding Raptors. If the Bulls can beat the Raptors Sunday in Toronto and win three of the other four games, they'll have 41 wins and I'm confident that will be enough to finish one game ahead of Toronto (which has the tiebreaker over the Bulls).

The Raptors have four games left and I don't see getting more than two wins. I think they'll lose Friday at Atlanta and Sunday to the Bulls. I'm thinking Toronto will find away to win its last two games -- Monday at Detroit and Wednesday vs. New York -- but that's far from a certainty with the way things have been going lately. That also assumes Chris Bosh -- who just had facial surgery to repair a fracture -- will be able to play in those games.

Of course, the Bulls haven't exactly been setting the world on fire of late, either, but I think they can summon a strong finish now that they are relatively healthy and they've had a little time to develop some rhythm.

The key for the Bulls could be tonight's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Beating the best team in the NBA will be a tall order, but I think they may get a little help from the Cavaliers, who already have wrapped up the league's best record.

LeBron James has talked about getting some rest in the last week of the regular season. James probably won't sit out or play limited minutes in the two remaining home games because of the home fans who bought tickets to see him, so that leaves tonight's game and the regular-season finale Wednesday at Atlanta.

I believe James will want to play in the last game so he'll be sharp for the start of the playoffs, so that leaves tonight's game. Even if he doesn't sit out completely, maybe his minutes will be greatly reduced. That may be the break the Bulls need.

Salmons returns to UC

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John Salmons made his first appearance at the United Center Tuesday night since being traded from the Bulls to the Milwaukee Bucks at the NBA's trading deadline in February.

For some reason, a few misguided Bulls fans decided to boo Salmons during the pregame introductions and early in the game. Why? Who knows. Maybe Salmons was too much of a gentleman and team player for their liking.

Salmons may not have always played well, but he always played hard. And remember, the Bulls dealt him because of salary cap concerns, not because he did anything wrong.

Deng back in starting lineup

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Coming off his stunning return Friday night in Washington, Luol Deng is in the starting lineup for tonight's game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said Deng was gonna start anyway, but James Johnson -- who had been holding down the starting small forward spot -- won't play because of the partially torn tendon in his right foot that he's been playing with.

"James is just in too much pain," Del Negro said.

Friday against the Wizards, Deng had 14 points and six rebounds in 28 minutes. He was 6-for-8 from the field and didn't show the rust you normally would see in a player that had sat out 11 games.

Hinrich, Deng to play, Noah to start

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WASHINGTON -- The Bulls should have a full compliment of players tonight against the Washington Wizards, although a couple of players will only see limited minutes.

Kirk Hinrich, who's battling a sprained left ankle, participated in shootaround and will play.

"He's a tough kid, a competitor," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said of Hinrich. "He's hobbling out there a little bit, so I'll just monitor and see how he feels and he'll give us whatever he can."

Hinrich, though, said he was encouraged by the progress his ankle has made.

"It feels pretty good today," he said. "I'm happy with the improvement it's made in the last couple of days."

The Bulls also could get small forward Luol Deng back on the active roster.

"I think we'll get a few minutes from him," Del Negro said of Deng. "He's a little sore today, so I want to see how he warms up before the game. But hopefully he'll be out there for a few minutes tonight."

Joakim Noah, who's been battling plantar fasciitis for more than two months, will make his first start since Feb. 3 tonight. Noah will be limited to around 30 minutes.

Rookie James Johnson (partial torn foot tendon) will start at small forward.

Deng may play Friday vs. Wizards

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Luol Deng participated in part of Thursday's practice at the Berto Center and may play limited minutes Friday night when the Bulls play the Washington Wizards on the road.

"There is a chance," coach Vinny Del Negro said of Deng playing. "I want to see how sore he is [Friday] and see how he feels and we'll figure that out as we go.

"I thought he looked good [in practice]. He moved pretty good. He's still a little tentative, you can see, and he probably doesn't have a lot of confidence in it. But he was moving out there and he was moving."

Deng has missed 11 games with a strained right calf.

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