Taj Gibson swats away the Magic's comeback bid

If you ignore the beginning and end, the Chicago Bulls looked like they broke out of their funk. They had a comfortable lead the majority of the game until someone put a lid on the basket with around three and a half minutes to go.

The Bulls held a 10 point lead at 94-84 but didn't score again until the Magic intentionally fouled Luol Deng with four seconds left in the game. The Magic had the ball and a chance to tie, but Taj Gibson appeared to come from half way across the court to swat Jameer Nelson's shot attempt into the fourth row.

Nelson missed a 12 foot banker on the in bounds play, the Bulls pulled down the rebound and Luol Deng iced the game by knocking down his free throws.

Carlos Boozer puts one in the win column

We rip on Boozer plenty, so it's nice to acknowledge when we won a game largely because of the Booz. He had a game high 31 points to go along with 11 rebounds, 37 yells, and 12 head bobbles. Boozer and Gibson were both the beneficiary of excellent ball movement by the perimeter and interior players to generate open looks at the basket all night long.

The pair combined for 52 points, 22 boards, and 21 for 34 from the field. The Magic couldn't stop the Bulls interior players and that was ultimately their undoing. Luol Deng chipped in 23 for Chicago and the rest of the team finished under 10 just getting up shots here and there.

I don't like this trend with Marco

Belinelli had a strong game in Rip's first game back, but Hamilton has already taken over the drivers seat in terms of minutes and the starting spot, and Marco's game appears to be slipping. You can make the case that Hamilton is now playing better than Marco, but he's not playing better than Marco when Marco started.

This looks like a case where perhaps it's hard to argue that Belinelli should start if he can't continue to play well off the bench, but the decision to bench him will lead to worse output overall from the SG position than we were getting before. Perhaps the Bulls still unload Hamilton at the deadline to get under the tax (you know they're going to try), but a better solution would be to start Marco, bring Rip off the bench, and have more overall talent playing better.

Maybe Thibs simply doesn't believe Belinelli can keep it up or doesn't think he'll perform better with the starters. Maybe he doesn't think Rip's ego can handle the bench or that Rip would be even worse with the bench guys. I'd sure like to give it a shot though.

Chicago's doing what it's supposed to do

The Bulls are simply hanging around at this point. Joakim Noah missed the game with flu like symptoms. Hinrich has missed some time, Hamilton was out for an extended stretch, and the Bulls are still floating by four games above .500.

It hasn't been pretty, it's certainly not great, but if Chicago can make it to Rose's return date sitting 4-8 games above .500 already in the middle of the playoff seeding, then you have to feel pretty good about how they kept the team afloat.

I know there are some still calling for the tank job, but there's no practical way to convince Thibodeau or Derrick Rose to to tank, and the Bulls couldn't get a particularly good draft pick if they started tanking right now anyway. Not to mention there's no savior coming out of this draft as it is.

Instead, the Bulls will go ahead and compete for an NBA championship this season, and it may sound crazy to say that right now, but that's exactly what they're going to do. By the time the playoffs roll around, the Bulls will be the #2 or #3 seed in the East and will again look like the biggest threat to the Miami Heat.

They don't realistically have enough pieces to get the job done. They don't have any reasonable path to add the pieces they need. They may be destined to play the role of 90s Knicks for the next two to four years.

However, being one piece away is better than the alternative. The Bulls will need some luck to climb to the top of the mountain, but they'd need luck and miracles to climb it if they try a rebound.

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  • It's worth noting that the 90's Knicks made the finals twice. They didn't win, but they also didn't have anyone as good as Rose (at least offensively), and these Bulls are as good defensively relative to the rules in place for the respective teams. I feel good about this Bulls core in the long term, and don't get why people don't think they have a legit shot at coming out of the east (Miami isn't THAT good, and in any case dependent on the health of LeBron/Wade/Bosh). I certainly don't think the Bulls are favorites, but when at full strength - assuming Rose is the Rose we know - they're better than anyone else in the East and one of the elite in the league.

  • In reply to kozzer:

    They had ewing, a career 20+ ppg scorer, who did all his scoring inside the three point line. So yes, the 90's knicks had as good a player as rose(offensively).

  • In reply to kozzer:

    " I feel good about this Bulls core in the long term,"

    To preface, I am not asking this to be argumentative. Rather, it seems as if your perspective is 180 degrees opposite mine, and I'd like to understand it better.

    If I may ask, what makes you feel so good about the Bulls core long term?

  • In reply to Salvamini:

    You feel good about the core because of Derrick Rose. Derrick Rose and no one else is a better core than all but 2-3 teams in the NBA.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I love Derrick Rose as a fan, but that is a little into the realm of hyperbole.

    Even Jordan needed help, and lots of it.

    The core, as I see it (and if I am wrong, by all means, let me know), looks like this 3 seasons out:

    PG: Rose (27)
    SG: TBD (end of draft guy?)
    C: Noah (30 years old)
    PF: Taj: (30 years old...assuming Boozer is an Amnesty)
    SF: TBD (Deng resign? Butler??)
    Bench: Teague, End of draft guy 2013??, End of draft guy 2014??, various trash heap pickups?? (NOTE: I don't list Mirotic given the uncertainty of his coming over sooner rather than later...he comes over for 2015, I do feel better about the roster, admittedly, conversely, if Boozer is still on the roster to start 2015, it causes me concern)

    Don't get me wrong, that isn't terrible. However, I wouldn't make any parade plans, either. At the best, you're still chasing the Thunder.

    The issue I have is that after watching GarPax over the years, I can't bring myself into believing that they can plug in the pieces necessary to bring a title to Chicago.

    LA, Miami and NY will always have an advantage over Chicago in terms of being a destination for FAs. To mitigate that, you need astute maneuvering. That is where my faith falters long term when considering the Bulls.

  • In reply to kozzer:

    Better than anyone else in the East outside of Miami?

  • In reply to kozzer:

    If "Miami isn't THAT good" then who is? Bulls have no hope of beating them in the playoffs outside of at least one of the big three getting injured and they still wouldn't have that great of odds. That is assuming the Bulls can even make it far enough in the playoffs to get to Miami.

    They are the best team in the league with the Thunder a close second and a near lock to come out of the East so I would say that is pretty damn good.

  • In reply to Chad:

    The only injury that keeps Miami out of the finals is one to Lebron. Although given their absolute lack of any bigs losing Bosh would make things stressful.

  • Signing Nate for the rest of the season was a no brainer as he is a volume scorer and isn't afraid to attack the basket and hoist up shots. If we had a guy like Jamal Crawford (LAC) and/or JR Smith (NYC) and another big like even Thalbeet I would feel alot better about our championship asperations. The Heat got a whole lot better getting Ray Allen even with Wade on the decline. The Heat is built around Wade and Lebron but Wade is fading and has had missed significant time due to injuries and wear and tear BUT Lebron is playing out of this world. If he gets injured and it at least it slows him down we have a chance! I miss having Ronnie Brewer who along with Butlet and Deng could defend Lebron by committee.

  • Agreed about it being too late to tank - even if the Bulls only win 10 more games, that's still 27 wins which puts you in 1.7% territory. If you want to tank you have to build for it in the off-season.

    Don't see why the Bulls have to be the 90s Knicks. Maybe not this year, but next year why can't they beat the Heat if they make the right moves? The Heat aren't a super team, they're still playing like a very good but not great team. As you'd expect from a player with his game Wade is suffering from being on the wrong side of 30 ... forget the big 3, it's LeBron plus a good supporting cast. That's beatable I think.

    Rose's comeback should be geared towards next year ... bring him back a bit cautiously to ensure he doesn't get hurt but still give him time to gain enough confidence that he'll be going into next season full strength. If that costs the Bulls some seeding this year who cares, they won't get home court on the Heat anyway.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    The Heat are just dicking around in the regular season. In the playoffs they'll be a superteam.

    I do agree that Rose's comeback should be geared towards next year, and the Heat probably will fall off in 2-3 years, you should really aim for 2015 as your year to strike if you wanted to pick a year.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I disagree that they can just step it up. They've looked beatable the last couple of playoffs too. One more missed game by Bosh last year and they'd have lost the series to Boston. And Boston certainly aren't that good. The Heat can be beaten.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    As Doug has correctly mentioned on several occasions, the Bulls chances of competing will not increase next year, because they have virtually no ability to "make some moves" for next season.

    In fact, OTR(other than Rose), they are likely to be somewhat worse off than this season, as Taj Gibson becomes an $8 million per player, rather than a value player on his rookie contract. Unless, they amnestitize Bozo, they are guaranteed to be tax payers even after releasing Hamiltion. Even trading Hangdog for a draft pick won't get them under. They won't even be able to keep Belli or Nate, adding more Nazis and VladRads to replace them. You think guys are playing too many minutes this year, wait till you see what a 7 man roster looks like, eight if you want to include Teague.

    I think everybody is writing off Wade far too early/easily. He is shooting a career best from the field, over 50%. His main area of decline is injury. The only thing that Miami has to worry about is keeping him healthy for the playoffs, they are basically going to treat the regular season the way that Pop and the Spurs do.

    OTR, the short term might not be bleak, but it is not what is was the past 2 years. The longterm(2014 and beyond) outlook is sketchy as well, since it depends on amnestitizing Bozo, and then deciding what to do with a Deng going on 30, with Noah and Taj also about to turn 30. I don't think that either Deng or Noah will contunue to be borderline allstars once they cross that threshold.

    In order to become the beast of the east as Miami fades(if they don't reload),

    we will need Mirotic to be something of a cross between a Toni Kukoc and a Dirk Nowitski type player,

    the Charlotte pick to become a starter level player,

    and we will need to hit a homerun in 2014 free agency even more than we did in 2010,

    if we end up with another overpaid HPOF that may mean the beginning of the end for the Rose era, as he may see the writing on the wall and not resign with the Bulls for what will be his last max contract in 2017.

    I know that this may sound pessimistic, but other than getting lucky on Rose(1.7%) what else have the Bulls done to make anyone believe that they know how to build a champion.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    The problem with this is it's circular logic. We can't win without making moves. Why can't we make moves? We don't have the flexibility to make moves. Why don't we have the flexibility? Because we wont pay tax and/or pay Boozer to go away. Why wont we pay? Because we'll only pay for a winner. Back to square one.

    The only way to talk sensibly about the Bulls at this point is to break the cycle and pretend like JR will ever pay tax and explore what could be done if he was willing to do it.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    Absolutely.

    ''We'll pay for a winner'' is a brilliant way to simultaneously keep fans from getting pissed off at you for being cheap (because they'll always be able to say, ''Guys, we're willing to pay the tax. But we're just not good enough yet, so why should we pay it now?''), while setting the bar so high that they'll probably end up never having to pay it.

    But it ignores the fact that your team isn't just going to magically stay at the same level if you're going to be cheap while waiting for that ''big final move''.

    It also ignores that you might end up not even being able to make that big move in the first place because you've stripped your team of tradable contracts besides those of your best players (so, if the Bulls fail to make a trade, you could also have some people saying, ''The only way we could have done that trade was to include Deng/Noah/Gibson/whoever, just to match salaries. THAT'S why we didn't do it. It was just too much to give them up.'').

    I absolutely, positively loathe the ''We'll pay for a winner'' argument.

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    Belinelli should be starting. Why Hamilton is getting the minutes I'll never know. He shouldn't be getting time based on past glories. Belinelli was averaging 15.5 ppg when starting. RIP is averaging 12.9 ppg and those totals seem to be dropping with each game. At some point older players have to realize that their value is better suited to coming off the bench. Starting guys based on their fragile little ego is an mistake. Belinelli earned that starting spot. How Thibs doesn't see that is beyond me.

  • good too see Taj having a great game. In my opinion, one of the reasons the Bulls were sluggish is because Noah was wearing down from the heavy minutes(for a big its different compared to a perimeter player) so it just didn't make sense to me with Gibson getting little play time even when he was struggling during the early part of the season. Taj Gibson needs at least 25 minutes a night and Noah needs to get more rest. When they signed Gibby to that sizeable contract, I was expecting a great year from him and I still expect him to be a major contributor going forward. Loved the shotblocking which we are badly in need of. Get that weak sh*t outta here. Hinrich continues to look like he's 50 years old out there but he's still a better decision maker compared to Nate so we need both of them until Rose comes back. Like to see Jimmy Butler get more aggressive, he just seems so timid on offense. He needs to learn at minimum the corner 3 shot this offseason if he wants staying power in the NBA. Beli is slowly down from a hot start in december, hopefully he can turn it around but his shot looks off. Best case scenario would be the Bulls get a surge when Rose comes back and they make it to the second round but that doesnt change the fact that the Bulls need alot of changes this offseason.....unless they will go with the absolutely ridiculous foolish idea of having KirK Hinrich the starting shooting guard because of "cap situation". In my opinion you would be killing off Rose's prime years with all these excuses for 2014 plan or 2020 plan or 2050 plan. NY and LA want to win it now and that is how its suppose to be, especially when you have one of the bright stars in his prime.

  • Some of you guys are really naive when it come to this Bulls team beating basically teams that absolutely suck! So let me get this straight, the Bulls beat the Magic and all of a sudden they're in position to really make a big run come playoff time??? The Bulls will still have to be able to score during the playoffs and having Rose back probably not at 100% physically wont help. Sure it will be nice to have himback but its going to be the same ole story with this team and their other so called go to supporting scorers Deng and Boozer, disappearing acts. Some of you guys are fooling yourselves when it comes to this team and lime i said before...that's just being plain ole naive.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Unfortunately, I have to agree with you. Most will look at the box score and say what a great game our frontcourt had, 75 points 25-30 rebounds, but as usual they all disappeared in the 4rth quarter as we only scored 14 points when the Orlando bigs finally started competing inside, beating us on the boards again.

    In fact, had Bozo been on the court for that final play, Nelson would have had a full Bozo escort to the rim(instead of getting swatted by Taj) the game is tied and the Bulls lose in OT, but luckily we can chalk up this win to the performance of the Clownzer, and start planning for the ECF after Rose returns.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    The Bulls aren't that good, but neither are the rest of the East. With Rose fully healthy I'd pick them over anyone bar the Heat. I think the Knicks fully healthy are a better team too, but the Bulls match up well with them.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    it's been said over and over that Rose will not be back until he is absolutly 100 %.

  • Last night, while the Chicago Bulls were engaging the Orlando Magic in a schedlued game in Orlando, I tried to post a critical opinion I had about Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls' head coach who seems to regard himself as a dictator.
    I tried to alert real fans and Bulls management to what I regard as a dangerous man in charge of its destiny. Midway through posting this piece, someone shut it down. I tried to keep it alive but the aggrieved party was determined that it not see the light of day, and my copy was deleted.

    Well, as determined as they were, I have returned, ever more determined to share my views with Bulls management and real Bulls fans.
    Number !. Bulls management must find a way to remove Tom Thibodeau as coach of the team. He's on a personal crusade against Joakim Noah, the second most important member of the team after Dereck Rose.
    He showed his hand last year when he almost destroyed Noah's career and confidence when he benched him in significant cases like the showdown against the New York Knicks in Noah's hometown of New York. His excuse for the action was that Noah was not playing hard enough. Go back and check the books and there are many shady examples like this from Thibs.
    Big Jerry Reinsdorf, quite obviously knew of them and probably got a commitment from Thibs that he wouldn't pull the stunt again.

    What Thibs has done is to grind Noah down with playing time while offering little or no appreciation for his superb efforts. We
    have been subjected to Thibs being quite upset with Noah even when it comes to him being the centerpiece of the Bulls defence. He was complaining recently to the press about "balls being tipped out rather than hauled in with two hands."
    It was obvious his criticism was aimed at Noah who responded to reporters by saying, "It's easy to talk about after the game, but every play is different. Guys are shooting three-pointers I wish I could grab every rebound with two hands, but unfortunately it doesn't happen that way every time."
    In the same game against the Wizards, when asked about Marco Belinelli's game-high 17 points for Chicago, Thibs responded, "I thought Marco was terrific." Bulls won that game 87-77.

    Last November, when Noah, in trying to win Big Macs for Bulls fans at home was chewed out by Thibodeau. With 3.8 seconds remaining in the game against the Orlando Magic, with fans going crazy, Noah obliged by trying a three pointer in the game which the Bulls won 99-93.

    When Noah showed some emotion in a win against the 76ers who had a lot of fun with his injury last season, Thibs' response was, "I don't want him to be relying on emotion where one game you're up and one game you're down. Just approach it the same way each and every day, get ready for the next opponent."

    Eye opening was the way normally demure Thibs responded when asked about Omer Asik when the former Bull visited Chicago with the Houston Rockets recently.
    "He's like Yao Ming. Very, very bright, has size, intelligence, great feet, drive and a willingness to play for the team. He reacts quickly, anticipates, and he's relentless. He's a multiple-effort guy. He's a 7-footer, smart, driven. He will get better."
    That wasn't Noah Thibs was talking about. Houston Rockets fans thought Thibs was talking about a hall of famer not on their team.
    Doug, I know you have suggested that he,Thibs, could win coach of the year, and when my piece failed to get through last night I thought I was a victim of the infamous replay of "The Night of the Long Knives."

  • In reply to SlamDunk:

    Respectfully, this post is beyond silly. Noah's game has taken a step forward this year, but I'm supposed to understand that this is despite his head coach trying to ruin him? I don't think Thibs has handled Noah's minutes perfectly by any means but you can't judge how Thibs coaches Noah by a few in-game instances and post-game remarks. Thibs praises Asik and Bellinelli, so what? Maybe he thinks Asik and Bellinelli need praise while Noah needs to be prodded. I figure Thibs knows better than I do which players need what.

    So if I read through all the posts here, the Bulls have bad management, a bad coach, and a fair number of bad players. Based on this, it's amazing that they're even a .500 team, let alone one of the best teams in the East with Rose.

    "Lucked into Rose." How many championships do the Spurs win if the lottery doesn't give them Tim Duncan? Do the Rockets win 2 without the lottery gift of Hakeem? Should we take those championships away?

  • In reply to Roman F:

    GREAT post Roman! Pay no attention to SlamDunk. All he does is find some way for every article to revolve around the fact that "everyone is out to get Noah".

    There are so many different variables that go into winning a championship or being a contending team in any given season. As we have seen, just as you can have good luck (1.7%!) you can just as easily have some bad luck (MVP tearing ACL).

    As constructed, the bulls have a solid team. For the most part, it seems many fans (including myself on some topics) are disappointed in the way management handles situations sometimes. I don't think anyone on this board would say they would rather have Spoestra or Del Negro coaching this team over Thibs. Sure, the Hinrich, Nazr, and Radmonovich signings have been a disappointment thus far but no one can deny that the Bulls have some upset potential come playoff time IF Rose is back to 100%.

    Starters/Bench:
    Rose/Kirk/Nate
    Hamilton/Belinelli
    Deng/Butler
    Boozer/Gibson
    Noah/Gibson

    On a side note, I think the signing of Cook today is a great one IF the Bulls can find a way to trade Hamilton. Great spot up shooter that can help space the floor.

  • Hey Doug,
    Was listening to the Orl broadcasters during this one and they kept mentioning how good Boozer was at pick N roll in Utah. Even with slight decline in his never great athleticism, it seems he can still hit the open J consistently. Am I wrong, or do the Bulls rarely use him in pick N roll? I see Noah (much worse shooter) play pick N Roll alot, but not much Booz. Why? And when Rose comes back, seems an easy way to get some easy assists or mid-range Js for Rose.

  • I just want to point out that just because Boozer has one good game doesn't automatically check him out of the dog house. What we need to see from him is consistency. I don't expect much of anything from him on the defensive end but offense is supposed to be his bread and butter. What really gets under the skin of fans even more than his contract is that he has the talent and ability to be a factor and that game against the Magic is evidence of that.

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