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Bulls look to slow splashy Warriors
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By Sam Smith | 1.27.2015 | 4:19 p.m. CT
He’s the kid, the astonishing point guard who makes you gasp in delight when you watch him, apparently on the way to being the NBA’s Most Valuable Player with the league’s winningest team. It was Derrick Rose not long ago. Tuesday in Oakland, it will be Rose and the Bulls trying to keep up with—or slow down—Stephen Curry and the high flying Golden State Warriors with one of the most dynamic backcourts in NBA annals, Curry and partner Klay Thompson.
“It’s fun competing,” Rose said after Bulls shootaround Tuesday morning at the University of San Francisco. “It’s fun playing basketball against great players. If anything, it’s a great challenge for me. This is my first year back, have played 40-some games. I’m getting better every game. It’s a great challenge.
“He’s (Curry) been playing great,” said Rose, who played with Curry and Thompson on the gold medal winning USA Basketball team last summer. “The team itself, you can tell that they’re having a lot of fun playing basketball by the way they’re playing. The way he’s playing is phenomenal. He’s passing the ball great. Of course, his scoring is always there. Just being a leader on the team and it’s working for him.”
Rose and Curry, the 2011 MVP against perhaps the unofficial leader for 2015 MVP, is the sort of special matchup you wait for during an NBA season. NBA TV picked up the game as its fan favorite of the week as the Bulls start a six-game road trip.
Many regard Curry as the league’s best shooter except for perhaps his teammate, Thompson, who is coming off an NBA record 37-point quarter and 52 points against Sacramento in the NBA’s performance of the season last week.
It suggested a classic sort of matchup with Rose and Jimmy Butler, the latter having an All-Star level season, an all-league defender and the NBA’s Player of the Month in November, against Curry and Thompson, the league’s most dynamic backcourt with each averaging 22.8 per game.
But Butler missed the team practice Tuesday with an apparent flu. He is considered a game time decision to play.
Which would be as much of a setback to the Bulls as it is to NBA fans to miss the last matchup this season—unless they meet in the Finals—of the past and maybe future MVP point guards and the best shooting guard in the league against perhaps the best defensive shooting guard.
“They’re very dynamic, they play extremely well off each other,” noted Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau of Curry and Thompson. “Curry and Thompson can shoot from anywhere; they can go on a 10-point run very quickly. So you can never let your guard down against them. They get into the paint, they make plays, they play very well together, very unselfish team on both ends of the floor.
“The shooting component is what makes them so dangerous because if you get up on them they have the ability to go by and then they are kicking out to another three-point shooter,” said Thibodeau.
“Just after being around (Thompson) this summer (I saw) he can go on runs like that, as can Curry,” Thibodeau added about Thompson’s 37-point quarter. “When they get like that even if you are there defensively they have the ability to make tough shots. They shoot it quick. They take some shots where you may say, ‘That’s a tough shot,’ or ‘That’s a bad shot.’ Not for them. They know how to make, got great touch, a lot of confidence. They look for each other, they have great chemistry and there’s great versatility to their team.”
And they’re averaging 111 points per game, best in the NBA, have a best margin of winning by an average of almost 12 points per game, which ranks with the 1996 Bulls; they rank No. 1 in the NBA in opponent shooting for the top defense, lead the league in assists and three-point shooting, are third in defending the three, second in blocks, fourth in steals, second in defensive rebounding, have won 19 straight at home in their 36-6 record and it’s 60 degrees outside and you can have fresh Dungeness crab and a clam chowder bowl on the way to the game. Now, c’mon, is that fair?
The Bulls, nevertheless, are showing up for the game.
“I feel great,” said Joakim Noah, who said he’s the healthiest he’s been this season. “Feels great to see some sun, be on the West Coast and playing against a very good team. So it will be a good challenge for us tonight.”
There are challenges all over the court when you are playing the league’s top team. But as always the spotlight for the Bulls settles on Rose, who has slowly and steadily been improving. After averaging 16 points in November and in December 18.3 points but shooting 23.3 percent on threes, Rose has averaged 19.6 per game in January, a tenth of a point behind Pau Gasol. But Rose also has shot 39.4 percent on threes with a season high mark in assists at 5.2 per game.
He’s not putting up those MVP numbers, though Thibodeau says that’s not his job for now.
“I just want him to continue to make that steady progress,” said Thibodeau. “I don’t want him to worry about getting 35 or 40; that’s not how we have to play. Just keep being aggressive. The more aggressive he is the better that is for us. It’s not only what he’s doing for himself; more importantly, it’s what he’s doing for the team. When he plays with a lot of aggressiveness we are a tough team to guard. We put a lot of pressure on people. Jimmy and Derrick, that’s a very strong backcourt. And when you look at what Pau adds. Then we have the shooting. We miss Mike (Dunleavy) a little bit, but we have other guys. Aaron Brooks has been terrific, Joakim will start coming around.”
Thibodeau said he still hopes Dunleavy can play on this trip even though he remains out Tuesday. But much, as always, falls to Rose as he continues to improve and the Bulls work to pick up the pace, especially on offense. The Bulls have tended to play better against Western Conference teams this season, in part, because those teams play faster. This Bulls group, less defensive oriented than in the past because of the presence of players like Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Brooks, has been better with a faster game and more offense. The Bulls average almost 102 per game, their second most since 1997. But as Rose works back and players come in and out with injuries, the challenge has been to maintain a faster pace while Thibodeau implements his defensive philosophy. It’s can be mutually exclusive. But games like Tuesday’s provide an opportunity as you cannot relentlessly defend that much offense.
“I think I’m finally catching a better rhythm, getting in better condition,” said Rose. “My game is coming back slowly. It (offense) starts with me pushing the ball. If I could get more rebounds, that would help. It starts with me pushing the ball and making them play with me. I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game. I think I’m smarter. This year, I’m not getting the calls that I want every game. But this year, I’m picking and choosing when to score and I’m letting the game come to me instead of going out there and just shooting up shots. I still think I have a lot of game that I haven’t touched yet. Getting to the line. I’ve been shooting the ball a little better. But my midrange game and looking to post up a little bit more.
“It seems like when we have low-energy games, that’s when everything else creeps in with not pushing the ball, not being focused on the defensive end, not communicating,” said Rose. “That’s something we have to catch on (to change), but we just haven’t done it yet. We have to get used to playing with an up-tempo type pace where I have to make guys run, where I push the ball. Of course, we could play a half court game because we have players who can score in the post. But we don’t get a lot of transition points or easy baskets out of transition. It (transition) makes the game easier for everyone. It’s just that we didn’t catch on to it yet. I think it’s going to take a little time to get used to playing, take guys coming back and actually getting their time in. Joakim just came back. Who knows if Jimmy is going to play? We’ve just got to get used to playing that type of basketball.”
Against the Warriors should be an appropriate laboratory.