Bulls face major test against Clippers Sunday

The Bulls Sunday know it’s not going to be easy in Los Angeles as they face a Clippers team with a lot of fight in them.

OK, let me rephrase that.

The Bulls Sunday in Los Angeles are going to have to withstand that first punch from the Clippers who...

OK, OK, the Bulls Sunday....really, this is too easy.

But it’s not going to be easy for the Bulls against a Clippers team without their Brawling Brown Bomber Blake that has won 15 of 18. But the Bulls have a combatant of their own, at least in the figurative sense in E’Twaun Moore, who will start again in a three-player backcourt with Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler that was a joy to watch in a 114-91 Thursday victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I thought he was rock solid,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg after Saturday practice in Santa Monica said of Moore. “It gives us another ball handler with that first group. He’s got a toughness factor. There are going to be nights he’s giving up inches, but he’s going to battle. He’s a very smart defender. I thought he gave us very solid minutes. We’ll start same way.”

He is a scrapper.

The test is more against the 31-16 Clippers since the Lakers are one of the league’s poorer teams. The Bulls showed the pace and movement they’ve yearned for all season, and going to a three-guard rotation could be the answer to unchaining the ball.

“I thought we made really good quick decisions,” said Hoiberg. “I thought that was the reason we had a solid offensive game. The ball wasn’t sticking. Pau (Gasol) was terrific as our playmaker in the trail spot. A lot of that was he was making quick decisions. It wasn’t a hold, hold and then make a decision. It was bang. You have (five tenths of a) second to make a decision and I thought Pau did a really good job with that.”

It was motivated by the addition of Moore for Tony Snell, and it was a good look.

Hoiberg has stayed away from starting three guards given the potential size disadvantage. But so many NBA teams now play small all over the court, and the Clippers as well, especially with Griffin out after a fight with a team employee. Plus, Moore, though about 6-4, plays with toughness that belies his size and a determination wrought from a challenging youth in East Chicago, Ind.

“I just keep working on my game,” said Moore, whose 36 minutes against the Lakers was his first start as a Bull. “I always know coach will come back to me sooner or later. I don’t know if it’s sometimes because of matchups or just the way we’re playing that I might not play. But I just keep working on my game, stay focused and when my time comes, be ready. Stay positive. Not looking at negative things like, ‘Oh, he don’t like me,’ or ‘No, I must be doing something wrong.’ I know sometimes it’s not because of that. I was doing this the last two years. Just stay focused and stay positive.

“Of course I get frustrated,” Moore acknowledged. “I don’t like not playing. But that makes me hungrier to go out the next time. That’s why I always come back ready to play.”

It’s a trait that has carried the reserved Moore, often overlooked despite starring in high school and four years at Purdue, yet falling to the second round in the draft. He started 21 games for Orlando his second year in the NBA after being drafted by Boston, but just four games since. He’s more a combo guard, not quite the ballhandler for point guard and a good, if not great, shooter.

He’s averaging about five points in 15 minutes per game with almost a dozen sitting coach decision. But he’ll make big shots, like that winner against the Thunder last season and doesn’t hesitate or back off from confrontation.

He was in the middle of several defensive plays to open the game Thursday and being out on the run. That included a highlight hookup with Rose in which Rose went behind the back on the break and Moore finished with a reverse. It’s the kind of open court play the Bulls have missed much of the season. Perhaps Moore’s presence will be the difference.

“Just be a basketball player,” said Moore. “Starting, coming off the bench, nothing changes for me. Playing with good guys like that all you need is your energy boost to do the little things to make a difference in the game. We want a fast start; we want to play uptempo. That’s the advantage of playing small; we get to push the ball. When I get the ball I’m pushing, making plays.

“I’m always guarding bigger players,” said Moore. “Just go in there and fight them and try not to give them anything easy.

“I had older guys I learned from,” said Moore. “When I was in Boston, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, guys like that, who always said to stay focused, that he’ll (coach) come back to you, you’re here for a reason. I learned from it and in Orlando I learned from Jameer (Nelson); he always told me about staying ready and being a pro and that carried on.

“I definitely fell from a high end in the draft, but that did nothing but motivate me,” said Moore. “The things that are disheartening that upset you, that’s fuel to keep you going and getting better. I grew up in a project, assisted government housing, tough neighborhood. Things weren’t always good. So adversity was something you always had to overcome. That prepared me for when things get hard I fight right through it. I always remember those times; those times drive me and motivate me to go forward.”

Hoiberg said Jimmy Butler skipped practice with a sore ankle but will play Sunday, Kirk Hinrich could return against the Clippers while Mike Dunleavy will join the Santa Cruz Warriors’ D-league affiliate for practices early this week in hopes of a return later on the road trip.

“I’m going to get a couple of practices in with the Warriors D-league team when our team is out playing in Utah and Sacramento, just to get a little more repetition and hopefully help me out and get me closer to returning to an NBA game,” said Dunleavy after another workout with the team. “My brain works in thoughtful ways. They were trying to figure out, looking at the schedule and realizing I’m not getting much practice time and we got some guys hurt, limited on bodies; we started to think outside the box and I threw that out there as just a good opportunity.

“I’m very close (to returning),” said Dunleavy, who had back surgery last summer. “See how these next few days go when I get down there; hopefully, I’ll be good to go. I’m hopeful I’ll be back sooner than later. I was expecting to be back sooner, but here we are and at least at this point I feel good. I feel terrible about the games I missed, but I can’t get that back now. Have to get back and help these guys moving forward.

“Veteran savvy,” Dunleavy said about his forthcoming addition to the team. “Somebody who does a lot of little things, cleans some stuff up; a few things we struggle with, floor spacing, decision making on the offensive end, defensively knowing where to be, being in the right spot, helping my teammates; that kind of the stuff I’ve been doing my whole career.

“I feel good about (the team) in the sense we’ve had some great wins,” said Dunleavy. “If we can beat the teams we’ve beaten on the road we can beat anybody. Obviously, we have to clean up some of the let down losses we’ve had, but I think that’s easier to do than beating the hard teams. We’ve tried a bunch of different lineups; a lot of things have been effective. We’ve got to get something that sticks; that’s the main thing. We’ve changed up for a couple of games, things go well and then we revert back to the old ways. We’ve got to try to get back that consistency.”

Which doesn’t sound like it will come through any personnel changes.

It’s unlikely with Joakim Noah out for the season and now Dunleavy close to working back in. As Dunleavy observed from watching, the Bulls probably need fewer changes and a more consistent rotation than more experimenting with new players.

“There’s nothing out there right now as far as I know,” said Hoiberg about trades.

Of course, if there were he wouldn’t say.

“Hopefully, we can build off a couple of good road performances of late,” said Hoiberg. “Bobby (Portis) is going to be forced into a role obviously where he’s playing a lot of minutes now. And there are going to be times where we play smaller lineups. We’re comfortable with this group and anticipate this is the team we’ll have. We talk about that kind of (trade) stuff all the time. I know those guys (Gar Forman and John Paxson) are working the phones, as are the other 29 teams in the league. Unless something earth shattering comes up, I don’t anticipate anything happening.”

So as the players like to say, this seems whom they’re going to war with. Somewhat different that Griffin’s definition