By Eric Neel
Regress Is Over For Bulls
We all knew the Bulls were playing over their heads last season. And coming into this season we all knew they were going to regress to a mean ol' mean and be a long shot to sneak back into the playoffs. But after watching them through the the first four games, I'm thinking maybe we want to think again.
The 2004-'05 Bulls won games with Kirk Hinrich's steady hand and feel for distribution, some emerging offensive talent (see Ben Gordon and Luol Deng), and some fierce, energetic, defense (see their second-best-in-basketball defensive efficiency score of 97.4 points per 100 possessions).
The hardest thing to maintain after a young club has some unexpected success is intensity from year to year. A team comes out flat in November and ends up scrambling (see last year's pre-Karl Nuggets), or worse (see last year's Timberwolves, minus Eveready Garnett), the rest of the way. But the 2005-'06 Bulls seem just as wired as they were most of last year, and seem much more inclined to sustain than regress.
They're just 2-2 after Wednesday night's 85-84 win over Golden State, but both those losses were close and to good teams, one in overtime to San Antonio and another on a buzzer-beater at New Jersey. They're getting even more cool judgment and production out of Hinrich than they did last year. Gordon's still hitting big shots. Deng looks healthy and slippery around the bucket and the boards.
Tyson Chandler continues his always-jumping-always-around-the-ball maturation into what the Great Hubie would rightfully call "one of the premier rebounders in this league." And they've replaced Eddy Curry with Mike Sweetney, whose soft hands and formidable caboose are a strangely unstoppable combination for about 20 minutes a night. And they move the ball as a team, quickly and crisply.
But none of this is what you notice first. What you notice first is the shuffling feet. All over the floor. On Monday night as the clock wound down in a tie game against San Antonio, Manu Ginobili went around the outside and looked to snake his way in for an up-and-under.
It looked like ballgame as it unfolded, but all of a sudden, there was Chandler, busting his behind to the baseline, closing what little window there had been. It wasn't enough to win the game in the end, but it was enough to impress. And the story was the same on Wednesday against the Warriors.
The Bulls were down 10 at the half, but they turned the second half into a horror chamber for Golden State shooters, contesting every attempt, picking up at halfcourt or deeper on every possession, doubling down, extending all amoeba-like on the perimeter, and leaving them to ponder a 24 percent (12-for-49) second 24.
It wasn't a pretty game, no game with that much clanging could be, but it wasn't ugly, either. The Bulls don't play slow-down, Anthony-Mason-laying-wood-to-your-back D; they don't muscle and grab. They move. They hustle. They work it. There's something entertaining about it, something that makes you want to see more.
And as Chandler stepped in to help on Jason Richardson as the clock wound down Wednesday night, helping preserve a one-point win, that was the lasting impression: We're going to see more of this club.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
Pacers center David Harrison listens to Dick Bavetta explain why he just picked up his second foul. Indy earned a 95-90 win over Miami, keyed by a late Sarunas Jasikevicius basket.
Will Kobe get another ring? Will he have a positive influence on the team's young whippersnappers? He's a lightning rod for discussion, not only on the court, but off it as well. How long can he continue his scoring streak? And has his and the Lakers' fine start raised the expectations for this season? Answer nine questions that revolve around the Lakers' cornerstone.
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AP Photo/Charles Krupa
No need for the Heimlich Maneuver here, Delonte West. Ricky Davis' clutch 17-foot jumper as time expired lifted the Celtics past the Grizzlies, 99-98.
Quote of the Night
After one week, Hornets point guard Chris Paul is making as big an impact as any rookie in the NBA. Paul leads all rookies in scoring (12.8 ppg) and steals (2.3 spg) and is near the top in minutes (32.3), assists (4.8 apg), rebounds (5.3 rpg), and free throw percentage (.923). Wednesday night Paul had 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in an 88-83 loss to the Magic.
And while his numbers are good, the most impressive thing about Paul is his poise and leadership. Four games into his pro career, Paul is running the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. When he speaks the Hornets listen. From P.J. Brown to Speedy Claxton to David West all heads are turning to find Chris Paul and listen to what he has to say.
Coach Byron Scott has been very pleased with Paul's play so far. He told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that Paul "... has taken control. And he's so coachable, it's almost scary. He's extremely intelligent on the floor."
And Paul is quick, too. On a scale of 1-to-10 he rates an 8 or 9. At the offensive end, he's one of the best at splitting the double team off the screen and roll. And at the defensive end he continually frustrated Steve Francis.
Paul was able to stay in front of Francis and match his speed and toughness. At one point during Wednesday's game the refs had to step in when Paul and Francis got a little too rough with one another. Paul did not back down.
He's not a great player yet, but Paul looks like the kind of leader/point guard who will justify his No. 4 draft slot and have a great career in the NBA.
-- Will Perdue in Oklahoma City
The Celtics (99-98 over Memphis) and Bulls (85-84 over Golden State) each had a one-point win Wednesday night, becoming the first teams in NBA history to begin a season with four straight games decided by either one point or in overtime. Before Wednesday's victories, both Boston and Chicago had played a pair of overtime games and lost another game by a one-point margin.
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I just read your take on Joe Johnson's game versus the Lakers. I watched the game and had a completely different take on things. Johnson looked completely selfish and one-dimensional . . . an awful lot like Kobe used to play, come to think of it.
Maybe the Hawks don't have an offense or maybe they don't run it well, but Johnson would dribble on the wing for 10 seconds, ignoring all his teammates before putting his head down and driving to the hole. Occasionally he would pass out of the drive, but he never contributed to any semblance of an offense.
That doesn't strike me as a "good night." It strikes me as the opposite: another selfish player with no ability to make his teammates better. Maybe that's why Smith and Childress have taken a step back.
--Brian (Pasadena, Calif.)
I received quite a few e-mails back in October for and against my strong thoughts about Andrei Kirilenko not being a first-round draft pick in fantasy. Do I like the guy? Of course, he does a lot of things, especially in rebounds, steals and blocks. But I wanted my first-round pick to score more, a lot more. Also, he missed half of last season. Are we sure it won't happen again?