Even when they’re at full strength, the Bulls have issues.
Consistency. Intensity. Meshing players’ strengths and roles, to name a few.
But there’s no question that being healthy is the best way to go about the battle for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots.
In their 109-102 win over Sacramento on Monday, the Bulls had their starting five (Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson, Pau Gasol) together for only the second time this year.
“It’s about getting that chemistry and figuring out where the ball needs to get,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said Tuesday. “I thought we did a good job getting the ball to Derrick, who had it going late in the game. Taj made some big plays all game long at both ends. Pau hit a big shot, but he’s on a limit.’’
One key issue is trying to find a way to use Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler most effectively on offense.
Rose, who is 9 for 15 and 10 for 15 in the Bulls’ last two games, is on a roll. The last time Rose had back-to-back 60-percent shooting games when he took at least 10 shots was Feb. 26-27, 2010, according to ESPN Stats ace Jacob Nitzberg.
“He’s playing his best stretch of basketball,’’ said Hoiberg, adding that Rose probably rushed his return from his training-camp eye injury. “He was basically in a dark room for three weeks after the eye injury. Did he come back too soon? Looking back on it, we could have got him in better rhythm and better shape to start the year. But he wanted to be out there with his teammates for the first game.’’
That said, Rose now seems to be peaking at the right time.
“There’s no doubt about it,’’ Hoiberg said. “He’s raising up and taking and making clutch shots with no fear. He’s attacking the basket. He’s doing a good job finding mismatches and throwing ahead on the break. And his defense has been much better the last few games, applying more hand pressure, getting deflections and getting in the ball better on the pick-and roll.’’
Butler, on the other hand, has been a mixed bag. While he’s still very solid in his big defensive role, he’s not the same player offensively he was earlier in the year.
While still leading the Bulls in scoring (21.7 ppg), he has scored more than 17 points only once since he returned from a knee injury. He is shooting less and generally less of an offensive force.
Is that due to the injury, his minutes limitation or a chemistry deal with Rose? The answer might be a combination of those ingredients.
“The most important thing Jimmy is giving us right now is a great defensive presence,’’ Hoiberg said. “He’s doing a really good job making it difficult on the other teams’ best scorers. He just gives you that physical wing presence where he can guard the other teams’ best player. That’s what we really missed when he was out of the lineup. I have no doubt his offense will come back and come back soon. He’s putting the work in.’’
NOTE: The Bulls continue to improve on the injury front, notably Pau Gasol, who seemed to be all right the day after returning from missing four games with knee swelling.
“Everybody’s doing well,’’ Hoiberg said. “We’ll see how he responds. But his body feels good. Just a little bit of general soreness.’’
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