The Bulls looked to stay on track against the surging Jazz, who came in winning four straight, both teams trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. Cruising to a relatively easy 92-85 victory, the Bulls sit tied for 8th and are a half game back of the Pacers for the 7th seed, which would result in a likely face off against the Toronto Raptors, a team the Bulls have not lost to all season, even on a short bench.
- The game was never really in question, despite a couple of Jazz runs to cut into the lead, mostly because of the play and leadership of Taj Gibson. He was vocal out there on the court and in the locker room, getting on guys for missing defensive assignments and challenging his teammates to step it up and put teams away. It’s a welcome sight, especially with leaders Pau Gasol and of course Joakim Noah sidelined for the game.
- What Doug McDermott had to say about the halftime speech: “Taj is a guy, every once in a while, he’ll get on us, snap on us kind of hard. I think we need that from him. I think we need it more to be honest, because I think everyone responded really well.” Taj put up 15 points and 10 rebounds of his own to back up his talk.
- Derrick Rose had a phenomenal game with 22 points and four assists on 10/15 from the field and 2/2 from three point range. Encouraging box score aside, he’s been passing the eye test of late, attacking, making good decisions with the ball, and shooting with more confidence. Having the pleasure of being at the game for this one, I went crazy along with the crowd after this ridiculously acrobatic play:
Okay, one more…
- Cristiano Felicio added to the heart, hustle, and muscle getting his first career start, alongside Taj Gibson, and fared quite well. In a surprising nod over Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic, Felicio played just 12 minutes, but led the Bulls with a +9. He was directly responsible for a couple of key plays, including a steal off of a Jazz inbounds after a Chicago basket. The Brazilian big man has been improving since his rise from the D-League. He’s not quite a reliable player, but is filling in as best we can ask for when called upon.
- Jimmy Butler still led the Bulls in minutes at 33, but with a depleted and injured team, and not many guards aside from Rose the Bulls can count on, it’s a step in the right direction. He’s second in the league in minutes, at 37 per game; anything under that mark is an improvement. Recovering from an injured knee, and playing on a team that by all accounts isn’t vying for a championship (or likely even an Eastern Conference Finals appearance), you have to wonder where to strike the risk/reward balance in these games. I see the value of toughing it out for the sake of building chemistry and trust, but the Bulls are way beyond that, with only 14 games left to play.
- The Bulls defense stepped up tonight, holding the Jazz to 40% FG, 30% from beyond the arc, and holding a team to 85 points or less for the first time since January 23, which, oddly enough, happened to be against the first place Cleveland Cavaliers.
- Also, this was so sweet:
- The Bulls have to string together quite a few wins coming up, if they want a shot at avoiding Cleveland in the first round, since they’re playing the bottom feeders. Their immediate upcoming schedule consists of the Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks twice, and the Orlando Magic. The Bulls have now won two straight, and if they take care of business against these lesser teams, they have a chance to win six straight for the first time since January 7.
- Coming up: the Bulls host the Kings on Monday night.