1. Would Phil Jackson taking over the Knicks help or hurt the Bulls' chances of landing Carmelo Anthony?Nick Friedell: It isn't going to help the Bulls, that's for sure. I've always believed Anthony was going to stay in New York and take the extra money, but it can't hurt to have Jackson in the fold with his championship pedigree. How well he will do as an executive is to be determined, but he has the rings to back up any point he wants to make to Anthony and his teammates.
Scoop Jackson: My initial answer is hurt, but it really all depends on the position Phil takes once there, what his intentions are -- if any -- as far as coaching and whether he has any interest in keeping Melo there. That's the great and potential unknown. If/when Phil takes over and wants Melo to re-sign, what is he going to tell him that is going to make him stay? Is he going to promise him a new coach? Is he going to promise him that if that new coach doesn't work out after one year, he'll come down from his front office and do a Pat Riley and coach the team himself? Is he going to promise to get rid of J.R. Smith and get him a better point guard? It's really too soon to answer that question.
2. Can the Bulls beat the Pacers in the playoffs?Friedell: Yes. I don't believe they will right now, but I believe they can. The reason being that they aren't scared of Indiana. The Pacers have gotten better over the past couple of seasons and almost knocked off the Heat in last year's playoffs, but the Bulls have always viewed them as a "little brother." They respect the Pacers, but they still think they can beat them in a seven-game series.
Jackson: No. Not this year. Barring any significant injury to any main/core player on the Pacers' roster, that's asking too much of the Bulls to carry out that task over seven games without having HCA (home-court advantage). Two things would have to happen over the span of two weeks: The Bulls would have to play seven games at the same intensity and efficiency level they did against the Heat last week, and the Pacers over those same seven games would have to play like they recently did during the four games in a row they just lost. That's real talk. And if anyone honestly thinks both of those things are going to happen simultaneously ...
3. Is Jimmy Butler a top-five defender like Tom Thibodeau believes?Friedell: Yes. Butler has taken over for Luol Deng on the defensive end without a hitch. He guards the opponent's best perimeter player each night and enjoys the challenge of trying to stop him. There aren't many guys in the league who have had success guarding Kobe Bryant, Anthony and LeBron James over the years, and Butler has slowed each one of them down at times. To take the next step in his progression, he must start shooting the ball better, but his defense is great.
Jackson: Over the course of the season, I'd have to say no. But right now, without question, he is. Jimmy is playing defense at a level now that is as good as anyone in the league guarding from the 2, 3 and 4 positions. He's in a defensive zone right now that is equal to a great shooter saying, "The rim looks like an ocean." Offensive players have been at his mercy over the last month, not the other way around. The only problem is that he hasn't been consistently this dominant all season long. He'll make the All-Defensive Second Team this year and Joakim Noah will get the Defensive Player of the Year. But next year, Jimmy will not only be respected as one of the top-five defensive players in the league, he'll be rewarded by making All-Defensive First Team (with Noah).
There is a growing debate about this year's choice for first-team All-NBA center, as Joakim Noah's reputation grows with each dive to the floor and triple-double on the stat sheet. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard is enjoying a banner first season in Houston. Howard had his five-year streak of first-team selections snapped last year, and he's looking to reclaim the crown this season.
It's been pointed out that, for Chicago, Noah's candidacy for first-team All-NBA goes beyond being a fun debate. There are possible cap and tax ramifications involved, so this is serious business for the Bulls.
Howard and Noah will clash at the United Center in Chicago on Thursday, making this a perfect time to compare the arsenals of two guys who play the center position extremely well but do so in wildly disparate manners.
Though five centers in the NBA are on pace to finish at least 12 wins above replacement, including Noah (13.1) and Howard (12.5), most would agree the two have distinguished themselves beyond the numbers. It's going to come down to the ultimate contrast between a prototypical power big man in Howard and one whose game is based on elite skill in Noah.
So who is the first-team All-NBA center? Who's better?
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The Chicago Bulls are doing it again. Without injured star Derrick Rose, the Bulls have used elite defense and just enough offense -- the same formula that won them a playoff series last year -- to stay in the mix for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls have gone 11-4 in their last 15 games entering their nationally televised matchup against the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, and center Joakim Noah has drawn some MVP consideration. Though Noah has unquestionably been Chicago's most valuable player this season, he might not be the most important part of the team's overachieving success. Instead, that honor might belong to coach Tom Thibodeau.
Thibodeau's four years in Chicago have resulted in two first-place finishes in defensive rating, and second place so far this season, not to mention a Coach of the Year nod (in 2010-11) and twice posting the league's best record during the regular season. While statistical analysts have yet to make much progress in valuing coaches, let's take a look at what various approaches indicate about Thibodeau's value to the Bulls.
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If a franchise had to pick one center to build a team around, the odds are still higher that many around the league would take Howard. After all, he is an eight-time All-Star and carried the Orlando Magic to an NBA Finals appearance in 2008-2009.
He may not be the most complete center in the league, a title for which Noah could make a claim. But despite a tumultuous two-year stretch during which he forced a trade out of Orlando, then left the Los Angeles Lakers after a season, Howard is largely regarded as the better player as his Houston Rockets come into town to face Noah and the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.
Maybe Noah isn't the best statistical choice to build a team around, but the argument already has been made by some, including TNT analyst and former Bull Steve Kerr, that only LeBron James and Kevin Durant would be the preferred choices over Noah in a Game 7 situation.
The fact that Noah has even closed the gap to the point that questions like this can be bounced around indicates how far he has come in his development during the past two seasons. While Howard became a fixture on the All-NBA team during his time in Orlando, Noah has blossomed to the point that it's likely he will earn some votes for the coveted position at the end of the season.
"I'm biased, so I'm probably not the right guy to ask that question," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Wednesday after practice when asked who he would vote for between Noah and Howard, if he had a vote. "But for what Jo does for our team, I don't think there's anyone better for that."
No matter what direction the NBA writers and broadcasters vote at the end of the season, it's clear both players have earned respect throughout the league. They've also earned each other's respect over the years, speaking glowingly of one another.
"I think he's a great player and he's been playing great all year," Noah said of Howard on Wednesday. "His team is playing great. He's in a good place right now. I think he looks pretty happy to be in Houston. He's happy with his decision. I'm just trying to focus on us and what we've got to do to find a way [to] win."
Noah said he thought Howard was the best center in the league when asked, but he doesn't believe that. He believes that he has put in enough time and work into his game that he can beat anybody in the league with his teammates. In many ways, the biggest change between the two players’ games is that Noah has developed into the type of leader the Magic and Lakers always wanted Howard to become.
When Derrick Rose went down with another major knee injury earlier this season and Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland, it was Noah who elevated his game on and off the floor.
He has become a de facto point guard for the Bulls, as the offense continues to run through him each night. He's also become a sounding board for his teammates -- the guy that everybody takes their cues from on the floor.
Thibodeau said he believes Noah, who isn't playing quite as many minutes this season, has found a sweet spot in terms of his nightly output.
"He's done a good job with it," Thibodeau said. "I think he's at a good number. We just want to make sure he can play hard on every possession. I think he's in great shape. He's done a really good job of preparing himself for the season. So I like where he is right now. But he's got to keep grinding. I think he can go to another level."
Does Thibodeau worry his leader may get mentally fatigued because of all the emotion he pours into each game?
"No, because I think you train yourself for that," Thibodeau said. "That's the nature of this league. If you want to do something special, I think you have to commit to that. That's building the right habits throughout the course of the season.
"The teams that achieve in this league are able to sustain their concentration level and their effort level over a long period of time. So hopefully we're building the right habits and he can do it."
Noah and his teammates know that in order to get back on track Thursday, they've got to do a solid job staying in front of Howard. He may not play with the type of fire that has come to define Noah, but he can still play as well as any big man in the league. Gibson spoke of Howard as if he were "The Incredible Hulk."
"I feel that you don't want to make him mad," Gibson said. "Once you make him mad he's going to call for the ball mostly every time he's down in the paint. He's going to bang you, just try to dominate you in a lot of different fashions."
So what's it like trying to guard Howard?
"It's like a tractor trailer backing [up] a small car," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "His strength is crazy."
Howard's strength and length are what have given Noah problems in the past. It will be a challenge to stay in front of the Rockets' big man, but it's just the next thing on a list that Noah has pushed past this season.
Noah may not have the type of gaudy numbers Howard produces, but Noah’s teammates and coaches don't care. They know that for what the Bulls want to do, there's nobody better.
"I like the guy we have," Thibodeau said. "The guy we have is pretty special."
"We got our asses kicked."
He was right, of course. The Bulls played one of their worst games of the season. They got outscored 38-14 in the first quarter and never came close to crawling out of that hole. Tom Thibodeau preached before the game about "readiness to play," but it was clear his team didn't subscribe to that notion. After an emotional win over the Miami Heat on Sunday, the Bulls looked lethargic against one of the best teams in the league. Noah tried to brush off the notion that Sunday's game had anything to do with Tuesday's game, but Thibodeau took responsibility for how poorly his team performed.
Thibodeau's words are well-intentioned, but the players know they just didn't play up to their usual level. It wasn't like the Bulls didn't know the Spurs were good. They just got planted by a better team and they knew it.
"It's on us," Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. "We're the ones that are out there playing so we got to bring it each and every night. Thibs can only do so much. But you learn from it. We knew to be ready. I guess we weren't, so to speak. So it's in the books. We've got another one on Thursday."
The Bulls have played so well for the last few weeks that they weren't too concerned about this game lingering. The players appreciated Thibodeau's sentiment but they expected more out of themselves. That's what makes them the team that they are. And they got another glimpse of the team they want to become by watching San Antonio in the process.
"Just frustrated with tonight," Noah said. "It's going to be tough to go to bed tonight. But move on [to Wednesday], practice, and get ready for the next team."
Thibodeau has gotten his players so well conditioned to his message after four years that it's become easy for them to diagnose their own problems. They let their foot off the gas early in this one. Hell, they never even started the car. The good thing for them is that there's always another game staring them in the face, always another chance to get better. They'll learn from this one and move forward. The irony is that Thibodeau's message after this game was likely the same one he gave his team after Sunday's win.
"Be ready," Butler said of Thibodeau's words. "We got another one on Thursday."
If they had embraced those words a little more early in this game, maybe the result would have been a bit different.
Kawhi Leonard added 16 for San Antonio, which won its seventh straight and 10th in its last 11. The Spurs (47-16) maintained their hold on the NBA's best record, staying ahead of Oklahoma City and Indiana, who both started play Tuesday a half-game behind the Spurs.
San Antonio jumped out to a big lead early, taking a 61-33 advantage into halftime, including 18 from Parker. That helped them improve to 24-6 on the road, the NBA's best mark away from home.
CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the San Antonio Spurs cruised to a 104-96 win over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night at the United Center.
How it happened: Tony Parker had 20 points and nine assists while Manu Ginobili chipped in with 22 points as the Spurs dominated this game from start to finish. Jimmy Butler had 23 points and six rebounds, but it wasn't close to enough for a Bulls team that looked like it had a collective hangover after Sunday's big win over the Miami Heat.
What it means: Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau talked about readiness to play before this game and the trouble they would be in if his team was still thinking about the Miami game. The Bulls didn't heed Thibodeau's advice because this game was over by the end of the first quarter, even as the Spurs pushed their lead up to 32 points by midway through the second. Any team can have a bad night, but the Bulls couldn't make the mistakes they made against a great team -- and that's exactly what the Spurs are.
Hits: D.J. Augustin had 24 points and four assists off the bench.
Misses: Kirk Hinrich was 1-for-9 from the field.
Stat of the night:The Spurs outscored the Bulls 38-14 in the first quarter.
What's next: The Bulls take on the Houston Rockets on Thursday night at 6 p.m. CT.
"I just know that he's happy right now," Joakim said after the game. "I can't wait to see him and celebrate this win with him. I don't get to see him a lot, but my father's always been there for me my whole life. To be able to share these moments with him; I know that he's a nervous wreck during games. I always tell him to drink a brewski and just chill. But I know how he is so I can't wait to celebrate with him."
Noah said after Monday's practice that that's exactly what they did Sunday night.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was happy to see the father and son have some time together on Sunday.
"Of course, he's done great things in his own career," Thibodeau said of Yannick, who is now a famous pop star in France. "But Jo and his dad have a great relationship, and it's great to see."
Thibodeau said he's gotten to meet Yannick, a former French Open champion, and appreciates the bond Noah has with his father.
"What that guy did (as a tennis player), and then he's gone on to another career (as a singer) -- and he's been just as great there," Thibodeau said. "But I've gotten to know him a little bit, I know they're very proud of each other. Whenever you see that type of relationship, it makes you feel good."
What's next: The Bulls take on the San Antonio Spurs, who Thibodeau has called the "gold standard" of the NBA, at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.
The last word: Noah, on all the accolades he has been receiving, including chants of "M-V-P" during Sunday's game: "I don't like it. I don't really like it. It's not what matters."
The only thing that matters to Noah is a championship. He's said it over and over again throughout the years.
"We're hungry, man," Noah said after Sunday's game. "We're a hungry group. That's all I want. I just want everybody in this locker room, when you wear a Bulls jersey, we're going for one thing -- and that's the championship. One day I want to party in Chicago and I want to see what the feels like. One day."
Asked if Butler has matured into a top-10 or even top-five defensive player in the NBA, especially since he can guard 2-guards and small forwards, Tom Thibodeau took the praise a step further.
"I sure would and don't stop at 2 and 3 because he's guarded 1s and 4s as well," Thibodeau said Monday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "Great individual defense, great team defense. Offensively the last three or four weeks I think he has been very good. He got off to a slow start this year, and I think that might be attributed to the injuries. Every time he started to get on track he got nicked up again. He had a knee, he had a rib, but he's finally gotten healthy and he's in a really good rhythm right now. He's really coming on, and I think that's been a big, big plus for us."
Butler did a commendable job holding LeBron James in check in a victory over the Miami Heat Sunday. The reigning MVP was held to 17 points on 8-of-23 shooting in the Heat's third straight loss, a 95-88 overtime defeat in Chicago. James particularly struggled against Butler, shooting 2-of-11 when being defended by the Bulls guard, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Thibodeau said the defensive accolades might not come Butler's way until next season.
"I don't know the reason why but usually that's the case," Thibodeau said. "When you earn it it's usually a year after that. Jimmy has been terrific from his rookie year on. He came on in a tough year. His first year was the year after the lockout so you're behind the eight ball missing summer league, the fall stuff and it's a condensed schedule so there's minimal practice. That's a tough way to come in and start your career, but he was very good that year defensively.
"He's got great balance, feet, just the way he can position himself. Got great hands. And now I think he knows the players well, he knows what the teams are trying to get to so he's about as good as it gets."
Rose is starting to jump more while taking shots, at least in the brief snippet of practice the media has been able to watch. Up until this point, Rose has usually just taken set shots while warming up on the floor.
Thibodeau didn't exactly rule out the possibility of Rose practicing, but he has made it clear that Rose will not play this season.
"We'll see where we are at the end of the year if he gets cleared to practice," Thibodeau said. "But there's no timetable on that. Just put everything you have into each and every day with the rehab, get stronger. We want to make sure he's completely healthy before he moves forward."
When asked specifically if Rose would be ruled out of practicing, Thibodeau was noncommittal.
"I don't even want to speculate," Thibodeau said. "If he can, he will. He's not close right now."
There's nothing he can do to get Derrick Rose back right now, nothing he can do to reverse the subsequent trade that sent another beloved teammate, Luol Deng, to Cleveland as the Bulls prepared for the long term. But as consolation prizes go, Joakim Noah knows what he values more than anything else he can imagine: beating Miami. They all do, really, every single Bulls player. It doesn't matter to them, this storyline that they can't beat Miami four times in May. They want Miami.
Some teams get a collective headache when LeBron James comes to town; the Bulls would happily send a plane for LeBron and the champs. Noah called it "playing with hate," and the Bulls ratcheted up their obsession with Miami to beat the Heat in another regular-season game, this one in OT -- just as they stopped Miami's winning streak at 27 games a year ago, just as they push and shove and annoy the champs like nobody else in the NBA.
It was Butler who made arguably the play of the day in the final seconds of regulation when he stripped James cleanly and forced the game into overtime. It was Butler, who in the midst of describing his attitude against James, ended up describing his entire team's mindset in the process.
"I don't back down," he said proudly. "Let's just put it like that."
That line of thinking is why the Bulls continue to surprise many around the league, but it's also what sets the third-year Marquette alum apart from many of his peers. Even when he's having a bad day offensively, he has learned that he can still make a difference in the game. He proved that again Sunday by locking up James to the tune of just 2-for-11 shooting when the players were matched up with one another, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.
"I'm pretty happy with the way he guarded [James]," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Jimmy was a warrior tonight. He's one of those guys, too, when things aren't going his way he can do so many things on the basketball court to affect winning. And you need guys like that."
The key for Butler is that he has taken that advice -- from teammates and coaches -- to heart. He was only 4-for-15 from the field, but his defense on James, and at times on Dwyane Wade, was one of the biggest reasons why the Bulls were able come back and win.
"Effort," Butler said. "I feel like that's what a lot of defense is. Just the want to and the will to fight through a screen. Just to try to never give up on a play, I feel like that's what I did."