ThibodeauNuccio DiNuzzo/Getty ImagesA loss for Tom Thibodeau's Bulls against the Bobcats on Wednesday would allow them to avoid the Heat in the second round.
CHARLOTTE -- Taj Gibson had to laugh at the thought.

When the topic of Tom Thibodeau resting players came up after Monday night's win over the Orlando Magic, the Chicago Bulls forward looked around at the small circle of media members surrounding him and chuckled.

"You guys have been around for a minute now," Gibson said. "You guys should know that guy in the other room over there, he's never going to tell anybody to take any rest. He's old school, he doesn't believe in that. He just believes in pushing [forward]."

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But Thibodeau always believes in doing what's best for his team no matter the situation. That's why I'd be very surprised if he approached Wednesday's game against the Charlotte Bobcats like the other 81 regular season games the Bulls have played this season. The reality for the Bulls is that while they would take the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoff seedings, they are content at the four spot.

That's because it would push a potential matchup with the Miami Heat until the Eastern Conference finals. Thibodeau and his players would never say it publicly because they do respect teams like the Brooklyn Nets and the Indiana Pacers, but they believe they can beat them. They believe they would prevail in a seven-game series against either of those teams.

Predictably, Gibson tried to brush off talk about a potential second-round matchup with the Pacers, instead of the Heat.

"We really can't look forward to the future," he said. "You've got to look at who's in front of you. Because any kind of little thing teams can feed off of, they'll use it against you. We don't want to give anybody any kind of extra confidence, any kind of extra juices. We're just focused on ourselves, just getting ready to play some tough-nosed, (rugged) basketball. We understand the stakes. We understand what it's about."

That is a Thibodeau-approved response. No matter which team the Bulls end up with, their style of play won't change. They want to break the other's team's will defensively. But that doesn't mean that Thibodeau hasn't charted a path for his team to go as far as it can.

The Bulls would be playing with fire by ending up with an improved Nets team, but the prize would be to likely a second-round matchup with an Indiana team that has gone 10-13 since March 1.

In the short-term, Thibodeau would be able to give key contributors such as Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and Gibson a few extra minutes off while a tough Bobcats team continues to scrap for a better seed of its own.

Thibodeau has always talked about respecting the game and finding ways to succeed in various circumstances. But the best play for the Bulls may be to ease up a bit on their best players for one night.

Bulls enjoying well-deserved good fortune

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
12:06
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Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Jimmy ButlerJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesIn a season that started with heartbreak, the Bulls are enjoying some late good fortune.
In a video that has gone deservedly viral, Joakim Noah was crestfallen about the late-season fallen snow Monday night after the Bulls disposed of the Magic in their home regular-season finale.

I feel you, Jo. I was scraping ice off my car at 5:30 a.m.

But later on Tuesday morning, the sun was shining on Chicago and the Bulls' playoff fortunes.

Thanks to Miami's lying down again, the Indiana Pacers clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Bulls, thanks to a timely loss to the Knicks on Sunday, seemed locked in on the fourth seed.

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And the fourth seed is better than the third. In a season marred by "tanking" talk, it's amusing that the Bulls lucked into a perfect situation sans chicanery.

Imagine thinking that in December.

In a season that saw the Bulls dealt the ultimate bust card in another knee injury to Derrick Rose, they've had some deserved good fortune. From the availability of season-saver D.J. Augustin to the (knock on wood) good health of the team, the Bulls have been living good for months.

The Bulls' first-round opponent isn't clear yet, and they could still get the third seed if they beat Charlotte in the finale and Toronto loses to New York. So they could still be playing Washington, but let's pretend we know they're facing Brooklyn in a four-five series, a rematch of last season's thrilling first-rounder, now with 100 percent more Kevin Garnett. The Nets did a 180 from their early-season struggles and look like a dark horse, but they're not going to get out of this series.

The Bulls went 2-1 against Brooklyn this season. In their only loss, last month, they had 28 turnovers and lost 96-80. In their two wins, both coming after Rose was hurt, they held Brooklyn to fewer than 80 points. Jason Kidd is a better coach than we thought, but he's no Tom Thibodeau. And Garnett can't bully Noah and Taj Gibson anymore.

After a six-game series, the Bulls face either Atlanta or Indiana. I say either because the Pacers look like they could be the first No. 1 seed to lose in the first round since, well, the Bulls lost to Philadelphia in 2012. Of course, the Bulls had a good excuse that series.

And if Indiana wins, the Bulls will be a formidable opponent for a team breaking down at the wrong time. Where the Pacers have strife in the locker room, Chicago has unity. It would be a fun, physical series, but I think the Bulls could win it at home in six.

So what value do you place on a Rose-less Bulls' playoff run? Since the 2010 free-agent class remade this roster, Chicago has had a "championship or bust" mentality.

But what about a very nice season that ends in the East? What does that do for you?

To me, it's validation that this organization is on the right track. Despite the injuries and occasional turmoil, the arrow is pointing up for this team. I, for one, would like to see a long playoff run that inspires a lot of joy and a little hope.

The predictably bad Knicks

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
9:45
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With the 82-game NBA regular season nearly complete, conclusions that looked hazy six months ago suddenly seem clear. Some of this season's trends or outcomes were predictable at the time, while others truly snuck up on us.

On the eve of the regular season's final night, let's take a look at three from each category.


Should have seen it coming

New York's regression

In October, the Knicks were coming off a 54-win season and had added a former No. 1 overall pick (Andrea Bargnani) to their rotation at low cost. How could things go wrong? Every way, as it turned out. Much of that regression looks predictable now -- and probably was at the time, if we had looked closer. Repeating a historic season beyond the arc (the Knicks have made 151 fewer 3-pointers than last season's NBA-record total) was unlikely, and they did nothing to improve their porous defense during the summer. That's why my SCHOENE projection system was able to correctly predict the bottom falling out.


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OT: 'Jimmer-Mania' runs wild over Magic

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
8:00
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Jimmer FredetteMike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsJimmer Fredette saw more minutes Monday (31) than he'd played previously with Chicago (25).

CHICAGO -- The first day Jimmer Fredette set foot inside the Chicago Bulls locker room, veteran equipment manager John Ligmanowski had to chuckle as he saw the media horde assembled around the sharpshooter's locker.

"I didn't know MJ came back," Ligmanowski said.

MJ, of course, would be the Hall of Famer Michael Jordan.

While the media attention has subsided since Fredette signed in early March, the interest level in his career hasn't. Fans are intrigued by the possibility of Fredette starring one day for the Bulls, and they got a glimpse of the possibilities Monday night as Fredette stepped in off the bench for D.J. Augustin, who was with his wife as she gave birth to a baby boy.

It was Fredette's first real chance to show what he could do with Chicago, and it was an opportunity his teammates knew he would take advantage of.

"Jimmer's a good dude and he's a worker," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "I've never seen a dude work so hard on his game every day, and it just shows. Hard work pays off. He came through, hasn't played for a long time. He comes in and delivers when we need him. That says a lot about his professionalism."

Bulls forward Taj Gibson admitted that he has spoken to Fredette a few times about being patient for his chance. That's why he took pride in the fact his new teammate dropped 17 points in the 108-95 victory over the Orlando Magic.

"It just says that he's humble," Gibson said. "And he's been working on his game no matter what and he's ready to step in. I knew from Day 1 that, when he gets his time to play, he's going to play [well]. From the first day he came, he was eager to learn. He was always in the gym, always practicing, always in the early group. I told him, 'Just be patient.' His time is going to come."

Fredette, meanwhile, was just trying to take his moment in stride. He politely answered questions in front of his locker -- saying all the right things in a room full of players who take pride in doing all the right things.

"You always want to play as a competitor," Fredette said. "But at the same time you've got to be a great teammate and make sure all your teammates know you're supporting them, and I continue to do that. Whatever my role is on this team, I have to embrace [it] and do the best job you can at."

What's next: The Bulls fly to Charlotte in advance of Wednesday night's regular-season finale against the Bobcats.

The last word: Gibson, on whether the Bulls take any solace in having beaten the Brooklyn Nets in the 2013 postseason in advance of a possible rematch in this year's playoffs. If the current standings hold, the Bulls would host the Nets in Game 1 this weekend.

"Last year is behind us, really. You can't go and dwell on the past. You just got to stay focused on the task at hand. They've got a lot of veterans, they've got some young talent -- [Mason] Plumlee's playing well. They switched the way their starting lineup is, so at the end of the day it's going to come down to who wants it more. We're just focused on ourselves right now and we know what it's going to take."

Bulls still believe they can win a title

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
11:20
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CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah and his teammates have a clear goal as they get set to start what they hope will be a long trek through the postseason. It might surprise people around the league given how up and down the Chicago Bulls' season has been, but it's an unwavering desire that permeates the locker room.

Noah and his teammates still believe they can win a championship this season.

"We believe," Noah said after Monday's 108-95 victory over the Orlando Magic. "We believe. Whoever we play, we're going to be a tough out. We're hungry. We want this. We believe in one another. We believe in our system. And we're just taking it day by day -- it's about taking it one game at a time. [Tuesday] it's about getting ready for Charlotte [in Wednesday's regular-season finale], and then when the playoffs come it's one at a time."

Noah, the emotional heart and soul of this team, doesn't say this in a boastful way. He shares this sentiment because he believes it. He feels this way because coach Tom Thibodeau exudes that confidence within the locker room. Thibodeau would never say it the same way -- but he believes it, too. Both men are unified in their belief that the Bulls, when they're playing together on both ends of the floor, have the ability to knock off anybody.

"We understand all the negativity that's been said our way," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "And we're just focused on doing our job."

That's what makes the pairing of Noah and Thibodeau so intriguing as the Bulls prepare themselves for the next stage of the season. The two prideful men thrive off that negativity. They love when people count them out, and they trust in the work they have put in over the season. They walk into each contest knowing that nobody will pour more emotion into it than them -- and that feeling is what makes the Bulls so united.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images"We're hungry," Joakim Noah said about his Bulls after Monday's victory. "We want this. We believe in one another."
That's also why Gibson had to laugh when the idea was suggested that Thibodeau might rest some of his players in the final days, as the Miami Heat did Monday night.

"You guys have been around for a minute now," Gibson said. "You guys should know that guy in the other room over there, he's never going to tell anybody to take any rest. He's old-school, he doesn't believe in that. He just believes in pushing [forward].

"Like he said, the finish line is ahead. You got to just run through it, you can't slow up, you can't try to trot through, just full steam ahead through it. And whatever happens, happens. Like he told us, you're going to walk through the fire together -- as a team, as a unit, nobody's going to take that from you. We've got to just keep walking through it. Don't stop for nothing."

That's the mantra the Bulls have been using all year. That's why they truly aren't concerned with how the seeds shake out. They don't seem to care all that much who they'll face in the playoffs. They just want to prove to everybody that they can win when it counts. They are hell-bent on showing everyone that this season will be remembered for a long time, despite the fact that they don't have the type of elite talent that usually separates teams in the postseason.

"Whatever happens, happens," Noah said. "Our mentality is just getting ready for the next game. Getting ready for Charlotte. From there, that's when you worry about the seedings. So we've got one more game, we're not going to try and worry about what's going to happen in the playoffs. What's happening next -- just focus on our next opponent and everything will take care of itself."

Forecast: Sixth Man a split decision

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
11:00
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Gibson & CrawfordAP PhotosBulls forward Taj Gibson and Clippers guard Jamal Crawford are neck and neck in the Sixth Man race.

There are many worthy candidates for the Sixth Man of the Year award this season. At the top of the list are Chicago's Taj Gibson and the L.A. Clippers' Jamal Crawford.

Our panel thinks Gibson should take home the honors, but sees Crawford actually winning the award for the second time in his career.

Gibson has been a key player in keeping Chicago's bench a strong point, shouldering more responsibilities for a playoff-bound team that traded Luol Deng midseason and dealt with the ongoing injury problems of Derrick Rose.

Meanwhile, Crawford continued to thrive in his sixth-man role with the Clippers, and also stepped in admirably as a starter when his teammates went down with injuries.

Here is the voting breakdown by our ESPN Forecast panel.

ESPN Forecast: Who should win the Sixth Man of the Year award?


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CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah had 18 points and 10 rebounds and eight assists, Mike Dunleavy scored 22 points and the Chicago Bulls pulled away late for a 108-95 victory over the Orlando Magic Monday night.

With one game left in the regular season, the Bulls are fourth in the Eastern Conference playoff race and looking at a first-round matchup with Brooklyn. To catch Toronto and finish third, the Bulls would need to win the season finale at Charlotte on Wednesday and have the Raptors lose at New York

Kyle O'Quinn led Orlando with 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting, and Andrew Nicholson added 19. Rookie Victor Oladipo was limited to 10 points after scoring a career-high 35 points against the Bulls earlier in the season.

Jimmer Fredette had 17 points for Chicago.


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Rapid Reaction: Bulls 108, Magic 95

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
9:25
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CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned a 108-95 win over the Orlando Magic on Monday night at the United Center.

How it happened: Mike Dunleavy led the Bulls with 22 points and five assists, while Joakim Noah almost racked up another triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Kyle O'Quinn had a nice game for the Magic, scoring 20 points and pulling down seven rebounds, but the Bulls made more plays down the stretch and took better care of the ball all night.

What it means: A solid bounce-back victory for a Bulls team that did not play well on Sunday night in New York. The question now becomes how will coach Tom Thibodeau play the final game of the season, Wednesday at Charlotte. The Bulls don't have control of their playoff destiny; if Toronto wins its final Wednesday, it will lock up the No. 3 seed. But Toronto plays at New York -- against a Knicks team the Bulls just lost to over the weekend. Will Thibodeau decide to rest some players, or will the Bulls go all-out in hopes of climbing one more spot in the standings? For now, the veteran coach has to be pleased by the fact his team got back to playing solid defense and hitting big shots when it needed them.

Hits: Carlos Boozer had 13 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes. Jimmer Fredette added 17 points off the bench.

Misses: Kirk Hinrich had just three points and was 1-for-5 from the field in 21 minutes. With D.J. Augustin out because his wife gave birth to a baby boy earlier in the day, Fredette played the crunch-time minutes in this one.

Stat of the night: Orlando had 20 turnovers to Chicago's nine.

What's next: The Bulls finish off the regular season Wednesday night with a visit to the Charlotte Bobcats.

D.J. Augustin out after birth of boy

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
7:03
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CHICAGO -- D.J. Augustin was not with Chicago Bulls as they prepared to face the Orlando Magic on Monday night because of personal reasons, according to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

According to the Bulls pregame radio broadcast on ESPN 1000, Augustin's wife gave birth Monday to a baby boy.

Augustin's absence meant more minutes for Bulls guard Jimmer Fredette, who hasn't seen the floor much since signing with the team in March. He scored 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting in 31 minutes.

Augustin, who has been described as a "season saver" by his teammates and coaches, is averaging 13 points and 4.4 assists a game since signing with the Bulls in December.


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Bulls tried to lure Kurt Thomas for playoffs

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
3:13
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The Chicago Bulls made a determined attempt to lure veteran big man Kurt Thomas out of retirement this month before the recent signings of Lou Amundson and Greg Smith, according to sources with knowledge of Chicago's plans.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Bulls have been trying to convince Thomas, who's now 41 and ranked as the NBA's oldest player last season with the Knicks, to join them for the playoffs to lend some added know-how and toughness to their frontcourt rotation.

But Thomas has not played since last season and, according to sources, considers himself retired. The Dallas native and former TCU star was spotted last week at the American Airlines Center in his hometown to watch the Spurs and Mavs, two of his former teams, as a fan.

Thomas played for nine teams in his 18 seasons as a pro after leading the nation in scoring and rebounding at TCU in 1994-95. That included two stints with the Knicks -- including a trip to the NBA Finals in his debut season in New York in 1999 -- and a season with the Bulls in 2011.

Read the full story here »
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Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard signed a contract extension with adidas on Monday that will make him one of the highest-earning endorsers in the NBA.

The deal, which can extend to 10 years, could be worth up to $100 million including incentives and options, sources told ESPN.com. It's believed to be the largest shoe deal since Derrick Rose signed a 13-year deal in 2012 that could be worth more than $185 million. LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom are with Nike, are the highest-earning active players when it comes to shoe endorsements.

Lillard, who was the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year and made his first All-Star appearance this season, has connected with young fans because of his shooting ability and easygoing personality. He has averaged 20.8 points and 5.6 assists in helping the Blazers clinch a playoff spot.

"Adidas has been great to me over my first two seasons," said Lillard in a release. "I've had the opportunity to wear a lot of great product, help design special versions of shoes, be a part of TV commercials and travel the world with the brand. I'm excited for what the future holds for me and adidas."

Lillard will be featured in a series of Foot Locker ads pitching adidas starting this week in which he co-stars with several retired football and basketball stars.


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Bulls tried to lure Kurt Thomas

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
1:18
PM CT

The Chicago Bulls made a determined attempt to lure veteran big man Kurt Thomas out of retirement this month before the recent signings of Lou Amundson and Greg Smith, according to sources with knowledge of Chicago's plans.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Bulls have been trying to convince Thomas, who's now 41 and ranked as the NBA's oldest player last season with the Knicks, to join them for the playoffs to lend some added know-how and toughness to their frontcourt rotation.

But Thomas has not played since last season and, according to sources, considers himself retired. The Dallas native and former TCU star was spotted last week at the American Airlines Center in his hometown to watch the Spurs and Mavs, two of his former teams, as a fan.

Thomas played for nine teams in his 18 seasons as a pro after leading the nation in scoring and rebounding at TCU in 1994-95. That included two stints with the Knicks -- including a trip to the NBA Finals in his debut season in New York in 1999 -- and a season with the Bulls in 2011.

A popular teammate wherever he's been with a lot of defensive know-how, Thomas is a prototypical Tom Thibodeau player. But the Bulls moved on when they couldn't convince Thomas to join them, signing Amundson to replace the waived Erik Murphy and Greg Smith to take the roster spot vacated by Monday's release of Tornike Shengalia.


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Bulls sign Smith, waive Shengelia

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
12:25
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The Chicago Bulls signed forward Greg Smith and waived forward Tornike Shengelia on Monday.

The 6-foot-10 Smith has played in 89 games over the past two-plus seasons for the Houston Rockets. He averaged 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 11 games with Houston this season.

Acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in a trade for Marquis Teague, Shengelia played in nine games with the Bulls.

The Bulls signed veterans Mike James, Ronnie Brewer and Lou Amundson last week. The roster now stands at 15 players.
NEW YORK -- The Chicago Bulls have been “playing with fire” over the past week because of a lack of defensive intensity that creeps up on them at various points in games.

On Sunday night against the lowly New York Knicks, they got burned.

Tom Thibodeau's team played without the edge that has come to define it. The Bulls did not execute the defensive schemes properly and did not take care of the ball.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Augustin
AP Photo/Seth WenigD.J. Augustin and the Bulls fell flat Sunday in New York. But if the defeat ultimately means they don't have to face the Heat as a second-round opponent, that would soften the blow.
For a team that prides itself on attention to detail, it was an odd time to have that type of performance.

After it was over, Thibodeau and his players talked more about their mental preparation than they did about what happened on the floor.

“I think it was more our mindset," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Our mindset wasn’t really good. It should have been better. We had a golden opportunity. We let a big game slip. It was probably the biggest game of the season. Disappointing. Our mentality wasn’t good. But overall we just don’t have time to … we just got to let this one go and get ready for [Monday]."

Thibodeau echoed those sentiments, although it's worth noting that he wasn't as angry as he usually is after losses.

"Re-establish the mental part of the game," he said. "The ball pressure has to be great. We can't fall behind and think we're going to make a big rally to come back and win it. You're playing with fire when you do that, so it's important for us to start quickly, be ready for the beginning of the game, be into the ball.

"Right now we've got to play for 48 minutes and we're not doing that."

The Bulls are having problems with their consistency at the wrong time in the season. They are finding ways to win games -- a fact that is lost on nobody within the locker room -- but they are going through too many stretches when the defense goes missing, or the offense can't find its rhythm.

They know over the next week they must find ways to tighten up those mistakes, because those errors in judgment become even more prominent on the playoff stage.

"We’ll be all right, but this is the time of the year that it’s OK to be critical," Noah said, "We’re trying to be the best that we can be. A team that’s playing for nothing ... we’re playing for something big and we didn’t have the right mindset [Sunday night].

"Overall, I feel like we had a shot, we fought hard at the end, shots didn’t go down. But for 48 minutes we didn’t play with the edge that we’re supposed to in a game this important."

The truth for Noah and his teammates is that Sunday's win could serve as a blessing in disguise depending on how the final playoff seedings shake out.

As of now, the Bulls are the 4-seed in the Eastern Conference and would have a first-round rematch against the Brooklyn Nets. While the Bulls would rather not face an improving Nets team, they still believe they can beat them.

Assuming the rest of the seeds hold and the Bulls can get past a veteran-laden Nets team, that would likely mean a second-round matchup against the Indiana Pacers, not the Miami Heat.

The Pacers picked up a big win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, but that isn't going to change the Bulls' mindset in any way. They've always believed they could beat the Pacers -- even before they struggled to win games late in the season.

The only team that remains in the Bulls' collective head is the Heat, the team that's knocked them out of the playoffs in two of the past three seasons.

If the Bulls play like they did Sunday night, they won't have to worry about playing the Heat because they won't get to the conference finals.

However, Sunday's loss did not leave this proud team down in the dumps. They know they can play better and they trust that they will when the bright lights come on. If they can get through the first round and avoid Miami in the second, a loss to the Knicks late in the year will be viewed more as a positive than a negative.

"Games like this are going to happen," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "We feel like we were lackadaisical at times, but it's going to happen. It's a long season. We can't complain about what we did tonight. We just got to bounce back, sharpen up.

"Playoffs are around the corner. You don't know who we're going to play, which seed is which; we just got to stay optimistic."

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.2
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.8
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5