Updated: Dec. 20, 2006, 5:41 PM ET

Regress Is Over For Bulls

By Eric Neel
Page 2

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.

Talk back to the Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: November 3 | 4 | 7 | 8 | 9

Harrison Feeler
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.

SportsNation: The Kobe Effect

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.

Vote now, SportsNation!

NBA Intelligence Report

Miller Embraces Backup Role
"There is a race to the scorer's table when the player introductions are done. It's Mike Miller and Dahntay Jones scurrying from the bench to greet and encourage the starters. There, in a nutshell, is how Miller has accepted a backup role to start this season. He's embraced the concept with a smile. 'I do what I have to do to win games,' Miller said" -- Memphis Commercial-Appeal

Trade For Eddy Affects Jerome's Mindset
Nate McMillan, the former Seattle coach, has thoughts on the mindset of Jerome James. 'Once they made the trade with Chicago (for center Eddy Curry), I felt like Jerome probably would feel that he is not a big part of that team in the sense that they brought in a young center they would look at as the future,' McMillan said." -- Newdsay

Carlisle May Shorten Rotation
"Coach Rick Carlisle is contemplating going with a shorter rotation even though they have the NBA's deepest bench. It's going to take time for Carlisle to figure out his rotation because center Jeff Foster is still injured. How quickly rookie point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius adapts to the NBA will determine how much Anthony Johnson plays." -- Indianapolis Star

Another DNP-CD For Watson
"For the fourth time in five games, third-string point guard Earl Watson, who signed a five- year, $29 million contract during the off-season, did not play." -- Rocky Mountain News

Phil Not Happy With Refs
"Center Chris Mihm scored only two points for a second consecutive game and had three fouls, enough for Jackson to raise questions. 'You know that this kid doesn't have a chance out there playing. The referees just give him nothing out there. It's embarrassing,' Phil Jackson said." -- Los Angeles Times

Shaq To Begin Rehab Friday
"Shaquille O'Neal will have his hard cast removed tonight and begin two-a-day rehabilitation sessions Friday. The Heat originally said O'Neal will miss two to four weeks, but this is O'Neal's first ankle injury, so no one is sure how he'll respond." -- Miami Herald

Livingston To Have MRI
"Injured point guard Shaun Livingston, whose back has been improving, is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam today, team trainer Jasen Powell said." -- Los Angeles Times

More NBA Intelligence

You See, Davis
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.

Extreme Behavior

Wednesday's Best
Elton Brand, Clippers forward: He's making field goals at a rate most shoot free throws. Banged home 14-18 FGs, 31 points, 12 boards. The Clips went to 4-1 with the 102-97 win over the Wiz. Crank up the All-Star campaign.


Wednesday's Worst
Zarko Cabarkapa, Warriors forward: Managed to get off 10 shots in 13 minutes of action. Made one bucket. Team lost to Bulls by one point. Zarko rhymes with Darko.


Quote of the Night
"When you start out a ballgame and the first thing they do is call an offensive foul on him for a nonexistent foul, you know the kid doesn't have a chance out there playing. The referees just give him nothing. It's embarrassing."
-- Lakers coach Phil Jackson, chafing at early foul calls on Chris Mihm in an 88-74 loss at Minnesota

See how all 242 who played stacked up

Paul's Strong Beginning

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

Elias Says

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.

Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider

Mailbag: Johnson Looks Selfish

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.)

Andrei's Doing Swat

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?

See Eric Karabell's Fantasy Hoop Blog Insider



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