48 Minutes of Intensity (or Not)

Bulls legends Norm Van Lier and Johnny Red Kerr both passed away four years ago on February 26.

In the pre-game, Mark and Kendall mentioned how much they are both missed, and Neil and Stacey echoed this sentiment during the game.

Evidently, one of Norm’s famous quotes was about bringing 48 minutes of intensity. Well, the Bulls managed to bring it for about a quarter and a half vs. the Cavs.

After taking home the Academy Award for “Best Comedy” Sunday night in OKC, I thought the return to the UC to play a mediocre team could be the remedy. OK, maybe there is no Oscar for best comedy. But there should be. The Bulls are a shoe-in!

They truly did exceed expectations at the outset of the season. But the team has disappointed, night in and night out, ever since that fateful Friday in Brooklyn vs. the Nets. I believe that was a turning point. I seem to recall that most of the starters were out, and they supplemented the lineup with Bulls fans from the stands (yes, there are Bulls fans in Brooklyn).

Since then, it seems like everything has gone askew. The defense is a few steps behind. The 48 minutes of intensity turns into about 23 and a half minutes of sort of intensity. No one can buy a basket.

I used to review the upcoming schedule and list off all the teams I knew the Bulls could beat. I was looking for 50 wins…and for a minute there, the numbers added up.
Now, winning to teams like the Cavs is questionable.

Thibs’s “We’ve got what it takes to win” needs to be changed to “We’ve got what it takes to win. (Pause) Just kidding.”

The pieces just don’t add up. The players the Bulls have definitely do individually overachieve—but not all on the same night. It would appear that more than a few elements are missing. And even if Jo and Luol both play 58 minutes, it’s still not going to get the job done. Although I’m sure Thibs would be willing to give it a try, much to the league’s chagrin.

This Bulls blogger has tried her best to find the positive spin. I aimed to internalize Thibs’ philosophy. But now I’ve realized we need more. Maybe DRose will be enough.

Or maybe the fact that I’ll be at the game Saturday will bring new life to our beloved team. They’ll see me in the stands, and just my mere presence will be just the inspiration they need. Or maybe they’ll remember how to score, shoot, defend and DRose will come back. Now that would be an amazing night at the UC.

And we all need that kind of night.

Bulls choose to work, kill Bobcats

‘‘You can use the out of back-to-back [games], getting in late, whatever, and I thought we chose none of that. We chose to work and come out ready. We got the lead early and played hard, played well.’’ So says Tom Thibodeau.

Due to unforeseen circumstances (I took a cat nap in the second half), I was only able to see the first-half domination as the Bulls visited Charlotte. I, like the Bulls had quite a week. Hopefully, I’ll rebound like they did.

I’ve been reading all of the articles, watching the post-game videos, and have had ESPN on for an hour – thinking they might show highlights of the game.

Who am I kidding. The Bobcats are the “bottom-feeders,” and the DRose-less Bulls are deemed as irrelevant around the league, so no highlights yet.

So the Bulls had 27 turnovers on Thursday vs. the Heat, on the national stage and everything. It seems the Bulls really wanted to up their numbers. But they mis-identified the stat! Would have been nice if someone scored 27 points. Wait, we’ll leave that to LeBron (he had an off night and only scored a measly 26).

As Thibs said, “We chose to work.” You have to like these #s: 37 assists vs. the Bobcats, and only six turnovers. Happy dance! Eight Bulls in double figures. Taj Gibson was the Bulls’ leading scorer, with 17. I hear that Jo was playing his secondary role as point guard.

And around the Eastern Conference, looking at the teams currently ahead of the Bulls:

Raptors beat the Knicks.

Rockets beat the Nets.

Indiana. Well, they won by a Uconn-women-like margin of victory. I think it was 50 as they defeated the Pistons. I kind of fear those Pacers – they’re all seven feet tall!

Now on Sunday, it’s on to OKC, so talk about night and day. I’m supposed to be at an Academy Awards party, but I’ll be sure to make it home for the second half (and maybe even stay awake) to see if the Bulls can put on an Oscar-worthy performance vs. KD and company.

And how about those Blackhawks? I don’t know too much about hockey. The scoring confuses me, and I can’t see the puck, so it makes it hard to follow. I guess that’s why I chose basketball.

But the Hawks set an NHL record – first to go 17 games without a loss in regulation to open a season. Thanks, Chicago Tribune for the headline.

Go Bulls!

Go Hawks!

The Way to Beat the Heat

There’s only one answer. The Bulls need a shooter – mid-range jump shots, three-pointers, layups, reverse layups.

Only one star can bring them all that. It’s Cinjo.

Surely you jest?

Yup.

So I had a great day at the office. We rocked a client visit, everyone was happy, and while I had been up since 4 a.m., there’s nothing I was looking forward to more than the Bulls vs. Heat. I wanted to cap off my great day with another victory in the second half of the season.

However, since it was on national TV, and specifically, the dreaded TNT, I began to grow a little bit nervous. And on a Thursday night? The Bulls can only seem to win on national TV when it’s exactly 37 degrees on Fridays playing away games, and traditionally, at least 2-3 starters need to be out due to injuries.

Add that all up, and the Bulls have a fighting chance.

I was actually pretty impressed in the first quarter – with their ability to keep it close, or tied. Maybe they were even ahead. It seemed winnable.

But what ensued after that, with the turnovers, nobody being able to buy a basket, technical fouls, more turnovers. Well, it was more like a lesson in how NOT to play basketball.

When Benny the Bull (Bulls mascot) came in for Marquis Teaque, who was in for Nate Robinson, who’s the backup for the backup Kirk Hinrich, who’s been in (when he’s not recovering from an elbow thing every other week) for starting point guard DRose; when Benny came in, I thought there might be a chance.

Not sure what’s worse. The losing to bad teams on national TV (Bobcats, Hawks, name others, and the Bulls most certainly lost to them). Or, the losing badly to good teams.

Very very difficult to say. I better do a strategic assessment and report on the results in my next blog.

Chicago’s in a tizzy over “The Return.” Or, what I’m now calling, “Will he or won’t he.” And yesterday, DRose’s brother Reggie (manager???). I thought BJ Armstrong was his manager, or one of them. Anyhoo, his bro complained about the Bulls not making a trade to surround the star with players who can bring a championship to Chi-town.

Reggie Rose is right – the Bulls need another superstar to join Derrick. No trade necessary. She’s local, she comes pretty cheap. And on Thibs’ “level of mainentance scale,” unlike Rose, who is “no maintenance,” she’s on the other end – the “high mainentance” type player.

But I’m sure I could be good to go in no time. That is, if Jo gives me some guidance on how to wear my hair during the games, and Kirk and Rip advise on the type of face mask I’ll need to ensure my nose isn’t broken.

The Heat (that would be LeBron) doesn’t miss. The Bulls. Well, they miss. A lot. They need me.

In closing, I will say, that despite my disdain for the Heat, LeBron and everything about the team, I will NOT tolerate the boos when a player gets hurt. Philly did that to Jo last year in the playoffs. It’s classless. It’s not stand-up.

And the Bulls are a stand-up team that’s lost its way due to some type of mysterious, invisible covering which appears on the basket, both home, and away, but primarily at home.

So, tonight it’s the Bobcats. They’re not very good. But hope springs! It’s a Friday. Maybe it will be close to 37 degrees. Kirk will probably be out, and by game time, I’m sure Thibs will add another to the “game time decision” list. And certainly they won’t televise this one on national TV (not sure the Bulls will ever be on TNT again…). So, there may be a chance of a win tonight!

Stay tuned for my next blog, as I will certainly put my chipper hat back on, and take off these cranky pants. After all, the Bulls will be contacting me with an offer to join them soon, so I must get my mind and body in order.

PS — Last night wasn’t a total loss. UConn (men) beat Cincy! Way to go Huskies.

Unlikely All-Stars

Luol and JoAs I’ve watched All-Star coverage this weekend, and actually, read even more, I’ve been thinking about our two 2013 Chicago Bulls All-Stars – Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.

What is immediately apparent, first of all is how different they are, when it comes to their demeanor and approach.

Jo is emotional, excitable and you can always tell what he’s thinking. Mr. heart on his sleeve. Heart and soul of the Bulls.

Luol is significantly more even-keeled, deliberate and not exactly Mr. Excitement. The gentle giant. The quiet leader.

While their styles may vary significantly, the two are the same in what they mean to the Bulls. They’re the foundation. The rocks.

Not sure anyone wants to be called a rock…but I mean it entirely as a compliment.

And when you consider the paths they followed to get to NBA All-Star weekend, to the NBA, to college, and even, to play basketball in the first place – they both have unique, yet similar stories.

My fellow blogger, my idol Sam Smith recently wrote two truly insightful and inspirational blogs about Lu and Jo. He provides glimpses into who they are, where they came from, and the difficult roads they traveled. I encourage you to read both:

http://blogs.bulls.com/2013/02/luol-deng-heads-for-second-all-star-game-as-veteran/

http://www.nba.com/bulls/news/no-shortcuts-all-star-joakim-noahs-passion-leads-success-and-court.html

Their stories illustrate the amazing outcomes one can achieve through hard work and perseverance, despite unfavorable circumstances, when you may encounter more cynics than cheerleaders. Neither is flashy. They work hard, they do it for the team, and they celebrate together. Congratulations to Luol Deng and Joakim Noah! You make us Bulls fans proud.

To close, I thought I would provide insights into the mindset of an even more unlikely All-Star.

My faithful readers have come to realize that I’ve been taking basketball lessons for four months. When I began this journey, I also encountered a few critics/cynics/naysayers.

First, when I went to the manager’s office at East Bank Club to inquire about the lessons (I read about private b-ball lessons in the EBC flyer), the manager asked me how many children would be taking the lessons, and how old they were.

“Umm, no, mister, the lessons are for me!” A few of the staff members kind of snickered. I was not deterred.

And when I recently went out to dinner with a gal I hadn’t seen in a few years, she had the audacity to laugh – out loud – about my new-found pursuit. Well, I’ll show her…Ms. out-of-shape and haven’t worked out for months. Step aside. Cinjo’s in town.

So, four months into the lessons, I am proud to say I practiced three-pointers yesterday, for the first time. My 3FG% is pretty low: .143 (1 for 7 during the first round and 1 for 7 during the second round). I can at least boast about my consistency.

My coach, Brittany Johnson says she has the most fun during my lesson. I guess when your competition is made up of 4- and 5-year olds, it’s no great accomplishment.

To close, for kicks and giggles, below is a list of the top 10 things one hears on the court during my twice-monthly hour-long basketball lessons.

Sometimes, I’m just speaking to myself, but other times, it’s to my coach, Ms. Johnson.

10. Remember – don’t kill the student.
9. Am I still your best amateur player?
8. No, not the cones!
7. I’m paying for this?
6. Was that a travel? I think that was a travel.
5. Is it time for the Mikans?
4. Reminder – I’m 45, maybe even 46!
3. I don’t wanna do any more dibble drills.
2. Is that how they do it in the NBA?
1.Water break!

Started slowly, finished poorly

So says Coach Thibs. He’s on his way to spend the All-Star break at “Club Berto,” watching tape, I’m sure.

I didn’t see the slow start of the Bulls vs. Celtics game on the parquet floor in Boston. But when I got home from a lovely Valentine’s dinner at RL (the pork chop was delicious) part way into Q3 and the score was 30 something to 30 something, I thought I had tuned into some new (and likely not too popular) church league station.

Yours truly, a 5-10 guard from the East Bank Club in Chicago, Cindy “Cinjo” Olsen could have put up more points than the Bulls + Celtics.

I am happy to loan Coach Thibs the cones I use at the Club. Perhaps dribbling drills could help the team address their turnover issue. The Bulls continue to set records! Tonight, they reached new heights with 22 turnovers. Unless it’s apple or raspberry, not interested.

Trying to find some kind of positive, from the limited play I saw, it looked like our man Jo was back as the heart and soul, so that was at least encouraging.

And Jo’s reaction when Paul Pierce crossed over to the other side of the lane when he was already shooting his free throw – classic. Worth the price of admission. I think Stacey said it was like Pierce was walking across the kitchen to get something out of the refrigerator.

OK America (and world), let me just point out that our Bulls are playing with the third-string point guard. As Thibs says, “we’ve been playing short-handed all season.” I would like to see just how well any other NBA team would fare in the same situation. Or an NFL team playing with their third guy. Is there a third guy? The guy behind the backup QB in place of their starting QB. I dunno.

While the Bulls, and their #1 fan (me) are not happy with where they stand, with the five-day break, time at Club Berto, lots of dribble drills and a few massages, certainly they’ll head in the right direction after the All-Star festivities have concluded.

Next game, Thibs will say, “Started strong, finished even stronger.” I am sure looking forward to the day when we have a win and a winning headline. Spinning these losses to make them sound positive is getting difficult for this blogger.

Let’s go Bulls!

One-time gift

The Bulls gave the league-leading San Antonio Spurs a gift last night. It was a one-time gift. So Spurs – be thankful, because the Bulls’ generosity reached is limit last night at the UC.

The same could be said of the Nets game. The Bulls kind of gave them a gift too. It seems that these Bulls have become all too generous, with this willy-nilly gift-giving to just about any team they meet.

The guys who showed at the UC to face the Spurs up weren’t the Imposter-Bulls. They were just the tired Bulls. Or the Drag-A-Bulls. When “Mr. Excitement” Nate Robinson even lacks energy, you know you’re in for a rough night.

Luol and Jo, our two All-Stars both seem to be having trouble as of late. Maybe some of that warm Houston air and hanging with all the other Stars will help bring them back to life.

But don’t get me wrong—I feel their pain. Now that I’m legitimately in the basketball world practicing like these professionals (OK, maybe not quite), I get how difficult it is to run up and down that court, and then try get baskets too!

I’m running up and down the East Bank Club court practicing my layups and reverse layups and jump shots. And it’s just me. No one is defending me. In fact, no one else is there at 5:15 a.m. when I practice.

By about 5:30, I’m taking a coffee break. And then I do some Mikan drills, and even dribble two basketballs at the same time, and then do layups.

I was thrilled to see the local news show DRose practicing at the Berto Center doing some drills just like me. Right DRose does drills like Cinjo. Ha.

Big news is DRose says he is far away far away (What, in a land far away? What’s up with our MVP?) from coming back. Collective sighs, heart attacks and hissy fits here in Chi-town when that story hit USA Today today.

I’ve got tickets for March 2 (Nets) and March 23 (evil Pacers) and “they” are now saying maybe mid-March for THE RETURN.

But the man himself says far far away, and you’ve got to wonder if it’s time to re-sell the tix on StubHub and put all the $$$ back in savings for a truly good cause like retirement.

But back to the unfortunate loss to San Antonio. Although I didn’t see any quotes or comments on it, nor did I hear the Bulls players mention it in interviews, but I know they were insulted. Insulted that Popovich held out four starters or however many it was…I think our guys felt the loss before they began. I believe they were hurt and disheartened.

Right, it would have been ideal if said hurt could have translated into some kind of passionate fire on the court. Although, I will admit – the guys on the Spurs do seem like class acts. One even helped Nate up off the floor! They play selflessly too, and share the basketball (I heard the commentators say that…re-use). But I liked the way they handled themselves. No show-offs. They seemed to be stand-up guys.

This time last year, I was in Maui. It was the good life, and I miss it. Now the Bulls may not have a trip to Paradise in their near future, but I hope the All-Star break will bring them some new energy. It might not be Maui, but it’s the best we can do.

Listen, the Nets did their job by beating the Pacers last night. Yes, I’ve reached new levels of conference standings monitoring, making sure all the right teams win/lose to help the Bulls progress in the Eastern Conference. As of late, they’re kinda stuck at four. Who knows. By now, it could be five.

Now Bullys, as Thibs says, everybody has to do their job, so please listen to your coach and beat those Celtics. And that would be the best gift you could give me for Valentine’s Day! (Other than the annual candy care package I hope Mom sent.)

Imposter-Bulls succumb to altitude sickness, lose by zillions to Nuggets

It all seemed to be going along so well there for a while.

But, in retrospect, the Bulls primarily played Eastern Conference teams, which “everyone” seems to describe as horrendous, awful, no excuse for living types.

Last night in Denver, the Bulls reprised their not-so-critically acclaimed role as the victims of the “lob city” debacle brought on during a visit to “that other” LA team in November.

I, for one, wasn’t asking for a curtain call.

To top it all off, the game was on TNT. And it was one of only two NBA games. The “this wasn’t what I asked Santa for” Christmas game. Now a Thursday night in February, when all 5,000 people watching NBA games (about 4,999 on the west coast) have to see the “Imposter-Bulls.”

I was worried about having to miss the game because it started at 9:30 p.m. CST on a school night, and Ms. Middle-Aged over here has to be in cozy bed between 9:30 and 10. Sigh. However would I witness the Bulls’ domination of these Nuggets?

As it turns out, I ended up with a slight flu bug, and sitting on the coach in front of the old plasma was a lot more comfortable than lying in the cozy bed.

But the travesty which unfolded sure didn’t help my recovery.

Flashes of greatness all year, and then a 32-point loss? No one seemed to know what to say. Jo came up with embarrassing. Coach Thibs rattled off a list of everything you’re supposed to do in basketball. Like score, defend, rebound, run, jump, shoot. And he said they didn’t do any of it. I’m really paraphrasing, but I’m not sure it’s worth sourcing his actual quote.

In the land of 1,000 excuses, I’ll just choose altitude sickness. Yup, they all got it. Everyone but Daequan. That’s Daequan Cook, and he was the Bulls’ leading scorer. I always like to see the new guy get on the scoreboard! It’s just too bad he scored all of his points when there was no one left in the arena, and everyone knew the Bulls had already slipped further down in the standings.

Now I am hesitant to write what I’m really thinking, and this is where I fear I could use at least half of my audience, so that’s about a total of five people…but I’m feeling like the road is a little rough for our Bulls.

I thought that my undying devotion, wearing my Bulls shirts while watching all games, taking my basketball lessons, going to games (aka spending life’s savings on tix), and writing this award-winning Bulls Banter blog would all help to lead our Bullys to victory.

It’s not working out that way right now.

And it’s difficult for me to believe that Mr. All-Star MVP DRose can bear the burden of things gone wrong as of late, by turning this Bulls basketball ship around. It might be too much even for DRose.

So, while it’s a bit disheartening now, “they” say anything can happen. But tonight, in Utah, let’s hope there’s no more altitude sickness, and we are not subjected once again to the Imposter-Bulls.

Going to go and change into my Bulls shirt AND my Bulls sweatshirt. Now we are guaranteed a victory! I really need to get some Bulls pants…

Hot in Hotlanta

Some are calling the Bulls’ victory over the Atlanta Hawks last night a defining, if not historic moment.

Shorthanded.

The walking wounded.

The second. Oops, scratch that…third unit is the new starting lineup.

However you want to slice it, what’s most important is they prevailed in Hotlanta despite playing back-to-back, and arriving from Brooklyn at 2:30 a.m. on game day.

Lu, Taj, Nate and Jimmy led the way, and it’s becoming clear that this team is more than legit.

But I guess not legit enough to make it into the “Saturday’s Hoops” highlight story on ESPN, which caused me to endure an extra 10 minutes on the evil stair machine at the gym while I anxiously awaited the hoops feature to air.

And after all that, extra suffering on the stairs and all, the game wasn’t even included! The ESPN staff must have been too busy trying to come up with yet another angle on the Ray Lewis story, and forgotten the Bullies, or perhaps by 9:30 a.m., the staff members, who all seem to be covering “some other game” in New Orleans had consumed too many Hurricanes.

While they seemed to have remembered to include the Heat, Knicks, OKC and Rockets – the Bulls were suspiciously (but not surprisingly) omitted.

And my hero, award-winning author and “official” Bulls blogger, Sam Smith believes that the Hawks players must not have access to NBA League Pass, which is why they weren’t able to watch the Bulls-Nets game Friday. Or perhaps they were all napping.

Maybe if the Bulls had seen the Bulls’ small lineup in the Nets game, or the suffocating defense, or saw what “Hard hat lunch pail” [Taj] can do, the Hawks would have had more success. I, for one, am not upset that they were getting some shut eye.

Despite the challenges with ESPN, NBA League Pass, etc., the Bulls prevail again (as they could have and should have vs. the Nets).

And just to be clear – the Bulls are not in the playoffs yet, as per Thibs. He wasn’t smiling when a reporter seemed to intimate that the starters were getting some “well-deserved” rest before the playoffs, and that somehow, these “injuries” were not real.

But during the final timeout during the Hawks game, when it was clear the Bulls had added another W to the win column, I believe I witnessed at least the semblance of a grin on Thibs’ face. It suits him well.

Now about the upcoming schedule…two games later this week with 9:30 p.m. CST start times. Don’t the NBA schedulers know 9:30 is my weeknight bedtime?

And tomorrow, it’s the Pacers makeup game, although they just beat the Heat, and while there are some light snow showers, somehow, I think this game will be played after all. We can’t count on any more snow days.

Let’s hope our Bulls continue to stay hot, even if it’s in the chilly Midwest, as we witness an unexpected combination of players pleasantly surprising us yet again with their ability to play unselfish basketball.

Father-daughter team returns to Brooklyn, debuts with Bulls

Thibs may have been saying “We’ve got what it takes to win,” but I do wonder if that’s really what he was thinking. As of about 17 minutes before game time, all of his starters seemed to have gone missing.

Perhaps that’s why he took drastic, unexpected measures by calling on Brooklyn natives Art Olsen, former City College of New York and Fort Hamilton High School star, and his fierce daughter, a rising star from Chicago’s East Bank Club, Cindy “Cinjo” Olsen. Desperate times. Desperate measures.

OK, that’s not exactly how it happened when the Bulls made their inaugural visit to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last night, but Thibs may as well have called us, since there seemed to have been no one left on the bench but a few assistant coaches.

On the locally televised pre-game show, the commentators, one of whom is former NBA star Kendall Gill even admitted it could be a rough night for our Bulls.

Out

DRose – no explanation needed.

Captain Kirk – infected elbow, flew back to Chicago Thursday night after getting sick on the outbound flight.

Jo – Thibs calls it a lower body injury, but this ain’t hockey…likely recurrence of plantar fasciitis from a few years ago…actually, it’s the other foot now. Whatever foot, it sounds awful. I dug the street clothes he wore while on the bench though.

Boozer – hamstring.

Vladimir R – not sure how to spell his last name, and he doesn’t really usually play anyway, but he had back problems.

For a while there, it looked like our Bulls would actually pull this one off. And they would have if Taj Gibson and Luol Deng had gotten some rest at any point during the game. Taj never came out, and Lu I think was out for the final four seconds.

To put it in perspective, I practice running up and down the court at the East Bank Club for about 15 minutes, then I’m so tired I take a coffee break. A water break. Listen to some music. And this is just me – no one is guarding me, and I’m really not moving very fast to begin with…forty-eight minutes?

I was proud of how our Bullys played, again, finding a way to win (almost), following the “next guy up” mentality.

Taj, like me, hails from Brooklyn, and I’m thrilled that he got to show his stuff in front of his friends and family, scoring 16 points, just behind Lu and Marco, who had 18 apiece. Facing a back-to-back, though, headed to Hotlanta to face the Hawks, one does wonder just how they’re going to do it all over again tonight.

Ah, I remember now, “We’ve got what it takes to win.”

I have been trying to draw an analogy with other top-notch teams, to try to estimate just how they would fare if they not only had to play more than half the year without their superstar, then start three bench players in a game vs. the Nets. The problem is that neither I, nor probably any of you, even know the names of any of the players deep on the OKC or Clippers bench, so it’s impossible to paint this picture.

Suffice it to say that the Bulls held their own, and if they had subbed in Art and Cinjo for Taj and Lu in Q4, I’m pretty certain the Bulls would be at 29 and 17.

Speaking of the standings…it’s getting a bit too crowded in around the third seed in the Eastern conference, with the Nets and Pacers all hanging around there.

And in other basketball news from last night, the Heat and Clippers both lost. I know it’s not right to take pleasure in the failure of others, but jumping up and down for joy to celebrate them falling short to Indiana and Tortonto, respectively, just makes me oh so happy.

One final question to close. Is the NBA really drafting them young now, or what? I think Russell Westbrook must be two years old, if that.

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