Nothing makes misery feel worse than witnessing euphoria. And it was against that agonizing backdrop that Phil Jackson and the Lakers strode onto the United Center floor Tuesday night and showed the Bulls what an embarrassingly good basketball team looks like.
At the morning shootaround -- more like afternoon, as the Zen Master knows how comfy the beds at the Peninsula Hotel are -- Kobe Bryant took dozens of shots from all spots on the floor. He was trying to adapt to what Jackson described as his "prosthetic," a splint on the fractured ring finger on his shooting hand. Apparently, things went well, because Bryant had 20 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, providing a visual lesson to go with the words of advice he was about to offer Bulls star-in-the-making Derrick Rose.
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The story du jour in Chicago, where the Bulls have folks more bitter than the wind off Lake Michigan, is that Rose must unleash his scoring talents and save this team from itself. With Ben Gordon gone -- not to mention the memory of a thrilling playoff performance against the Celtics -- the Bulls are cap-wise and win-foolish as they wait for the chance to lavish riches on an elite 2010 free agent. His name, according to folklore confirmed by a person with knowledge of the team's plans, is Chicago native Dwyane Wade. The consolation prize would be Joe Johnson -- the Bulls have specialized in consolation prizes since Jackson's dynasty was broken up.
For now, though, Rose's sublime point-guard gifts are wasted on the likes of John Salmons. Chicago has lost 11 of 13 after dropping a 96-87 decision to Jackson's Bulls, and eight of those losses were noncompetitive blowouts. Afterward, coach Vinny Del Negro spewed the idiom that a coach afraid for his job trots out in times like this -- lamenting injuries, praising effort -- but clearly it has been decided that there's no use in firing him now. Much better to put the pressure on Rose, a 21-year-old trying to find his way.
Bound by similar constraints and immaturity a decade ago, Bryant responded by doing anything and everything for his team. Those who didn't like it knew where to go. Now Rose is asked to do that for the Bulls, even though it isn't in his DNA or his job description as a point guard.
Tyrus Thomas to practice as early as Friday
Tyrus Thomas said last week he hoped to be cleared for contact by this weekend. Now, the Bulls are saying it.
Coach Vinny Del Negro confirmed Thomas could begin practicing as early as Friday. The starting power forward has been sidelined six weeks after surgery to repair a fractured radius in his left forearm.
"He has been doing some non-contact stuff and feels good," Del Negro said. "The quicker we can get him out there, obviously we want to do that. Against some of these athletic front lines, we've missed Tyrus' athleticism and his ability to come across and block shots and defend. And his offensive rebounds."
On second thought ... Pressed early Tuesday, Ron Artest admitted he didn't drink alcohol during games as a Bull as he claimed in a recent interview. Artest said he occasionally drank before games to numb the pain of losing but said the resulting attention from the story obscured his intent.
"I was trying to help kids learn from my mistakes," Artest said.
A sign of life
Sure, they lost to the Lakers -- nobody can be surprised by that -- but for the first time in over three weeks, the team has played with purpose. They played with energy for most of the game. They proved to everyone that they could hang with the best team in the NBA. The problem is, as it has been all season, the Bulls simply don't have the type of talent to match up with the elite teams in the league.
There is only one Kobe Bryant, as the Lakers superstar proved again by dropping home 42 points with a broken finger. But the Bulls don't even have the type of consistent scorer that can deliver when the game is on the line. Energy and passion can only take you so far.
The good news for Vinny Del Negro and company is that a loss to the defending world champions might have actually helped the Bulls crawl closer towards finally getting out of their funk.
"We just got to learn from this one and get better and improve," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "When you get blown out by 30 points, how can you say we're improving? But I think tonight we can look at ourselves in the mirror and say we gave it everything we had. We put ourselves in a situation against the defending champs to win the game ... when we bring that energy we should be happy with ourselves."
Noah should be especially proud of his effort. He had 11 points, 20 rebounds and six blocked shots on the night. He knew from the start that the Bulls would come out and give the champs a game.
Jackson Tried To Push Paxson Into Coaching
John Paxson has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Vinny Del Negro should the Bulls make an in-season coaching change. Phil Jackson recalled how he pushed his former player into coaching following his retirement.
"I wanted him to be in coaching," Jackson said of Paxson.
"[Paxson] felt he was a little too combative for that and didn't want that side of his personality to come out. He quit after getting a double technical and getting thrown out of a summer-league game."
Could be interesting? But I think it would be viewed as a Twolves/McHale thing when they made him coach and said "you try to win with the crap team you built" - as a nice way of firing him from his GM role.
New York Knicks coach says Bulls' Derrick Rose will be one of the best
In an interview with the Tribune at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni admitted having second thoughts about spurning the Bulls when they won the NBA draft lottery roughly 10 days later.
"I think the roster in Chicago is better and they've proved that," D'Antoni said then.
D'Antoni remains content with his decision to team with Knicks President Donnie Walsh but still admires Derrick Rose from afar.
"You don't think I ever said that?" D'Antoni said Thursday, chuckling, when asked about missing out on coaching Rose. "I love the guy. He's an unbelievable talent. I don't watch him practice. I just know he is and will be one of the best point guards in the league."
An assistant to Mike Krzyzewski for Team USA, D'Antoni watched closely when Rose scrimmaged the Olympic team as a member of the U.S. select team.
"I liked his attitude," D'Antoni said. "I liked his ability to ask everybody, 'What can I do to get better?' "
Chicago Bulls defeat New York Knicks 98-89
A game between franchises waiting for 2010 was played Thursday night in 2009. And it wasn't pretty.
Then again, with just their third victory in 14 tries, the Bulls are in no position to judge positive outcomes.
The Bulls took advantage of the Knicks going ice cold down the stretch and used big games from Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and -- yes -- John Salmons to prevail 98-89 at the United Center.
Danilo Gallinari sank one of the Knicks' franchise-record 47 3-point attempts -- two off the NBA record -- with 8 minutes, 35 seconds remaining for a 79-75 lead. The Knicks didn't score again until Chris Duhon hit two free throws with 3 minutes, 40 seconds left and they finished 14 points below their season average.
Deng, who posted game-highs of 24 points and 13 rebounds, and Gibson each scored four straight points in a game-changing 10-0 run after the Gallinari 3-pointer.
Gibson provided 12 points and 10 rebounds off the bench as the Bulls played just seven players.
Salmons scored 20, icing matters with a 3-pointer with 47.7 seconds left for a nine-point lead.
"That was huge," Joakim Noah said. "We need him."