The NBA: Never Let Go

How long can Joakim Noah and the rest of the Bulls hold the fort
till Derrick Rose's return?
*Unless otherwise specified, all images are from the Associated Press.

“The last two games I’ve felt we let go of the rope. We’ve got to get that fight back. We’ve got to get that edge back. Right now, we’re not playing well. We’ve got to work our way out of it.” – coach Tom Thibodeau after the Chicago Bulls lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.

No doubt he’s disappointed. No doubt the Bulls fans are. No doubt the aura of invincibility they’ve had all season, despite missing Derrick Rose for a big chunk of their 55 games so far, has lessened somewhat.

But does this mean alarm bells are ringing? Does this mean the panic button should be pressed? Does this augur the beginning of the end for the league’s number one team (in terms of its win-loss slate)?


First off, Chicago didn’t really lose to any also-ran teams. The OKC team that plastered them is the best in the West, the team with the second-best record in the league. And when BOTH KD and Jet-Zero are on, hardly anyone can stop OKC. Houston isn’t any pushover, too, even if their starting backcourt has been sidelined for some time. Goran Dragic has played plenty well to cover for both Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin, and the inclusion of Marcus Camby is proving to be pure genius.

And, honestly, how long could these Bulls really have held the fort? Rose has been gone for the last 11 games, and Chicago has gone 7-4, which is still good enough to keep their best-record-in-the-league status. That alone has been a herculean achievement.

Having said that, however, the next few games will really test the mettle of this Chicago team many bill as a serious title contender. The difference between this season and last year is that now nobody is surprised the Bulls have been doing so well. They’re a hell of a deep team. Their typical starting unit composed of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton, and Derrick Rose is probably the most solid in terms of talent at every position. Their bench mob composed of Omer Asik, Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, CJ Watson, and John Lucas (yes, Brian Scalabrine, too) is terribly underrated. And, of course, Thib has been an awesome tactician.

And with all those elements going in favor of the Bulls, especially when Rose comes back, nobody should be surprised if they maintain their trajectory and lock-in home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

But, again, the next few games will be key. They’ve got Boston next, and then the Knicks back-to-back in a span of 3 days, and finally the Heat. That’ll be one hell of an acid test right there. If the Bulls manage to win even just 2 of those 4, then they’re in pretty good shape.

And you know what? I think they actually will win AT LEAST 2 of those games.

The key, of course, is, just like what Thib said, that they must not, must never, let go of the rope.

Because despite their depth and flexibility, the real, greatest, strength of this Bulls team is its resiliency. If they continue fighting, continue clawing and gnawing, if they continue to be aggressive, they can beat anyone. 

And that’s with or without Rose.

So Thibs is dead on. For the Bulls to get back on the W column and avoid a slump at such a critical juncture of the season, they must never let go of the rope.

Never let go.

After the JUMP, April 3-4, 2012 stat-stuffers:

April 3, 2012 Game Recaps:
SAS over CLE, 125-90
Danny Green and Tony Parker each scored 19 points, and San Antonio won its eighth straight contest with a rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Patty Mills scored a game-high 20 off the bench, making 4-of-5 three-point shots for the Southwest Division-leading Spurs, who moved within two games of Oklahoma City for the top seed in the Western Conference. The Cavaliers, who suffered their eighth straight defeat, were led by Antawn Jamison's 15 points. Point guard Kyrie Irving (right shoulder sprain) returned to action after sitting out one game and had 13 points.

IND over NYK, 112-104
Danny Granger scored 11 points during Indiana's big surge to open the fourth quarter, lifting the Indiana Pacers over the New York Knicks. Granger finished with 27 points and grabbed seven rebounds, Paul George added 18 and eight, and Leandro Barbosa and Dahntay Jones netted 12 points apiece for the Pacers, who outscored the Knicks, 40-17, in the last quarter. They have won three of their last four. Carmelo Anthony poured in a season-high 39 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the way for the Knicks, while Landry Fields chipped in 15 points. Tyson Chandler recorded a double-double with 12 points and 14 boards. New York has dropped two of its last three games.

DET over ORL, 102-95
Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard missed his second straight game and Greg Monroe took full advantage, scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds to lift the Pistons over the Magic. Ben Gordon scored 18 points, handed out seven assists and grabbed seven boards, while Jason Maxiell and Tayshaun Prince tallied 15 points apiece to give the Pistons their fourth win in their last five games. The Magic were also without starters Jameer Nelson (calf) and Ryan Anderson (ankle) but got a huge performance from Glen Davis with 31 points and 10 rebounds. Hedo Turkoglu netted 16 points, but the Magic fell for the fourth straight game.

MIA over PHI, 99-93
LeBron James netted a season-high 41 points to go with six rebounds, four assists and three steals as the Miami Heat won their 16th straight home game and clinched their fourth consecutive playoff berth with a triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers. Mario Chalmers added 19 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Heat, who rebounded from their embarrassing 19-point loss to Boston on Sunday. The Heat moved to 9-1 without Dwyane Wade, who sat out the contest to rest a sore left knee. Evan Turner had 26 points and eight rebounds for Philadelphia, which has lost five of its past six road games.

MEM over GSW, 98-94
Dante Cunningham scored nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, and the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Golden State Warriors. Mike Conley added 18 points and five rebounds for the Grizzlies, who have won three straight games and five of six. O.J. Mayo nailed four three-pointers en route to 19 points. David Lee registered a double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds for Golden State, which has lost six consecutive contests.

PHX over SAC 109-100
Six Suns finished in double figures, including Marcin Gortat, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds to lift Phoenix over the Kings. Steve Nash scored 18 points and handed out 12 assists, Michael Redd added 16 points off the bench, and Jared Dudley and Channing Frye netted 15 points apiece for the Suns, who have won two straight. DeMarcus Cousins poured in a career-high 41 points to go with 12 rebounds and Isaiah Thomas scored 25 points and dished out seven assists, but the Kings fell for the second time in three games.

LAL over NJN, 91-87
Kobe Bryant rattled in the game-sealing three-pointer with 6.8 seconds left in regulation, as the Lakers survived the Nets' late rally and pulled out a win. Bryant finished with 24 points, including the go-ahead bucket with 71 seconds to play and a three-pointer that bounced off the rim no less than five times in the closing seconds. Los Angeles won its third straight game despite being without center Andrew Bynum, who was sidelined due to an ankle injury. Pau Gasol stepped up with 22 points and 12 rebounds in Bynum's absence, while Ramon Sessions added 19 points and 11 assists for the Pacific Division leaders. Deron Williams had 20 points for the Nets, who received 18 points and 15 rebounds from Kris Humphries but had their three-game winning streak snapped and dropped their eighth straight against LA.

TOR over CHA, 92-87
Andrea Bargnani scored 30 points, including the final nine for the Raptors in their win over the Bobcats. DeMar DeRozan added 20 points for Toronto, which snapped a six-game losing streak to Charlotte and won back-to-back games for the first time since January 24-25. Byron Mullens finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Bobcats, losers of eight straight.

April 4, 2012 Game Recaps:
TOR over PHI, 99-78
Andrea Bargnani scored 24 points, DeMar DeRozan had 18 and the Toronto Raptors held the Philadelphia 76ers to just seven points in the fourth quarter Wednesday night on the way to a win. Jose Calderon added 12 points and 13 assists for the Raptors despite taking an elbow to the eye from Elton Brand in the second quarter and the team won its third in a row. The Sixers, meanwhile, continued to get in their own way. Jrue Holiday and Brand scored 20 points apiece, but Holiday had just three in the second half as the Sixers fell to 4-8 in their last 12 games. They remained 1 1/2 games behind Boston for first place in the Atlantic Division after the Celtics lost to San Antonio on Wednesday. The Sixers, sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference, were 3-for-20 in the fourth quarter, including 13 straight missed shots from the 9:15 mark until Evan Turner hit a jumper in the final minute.

IND over WAS, 109-96
Danny Granger poured in 20 points and the Indiana Pacers beat the Washington Wizards for the third time in under two weeks. Darren Collison scored 17 points and dished out 11 assists while Leandro Barbosa and Tyler Hansbrough netted 14 points apiece for the Pacers, who won their third straight. Indiana swept the season series 3-0 and has won six straight over Washington overall. Jordan Crawford had 21 points at halftime and finished with 28 and Kevin Seraphin supplied a career-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds, but it was not enough for the Wizards, who lost their third in a row and for 10th time in the last 12 games.

ATL over CHA, 120-93
Josh Smith tallied 24 points and pulled down nine rebounds as the Hawks dominated the lowly Bobcats. Jeff Teague and Willie Green scored 17 points apiece, Joe Johnson added 16 and Marvin Williams finished with 14 off the bench for the Hawks, who had lost three of four coming into the contest. Atlanta now sits just a half-game behind the idle Orlando Magic for the fifth spot in the East and remains 1 1/2 games in back of Indiana, which won on Wednesday, for the third position. Kemba Walker paced the Charlotte offense with 21 points and Gerald Henderson added 15 for the Bobcats, as they continue to struggle, dropping their ninth straight contest.

SAS over BOS, 87-86
Tim Duncan had 10 points and 16 rebounds, and forced Paul Pierce into a tough shot that was off the mark as the buzzer sounded, and San Antonio held off Boston in a battle of division leaders. Matt Bonner had 10 points and 10 boards, and hit a big jumper in the final minute for the Southwest Division-leading Spurs, who won their ninth straight contest. Danny Green ended with 14 points and Gary Neal had 13, as San Antonio survived a nine-point third quarter and broke Boston's eight-game home winning streak. Avery Bradley had 19 points to pace the Celtics, who remained 1 1/2 games ahead of Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division. Pierce tallied 15 points and 10 boards. Rajon Rondo chipped in 17 points and 11 assists, and Kevin Garnett scored 16, but despite rallying from a 17-point deficit, Boston's five-game winning streak came to an end. Ray Allen, who missed the previous six games because of an ankle injury, started, but had just five points and seven rebounds for the Celtics.

MIA over OKC, 98-93
LeBron James poured in 34 points, dished out 10 assists and pulled down seven rebounds, as the Heat held off Oklahoma City in a battle of NBA powerhouses. Dwyane Wade returned after sitting out one game with a sore left knee and provided 19 points for Miami, which won its 17th straight at home, one off a franchise record. Chris Bosh hit a key jumper with nearly a minute left and Wade sealed the triumph by sinking two free throws with 12.3 seconds left. Miami, which is an NBA-best 23-2 at home and hasn't lost at American Airlines Arena since Jan. 22 against Milwaukee, moved within two games of Chicago for first place in the Eastern Conference. Kevin Durant had 30 points, but accounted for nine of the 20 Oklahoma City turnovers. He also missed a potential tying three-point shot in the final half-minute. Russell Westbrook added 28 points for the Thunder, whose lead in the Western Conference is down to a game over San Antonio. The Spurs won at Boston Wednesday night. James Harden was the only other double-digit scorer with 12 points for the Thunder, who have lost back-to-back contests for just the second time all season.

MIL over CLE, 107-98
Monta Ellis had 30 points, eight assists and five rebounds Wednesday and the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the seventh straight time. Brandon Jennings added 19 points and Ersan Ilyasova scored 18 for the Bucks, who have won four of their last five to pull within one game of idle New York for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs played without rookie point guard Kyrie Irving, who stayed behind in Cleveland to have an MRI and will miss 7-10 days with a contused and sprained right shoulder he aggravated in Tuesday's loss to San Antonio. All five Cleveland starters scored in double digits, led by Anthony Parker's 27 points, but the Cavs' losing streak reached nine games.

GSW over MIN, 97-94
Golden State rookie Charles Jenkins charged through the paint and flipped in a nifty reverse layup with 20.4 seconds remaining to help the Warriors snap a season-high six-game losing streak with a win over Minnesota. David Lee scored a game-high 31 points and Jenkins finished with 19 for the Warriors, who have won seven of the last nine meetings against the Timberwolves. Kevin Love scored 29 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for Minnesota, but was 0-for-7 from beyond the arc, including the potential game-tying three as time expired.

NOH over DEN, 94-92
Eric Gordon hadn't played in an NBA game in exactly three months, but showed no rust, knocking down two free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining to lift the Hornets over the Nuggets. Gordon, who was a key component in the December trade that sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers, last played on Jan. 4 against Philadelphia before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Feb. 14 after he suffered a bruised right knee in the team's season opener. Gordon finished with 15 points in his return, Trevor Ariza added 15 as well, and Kaman tallied 14 points and 10 rebounds for New Orleans, which snapped a three-game losing streak. Ty Lawson poured in a game-high 22 points, Arron Afflalo netted 15 and Al Harrington added 14 off the bench, but the Nuggets wrapped up their seven-game road trip under .500 at 3-4. Denver and Houston are both 29-25, but the Rockets occupy the seventh spot in the Western Conference while the Nuggets are eighth, one game in front of Phoenix.

DAL over MEM, 95-85
Dirk Nowitzki scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, leading to Dallas Mavericks past the Memphis Grizzlies in a battle of playoff contenders. Shawn Marion scored 12 of his 16 points in a fourth quarter that saw the Mavs outscore the Grizzlies by a 29-17 margin. Dallas rebounded from a 19-point loss to the Clippers on Monday and pulled into a virtual tie with Memphis for the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoff race. The Grizzlies, who had a three-game winning streak snapped, were led by O.J. Mayo's 17 points. Marc Gasol recorded a double- double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but shot just 3-for-13 from the field.

PHX over UTA, 107-105
Steve Nash's jumper with 1.7 seconds left on the clock gave the Phoenix Suns a victory over the Utah Jazz. Utah appeared to tie the game as Paul Millsap finished a putback off a C.J. Miles missed three-pointer at the buzzer, but video replay showed the ball was still in Millsap's hands as the red light behind the backboard lit up red. Seven Suns finished in double figures, led by Michael Redd's 19 points. Nash and Channing Frye each tallied 13 points, while Marcin Gortat added 14 and Shannon Brown and Markieff Morris netted 11 points apiece. The Suns have won three straight and trail Houston and Denver by one game for the final two playoff spots in the West. Millsap led all scorers with 25 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists. Miles finished with 22 points and Gordon Hayward recorded a double-double with 20 points and a career-high 10 rebounds for the Jazz, who have lost four of five and now sit 1 1/2 games behind the Rockets and Nuggets.

POR over NJN, 101-88
LaMarcus Aldridge posted 24 points and nine rebounds as the Portland Trail Blazers took a win over the New Jersey Nets. Nicolas Batum had 20 points and 10 boards while J.J. Hickson added 18 points and eight rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who have won two of their last three. Raymond Felton came close to a triple-double with 14 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Kris Humphries donated 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Nets, who have dropped their past two. Anthony Morrow and Gerald Green each had 20 points in the loss.

LAL over LAC, 113-108
Kobe Bryant scored 31 points and hit the go-ahead shot with nearly three minutes left, and the Lakers claimed another installment of their Los Angeles rivalry with a triumph to snap the Clippers' six-game winning streak. Andrew Bynum returned from a one-game absence and dominated with 36 points, eight rebounds and four blocks, as the Lakers won their fourth straight contest and moved 2 1/2 games ahead of the Clippers for first place in the Pacific Division. Bynum, who missed Tuesday's four-point win over the Nets due to a sprained left ankle, went 10-of-12 from the foul line. Caron Butler had 28 points and Chris Paul tallied 22 points and 16 assists, but the Clippers had their seven-game home winning streak snapped.

Super Scorers (Top scorers of the night!)
LeBron James (MIA) & DeMarcus Cousins (SAC) – 41
Andrew Bynum (LAL) – 36  

LeBron James and the Heat continue to be nearly
invincible at home.
Ragin’ Rebounders (Top rebounders of the night!)
Kris Humphries (NJN) – 15
Tim Duncan (SAS) – 16 

Dynamic Dishers (Top playmakers of the night!)
Steve Nash (PHX) – 12
Chris Paul (LAC) – 16 

Pau Gasol and the Lakers got the better of
Chris Paul and the Clippers this time around.
(image by Harry How/Getty Images)

Terrific Thieves (Top thieves of the night!)
Elton Brand (PHI) – 4
Rajon Rondo (BOS), LeBron James (MIA), & Brandon Jennings (MIL) – 4 

Boomin’ Blockers (Top blockers of the night!)
Marc Gasol (MEM) – 4
Serge Ibaka (OKC) & Chris Kaman (NOH) – 5 

Sharpshooters (Top 3-point shooters of the night!)
Danny Grander (IND) – 5
Jordan Crawford (WAS) – 5 

April 3, 2012 First Five
C – DeMarcus Cousins (SAC) – 41pts, 12rebs, 2asts, 2stls, 1blk
F – Glen Davis (ORL) – 31pts, 10rebs, 3stls, 1blk
F – Carmelo Anthony (NYK) – 39pts, 10rebs, 2asts, 2stls, 1blk
G – LeBron James (MIA) – 41pts, 6rebs, 4asts, 3stls, 1blk
G – Steve Nash (PHX) – 18pts, 12asts, 6rebs

Honorable Mention:
Greg Monroe (DET) – 22pts, 11rebs, 3asts, 1stl, 1blk
Pau Gasol (LAL) – 22pts, 12rebs, 4asts, 1stl
Kris Humphries (NJN) – 18pts, 15rebs, 3asts, 2stls, 1blk

Daily Zap:

April 4, 2012 First Five
C – Andrew Bynum (LAL) – 36pts, 8rebs, 1stl, 4blks
F – LeBron James (MIA) – 34pts, 10asts, 7rebs, 4stls,  3 treys, 1blk
F – Anthony Parker (CLE) – 27pts, 7rebs, 4asts, 4 treys, 3stls
G – Kobe Bryant (LAL) – 31pts, 6asts, 5rebs, 1blk
G – Monta Ellis (GSW) – 30pts, 8asts, 5rebs, 2stls

Andrew Bynum manages to flash a smirk even amidst
the swirl of "immaturity" issues flung his way.
(image by Harry How/Getty Images)

Honorable Mention:
Paul Millsap (UTA) – 25pts, 8rebs, 6asts, 3stls, 2blks
Kevin Love (MIN) – 29pts, 12rebs, 5asts
David Lee (GSW) – 31pts, 8rebs, 3asts, 2blks

Daily Zap:


*Game recaps were compiled and compressed from the Sports Network.

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