Fresh ink: April 5, 2009

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Kurt Helin of NBC Los Angeles: “Remember back around the All Star break, when Bulls were an unmitigated disaster? Rose looked like a rookie — a promising rookie, but one who turned the ball over and was still learning to play in the clutch. The team gave away fourth quarter leads like Jim Cramer gives away bad stock advice — every night. Vinny Del Negro looked like an unprepared rookie coach and John Paxson was being nailed to the sports talk radio wall for brining in the bloated contract of Brad Miller and the ball-hogging John Salmons. Well look at the Bulls now. Rose matured, Del Negro has grown, the trade provided needed pieces and the Bulls are a team to avoid. They have won 8 of 10 and that includes going into Detroit on Monday night and knocking off the Pistons behind brilliant play from Derrick Rose and a game-winning shot from Ben Gordon. That win secures at least seventh place in the East, meaning the Bulls win the avoid-the-Cavaliers-in-the-first-round game that everyone has been playing. Chicago’s win is bad news for Orlando, the likely first round opponent for the Bulls. (All the Bulls have to do is beat Toronto at home in the final game of the season to secure that seeding.)”

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “At Tuesday’s final regular-season practice, Kirk Hinrich walked around with a bloody gash on his left cheek, Thomas spent time arguing his flagrant foul and Ben Gordon winced when recalling getting hit in an area no man should experience. It was all residue from Monday’s road victory over the Pistons—one of the most physical games of the season. And the fact the Bulls not only won but shoved back bodes well for the playoff series against Boston or Orlando that’s coming. ‘It’s going to be physical,’ coach Vinny Del Negro said. ‘You have to get used to that. You’re not going to get calls. You have to go in there and get into bodies. Defensively, you have to get contact. And you have to fight through those things. You can’t let the frustration get you out of sync. We have a ways to go on that. But we battled and showed some progress.’”

John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: “The Bulls gathered at the Berto Center early Tuesday to prepare for their season finale tonight against the Toronto Raptors at the United Center, a game that will go a long way — if not all the way — in determining their first-round playoff opponent. Still, the players couldn’t help looking back to their gritty 91-88 road victory Monday against the Detroit Pistons in arguably their biggest game of the season. By beating the Pistons, the Bulls assured themselves of avoiding the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round and will face either the Boston Celtics or Orlando Magic. They’d have no chance against LeBron James and the Cavaliers but might have a shot against the Celtics, if Kevin Garnett continues to be hobbled by a knee injury, or the Magic, which is 3-5 in April. ‘It was definitely a quality road win that we haven’t had in a long time,’ center Joakim Noah said. ‘I can’t remember the last quality road win we had.’”

Stu Courtney of the Chicago Sun-Times: “A win Wednesday at home vs lowly Toronto would give the Bulls (18-27 at their lowest point after an overtime loss Jan. 25 at Minnesota) a winning season (42-40) and a likely No. 6 seed, good for a trip to Disney World to play the ailing Magic. So are you buying in with this team? Gotta like the improving play of Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah, the court smarts of Brad Miller and the consistency of John Salmons. D-Rose gives the Bulls the closer they were lacking and Ben Gordon brings enough firepower to make them a potentially tough first-round ‘out.’ What’s your take on the franchise going forward? Has Vinny Del Negro redeemed himself for all his rookie coaching shortcomings? In assessing Vinny, only one thing matters: If Derrick Rose respects him and will continue to grow under him, then he’s the right guy. If not, then it doesn’t matter how well they do in the playoffs — start looking around for a new coach.”

Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “Much of the playoff buzz surrounding the Bulls is whether they can lock up the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and get a somewhat favorable first-round matchup against Orlando. Favorable to everyone but Joakim Noah, that is. He’d have to spend a playoff series guarding Magic center Dwight Howard, a guaranteed first-team all-NBA honoree and likely defensive player of the year. ‘Dwight is an animal. He’s the best center in the league,’ Noah said following Tuesday’s short practice at the Berto Center. ‘It’s exciting, though. It’s exciting to go up against the best on the big stage. Dwight’s a lot to handle, but it’s going to be an exciting time.’”

More K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune: “Remember during training camp when critics accused Ben Gordon of pouting over failed contract negotiations and milking a jammed big right toe? Gordon does. ‘That was a slap in the face,’ Gordon said. ‘Anybody who said that doesn’t know me. I was hurt.’ And now he’s not. In fact, Gordon is poised to be the only Bull to play all 82 games this season, the third time in five seasons the durable guard will accomplish that feat. He has missed just 12 career games. ‘I definitely take pride in that,’ Gordon said. ‘I think the way I train is a testament to how important this game is to me. I work very hard. I definitely don’t like to miss games. So I’m happy that after all that has happened, I’ve played in all the games again.’”

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