The James Johnson era is over in Chicago. According to the ESPN.com news service, the Bulls have traded him to the Toronto Raptors for the Miami Heat’s first round draft pick, which the Raptors obtained in the sign-and-trade deal that sent Chris Bosh to Miami.
It’s not exactly shocking that management would ship Johnson for essentially nothing. After all, J.J. has appeared in only 13 games this season and compiled more turnovers (18) than field goals (17). Let’s face it, his stint in the NBA Developmental League notwithstanding, Johnson was a bust-a-rama. He sure isn’t going to make it on to Basketball-Reference’s list of the best players ever traded at midseason.
And yet…his general bawfulness isn’t why the Bulls dealt him.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune writes: “After shedding Johnson’s $1.7 million salary, the Bulls now possess roughly $2.9 million of salary cap space and have stockpiled draft picks. … One source said talks with the Grizzlies regarding O.J. Mayo continue, although his $4.45 million salary would need to be matched and not fully absorbed into cap space. The Bulls could add players like the Cavaliers’ Anthony Parker, the Clippers’ Rasual Butler or the Rockets’ Courtney Lee merely for draft picks with their cap space. The Bulls also could wait until after the trade deadline to see if any prominent players get bought out, and then try to sign them with cap space.”
Okay, quick thoughts.
Rasual Butler: A 36 percent career three-point shooter who can’t crack Vinny Del Negro’s rotation on the Los Angeles Clippers. I wouldn’t want this guy on the Bulls even if he didn’t have the Clippers stank all over him.
Anthony Parker: On the one hand, he’s a savvy vet who’s hitting nearly 40 percent of his treys this season (and 41.3 percent for his career). On the other hand, he’s 35 years and 249 days old. He’s a minor upgrade over Keith Bogans. His contract expires after the season. Basically a rental…which makes me feel iffy. If he’s not part of the team’s future, is there really a point to bringing him in?
Courtney Lee: I’d feel better about Lee than Parker. He’s young (25 years and 143 days) and proved he could stick the three for both the Magic in 2008-09 (40.4 percent) and this year’s Houston squad (42.5 percent). Of course, despite playing for the always-scrappy Rockets, Lee has is giving up more points per 100 possessions (D-Rating of 112) than he’s scoring (O-Rating 107), and that bugs me. He’s also on the books for two more seasons after this one, so while he’s better than Parker, he also represents more of a commitment. The big question: Does he potentially push the Bulls over a championship hump? I doesn’t feel that way to me.
O.J. Mayo: Yes, he’s having a disappointing season. And yes, that disappointing season has been made worse by his 10-game drug suspension and that fight he had on the team plane with teammate Tony Allen. But he’s a young kid with loads of potential. He’s proven he can score (18.5 PPG as a rookie) and shoot (about 38 percent from downtown over his three-season career). Mayo is also a pretty good ball handler and an above-average competitor who, in my opinion, would benefit greatly from playing for Thibs and alongside Derrick Rose. Essentially, he has the biggest upside of any of the guys the Bulls appear to be considering.
Update! According to Yahoo! Sports: “The Chicago Bulls are still pursuing shooting guard Courtney Lee, offering a first-round draft pick to the Houston Rockets, sources said. Chicago could make the offer more intriguing with the addition of the Miami Heat’s 2011 first-round pick that the Bulls acquired from Toronto for forward James Johnson on Tuesday. For now, the Rockets are determined to bring back size and want Bulls center Omer Asik in any package for Lee.”
Quick take: Joakim Noah has missed 48 games over the past two seasons. Kurt Thomas crawled out of the sea more than a million years ago. Asik is raw…but the Bulls need that insurance at the center position. I’m okay with giving up the first rounders, but the team should try to hold onto Asik unless he’s part of a bigger deal for a more significant upgrade.
It’s hard to say how good the Bulls will be with Noah back and a full contingent of healthy players. Interestingly enough, Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus checked the math, and the math says the Bulls actually trended up with Noah out of action.
Pelton writes: “As my colleague Bradford Doolittle noted last week, Chicago has the league’s best point differential since Noah had hand surgery in mid-December, outscoring opponents by 7.6 points per game. (The runner-up might be even more surprising: the Orlando Magic, at plus-7.1.) … The most interesting aspect of how the Bulls have played without Noah is that their defense has actually improved without their 7-foot center. Chicago allowed 102.5 points per 100 possessions through Dec. 15 but has cut that to a 100.6 defensive rating since then, emerging as the league’s toughest D.”
Although Chicago’s D has been better than ever, the team’s O has been a little disappointing. The Bulls rank 19th in Pace (91.3), 18th in PPG (98.4) and 16th in Offensive Rating (106.7). Despite his reputation for defense, Noah’s biggest impact could be on the offensive end of the floor.
Doug Thonus of ChicagoNow writes: “Kurt Thomas makes 3.1 shots per 36 minutes. He shoots a good percentage, but his volume is incredibly low. Team’s aren’t sticking with Kurt Thomas and opening the floor up, and for the most part, Thomas isn’t making them pay for doing so. Joakim Noah makes 5.1 shots per 36 minutes and scores at a higher TS% than Thomas. More makes, more volume, more efficiency. He’s more dangerous on the pick and roll, because you have to defend him going to the basket where he can athletically finish. He’s a better passer, ball handler, and driver, so if you leave him open at the elbow, he can go straight into the paint and score, and if you rotate over on him he’ll hit the open man with the pass. … The Bulls offense is going to get a whole lot better with Noah out there.”
By the way, in case you haven’t heart, the ‘Melo-drama is apparently over: Carmelo Anthony is joining the Knicks. At first, the trade sent a shiver down my spine. The Bulls already have to contend with the Celtics, Heat and Magic. Now a new superteam in New York?
The Knicks paid a hefty price for ‘Melo — Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mosgov, a first round draft pick and cash — while getting significantly older (not to mention declining and overpaid) at the point guard position. And what about their depth? I mean, Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman haven’t done much of anything this season.
And lest you think Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni and his run-and-gunnery will light a fire under these guys, I should point out that the Nuggets (pre-trade) ranked first in PPG (107.6), first in Offensive Rating (112.4) and third in Pace (95.7).
I’m inclined to agree with ESPN’s John Hollinger: “New York still gets its Melo-Stoudemire nucleus, but now lacks the supporting pieces to do anything important with that core. And by extending Melo now, they agree to lock him up at such an expensive price that, in concert with Stoudemire’s deal, it likely precludes making a run at Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Dwight Howard in 2012.”
Derrick Rose was very quiet (for him) in his first All-Star start: 11 points, 5-for-13 from the field, 1-for-2 from the line, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, a steal and a turnover in 29 minutes and 56 seconds.
If you’re a Bulls fan, this wasn’t the Rose you know and love. At times, he looked like he simply wanted to defer to his teammates, let them do the heavy lifting, while he stood back and enjoyed the show. Other times, he looked overly cautious on offense and simply lost on defense.
He became a little more intense in the second half. But the Derrick we saw against San Antonio last Thursday apparently got left behind in Chicago. I’m fine with it. That’s where he belongs.
Hey, fans love it when their favorite player dominates the All-Star Game. I’m sure Lakers fans are feeling pretty good today, what with Kobe going crazy (37 points and 14 rebounds) and winning the MVP award. And Heat fans probably feel almost the same, what with LeBron racking up the second triple-double (29 points, 12 boards, 10 assists) in ASG history, although they might feel a little queasy over D-Wade’s ankle tweak.
But we all know the All-Star Game is a glorified exhibition where the only things on the line are bragging rights and reputation. But Rose cares not for these things. He wants to win. And the Bulls are his top priority.
So if he seemed to be going at half-speed during the Skills Competition, or if he was mostly a highly skilled spectator during much of his 30 minutes of action last night, I’m willing to forgive him.
Save it for the second half of the season, Derrick.
We all know what kind of season Rose is having. And check out what Celtics coach Doc River had to say about Rose and the Bulls: ”If I had to vote, [Rose is] the MVP of the league. And when you have one on your team, especially with all the other guys, they’re right in there. They can beat us; we can beat them. It’s going to be tough.”
As for those, uhm, interesting yellow shoes Derrick wore during the game? According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the shoes, along with his blue uniform, were a tribute to his alma mater, the Simeon Wolverines.
Said Rose: “That was a shout-out to them.”
And, apparently, Rose got needled about them by his All-Star teammates “the whole game. ‘Why’d adidas put you in those shoes?’ Stuff like that. It was all fun and games. I love the shoes. They’re my shoes. I’d wear them all the time if I could, but they have to be your team colors.”
Speaking of team colors, the Bulls return to action on Wednesday in Toronto. The next night, they have a homecourt showdown with the Heat before another five-game road trip that ends in Miami. Life won’t get any easier any time soon…even with Joakim Noah returning from thumb surgery.
Anthony Parker. Arron Afflalo. Courtney Lee. J.R. Smith. O.J. Mayo.
These are some of the names bloggers, Bulls fans and various experts have mentioned as potential answers to Chicago’s problem at the shooting guard position. The “problem” being Keith Bogans.
So, even as the Bulls nip at the heels of the Celtics and Heat for the best record in the Eastern Conference, and as they eagerly await the return of Joakim Noah, the biggest question heading toward the trade deadline (February 24 at 3:00 p.m.) is: Will the team trade up at the two spot?
Bulls executive vice president John Paxson was a guest on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000 Friday. Here’s what he said: “What we would be looking for as this trade deadline approaches is a little more scoring if we can find it, but we aren’t going to do anything to disrupt the chemistry of this team. We’ve made huge strides this year, and we still think our best basketball is yet to come.
“If we continue to get a guy like Keith Bogans playing well, knocking down two or three 3-pointers a game, and we bring guys like Ronnie Brewer off the bench and C.J. [Watson], we’re real comfortable with that,” Paxson said. “The bottom line is [Derrick Rose] is going to have the basketball in his hands the majority of the time.
“We’re not going to compromise our chemistry, because it’s an underrated thing in this league when you have a group that plays well together and fits together. And we’re not going to compromise what we believe we can do in the future to make us a championship team, not just for a year, but for a long period of time with Derrick Rose being just 22 years old. We’ll be cautious. We talked to a lot of teams. We listen, and throw ideas out there. And you never know, things can happen before the deadline … but we feel good where we’re at.”
I see where Paxson is coming from. At this point, the Bulls have very few tradeable assets. And by “tradeable asset” I mean something they are willing and able to give up and something other teams actually want. Because of this, it could be dangerous to make a knee-jerk move.
For instance, a lot of people are talking about Anthony Parker. Why not give up, say, Omer Asik and/or a first round draft pick or two to bring in a savvy vet who plays solid D and has shot better than 41 percent on threes over his career? Well, for starters, Parker is 35 years old and will turn 36 on June 19. So, obviously, he’s not going to be part of Chicago’s future plans. Furthermore, his Player Efficiency Rating (11.0) isn’t that much better than Bogans’ (8.1). So while he does represent an upgrade, it really is a relatively minor one.
The Bulls have limited cap space and very little to work with trade-wise. And, considering how well the season has gone so far despite the injuries to Noah and Carlos Boozer, it’s hard to imagine management making a move unless the perfect opportunity presents itself.
It wasn’t exactly Babe Ruth calling his shot in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, but Rose said up front that this was an important game, a measuring stick that would show how good the Bulls really were. Or weren’t.
To me, that was Derrick’s way of saying: “Look out. I’m coming.”
Well, he came, he saw, he kicked some serious you-know-what. Against the league’s best team no less.
Rose scored a career-high 42 points. He shot 18-for-28 from the field (64 percent) and 6-for-6 from the line. He dished out 8 assists while turning the ball over only once. He grabbed 5 rebounds. The only blight on his otherwise sublime performance was going 0-for-4 from beyond the arc.
And you want to talk about being clutch?
How about his 13 fourth quarter points? How about scoring Chicago’s final 10 points over the final 3:20? Or scoring 6 points in the last 1:15. I’m talking about drilling long jumpers with a hand in his face. I’m talking about getting to the basket at will and laying it in.
I’m talking about Derrick freaking Rose.
There are still plenty of people out there who, for whatever reason, don’t believe in Rose. Or maybe it’s that they don’t wantto believe. I found that out while participating in ESPN’s Daily Dime Live chat last night. A lot of NBA fans want to define Rose by what he is not. For example: He is not a pass-first floor leader like Rajon Rondo. He is not a statistical freak of nature like LeBron James. He is not the MVP of the National Basketball Association.
This is pretty standard stuff. It’s been going on since Day 1 of Rose’s career. He doesn’t have a jumper. He can’t hit threes. He doesn’t have enough assists. He can’t play defense. He doesn’t get to the line enough.
For every improvement in Rose’s game, there seems to be an equal and opposite counterargument against his emerging superstardom. A gaping hole in his game. A vital reason why he’s not as good as he seems.
During DDL, I suggested that I would not, at this moment, trade Rose for LeBron straight up. Not because I think Rose is better than LeBron — he’s not — but because he’s younger, has far fewer miles on his NBA odometer, has only begun to reach his seemingly limitless potential, loves the absolute living hell out of Chicago and has (by all accounts) an intense desire to represent both the Bulls and the city. And we learned last summer that LeBron doesn’t want to play for the Bulls, right? It wasn’t about who’s the best. It was about who was a better match for this particular team.
Seemed like sound logic to me, but I was accused of being an irrationally biased Bulls fan. Possibly unbalanced and in need of some serious mood-altering drugs.
Of course, all that talk got really, really, really quiet as Rose was dismantling the Spurs during the fourth quarter. Funny how that happens.
Anyway, there’s more to this story than Rose and his desire to be the best. According to ESPNChicago’s Melissa Isaacson, Rose’s big night didn’t come solely from within. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gave Rose some serious motivation from without.
Said Rose: “He gave me a speech about being aggressive, a motivational speech. I love a coach where he’s showing emotion, even before the game when it’s just me and him talking. … I wanted to get up and yell with him but I kept quiet and tried to take that out on the court.”
I wanted to get up and yell with him but I kept quiet and tried to take that out on the court.
In many ways, that line speaks to the essence of Rose. He is quiet. His desire is high. His game is loud.
As Isaacson points out, Rose is concluding a stretch in which he has outplayed Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Tony Parker. The Bulls — who have played 18 games without Carlos Boozer and 30 games without Joakim Noah — are 38-16 and now have wins against the Spurs, Celtics, Heat, Mavericks (twice), Lakers and Magic.
For the record, Noah missed the wins over San Antonio, Boston, Miami, Orlando and the second victory over Dallas. Of course, the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett and the Heat were missing LeBron James. So those wins should probably be considered inconclusive at best.
Said Rose: “We have a lot of confidence right now, knowing that we can beat some of the best teams in the NBA. We just have to keep it going. When we come back [from the All-Star break], we have to keep it focused. We have to work even harder. We’re going to have a few days off and some guys are going to have the opportunity to have their bodies relax, but we’ve still got to go and try to win a championship.”
If you want further testimony, look no further than Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Pop is a no-nonsense guy and, if I’m being completely honest, my favorite coach in the league. He is not given to bouts of hyperbole, which makes his praise of Rose feel pretty special.
Said Popovich: “I thought the Bulls played very well. They were very sharp. Sharper than we were. They played a good, physical game, and that point guard, what’s his name? I didn’t know his name before the game. I should have checked. Wow. Wow. He was something. We scored 99 points and shot 49 percent and [made] seven 3s, so you think you should have a pretty good chance to win, but he negated that. So he did a hell of a job.”
Pop continued: “He has taken a monster leap this year. What’s really great about him is that he seems to love the pressure in putting his team on his back. He has the character and demeanor to do that. Superstars have that character and leadership gene.”
Carlos Boozer agrees: “He knew how important this game was, and he just kept going and going. They couldn’t stop him, and we told him not to stop. He just took over, and all we had to do was ride the D-Rose train.”
Now, I don’t want to go too far overboard, assuming I haven’t already. As always, this was a total team win. The Bulls shot nearly 54 percent from the field and outrebounded the Spurs 41-29. They also outscored San Antonio 44-38 in the paint while going 16-for-21 (76 percent) at the rim (Rose was 6-for-7).
Boozer (15 points on 7-for-14 shooting) and Luol Deng (19 points on 6-for-12 shooting) provided scoring assistance. Keith Bogans hit a couple threes, and we all know the Bulls are nearly invincible (16-1) when he scores at least 6 points. Kurt “Big Sexy” Thomas had a co-game-high 9 rebounds.
The bench contributed 25 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists. For a stretch during the second half, Taj Gibson (2 blocked shots) and Omer Asik (1 block) formed a nearly impenetrable wall in the paint.
This is for real, people.
Tom Ziller of SBNation correctly pointed out that San Antonio was playing the final game of their nine-game Rodeo Road Trip (although he also notes that the Spurs were relatively well-rested). And this was, after all, the last game before the All-Star break, which can result in a slight letdown, especially for the road team.
Again I say: But still.
Record-wise, the Bulls are just a hop step behind Boston (40-14) and Miami (41-15). They’re currently fourth in John Hollinger’s Power Rankings. They lead the league in Defensive Efficiency. And did I mention Noah (fingers crossed!) should return next week?
As ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell writes: “The single scariest part of Thursday night’s game is that the Bulls beat the best team in the league without having their whole team intact. … Up to this point in the season, the Bulls have yet to play a game when all of their key contributors have been healthy. Carlos Boozer missed the first month of the season because of a broken right hand, but when he finally returned, Noah was playing with just one healthy hand of his own. The 25 year-old center had already torn a ligament in his right thumb late in November, and he wasn’t playing close to 100 percent. Now everything is about to change. After the All-Star break, the Bulls will finally be able to see how good they can truly be. It’s a moment that Rose and his teammates have been waiting for all season long.”
Get ready for an exciting second half of the season.
Quote of the Night: More Pop on Rose: “Wow! What do you want me to say? Good-looking kid, great demeanor, doesn’t beat his chest. Class act on top of his phenomenal play. All those qualities are going to serve him well.’’
TrueHoop Network: 48 Minutes of Hell: “Over at the Daily Dime (Friday morning edition), I make an argument that tonight’s Bulls game might well have been an NBA Finals preview. And if that’s the case, the Spurs will need to figure a few things out between now and June. … What I’m reacting to, and what makes the Bulls such a formidable opponent is the fact that Tom Thibodeau is not a Johnny-come-lately. The same defensive execution which took Boston to two NBA Finals and one championship has reared its ugly head in Chicago. The Bulls are for real. And it’s not surprising that, along with the Celtics, Chicago may be San Antonio’s most difficult postseason match up.”
Spurs Injury Report: Tiago Splitter: strained left hamstring (out indefinitely)
Antonio McDyess: thumb (day-to-day)
Overview: Thursday night will be the Spurs sixth game in ten days, all on the road. It is part of their annual Rodeo Road Trip, much like Chicago’s on Circus Road trip. But unlike the Bulls, San Antonio has fared well on their extended voyage. They are 6-2 on the trip this year and are 50-22 on the trip since 2002-2003.
You’re probably saying: “But that was then, this is now; they’re not the same team as they used to be.” And you’re absolutely right. Their identity has changed. It’s no longer Tim Duncan leading them. He actually plays only 28.7 minutes per game. The rest of the team, including the bench, has taken on more of the scoring load. And this is something the Spurs have been doing for a long time under Coach Gregg Popovich: They play a full team game.
The same can be said for the Bulls, especially in their last game. Derrick Rose was a little off and the rest of the team stepped up. That’s what it will take to beat the league’s best team. (Although, hopefully, Rose will turn in one of his better games.)
The Spurs have the best away record in the league (along with the best home record). But it’s the last game of a long road trip, and the last game before the All-Star break. It’s hard for teams to get up for these games, especially when a break is in sight. Add to that the fact that their last six games weren’t against the toughest opponents (Kings, Pistons, Raptors, Sixers, Wizards and Nets) and maybe the Spurs won’t realize their walking into a buzz saw.
But with this Bulls team, there isn’t a need to hope a team comes unprepared.
They’ve played great all season, especially at home. They boast the league’s second-best home record at 24-4 (the Spurs are numero uno at 25-2). And the Bulls could have — and probably should have – won the last contest between the two teams, which took place during the Circus Trip. They outplayed the Spurs for three quarters in that game. It’s just that the quarter they lost, they really lost and ended up doing a full-frontal faceplant. They scored only 12 points in the third quarter and were outscored by 25 points (37-12).
But that was way back when the Bulls didn’t have their second leading scorer Carlos Boozer. And the starter in his place, Taj Gibson, scored 0 points on 0-for-7 shooting. They did have Joakim Noah, but he didn’t do much to stop Duncan, who scored 16 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out 5 assists.
Boozer could be huge in this game. Check out the splits: With the Jazz last season, Boozington averaged 25.8 PPG and 11.3 RPG against the Spurs.
So the question is: Which team will want it more?
Will Deng and Boozer be up for the game, their last chance to show why they should have been All-Stars? Or will they be looking forward to their weekend off, and ahead to the second half of the season? Who knows, but whenever two of the top teams in the NBA get together, it’s always entertaining.
TrueHoop Network: 48 Minutes of Hell: “The last time these two teams met was on November 17, when the Spurs emerged with a 103-94 victory. Derrick Rose scored 33 points on 27 field goal attempts, but the Spurs balanced attack prevailed. Parker scored 21 on 14 field goal attempts; Ginobili needed only 12 shots to score 20 and Duncan managed 16 points (although he did require 19 attempts) to go with 18 rebounds and 2 blocks. George Hill also contributed 14 points on 8 shots and Matt Bonner scored 8 on 5 attempts (with a laughable +/- of 29 in 22 minutes).
“The Spurs found success defensively when they were able to get the ball out of Rose’s hands. Rose had only 1 easy assist (finished at the rim) to go with 3 passing turnovers and his teammates struggled to convert their shooting opportunities despite the constant attention Rose commanded. Teammates made only 24 of 65 attempts (37%), including 4 of 13 threes (31%). The Spurs, meanwhile, made 48.3% of their shots, got to the line 22 times and grabbed 5% more offensive rebounds than the Bulls.”
About the Author:
Braedan Ritter was born and raised in Pennsylvania but was swayed by gifts from his aunt to follow the Chicago sports teams. It didn’t hurt that the Bulls had a guy named Michael Jordan playing for them, and the Sixers had…Derrick Coleman. Braedan has stuck with Chicago through thick and thin, and really thin (see: Chicago Cubs). And speaking of Coleman, Braedan is currently a student at Syracuse University.
According to the Basketball-Reference leader boards, Luol Deng ranks seventh in the NBA in both minutes played (2,070) and minutes per game (39.1). Deng has already exceeded his minutes played for two seasons (2004-05 and 2008-09) and is less than two games away from surpassing his minutes played for another (2007-08). His current MPG is a career high and he’s about 14 games from setting a new career mark for total minutes…
…assuming Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t give him a break. Or that Deng doesn’t break down.
Check out his game log. Deng has played 40+ minutes 26 times. He has played 39+ minutes 31 times and 38+ minutes 34 times. He has logged 35+ minutes in 45 out of 53 games. He has played fewer than 30 minutes only four times this season.
For some perspective, last season, during which he set his career-high for minutes played, Lu logged 40+ minutes a total of 24 times, 39+ 30 times and 38+ 35 times. This season, he’s hitting those marks before the All-Star break.
Look, all I’m saying is, there’s a history here. A history of sprained ankles, torn ligaments, concussions, sore backs, injured Achilles tendons, stress fractures and calf strains. We’re talking about a guy who has missed 89 regular season games over the course of his career.
So, yes, when I watch him log 43 minutes and 37 seconds in a double-digit win against a sub-.500 team during a game in which the Bulls never trailed by more than two points.
For the record, I’m not just worried about this season or even this postseason. The effect of heavy minutes is cumulative. What about Lu’s health for next season?
“You can’t leave him open. Everybody knows he can’t do anything else but shoot. When he shoots, he shoots it well. You have to respect him as a shooter. He can’t really do anything else, but if you let him sit out there and shoot he’s going to kill you.”
That’s what Charlotte’s Stephen Jackson had to say about Kyle Korver, Chicago’s Mr. Perfect, who scored 15 points in 15 minutes off the bench while going 5-for-5 from the field, 3-for-3 from downtown and 2-for-2 from the line. Korver drilled two of those three-pointers and both of his free throws during the fourth quarter as the Bulls finally pulled away from the Bobcats.
It was another one of those “total team effort” games for the Bullies, who had to sweat out a rough night from Derrick Rose (5-for-14, 0-for-3 on threes, 6 turnovers). Of course, even on a bad night, Rose scored 18 points, went 8-for-9 from the line, and dished out a game-high 13 assists. Credit Rose for using his floor game to make up for his misguided shooting.
And credit Luol Deng for stepping up when needed, which has pretty much been the story of Deng’s season. Lu scored a game-high 24 points on 10-for-19 shooting and finished with a game-best plus-minus score of +22. This guy has been there when the team needs him, however the team needs him, all season long. In all honesty, he deserves a lot more credit than he’s ever going to get from bloggers, the media and even a lot of Bulls fans.
But, as ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedellpointed out, Deng is team-first all the way: “I was aggressive. I looked for my shot early. But it’s the kind of team we have. Some nights you’re going to get a lot of looks, some nights it’s going to be someone else. But we’re a deep team. And that’s what’s been so great about this year. The whole team, our mindset every night is just to win. Somebody’s going to get it for us and it’s been a different guy every time.”
Carlos Boozer (16 points, 9 rebounds) echoed those sentiments: ”Guys are extremely confident. If you’re in the NBA, you can play. … We’re a team — not just one guy, two guys, three guys; we’re a group of guys. Everybody on this team, whether you’re starting or off the bench, can play in the NBA and play well.”
In related news, James Johnson made his return from the D-League, finishing with one airball in one minute of garbage time action.
It was a good win, and I’m happy with it, but in yesterday’s preview I noted how the Bobcats struggle in the second game of back-to-backs. Gerald Wallace (6 points on 3-for-9 shooting) looked gassed. Ditto for D.J. Augustin (5 points on 1-for-4 shooting), and he’s also dealing with a sprained left wrist.
As Charlotte coach Paul Silas said: “My starting guys just didn’t have it tonight.”
And really, they didn’t. That’s not to take anything away from the victory. The Bulls were focused and took care of business. But the Bobcats hung around and then just kind of faded in the fourth quarter. It’ll be really interesting to see what happens in the March 9 rematch in Charlotte. Both teams will be coming off a one-day layoff, and Chicago should have Joakim Noah back in uniform.
Shot locations: In yesterday’s preview, I referenced Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook, who noted that the Bobcats enticed the Lakers to attack the rim and then forced a lot of in-close misses. Something similar happened last night, as the Bulls went 17-for-30 at the rim (56.7 percent). Normally, the Bulls convert about 63 percent of their shots at the rim, so Charlotte’s D did it’s job. Around the basket.
However, the Bulls were unusually hot from three-point range (7-for-14) and from 16-23 feet (12-for-22). A lot of that was Korver, but Boozer (2-for-2), Kurt “Big Sexy” Thomas (2-for-2) and Ronnie Brewer (2-for-3) also had it going from that 16-23 foot zone. And, of course, Keith Bogans couldn’t feel his face, going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc.
Bobcats Injury Report:
D.J. Augustin: Sprained left wrist (played last night vs. Lakers)
DeSagana Diop: Ruptured right Achilles (out for the season)
Tyrus Thomas: Left knee surgery (out for two months)
Overview: The Bobcats destroyed the Lakers last night. It was L.A.’s most lopsided loss of the season. Afterwards, Phil Jackson said “I’m embarrassed about what we did that that’s it. Thanks you.” and walked away. End of press conference.
Charlotte has now won eight of their last 10 games against the defending champs.
Admittedly, it was the Lakers’ fourth game in five nights, all on the road, but the victory sort of underscores the Bobcats’ status as a real wildcard team. Check out their schedule: On any given night, they could either beat any team in the league or lose to any team.
Put the Bulls into that category of teams the ‘Cats can — and do — beat.
According to STATS LLC: “The Bulls (36-16) are an Eastern Conference-best 13-4 since Jan. 8, but two of those losses have come against the Bobcats (24-31). In losing to Charlotte, Chicago has plenty of company among the NBA’s elite. The Bobcats have won three of five, with the wins all coming against top contenders. They beat East-leading Boston on Feb. 7, won at Atlanta on Saturday, and rolled past the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers 109-89 at home Monday.”
Of course, Charlotte’s two losses came against the Pacers (24-28) and Nets (17-39). So, with the ‘Cats, you never really know what you’re going to get. But there’s no question they’re dangerous. A real snake in the grass to the league’s better teams.
On the plus side, assuming you’re rooting for th Bullies, is that the Bobcats are playing on the second night of back-to-back games. According to TeamRankings.com, Charlotte is 4-12 in games with no rest, and they rank 27th in both Win Percentage (25.0) and Point Differential (-7.8). The only teams below them in Win Percentage are the Cavaliers (23.5), Wizards (15.4) and Nets (14.3). The only teams below them in differential are the Pistons (-8.0), Wizards (-9.5) and Cavaliers (-9.9).
Bottom line: If you’re going to catch the Bobcats, it’s best if you do it when they played the previous night.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Bobcats haven’t exactly dominated the Bulls this season. Their two wins came by a combined total of six points (96-91 in Charlotte and 83-82 in Chicago). Meanwhile, the Bulls have won five in a row at home and are 23-4 in the United Center. That’s the best home record in the Eastern Conference, by the way.
Update! Here’s something potentially ominous for Bulls fans: Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook breaks down how the Bobcats enticed the Lakers to attack the rim…where they (the ‘Cats) shut them (the Lakers) down. According to Hoopdata, the Bulls are 32-for-58 at the rim against the Bobcats this season.
ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell writes: “Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah is on schedule with his rehabilitation and expects to be back after the All-Star break. Noah is hopeful he will make his return on Feb. 23 against the Toronto Raptors.”
Noah hasn’t played since a 110-93 win over the Raptors in Toronto back on December 15. That’s a stretch of 29 games…but it feels like much longer. Heck, it almost feels like Jo hasn’t played since MJ retired.
For a refresher, Noah was averaging career-highs in points (13.7) and assists (2.6) while ranking among the league leaders in rebounding (11.5). He was shooting 51.4 percent from the field and chipping in with 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. Joakim still leads the Bulls in Offensive Rating (115) and Defensive Rating (96), and he ranks third in Player Efficiency Rating (19.5).
Noah also ranks first on the team in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (0.205). For comparison, assuming he qualified by playing enough games, Jo would be tied with Dirk Nowitzki for 11th in the league. He’s also be ahead of guys like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Steve Nash, Kevin Durant and, as noted, Derrick Rose.
Not that I have to sell Bulls fans on Noah. I’m just trying to indicate on just how productive he really is. Or, rather, was before he injured his thumb back on November 27.
Said Noah: “[I'm] very excited. Just working out. I’ve got some tape on my hand instead of a cast. I can shoot a little bit and get back on the court as soon as I can. … [My conditioning is] not great. But I’m working really hard every day. So I think I’ll be ready when I get back on the court. … I’m not sure [how I'll play]. I’ve never been out that long but I’m working as hard as I can and when I’m out there I’ll probably 150 percent and see where it goes.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “He’s hasn’t done live scrimmaging yet. But there’s parts of practice that are somewhat, more half-court, where you’re structuring body on body, pick and roll defense, different defensive coverages and things like that. So he’s been cleared to do that, but he hasn’t been cleared yet to do the scrimmaging part, which will probably be the next step for him. Based on what [athletic trainer] Fred [Tedeschi] has laid out is a plan for progression. So he cleared him for some contact and then the next phase will be the total live contact.”
It’s hard to imagine Jo playing next week if he hasn’t even scrimmaged yet.
Thibs continued: “The thing that he’s done well is he’s been very engaged. He’s done a lot of conditioning. He’s come early to stay with the offense and sort of walk through things there so he’s been working on that and then he’s done a lot of post work with his left hand and things of that nature. So he’s done a good job with that, and then the past few weeks he’s done a little bit more. I think the big thing, once he starts playing, will be, how long will he be able to sustain a high level of play without [being gassed]. I think that will come quickly. What he has done is he’s done a great job with his conditioning, so he’s done as much as you could possibly do.”
Whatever the case, the sooner Noah is back in action, the better. The Bulls (36-16) are 12 games up on the Pacers in the Central Division, but the Bulls have higher aspirations than a division title. Right now, they’re third in the East, just a hop step behind Boston (39-14) and Miami (39-15). With the injuries to Carlos Boozer and Noah, it feels like the Bulls fell way behind those teams…but first place is hardly out of reach if the team just takes care of its business.
But the Bulls will need Noah for any late-season run at homecourt advantage.