This wasn’t the way Bulls fans envisioned Derrick Rose’s return from injury.
It wasn’t the way Rose envisioned it either.
The Bulls missed 11 of their first 12 shots and fell behind by 21 points in the first quarter before eventually rallying for a 10-point lead with under four minutes to go in the fourth. Then they collapsed and lost in overtime.
Make that three losses in the last four games.
Chicago shot 39.3 percent from the field, missed 15 of their 22 three-point attempts, bricked nine free throws and committed 20 turnovers for 14 points going the other way.
And nobody could do anything with Carmelo Anthony (43 points, 16-for-31, 4-for-5 on threes, 7-for-9 from the line, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block). ‘Melo also scored the last five points in overtime, including the game-winning three with 8.2 seconds left.
As for Rose, he scored a team-best 29 points but went 8-for-26 from the field and committed a game-worst 8 turnovers. He also had several huge mistakes down the stretch as the Bulls gave up that 10-point lead.
In fact, let’s check out what happened to the Bulls’ “offense” after Taj Gibson’s jumper put Chicago up by 10 with 3:45 of the fourth:
2:57: Rose turnover
2:11: Rose missed 9-footer
1:51: Rose turnover
1:20: Rose missed three-pointer
0:58: Rose missed 10-footer
0:34: Deng 0-for-2 at the line
0:19: Rose 0-for-2 from the line
0:01: Rose missed 22-footer
So, to sum up, 0-for-4 from the field, 0-for-4 at the line, 2 turnovers.
In the words of Sir Charles: That was turrible.
Said Rose: ”Free throws, turnovers, that’s the reason why we lost this game. Where I had a lot of turnovers just getting back into rhythm. It was just one of them games … missed [those] free throws and hopefully next time if I get the opportunity I’m going to knock them down.”
It was tough to see Rose struggle. At times, it looked like he didn’t have much life, and he finished 2-for-6 at the rim.
Rose wasn’t the only one struggling. Deng was 4-for-16 from the field — including 0-for-5 on threes — and missed those critical free throws. Rip Hamilton was 3-for-8 and finished with as many fouls (4) and turnovers (3) as points (7). Joakim Noah (10 points, 5 boards, zero assists) had almost no impact on the game (and a game-worst plus-minus score of -14).
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Chicago’s D was stout — even if ‘Melo couldn’t be stopped — and held New York to 38 percent shooting from the field and 8-for-34 on three-pointers. The Bulls also outrebounded the Knicks 59-47 and owned a 31-20 edge in free throw attempts.
Still, the rhythm and continuity weren’t there. Which, frankly, was to be expected. But it’s still disappointing.
What was even more disappointing was how the Bulls let ‘Melo get a three off at the end of OT instead of forcing him to shoot a two. The only thing the Bulls could not afford to do in that situation was give up a triple. That’s it. That was the kind of mistake you’d expect a high school team to make…not the league’s best team.
Said coach Tom Thibodeau: ”You can’t be giving up that shot. It’s the only thing that gets you in trouble is the three. You don’t give it up. You make them drive. You make them take the two.”
But that’s not why the Bulls lost. All-around bad play is.
Said Thibs: ”You just have to do the right things. We do the right things, you’re not going to have those problems. You’re not going to have those turnovers. Simple plays: Protect the ball, keep the ball moving, quick decisions, hit the first open man, sustain your spacing, protect the ball, tuck it on the catch, fight for your space, get your space. Simple.”
It should be. Sometimes it’s not.
The good news? The Knicks will be in Chicago on Tuesday. Redemption can come swiftly.
New York Injury Report:
Jared Jeffries: probable for today’s game (knee inflammation)
Jeremy Lin: out 4-6 weeks (left knee surgery)
Amare Stoudemire: out 2-4 weeks (bulging disc in back)
With just ten games left in the season, the Bulls have a three game lead on the Heat for the top spot in the East. Chicago got back on the winning track against Boston and will now take on another playoff team, the Knicks.
Six of Chicago’s last ten games are against playoff teams (five of those six are against Eastern conference playoff teams), but the other four are against some bottom feeders. The Bulls play the Knicks twice, Miami twice, Dallas and Indiana, while also taking on the Pistons, Wizards, Bobcats and Cavaliers.
Chicago controlled the second half against the Celtics, behind a great performance from Luol Deng (26 points, six rebounds, three steals and four steals). The Bulls brought down seven more offensive rebounds than Boston, which helped overcome their less than impressive bench play.
In the bench’s defense, they’ve been short-handed most of the season, with Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and sometimes even John Lucas III getting starts. But that time may be over.
Rip Hamilton is already back, and Derrick Rose is “more than likely” going to play against New York. Rose has missed 12 straight games. The last game Rose played was against the Knicks on March 12.
The Rose-Hamilton-Deng-Boozer-Noah starting line-up is 9-1 when starting this season.
In Rip’s second game back he scored nine points on 4-11 shooting to go with three rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes of action. Rip had zero turnovers against Boston, after turning it over five times against the Rockets.
Both the Knicks and Bulls are coming in on two full days of rest, and both have won seven of their last ten games. The Bulls have taken the first two games of the season series, winning by an average of four points. Rose scored 32 points in each game, and is averaging 9.5 assists as well.
And although Rose has been healthy both times the Bulls and Knicks met, Chicago was without Hamilton (no surprise) and Deng for both games.
Deng played great defense in the second half against Boston, holding Paul Pierce to four points. Lu with have his hands full again, this time against Anthony. Melo is averaging 29 points over his last two games, and 27.6 over his last five.
He is also averaging 23.5 points and seven rebounds per game against the Bulls this season.
But Melo is also going to have his work cut out for him, with Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin both out with injuries. Lin is probably out for the season, but Stoudemire could return in a week or so.
New York, who is teetering on the edge of .500, is the currently in the last playoff spot. This means Chicago and the Knicks would face off in round one, if everything stays the same for the last ten or so games.
Only Milwaukee has a real chance to keep the Knicks out of the playoffs. The Bucks are a half game back in the standings and have won three in a row. Philadelphia is the team ahead of New York, currently with a one game lead. It would be much better for the Bulls to take on New York in round one, and let Philly and Miami play each other. The Sixers defense would be even scarier in the playoffs, and the Bulls seem to match-up better against the Knicks.
Philly is first in defensive rating (98.2), but the Knicks aren’t too far behind in fourth place (100.3).
Chicago and New York have Monday off before facing each other again; that game will be in the United Center.
The Easter Bunny might have brought some of those disgusting marshmallow peeps, but he also brought Derrick Rose in the basket for Bulls fans; 50 percent ain’t bad. Will a win come with it (“it” as in Rose, not the peeps)?
I’m not sure how much the Celtics were affected by their overtime loss to the Spurs on Wednesday night — which went down to the last possible tick on the clock — but it factored into the equation somehow.
After all, injuries and plain old bad luck have left the Celtics rather depth-less. Sure, Ray Allen shifted into Sixth Man mode, providing 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting off the pine. But outside of Ray, Boston’s bench contribution was virtually non-existant. The C’s got only 13 minutes out of Ryan Hollins (2 points, 1 blocked shot), 11 minutes out of Greg Stiemsma (2 points, 1 rebound), 7 minutes out of Sasha Pavlovic (zero points, 1 rebound) and 2 minutes out of Keyon Dooling (1 turnover).
And while it’s true the Bench Mob didn’t wreak their usual havoc — totaling a mere 14 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks and a steal while shooting only 5-for-14 — the Bulls starters looked fresher down the stretch than their counterparts on the Celtics.
Luol Deng scored 12 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter and made several clutch plays against Paul Pierce (who, frankly, looked gassed). With 4:31 left and the Bulls leading by only four points, Deng hit a layup. Less than 40 seconds later, Lu drilled an 18-footer. On Chicago’s next possession, he converted a short jumper. With 2:19 left, after a jumper by Allen had pulled the Celtics to within six points, Deng knocked down a 20-footer. Next up was a nifty assist to Carlos Boozer (12 points, 14 rebounds) for a slam dunk and a 10-point lead.
And let’s not forget Deng’s second-half defense on Pierce, who had 17 points in the first half, then a meager 4 points in the third quarter and only 1 point in the fourth.
The rest of Luol’s stat line: 8-for-8 from the line, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists, 1 block and only 1 turnover.
Said Noah: “We just said we’ve got to play inspired. It looked like we were kind of just going through the motions and just playing with our heads down. Lu just said, ‘Guys, let’s just have fun out there and just give it everything we got,’ and that’s what we did.”
The Bulls outscored Boston 55-37 in the second half. It wasn’t a coincidence.
Said Boozer: “Tonight [Deng set the tone on both ends]. First of all, he was guarding a great player on the other side in Paul Pierce and then at the same time he was going right back at him on the other end. Hitting big shots, step up, pull up threes. He was very aggressive and we need Lu to be that way. When he’s aggressive like that we’re a better team.”
Added Noah: “He was huge. Lu played great for us. He played with a lot of energy. His defense was great; hit big shots for us. He’s one of the most versatile players in the NBA and he showed it on a big stage tonight.”
Deng led the turnaround, but everybody contributed, and it was good to see the team play with the edge that has defined them under Tom Thibodeau. The first half was ugly. The Bulls committed 10 turnovers and eked out a tie in the rebounding department (20-20) while watching the Celtics build an 11-point lead after 24 minutes.
Then the second half happened. The Bulls had only 4 turnovers the rest of the way and won the battle of the boards 24-16 (they would finish with a 14-7 edge in offensive rebounds).
And check out the shot chart. In the third quarter — during which Chicago outscored Boston 29-17 — the Celts attempted only two shots in the paint (both by Brandon Bass). In the fourth quarter, Boston was only 2-for-6 in the paint…and one of those made shots was a layup by Rajon Rondo with 1:16 left and the outcome virtually decided.
So the defense did its job.
The Bulls maintained the league’s best record (43-13) and upped their “record without Rose” to 15-7 (including 8-4 during Derrick’s current 12-game absence).
Said Rose: “You know the way that I play, I’m not holding back. My game is to be aggressive and try to get people going. I should be (good for the playoffs). My body was nicked up earlier in the year; (those injuries) are gone. The only thing that I’m worried about now is my groin.”
He admitted his groin still hurts, by the way, which is a major concern. But what can the Bulls do? They’ve done a great job holding the fort, but this team cannot win in the playoffs without Rose. Which means he needs to get back on the court very soon.
Said Thibs: “I think this time of the year you have to strike that balance of the rest and playing. We also want him to be in rhythm down the road, so I think just step by step. If he needs to take … the way the schedule is this month for us, if we need to sit him out of some practices, we’ll probably do that, give him an opportunity to rest there.”
Let’s hope Rose can start getting that rhythm Sunday against the Knicks.
Boston Injury Report:
Jermaine O’Neal: out for season
Mickael Pietrus: out indefinitely (concussion)
It’s been a few days since the Bulls’ back-to-back losses and I’ve calmed a little. It still worries me that their poor play has come less than a month before the playoffs. And that Derrick Rose isn’t back yet. And that Rip Hamilton didn’t look too sharp in his return.
But the sky is still up, and the world didn’t end, so let’s get back to basketball.
The Bulls take on Boston tonight, a team they are 2-1 against this season. Chicago 1-1 without Rose this season against the Celtics, but the Bulls’ point guard may actually be in action tonight. Rose practiced yesterday, and will be a game-time decision. Rondo had a triple-double (32 points, 15 assists and ten rebounds) in one of the games Rose was out, so it would be nice if we could get a Rose-Rondo showdown again.
Rose has missed eleven straight games. Chicago went 7-4 in his absence this time around, losing their last two.
Boston is 7-2 in their last nine games, helping them climb back into first place in the Atlantic Division, but they are just 7-8 when playing on no rest, as they will be tonight.
The Celtics are coming off of a one point loss to San Antonio last night in Boston. The Spurs are on a nine game winning streak, so losing to them by one isn’t that bad for the Celtics. Avery Bradley, usually noted for his defense, was Boston’s leading scorer with 19 points, his second highest total of the season.
In Ray Allen’s first game back from injury he played 35 minutes, going 2-6 from the field for five points. He also grabbed seven rebounds and added two steals. Rajon Rondo (17 points, eleven assists) and Paul Pierce (15 points, ten rebounds) both pitched in double-doubles.
Rondo is averaging 14.0 assists over his last ten games, but his scoring (9.4 points per game) and field goal percentage (43.3 percent) have fallen.
Boston gave up 12 offensive rebounds, while grabbing just four of their own though.
This could be good news for Chicago who is still the best offensive rebounding team in the league. Boston is 24th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage. This could mean a lot of second chance points for the Bulls.
The Celtics have really picked up their pace since the All Star Break. Before the break, Boston was averaging 75.1 field goal attempts per game. Since then, they are up to 80.1 attempts per game. Their points per game have increased by nearly six points in this faster pace, while their opponents’ points have risen from 88.5 to 91.9.
Boston still holds the lead in opponent effective field goal percentage (.451), while the Bulls are in third in that category (.456).
Boston has climbed into fourth place in the East, setting up a possible second round Bulls-Celtics match-up, if both teams get through round one. With a win, the Bulls can gain more confidence against the Celtics, and get back on the winning track heading into the end of the season.
“You know, I felt like we let go of the rope. Usually we’re a team that [shows] great fight all year, great resolve. Get down, fight back, never let go of the rope. 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.”
That was Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s rather grim pronouncement after last night’s listless home loss to the Rockets. It also happened to be the first time the Bulls have lost two in a row in over a year, a stretch of 86 regular season games, which is the second longest such streak in NBA history.
So let me say this: The sky isn’t falling.
I know it feels that way. Over the past two seasons, the Bulls have been so consistent and made such a habit of bouncing back after a loss that a win last night was basically expected.
But let’s be realistic, folks. I understand that the Bulls are the number one “no excuse” team in a “no excuse” league, but they still have the best record in the league (thank to OKC’s loss to the Grizzlies) despite the fact that Derrick Rose has missed 21 of the team’s 55 games.
Think about that. The reigning MVP has been absent from 38 percent of his team’s games, and that team still has the best record in the league.
Beyond Rose, Rip Hamilton (who returned last night) has been more ghost than player. Luol Deng has been dealing with a torn wrist ligament. Joakim Noah has missed games. C.J. Watson has missed games. Taj Gibson has missed games.
Though all that, and despite the crazy lockout-shortened schedule, the Bulls have continued to play with all-out intensity every night.
However, they are human, not basketball machines. And while I get that these men are paid — and paid very well — to play a game. But most people are paid to do jobs. I am. Yet I lose focus from time to time. Sometimes daily. It’s called mental fatigue and it happens to everybody.
If anything, it’s kind of surprising this didn’t happen earlier.
For the last couple weeks, almost every game recap here or elsewhere has used the word “flat” to describe how the Bulls are playing. They aren’t sharp. Last night, they committed 19 turnovers for 25 points going the other way. After building a 15-point second quarter lead, they closed the half with a flurry of turnovers (5 in the last 4.5 minutes) that gave the Rockets a spark of hope that eventually proved fatal for the Bulls.
You want to talk about the Bulls missing their edge? The Rockets were 17-for-24 at the rim. That’s a conversion rate of 70.9 percent. Normally, the Bulls limit their opponents to 56.4 percent shooting at the rim. In fact, they lead the league in that particular category. But last night little Goran Dragic went 6-for-6 at the rim, and almost every one of those shots was a straight path directly to the hoop for a layup. No jukes, no fancy moves, nothing.
You want to talk about mental fatigue and lack of focus? With just under 11 minutes to go, the Bulls were down only 75-50 when Chase Budinger drilled a wide-open three. The Bulls called timeout and then responded by turning the ball over via an offensive charge by Noah. A minute later, Budinger hit another wide open three. About half a minute after that, Budinger nailed another one and suddenly the Bulls were down 84-72.
If it had been a pickup game, guys would have been screaming, “Who’s guarding that guy?!” Well, Deng was supposed to be covering Budinger, and he lost him all three times. Wasn’t close enough to get a hand anywhere near Budinger’s face.
Deng’s a pretty good defender. That rarely happens to him.
So yes, in addition to being minus Rose, the Bulls are a step slow and a little sloppy. They’re dragging their feet. They’ve temporarily lost their edge and focus.
But I really believe it’s temporary. So do the players.
Said Boozer: “I don’t think we let go of the rope. Any time you lose two in a row, questions creep in. Look, the only way we’re going to get out of it is us. We fix it ourselves. We put ourselves [in position for] this great season and we’re going to finish it with a great season.”
Added Korver: “It’s correctable, man. Obviously, it’s frustrating, you want to play better, you want to play well every night. I think we lost two games in a row for the first time in I don’t know how long. Obviously, we don’t want that to happen and there’s some things we need to correct, but we’ve still got 11 games left and the playoffs. It was nice to have Rip back tonight. Hopefully Derrick comes back soon and we’ll peak towards the end.”
Houston Injury Report:
Kyle Lowry: out 2-4 weeks (bacterial infection)
Kevin Martin: out indefinitely (torn labrum in right shoulder)
With just 12 games left in the season, the Thunder showed that the Bulls have a long way to go to be the championship team many already think they are.
Chicago did not look good at all yesterday. And the Thunder looked amazing. It would be easy to hide behind the “but the Bulls didn’t have Derrick Rose” blanket, but would he have made that much of a difference? I don’t think so.
Chicago had been winning with defense, but they couldn’t slow down the Thunder at all. Kevin Durant (26 points, 11-16 shooting) and Russell Westbrook (27 points, 10-18 shooting) were scoring at will. Oklahoma City had 80 points through three quarters, and shot 48.6 percent for the game.
It was supposed to be Chicago’s defense that was stifling, but it turns out Oklahoma City can play some D themselves. Chicago shot 33 percent for the game and was held to just 12 third quarter points, when the Thunder were pulling away. The best defensive player on the court was probably Serge Ibaka, who had five blocks in the game and kept Chicago out of the paint.
The good news is the Bulls shouldn’t be very tired, because the starters got pulled. Kyle Korver, who was in the starting line-up rather than Ronnie Brewer, played the most minutes (32); Luol Deng (30 minutes) had what probably felt like a night off. C.J. Watson and Joakim Noah didn’t even play 20 minutes (Noah was 1-8 from the field in his 19 minutes of action).
And Noah summed up the game pretty well. “We were awful offensively and defensively,” Noah said after the game. “It’s disappointing they really kicked our (butt) in every aspect of the game.”
Well said Jo, well said. Luckily for Chicago, the Heat also got blown out by Boston, so the Bulls kept their 3.5 game cushion.
But today is another day, and the Bulls can get back on the winning track in the United Center. Chicago still hasn’t lost back-to-back games since February of last season.
And while the Bulls starters had a short night, the Rockets went into overtime against Indiana. Houston took a ten point lead into the fourth quarter, before falling to the Pacers by two points in the extra period. Indiana got to the line 18 more times, and made 19 more free throws than Houston. The Rockets also lost the rebounding battle 54-44.
Houston did shoot 42.9 percent from three, and every starter scored in double digits. Goran Dragic led the way for the Rockets with 22 points and six assists. Courtney Lee scored 20 points, Chandler Parsons had 14 points and Luis Scola added 13 of his own.
The Bulls will once again be without their point guard, for the tenth straight game. But the Rockets will be without their floor leader as well. Kyle Lowry is out for Houston with a bacterial infection. In his attempt to one-up Derrick Rose, Lowry has missed 12 straight games. Lowry was having a great season, averaging 15.9 points, 7.2 assists and 5.3 rebounds.
Houston is battling for the playoffs every night, as they’re currently in eighth place with a one game lead on Utah. The Rockets aren’t great on the road, going just 8-17 so far this season.
The Bulls last back-to-back games was their Portland-Philly stretch in mid-March. The Bulls lost the front end, but beat the Sixers the next night. Chicago is a very impressive 12-3 when they have no rest.
Houston is just 8-10 on the tail-end of back-to-backs, including losing their last two games on no rest (to Dallas and Phoenix).
The NBA season is now in its last month, and the Bulls are going to have to finish strong to keep their top spot. They play Miami twice in April, which could be a good gauge of where they are in relation to their probable Eastern Conference Finals foe. But most importantly for Chicago, they have to be healthy for the playoffs. That means Rose and Hamilton on the court, Deng getting rest for his wrist (and his entire body) and everyone else staying healthy.
“We were awful offensively, defensively, just disappointing. They really kicked our (butt) in every aspect of the game.”
That’s what Joakim Noah had to say after yesterday’s stinker in Oklahoma City.
Noah’s shooting may have been way off — Jo went 1-for-8 – but his analysis was on the money.
The word “disappointing” pretty much sums this one up.
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”You get what you deserve in this league. They beat us in every facet of the game.”
Well, technically speaking, the Bulls did win the rebounding battle 48-40, including an 18-3 edge on the offensive glass. But I’m just picking nits, and anyway, most of those boards weren’t getting ripped down when it mattered.
So Thibs was absolutely correct.
And I agree with ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell too: This had nothing to do with the continuing absence of Derrick Rose. This was just a good, old-fashioned, complete and utter butt-kicking. The Thunder wanted this one more and played harder. They were more inspired and — between Russell Westbrook (27 points, 5 assists, 4 steals) and Kevin Durant (26 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) — seemed much more talented than the Bulls.
KD and Westbrook combined to outscore the Bulls 21-12 in the third quarter. OKC outscored Chicago 31-12 overall in the third and that, as they say, was that. I may have to go back and check my notes, but I’m reasonably certain that was the Bulls’ worst quarter of the season. Maybe their worst quarter since Vinny Del Negro was coaching the team.
Exactly one Bulls starter finished in double figures. That was Kyle Korver (14 points), who started in place of Ronnie Brewer, who has lost a lot of his offensive mojo recently and was needed to guard OKC’s super sub James Harden. Taj Gibson had a double-double off the bench (10 points, 11 boards) and John Lucas scored 19 in relief (on 20 shots).
That’s the the best the Bulls could muster against the Thunder. It really was that bad.
Luol Deng got lit up by Durant (who was 11-for-16 from the field and 2-for-2 from three-point range) while going 4-for-13 and failing to get a rebound, assist, steal or blocked shot. Deng finished with a game-worst plus-minus score of -28.
C.J. Watson? He was 2-for-7 and missed all three of his three-point attempts.
In all, the Bulls shot a season-low 33 percent from the field and went 8-for-24 from downtown. Of their 91 shot attempts, 47 were chucked up from 16 feet and beyond, due largely to the wall Durant, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka formed in the paint.
Even when the Bulls did venture near the hoop, disaster ensued. To wit: Chicago converted only 9 of 23 shot attempts at the rim. That’s a “success” rate of 39.2 percent. The Bulls were 1-for-3 from 3-to-9 feet and 2-for-11 from 10-15 feet. The end result was a season-low 20 points in the paint.
Oklahoma City’s defense owned the day.
Said Korver: ”It’s an embarrassing game. You got your butt kicked on ABC on Sunday. But the beauty of the NBA, and especially this season, is you play again tomorrow. So hopefully we see this team again.”
I don’t know, Kyle. After what happened yesterday, I hope the Bulls never have to see the Thunder again.
It’s got to be hard, though, what this squad have been doing. Between the lockout-shortened schedule and all the injuries — Rose has missed 20 games and Rip Hamilton has missed 38 of the team’s 54 games — the Bulls have to play all-out every minute of every game every night to win. Most nights they do just that.
Said Thibodeau: “I just have to be convinced. [Hamilton's] raring to go. It’s more me. He thinks he’s ready. But I just want to make sure we’re smart.”
As for Rose, he’s making the call as to when he will return.
Said Rose: “I’m trying to loosen up the scar tissue. It’s going to take me a minute to get my rhythm back. … Missing this amount of games definitely hurts. The only positive I can look at is maybe I’m getting my rest.”
It’ll be nice to see the Bulls at full strength. I’m not sure we have yet this season.
Oklahoma City Injury Report:
Daequan Cook: out 2-3 weeks (sprained MCL)
Eric Maynor: out for the season (knee surgery)
The top two teams in the league face-off for what is sadly the only time the Bulls and Thunder will meet, unless both squads make it to the NBA Finals.
What’s even sadder is that the Bulls will be out Derrick Rose again. This is unfortunate not just for the Bulls, but for the fans. We are losing out on what would be one of the best games of the year. It’s still going to be fun, just not as fun as it could have been…
But enough whimpering, the star power is still in this game, and the Bulls are still a good team without Rose. Heck, they beat the Heat without their starting point guard already, so this one is still set up to be exciting.
Chicago currently has a two game lead on the Thunder in the standings, but Oklahoma City is rolling as of late, winning their last five. And those wins were against some of the top teams in the league. Over that five game win streak, the Thunder beat the Clippers by 23, the Heat by 16 and the Lakers by nine.
The Thunder went 11-5 in March though, their worst month of the season.
Oklahoma City is first in the league in offensive rating (110.5), as well as first in effective field goal percentage (.524). It doesn’t come as a surprise that the Thunder can score. They have some of the best shooters in the game on their team.
Russell Westbrook is averaging 27.4 points on 49.3 percent shooting over his last ten games. He’s scored more than 32 points in three of his last five games. He led the way with 36 points and six assists against the Lakers on Thursday. Westbrook is a handful himself, but Kevin Durant is the best scorer on the team.
KD, the MVP leader in Derrick Rose’s mind, is averaging 27.7 points per game, while shooting 50.1 percent. Durant has scored below 20 points just twice in his last 25 games (he scored 19 and 18 in those games, which were both against the Jazz). Durant went for 21 points, eleven rebounds and five assists against the Lakers.
And then there is James Harden—sixth man of the year contender and another great scorer. Harden is averaging 16.8 points on 52 percent shooting over his last ten games. He is coming off a poor, 3-11 shooting performance against the Lakers though.
It’s going to be strength against strength, as the Bulls rank second in defensive rating (99.0) and third in opponent eFG (.454). The Bulls have great defenders to match-up against these scorers. Luol Deng will harass Durant all day. Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson are good match-ups against anybody.
Kyle Korver will use his speed to keep up with whoever he is guarding and John Lucas III can use his size to body people. OK, those last two are liabilities.
The Thunder are worst in the league in turnover percentage though, at .153. The Bulls aren’t particularly good at forcing turnovers, ranking 25th in opponent turnover percentage (.129). Chicago’s defense relies more on forcing bad shots, than forcing turnovers. But with Westbrook, you sometimes don’t have to force him into anything, as he makes the bad decisions all by his lonesome.
The Bulls have been winning with their defense since Tom Thibodeau took over, and even without Rose they can slow opponents. During Rose’s current nine game absence opponents are averaging 86.7 points per game, which is lower than the Bulls season average of 88.5 points allowed per game. Chicago is 7-2 on their current Rose-less run.
The Bulls also have a chance on the glass. Oklahoma City is 21st in defensive rebounding percentage (.724). As you know, the Bulls are tops in the league in offensive rebounding percentage (.327). Chicago will need all the second-chance points (and points in general) if they want to stick with the high-scoring Thunder, and the offensive glass will be a big part of that.
The Bulls will need to watch Russell Westbrook attacking his offensive boards. Westbrook is leading all point guards in offensive rebounds per game (1.4).
And it’s not easy to get a win in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have the most wins at home, and the second best home record in the league (22-4), behind Miami. They score an average of 107.5 points per game at home, compared to just 99.8 on the road.
The Masked Man: Rip Hamilton tricked us all, when it was thought he was going to play against the Pistons. Apparently he was available, but Tom Thibodeau decided to not play him. I should have known I wasn’t going to see Rip on the floor. I will not be fooled again though, especially on April Fool’s Day.