February 28, 2013
Philadelphia 76ers Status Check:
Road Record: 6-18
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Streak: Lost 6
Last game: 98-84 loss to Orlando
PPG: 92.0 (30th)
Opponents PPG: 95.8 (7th)
Offensive Rating: 101.1 (29th)
Defensive Rating: 105.2 (13th)
Pace: 90.5 (23rd)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .477 (21st)
Turnover Percentage: .124 (2nd)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .740 (10th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .244 (24th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .145 (30th)
Opp. eFG%: .491 (12th)
Opp. TO%: .136 (18th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .214 (22nd)
Leading scorer: Jrue Holiday (19.0)
Stats from Basketball-Reference
Philadelphia Injury Report:
Andrew Bynum: out (knee)
Jason Richardson: out (knee surgery)
The Bulls have not won a home game in the month of February (0-3) and tonight is their last chance to do so, against a struggling Sixers team. Philadelphia is 6-18 on the road this season, and is curently on a six-game losing streak. Chicago is now in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, after dropping three places this month.
Luckily for the Bulls, the Eastern Conference is pretty awful. The eighth place team, Milwaukee, is three and a half games back of the Bulls. The ninth place team, Philadelphia, is nine games back of the Bulls. That means, barring a major collapse, the Bulls will make the playoffs. Now they wouldn’t want to be the eighth place team, because then they’d match up with the Heat. But really, without Rose, it doesn’t matter who they match up with, because they aren’t going to go that far (even with Rose beating the Heat would be a long, long shot).
The Sixers got blown out by the Magic (the Magic!) on Tuesday, snapping Orlando’s ten-game road losing skid. Damien Wilkins and Jeremy Pargo each scored 14 off the bench to lead the Sixers, as Philly’s starters struggled. Thaddeus Young (4-11, 8 points), Evan Turner (2-7, 10 points), Spencer Hawes (2-6, 6 points), Jrue Holiday (4-11, 9 points) and Nick Young (1-6, 3 points) all shot poorly and the Sixers finished 39.5 percent from the field. Philly let the Magic shoot 53.9 percent.
Over the last ten games, Evan Turner is shooting 35.8 percent from the field and hasn’t hit a single three pointer (he is averaging 0.7 threes per game this season). Nick Young is hitting 26.2 percent of his three over this ten game stretch, down more than ten percent from his season average.
There isn’t really much to say about the game tonight. It’s two teams playing bad basketball as of late. I feel bad for the national television audience that will be exposed to this game. Needless to say, this surely wasn’t the match-up the NBA had in mind when they scheduled this game.
The Bulls are the better team, but they already have some terrible losses on the season, most recently to the Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers. Chicago has a lot of injuries, but they also haven’t been playing well.
“We have to play with more urgency and play together,” Joakim Noah said. “I think that is disappointing right now. It’s been a long stretch where we haven’t been playing great basketball.”
“I sure hope it can’t get any worse than this,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said after Philly’s loss to the Magic. Ditto for the Bulls.
February 27, 2013
Is this what Jackson Browne was thinking when he wrote Running on Empty?
Is this what Michael Ray Richardson meant when he infamously said: “The ship be sinking”?
Because the Bulls are in a serious funk. There’s no denying it anymore.
After going 12-4 in January — which no doubt helped in getting Joakim Noah and Luol Deng selected as reserves to the NBA All-Star Game — the Bulls are a dismal 4-8 in February and have lost seven of their last 10 games.
Before last night’s debacle, the Bulls had the old schedule excuse going their way. Sure, they had lost six of nine, but four of those losses had been on the road against the Pacers (36-21), Nuggets (36-22), Celtics (30-27) and Thunder (41-15), and the other two losses has been to the Spurs (45-13) and Heat (41-14).
According to the Basketball-Reference simple rating system, five of those losses came to five of the league’s top seven teams (Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Miami, Denver and Indiana). John Hollinger’s stats-based power rankings concur.
That’s a tough stretch by any team’s standards. So the losses — while humbling — were at least understandable.
Last night’s flame-out against the Cavaliers? Not so much.
Cleveland is a lower-tier team at the best of times. In this case, the Cavs were missing their top two players in Kyrie Irving (sore right knee) and Anderson Varejao (out for the season due to right knee surgery and a blood clot on his right lung). For what it’s worth, they were also missing reserves Daniel Gibson (personal reasons) and Omri Casspi (out indefinitely after an appendectomy).
So all things being equal, that should have more than balanced out the absence of Taj Gibson (sprained left knee) and the continuing absence of Derrick Rose (left knee surgery), right?
But all things are not equal. And the Bulls lost at home to a lousy team.
Despite the return of Kirk Hinrich (11 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds).
Despite the fact that Carlos Boozer (27 points on 13-for-20 shooting) and Deng (26 points, 9-for-16, 7 rebounds, 5 assitsts, 2 steals) pulled out of their respective slumps.
Despite a solid (if sluggish and unspectacular) all-around game from Noah (9 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks, 1 steal).
Despite the fact that the Bulls somewhat righted their recent offensive woes by scoring at a rate of 115.7 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).
What when wrong, you ask? Defense. Or the lack thereof.
Cleveland — a team that is strictly middle-of-the-pack in terms of Offensive Efficiency even with Irving — scored at a rate of 119.3 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference again).
Given that Gibson was missing in action, it’s not surprising that the Cavs converted 14 of their 20 shot attempts at the rim and scored 40 points in the paint. What is a little shocking was that the Cavaliers shot 11-for-20 (55 percent) from 16-23 feet. Mind you, this is a team that normally converts only 38.2 percent of their field goal attempts from that particular zone (per Hoopdata). Luke Walton hit one of those long twos…a 20-footer with 1:21 left that pushed Cleveland’s lead to 97-92. That was a dagger. Possibly a fatal one.
Still, true to form, Cleveland left the Bulls an opening. In this case, Chicago was down only two points (98-96) after Dion Waiters whiffed on a three-pointer from 27 feet out. Tom Thibodeau called a 20-second timeout — the team’s last — and in theory drew up some sort of score-tying or game-winning play. What happened in reality looked like something out of the Vinny Del Negro playbook: Deng took a contested 20-foot jumper with a full 10 seconds left on the shot clock.
All I could think afterward was, “Is that really the best shot the Bulls could have gotten?”
After that, Deng was forced to foul Shaun Livingston, who knocked down both freebies to put the Cavs up 100-96 with 15.8 seconds left. Adding insult to injury, Boozer bungled the inbound pass, giving the ball back to Cleveland. One free throw by Waiters and a meaningless layup by Noah later, the game was over. All that was left now were the questions.
Like why the Bulls failed to contain Waiters, who scored 25 points on 10-for-16 shooting. Waiters hit three layups. He went 4-for-4 from 16-23 feet. He hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the third quarter. The Bulls apparently needed a GPS to track this guy, because they couldn’t find him all night.
No offense to Waiters, but we’re talking about somebody who averages 14 points on 40 percent shooting. What was he doing lighting up the league’s fourth-best defense?
Then there was Shaun Livingston, who’s averaging 5.2 points this season, blitzing the Bulls for 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Two months ago, Livingston was out of the league. Seriously. The Cavaliers picked him up off waivers on Christmas day. And he showed absolutely no fear against what was once considered a fearsome defense. When he got the ball, he was looking to shoot, especially against Nate Robinson.
In addition to the defensive lapses, I was also disturbed by the lackadaisical rebounding. Cleveland out-boarded the Bulls 39-34 and had a 13-10 advantage in offensive rebounds. That, in turn, led to a 22-18 edge in second-chance points. Add in the troubling facts that Chicago turned the ball over more often (15 turnovers to 12) and gave up more points off turnovers (18 to 14), you can see that the Cavs outperformed the Bulls in pretty much every category.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau? Not happy.
Said Thibs: ”Until we get the level of intensity up and play with high energy on both ends of the floor, play for 48 minutes, the results are not going to be good. You get what you deserve in this league and we’re getting what we deserve right now, so until we change that we’re going to have problems.”
I get what Thibodeau is saying. I do.
But I also wonder how much blood he can continue to squeeze out of this turnip of a season. Derrick Rose hasn’t played a single game and may not return until next season. It feels like Hinrich has been a game-day decision most of the year. Deng continues to lead the league in minutes per game (39.0), and his shooting (a near career-worst 42.8 percent) makes you wonder whether those torn wrist ligaments ever healed properly. Noah is eighth in minutes per game (38.3) despite an ongoing case of plantar faciitis, and last night’s stuck-in-the-mud performance sure made it look like he’s both tired and hurting.
As for the bench, Jimmy Butler (6 points, 1-for-3, 3 rebounds) had regressed to the mean, Nate Robinson (5 points, 2-for-6, 2 assists) looked like a minimum contract player, and can we all just agree once and for all that Marco Belinelli (3-for-10) is no Kyle Korver?
And don’t even get me started on Nazr Mohammed.
The Bulls genuinely looked like they were running on empty last night. And, per usual, Thibodeau doesn’t want to hear any of it.
Said Thibs: ”We are not the only team that has played this much time. Every team in the league has. This is what separates the teams in the league. The teams that can get it done when they are not feeling their best and still be committed in doing the job and getting it done, those are the teams that have success.”
Thibodeau’s players are toeing the company line.
Said Noah: ”We got to find a way. We got to find a way. We got to play with more urgency and play together. I think it’s disappointing right now. We’ve been in a long stretch where we haven’t been playing great basketball and we just got to find a way.”
Added Hinrich: ”We just got to get back right. We haven’t been playing up to our standards. We just got to get back to that — sooner than later. This time of year teams are jockeying for playoff position and just trying to finish strong. No excuses. We just got to keep grinding and play better.”
It all sounds great. It’s what they’re supposed to say and it’s what fans want to hear.
But the reality seems to be less optimistic. The Bulls are hurting. They’re tired. They’re without their superstar. They’re going through a brutal stretch of games.
And if you look at their upcoming schedule, don’t be surprised if things get worse before they get better.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
February 26, 2013
Update: Kyrie Irving (knee) is out tonight for the Cavaliers.
Cleveland Cavaliers Status Check:
Road Record: 8-22
Last 10 Games: 5-5
Streak: Lost 1
Last game: 109-105 loss to Miami
PPG: 97.6 (14th)
Opponents PPG: 101.2 (23rd)
Offensive Rating: 105.5 (13th)
Defensive Rating: 109.4 (28th)
Pace: 92.2 (12th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .475 (24th)
Turnover Percentage: .148 (3rd)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .719 (27th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .290 (8th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .203 (18th)
Opp. eFG%: .524 (30th)
Opp. TO%: .148 (3rd)
Opp. FT/FGA: .228 (26th)
Leading scorer: Kyrie Irving (23.3)
Stats from Basketball-Reference
Cleveland Injury Report:
Omri Casspi: out (appendectomy)
Daniel Gibson: doubtful (personal reasons)
Kyrie Irving: out (knee)
Anderson Varejao: out (surgery)
The Bulls have fallen to sixth in the Eastern Conference after their loss to Oklahoma City, which was the worst shooting performance by any team this season. In the tough stretch that the Bulls find themselves in, they have two very winnable games, against the Cavaliers, who are last place in the Central Division and Sixers at home.
Before we get into the matchup, the somewhat obligatory Bulls injury update has some bad news. Taj Gibson suffered an MCL sprain, and could be out two weeks.
Back to the Bulls opponents, they have back-to-back games against non-playoff teams. First up: Kyrie Irving and Cleveland, who are coming off a loss to the streaking Heat. Miami blew a 22-point second half lead before rallying in the fourth quarter to win its eleventh straight.
Kyrie had a poor shooting night, going 6-16 from the field for 17 points, as he battled through a sore right knee. He isn’t expected to miss any time because of the injury, but the Bulls need all the help they can get with Nate Robinson possibly starting against Irving. An injured knee is more of a defender than Nate will ever be, sadly.
While Kyrie struggled, Dion Waiters, surprisingly was efficient, dropping 26 points on 17 shots. As a team the Cavs shot 50 percent from the field, but Miami finished at 52 percent and hit 63.2 percent of their threes.
Although the Heat mounted a comeback in the final eight minutes against Cleveland, it’s important for the Bulls to build a sizable lead early in this one, to avoid the fourth quarter monster that is Kyrie Irving. Irving averages 6.9 points per fourth quarter, in 7.3 minutes of playing time.
Chicago should be able to shoot better against Cleveland, who is 28th in defensive rating and last in opponent effective field goal percentage. The Bulls have scored 72 or fewer points in three of their last five games. Nobody shot well last game, but Luol Deng, who is shooting 38 percent in February, and Carlos Boozer, who is shooting a season-worst 43.6 percent this month, need to start scoring. With Gibson sidelined for some time, Boozer will have more of a chance to get his offense going. Or just more chances to scream about rebounds. Either way, it’s exciting.
This is the last time the Bulls and Cavs will meet this season. The Bulls have taken all three previous match-ups. Boozer is averaging 17.7 points on 52.8 shooting against Cleveland this season and Deng is chipping in 18.3 points , while shooting 60.6 from the field. That is the best field goal percentage against any team this season for Lu. Boozer and Deng have had help in each of the games. Rip Hamilton dropped 19 in the first meeting, Marco Belinelli scored 23 in the second and Belinelli and Nate Robinson combined for 29 off the bench in the most recent contest. Irving scored 15 points against Chicago in both games he’s play against them this season.
Cleveland is shooting 39.7 percent against the Bulls this year and getting out-rebounded by nearly nine per game. The Bulls, on the other hand, are scoring 109.3 points per game against Cleveland, their best against any team this season. So, it seems, if the Bulls are going to find a way out of their offensive funk, Cleveland came up on the schedule at a good time.
“It’s not the time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Noah said after the loss to Oklahoma City. “We’ve got a home stretch coming up and things move fast in this league. We’ve got to bounce back fast.”
Things do happen fast in this league. The Bulls are finding themselves slipping in the rankings as their injuries continue to pile up. They have two possible bounce back games before their schedule switches back to a stretch of playoff teams. The Bulls need to grab the easier ones when they are available.
Stat of the night: The Bulls shot 63.8 percent against Cleveland on November 2, the highest field goal percentage by any team this season, according to StatsLLC.
The Basketball Gods giveth…and they also taketh away. To wit: The good news of Derrick Rose dunking in warm-ups (click here for video) has been tempered by an injury to somebody else.
ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell writes: “An MRI on Taj Gibson’s left knee revealed a sprained MCL on Monday, according to a league source. The timetable on his return to the Chicago Bulls’ lineup is uncertain. The veteran forward injured his knee in the second half of Sunday night’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder and spent some extra time in the training room having it checked out.”
As the Chicago Tribune’s KC Johnson points out, at least it wasn’t a torn ACL, but Gibson will be on the shelf for at least a couple weeks. Meaning the shorthanded Bulls are even more shorthanded. And this team was already thin in terms of frontcourt depth.
Tom Thibodeau’s response was predictable.
Said Thibs: ”We’ve got enough. We have to do our jobs. We’ve shown when we do that, we’re capable of beating anyone.”
Conversely, the Bulls have also shown they’re capable of losing to anyone, as evidenced by a disappointing collection of losses to the likes of the Bobcats, Bucks, Hornets, Suns and Wizards.
And the Bulls don’t have an easy schedule coming up. Their next two games — at home against the Cavaliers (18-38) and 76ers (22-32) — aren’t terrifying. But after that they have a home game against the Brooklyn Nets (33-24) followed by a two-game road trip to Indiana (35-21) and San Antonio (45-13). They then come home for a game against the Jazz (31-26) followed by another three road games against the Lakers (28-30), Kings (19-38) and Warriors (33-23). Then there’s a three-game home stand against the Nuggets (36-22), Trail Blazers (26-30) and Pacers.
There aren’t many breaks in this stretch. And the injuries aren’t helping. But that’s just life in the NBA.
February 25, 2013
The Bulls were hopelessly — and some would also say haplessly — blown out by the Thunder in Oklahoma City last night.
How bad was it? Well, the Bulls converted only 29.1 percent of their field goal attempts, which is the worst shooting performance in the NBA this season.
At halftime, they were shooting 10-for-48 (20.8 percent). It was 17-for-68 (25 percent) by the end of the third quarter. Only a comparatively “hot” fourth quarter in which they shot 8-for-18 (44 percent) in garbage time kept the final numbers from being even worse.
The box score looks like a graveyard. Carlos Boozer was only 1-for-5 in 25 minutes. Rip Hamilton (2-for-7) and Joakim Noah (2-for-9) were similarly ineffective. Nate Robinson was a train wreck (2-for-14 over and 1-for-8 on threes). Luol Deng’s 6-for-14 shooting performance was the best Chicago’s starting lineup had to offer. Which underscores the kind of night these guys had. And the team’s best bench player, Taj Gibson, went 2-for-11. So…there you go.
Add in the fact that the Bulls gave up 25 points off 18 turnovers and you have a complete and utter offensive meltdown.
But wait. There’s more. Chicago’s D got lit up, as the Thunder scored at a rate of 110.4 points per 100 possessions. Worst of all was that the Bulls were outrebounded 52-44, with Oklahoma City even holding a 33.3% to 29.6% advantage in Offensive Rebounding Percentage. And with all those misses, the Bulls had many more offensive rebounding opportunities than the Thunder.
Said Noah: “The way we competed was just embarrassing. The way we competed was bad. It’s not time to feel sorry for ourselves.”
The Bulls are 33-24 and had to players in this season’s All-Star Game. But how good are they really? Derrick Rose is still out and may miss the rest of the season. Kirk Hinrich can’t stay healthy. Nate Robinson — playing on a minimum one-year deal — is the de facto starting point guard.
The result: bad offensive numbers across the board.
According the Basketball-Reference, the Bulls are 29th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (.465), 28th in points per game (92.5), 27th in Pace (89.3), 26th in three-point percentage (.340), 25th in field goal percentage (.426), 24th in Offensive Rating (102.9), and 21st in Turnover Percentage (14.1).
The Bulls are good defensively in that they force a lot of misses (second in Opponents eFG% at .466) and limit the opposition in scoring (fourth in Defensive Rating at 101.4). But while they’re an elite offensive rebounding team (third in Offensive Rebound Percentage at 30.4), they’re actually a poor defensive rebounding team (22nd in Defensive Rebounding Percentage at 72.7).
This is a slow, plodding, inefficient offensive team that must absolutely shut down the opposition every night in order to win. But lately the warts have been showing. And throbbing. And growing. Particularly in that humbling home loss to the Miami Heat and last night’s embarrassment in Oklahoma City.
Said Hamilton: “It’s totally different with Derrick and even Kirk, but we definitely got guys in here that know how to play. And we know how to play off each other. It’s just that we got to be smarter, we got to be smarter and understand where we want to get the ball at, how we’re going to score and who we need to feed off of.
“We got to be better. It’s easier to score against bad teams that really don’t have a whole lot of principles. But when you play against good teams like Miami, Oklahoma City, it’s kind of like playoff-style games; you got to be better at not just your first option but your second and your third, because good defensive teams know how to take away first options, try to have you take shots from different places where you don’t want to — so you just got to really study your offense and understand that you might not score on the first option.”
Technically speaking, Rip is absolutely correct. But do the Bulls really have the talent to make it happen against elite teams?
For instance, the Bulls rank eighth in the league in field goal attempts at the rim (26.6), according to Hoopdata. And that’s good. It means they work hard to get high-percentage shots.
What’s bad is that they Bulls also rank 18th in field goal percentage at the rim (63.7 percent). This may explain why the Bulls rank 27th in the league in points in the paint, according to TeamRankings.
Now let’s look at where the rest of their offensive is coming from. The Bulls rank 29th in three-point attempts (14.1) and fourth in shots attempted from 16-23 feet (23.1). That’s right. They don’t take that many high-reward three-pointers, but they take plenty of low-reward, contested, long-range two-pointers, also known as “the worst shot in basketball.” And naturally they rank 20th in the league in converting those shots (36.3 percent).
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”We have to do our jobs. Do our jobs. We’ve shown when we do that we’re capable of beating anyone. We have to be mentally tougher. We have to be stronger. When you face a little bit of adversity if you’re short-handed, you have to dig down and get the job done. … We got to play a lot tougher. Our level of intensity has to be much higher. We got to get that part right. We got to get it right quickly.”
Added Noah: ”It’s very humbling to lose like that. We just got to look at ourselves in the mirror and do better. This isn’t getting it done and it’s tough. … Our intensity was bad tonight. We took steps backwards. That’s what’s frustrating. We’ve played a lot better this year so there’s really no excuse. We just got to bounce back ASAP.”
These are wonderful sentiments and they are why the Bulls have been so competitive the past three seasons, both with and without Rose. And why they’ll continue to be competitive. Tomorrow’s opponent — the Cleveland Cavaliers — will probably step directly into a face punch, much like the Bobcats did after the Bulls were embarrassed by the Heat.
But players “doing their jobs” isn’t going to change the fact that, as presently constituted, the Bulls are a flawed team. Yes, even if Derrick Rose returned fully healthy and back in MVP form. The Bulls can’t hit threes, take a lot of long twos and don’t convert a high percentage of their shots around the basket. All these things are related, and while they would certainly improve with Rose’s return, it’ll take more than that. Another star player would be nice. So would additional high-percentage shooters.
But as far as we know, Rose isn’t going to play any time soon, and the trade deadline has passed. The roster is what it is. Thibs and the players will continue to say what they always say: that the Bulls have more than enough to win.
Which is true. Except against the NBA’s elite teams.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
February 24, 2013
Oklahoma City Thunder Status Check:
Home Record: 24-4
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Streak: Won 1
Last game: 127-111 win over Minnesota
PPG: 106.7 (1st)
Opponents PPG: 98.0 (16th)
Offensive Rating: 112.7 (1st)
Defensive Rating: 103.5 (8th)
Pace: 93.8 (8th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .532 (3rd)
Turnover Percentage: .147 (29th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .731 (19th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .262 (17th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .282 (1st)
Opp. eFG%: .476 (4th)
Opp. TO%: .138 (16th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .199 (14th)
Leading scorer: Kevin Durant (28.9)
Stats from Basketball-Reference
Oklahoma City Injury Report:
The Bulls bounced back from an ugly loss against the Heat with a win over the NBA’s worst team. But it’s back to the top of the standings for the Bulls, as they face the second place team in the West. Oklahoma City is just 1-3 in their last four games, but they’ve won 24 of 28 games at home this year.
Four straight solid defensive performances for the Bulls come at the right time, as they now need to try and slow down the best offense in the league. Oklahoma City is first in offensive rating, at 112.7 and first in points per game (106.7). They’re led by Kevin Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer (28.9) and Russell Westbrook, the league’s seventh highest scorer (22.9).
The Bulls haven’t allowed more than 87 points in their last four games, and that includes a game against Miami and the scoring robot that is LeBron James. The Thunder though, have scored more than 100 points in 14 of their last 18 games. They scored 119 against Houston and then exploded for 127 in their most recent time out.
Westbrook dropped 37 points on 22 shots, to go with seven rebounds and nine assists, in that 127-111 win over Minnesota that snapped the Thunder’s three game skid. Durant recorded 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. KD’s numbers have fallen over his last ten games, as he’s averaging 25.8 points (fallen for Duran’t high standards), but he is hitting 48.5 percent of his threes. Kevin Martin, as usual, scored an efficient 19 points off the pine and although Serge Ibaka didn’t score much (six points) he grabbed seven boards and blocked three shots. Actually, Thabo Seflosha was the only Thunder starter to not grab seven rebounds–he brought in six.
As a team Oklahoma City hit 9-14 from deep (64.3 percent). The Thunder have five guys that are playing significant minutes that have hit better than 42 percent of their threes over the last ten games (Durant, Westbrook, Martin, Ibaka and Seflosha). Oklahoma City is tops in the league in three point percentage, shooting 39.2 percent on the year. The Bulls have given up the second fewest threes to opponents, and are third when it comes to opponent percentage from beyond the arc (33.6). The three point line is going to be key for the Bulls, because Chicago has no chance if they get into a shootout with the Thunder.
The Bulls finally reached 100 points in their win over Charlotte, the first time they reached the century mark since February 4. It was truly a team effort, with eight different players scoring in double figures. Taj Gibson led the way, scoring 17 points on 8-11 shooting. As a team, Chicago shot 50.6 percent while holding the Bobcats to 33.3 percent. The most spectacular stat was that the Bulls had 37 assists on 42 made field goals. Everyone who played more than six minutes recorded at least one assist. Joakim Noah was again the dime-dropper, with Kirk Hinrich out, dishing eight assists.
Ball movement will obviously help against the Thunder, but this game is going to be drastically different from the victory over Charlotte. Oklahoma City is eighth in defensive rating (103.5) and, as discussed earlier, first in offensive rating. Charlotte is 28th in offensive rating and 29th in defensive rating.
The Thunder have given up 113.0 points per game over their last four contests, with three of those ending as defeats.
Luol Deng scored his third highest total of the season in November against the Thunder, dropping 27 points in a losing effort (his two highest totals have come against the Knicks). Rip Hamilton scored 20 points in that game, also tied for his third highest total of the season. At this point, Rip scoring 20 is the equivalent of finding a four leaf clover. Hamilton hasn’t scored 20 points since mid-January.
Chicago actually had the lead going into the fourth quarter of that November match-up, before being outscored 31-19 in the final quarter. Durant scored 24 points to lead Oklahoma City and Ibaka dropped 21.
The Bulls are again down to their third point guard. Kirk Hinrich will once again be out with his elbow injury. He has played just once in February, while missing nine games. Kirk playing is like finding all of the four leaf clovers.
That means it will fall on Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague to try and stop Westbrook. God help us all (but mostly, help them).
February 22, 2013
The NBA trade deadline passed yesterday with nary a move by the Bulls. Management apparently took Tom Thibodeau at his word that the team has more than enough to win…no matter who’s playing and who isn’t.
In all seriousness, though, making a blockbuster trade for a star player isn’t all that easy and such moves don’t always work out as expected. The front office is being as cautious in building for the future as they are in managing Derrick Rose’s eventual return from knee surgery.
Speaking of which, Derrick’s brother and manager, Reggie Rose, freaked out a little over Chicago’s lack of player movement. And even better — excuse the sarcasm — he aired his frustrations publicly.
Said Reggie: ”What have you pieced together? Have you made any moves? Have you made any trades to get better? You know all roads to the championship lead through Miami. What pieces have you put together for the physical playoffs?
“Joakim Noah is a great player. Luol Deng is a great player. But you need more than that. You have to put together pieces to your main piece. The players can only do so much. It’s up to the organization to make them better. … It’s frustrating to see my brother play his heart and soul out for the team and them not put anything around him.”
Those are some strong words. And they got stronger.
Reggie continued: ”Everyone is expecting Derrick to come back. If Derrick comes back, they’re going to sell more tickets. Is the reason for Derrick to come back to win a championship or make money? Right now, I don’t believe a championship. Everything in the NBA is financial.”
For what it’s worth, I feel like Reggie’s comments were poorly timed given that Rose isn’t playing his heart and soul out at the moment. In fact, he isn’t playing at all, and has further stated that he won’t play at all this season if he’s not feeling up to it. That has been made clear. Rose should not be rushed back. Nor should the Bulls be rushed to make a move unless it is absolutely in the team’s best interests. Which, as I said earlier, isn’t always simple.
As Bulls vice-president John Paxson said last month: “In order for us to do something, we’re not in a position to take on any real salary, so we’re kind of limited in what we can do. I think our team has grown. It’s not always pretty. Let’s face it, we’ve had some ugly games this year, and that’s kind of who we are right now. But we do grind it out and play hard. You’re always on the lookout to do certain things, but I think our move hopefully will be bringing Derrick back into the fold.”
Translation: The Bulls aren’t going anywhere without Rose. So don’t expect any major shakeups until he’s playing again. Whenever that is.
With all that drama as the backdrop, the Bulls faced off against the Heat last night.
Privately, my prediction to a friend who asked was that “the Bulls are going to get their butts kicked.”
My friend scoffed a little. After all, the Heat have had occasional struggles against Eastern Conference teams, losing twice each to the Pacers (by double digits no less) and Knicks (again by double digits both times). They dropped a double-overtime decision to the Celtics in Boston’s first game without Rajon Rondo. They’ve also lost to castoffs like the Bucks, Pistons and Wizards. And, of course, the Bulls beat them in Miami in early January.
That said, while the Heat haven’t been sleeping on the season exactly, I would label them a “sleepy giant.” Check out their schedule. Many of their losses have that “championship team going through the season on cruise control” feel to them. But when properly motivated — such as in their two games against the Oklahoma City Thunder — the Heat have shown the ability to lay the smack down.
They did so last night as well.
First of all, let’s get something straight up front: The idea of theoretically defending LeBron James is laughable right now. God Mode has been unlocked and he is unstoppable. Chicago’s defense — and Luol Deng in particular — were really going after him. He still shot 11-for-15 and submitted a near triple-double (26 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals). The Bulls did their best to force him to shoot jumpers..and he went 5-for-5 from 16-23 feet. The only blight on LeBron’s night was his 1-for-4 performance from downtown, but one of those attempts was a left-handed “I’m just messing around at this point” buzzer-beater to end the third quarter.
Seeing LeBron play the way he’s been playing, I can’t help but wonder whether the Bulls have a chance to dethrone the Heat with or without D-Rose. Or, with all due respect to Reggie Rose, regardless of what roster moves they make, since I’m guessing adding someone like Kevin Durant or LeBron himself is out of the question.
LeBron’s brilliance aside, the Bulls sure didn’t do themselves any favors last night. Their carelessness with the ball cost them any shot of making this game respectable. How bad was it? I’ll let ESPN Stats and Information tell you:
The Bulls turned the ball over 27 times against the Heat, the most for the franchise since turning the ball over 29 times against the Wizards on December 4, 2004.
The Bulls recorded 17 turnovers and made 15 field goals in the first half Thursday against the Heat. This marked just the eighth time this season a team recorded more turnovers than field goals in the first half of a game this season. The last time it occurred was on February 2 when the Hornets committed 13 turnovers to just 10 made field goals in the first half against the Timberwolves.
The Bulls committed 17 turnovers in the first half Thursday against the Heat, by far their most in ANY half this season. Their previous high for a half was 13 turnovers in the second half on November 28 against the Mavericks.
The turnover bug was so bad in the first half I half-seriously wondered whether somebody had greased the ball. Miami’s defense was good, but it wasn’t that good. There were many instances where the mere threat of the Heat D caused turnovers or missed shots. The Bulls were repeatedly guilty of over-passing, with some possessions looking like a game of hot potato. One turnover happened when no fewer than three Bulls passed to a teammate rather than attempt a layup. Another happened when Carlos Boozer pulled down an offensive rebound, rushed his putback attempt, and then tried to tip in his miss before it came off the rim.
The Bulls often seemed skittish and even intimidated around the hoop. All told, they missed 10 layups and went 1-for-5 from 3-9 feet. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Bulls were playing scared. But they were playing nervous. And it’s hard to compete in professional basketball when you’re looking over your shoulder the whole game.
Even when the Bulls got good shots — and they did get them, when they weren’t bobbling the ball away — they couldn’t knock them down. They ended up shooting 37 percent from the field, including a dismal 2-for-10 from three-point range. It certainly would have helped to have Kirk Hinrich, who another game due to his ongoing elbow injury, but I’m not sure any one player would have made much of a difference last night, unless Rose was back in MVP form, or somebody conjured the 1991 Michael Jordan from the mists of time.
The Bulls were terrible. And they know it.
Said Taj Gibson: “It’s one of those nights you just want to forget.”
Added Luol Deng: “It was terrible.”
Right on both counts.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tried to take a little of the blame on himself: ”The turnovers were a problem. Also the type of passes we were making. They have great quickness. You have to give them credit, they were into us and we didn’t move the ball. That part, to me, I have to make our team understand the type of plays we have to make to give ourselves a chance. When you turn the ball over like that, that part is on me.”
As for Joakim Noah — who was Chicago’s player of the game with 11 points, 8 boards, 8 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks — he put it in the simplest of terms: ”They shot the ball great, they played very well, you got to give credit when credit is due. They kicked our (butt), but we’ll be back.”
No doubt the Bulls will be back. But will it matter? You never want to put too much weight on the outcome of a single game. But with a healthy and transcendent LeBron teamed with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, can the Bulls realistically hope to compete with Miami on even footing any time in the next couple seasons?
Time will tell.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
February 21, 2013
Miami Heat Status Check:
Road Record: 14-11
Last 10 Games: 9-1
Streak: Won 8
Last game: 103-90 win over Atlanta
PPG: 103.2 (5th)
Opponents PPG: 96.7 (12th)
Offensive Rating: 12.3 (2nd)
Defensive Rating: 105.2 (12th)
Pace: 90.8 (21st)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .545 (1st)
Turnover Percentage: .131 (6th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .734 (17th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .226 (27th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .222 (8th)
Opp. eFG%: .490 (13th)
Opp. TO%: .145 (7th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .216 (23rd)
Leading scorer: LeBron James (27.2)
Stats from Basketball-Reference
Miami Injury Report:
Chris Andersen: left Wednesday’s game (sprained foot)
Mike Miller: missed Wednesday’s game (flu-like symptoms)
After staying quiet through the trade deadline, Chicago moves ahead with the team they put together this summer, and remain eager for Derrick Rose’s return. That won’t be for a while, maybe not even this season, but playing with Rose is nothing new for Chicago. The Bulls looked good in their first game after the All-Star break, taking care of the Hornets, but now they get a real test: the hottest team in the league with the hottest player.
Miami comes into the game having won eight straight as LeBron James has found a new level of dominance. Over his last ten games, of which the Heat are 9-1, LeBron is averaging 30.0 points, on 64.5 percent shooting from the field and 51.4 percent from deep. He’s also adding 7.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.9 steals over that stretch.
On their eight game win streak, Miami is averaging 107.6 points per contest. The last time the Bulls scored 107 points in a game was a mid-January overtime win over the Raptors. Getting into a shoot-out with the Heat wouldn’t work for almost any team, but the Bulls know they need to win these games on the defensive end.
The Bulls get up for games against the Heat. They showed it last year in games that Rose missed with minor injuries and showed it once again when they met Miami in January. The Bulls have taken six of the last eight regular season games against Miami, holding the Heat to 91.0 points per contest.
Chicago gave up just 89 points to Miami in their first meeting this season, shutting down everybody except James (30 points) and Dwyane Wade (22 points). LeBron got to the line 16 times in that contest, hitting 13 of those freebies.
The clear match-up to watch is whoever is guarding LeBron at the moment. It will be Luol Deng for most of the game, and Jimmy Butler may get some time on him as well.
There is some good news for the Bulls. First of all, they get Miami on the road, where the Heat are just 14-11 on the year (compared to 23-3 at home). The second is that Miami is playing on the second night of a back-to-back. It’s not a big advantage, as Miami is 6-1 playing on no rest, but a somewhat tired Heat team is better than a rested one.
LeBron played 40 minutes last night in the win over Atlanta, scoring 24 points to go with eleven assists and four steals. That was his lowest output of the month and just the second time he has scored fewer than 30 points in February. Wade added 20 points in 35 minutes of action and Shane Battier and Ray Allen combined for 32 off the bench. Chris Bosh struggled, going just 2-10 from the floor in his first game since starting the All-Star game.
Kirk Hinrich is once again a game-time decision because of his elbow injury. Hinrich went 2-7 from the field for five points, but dished ten assists as the offense looked much better with him leading it. Nate Robinson came off the bench to score 13 points in the first match-up with Miami. Hinrich went 3-8 for ten points in that game.
February 20, 2013
The Bulls returned from the All-Star break to break their two-game losing streak with a good win over the Hornets. In doing so, they pushed their Eastern Conference-leading road record to 16-10 and moved to within one game of the Indiana Pacers for the Central Division lead.
Seeing the team’s point guard return from injury. Ha, not Derrick Rose, but Captain Kirk Hinrich. The Captain didn’t shoot particularly well (2-for-7), but he did a solid job directing the offense with a team-best 10 assists. He also played his typical strong defense (even if he did get beaten off the dribble now and again) and generated three steals…including one off an inbound pass after he hitting his only three-pointer of the game.
Said Carlos Boozer: ”He played great tonight, man. For being out as long as he was out he came back in and it was almost seamless, man. He did a great job of getting everybody involved, made some big plays, hit a couple of big shots for us, played great defense, got a tough whistle tonight, but he still played great.”
Hinrich finished with a co-game-high plus-minus score of +11 and Chicago’s offense was much steadier when he was running the point. Statistically, Nate Robinson is much better than Hinrich. Robinson leads the team in Player Efficiency Rating (18.2), Effective Field Goal Percentage (.508) and Assist Percentage (31.9), and he’s second in Offensive Rating (110 points per 100 possessions) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.161). Meanwhile, Hinrich has a PER of 10.8 — which is well below league average — and he’s shooting a miserable 37.8 percent from the field.
And yet, according to Basketball-Reference, Hinrich is in the team’s top two lineups and four of the top seven overall.
Hinrich is obviously the better defender. He can’t score with Nate, but he gives the ball up much more readily and quickly. This is most evident on fast breaks. Robinson usually holds the ball until the last second and he’s looking to attack the basket. Hinrich gets the ball to the open man immediately, often before he even passes halfcourt.
Said Joakim Noah: ”Kirk played huge for us today. He does a lot of things that you don’t see in the stat sheet that really help our club. … He just brings a whole different dimension, his defensive intensity, his feel for the game when he calls plays, ball movement, everything. He’s a great player.”
Chicago won the rebounding battle 47-39. That included a 33.3% to 25% advantage in Offensive Rebounding Percentage, which in turn led to a 15-6 advantage in second-chance points.
The Bulls also did a good job protecting the basket. According to Hoopdata, the Hornets converted only 48 percent of their shots at the rim (12-for-25). And New Orleans didn’t make up for that deficit with outside shooting, as Chicago held the home team to 4-for-17 shooting from downtown.
Here’s my favorite stat of the night: The Bulls had 30 assists on 39 made field goals. The ball was really moving.
Now here’s my least favorite stat of the night (per ESPNChicago): The Bulls didn’t shoot a single free throw in the first half. Crazy.
The Bulls starting frontcourt combined for 52 points on 21-for-40 shooting to go with 32 rebounds, 11 assists, 5 steals and 3 blocked shots. Luol Deng lead the team in scoring with 20 points while the Bulls got double-doubles from both Boozer (17 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals) and Noah (17 rebounds, 15 points, 5 assists, 3 blocks).
Speaking of which…
Player of the Game:
It was Noah. Maybe his foot is feeling better after the platelet-rich plasma treatment he had last week. Maybe he was pumped up from his first All-Star appearance. But Jo dominated the boards, scored efficiently, moved the ball well (5 assists) and with care (only 1 turnover). He did a little of everything.
Coach Thibs says:
“I thought the level of intensity was very good. I loved the pace to start the game. I thought our defense was solid. The ball was hoppin’, making quick decisions, not shortcutting things, making the extra pass, setting good screens, I thought overall it was very good. Joakim [Noah] was everywhere, multiple effort plays and that was probably one of his best screening games since I’ve been here.”
Point of Concern:
So Chicago’s frontcourt was dominant. Kirk Hinrich played the good floor general. The Bulls controlled the backboards both defensively and offensively. The defense held New Orleans to 41 percent shooting and a scoring rate of only 94.7 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference). Even Thibs seemed happy with the effort and intensity of his team’s play…and Thibs is almost never happy.
But the Hornets hung around. They got to within a point in the fourth quarter. This is a 19-35 team that ranks 15th in Offensive Efficiency and 27th in Defensive Efficiency. They are the league’s 18th-best team according to John Hollinger’s stats-based power rankings and 24th in Marc Stein’s weekly power rankings. It just felt like the win should have been a little more overpowering, if not a blowout, but the Bulls could never quite pull away.
I may be picking nits here.
Quote of the Night:
Boozer on having Hinrich back: ”It’s huge, man. That’s why our chemistry is so good. You look at our team over the course of these two and a half years we’ve been together, the more we play together we get better and better, man. I think our chemistry continues to grow, which is a big deal. As you guys know, having chemistry gets you through some of those tough moments you have in a season. You go through ups and downs, whatever. But the tough, tough, moments that are coming, the playoffs what have you, that chemistry, sometimes can carry you over the hump.”
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
February 19, 2013
New Orleans Hornets Status Check:
Road Record: 10-19
Last 10 Games: 5-5
Streak: Won 2
Last game: 99-63 win over Portland
PPG: 94.1 (23rd)
Opponents PPG: 97.1 (14th)
Offensive Rating: 105.0 (14th)
Defensive Rating: 108.4 (27th)
Pace: 88.9 (29th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .496 (11th)
Turnover Percentage: .142 (24th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .742 (8th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .274 (14th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .207 (18th)
Opp. eFG%: .511 (27th)
Opp. TO%: .132 (22nd)
Opp. FT/FGA: .207 (18th)
Leading scorer: Ryan Anderson (17.1)
Stats from Basketball-Reference
New Orleans Injury Report:
Eric Gordon: probable (sprained right hand)
Unsure if Derrick Rose will return this season, the Bulls sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference after the All-Star Break. They limped into the break with a bunch of injuries, which showed as they went 2-5 over their last seven games (all against playoff teams).
The schedule doesn’t get much easier, as Chicago will play their last 30 games of the season. Before April, the Bulls play Miami twice (both at home), the Pacers twice, the Thunder, Spurs, Jazz, Nuggets, Nets, Warriors and Lakers. That’s a tough stretch even if Chicago was at full health.
The Bulls are getting a point guard back tonight, but it’s not the one many people were expecting by the All-Star Break. Kirk Hinrich will return to the lineup after missing seven games with an elbow infection. Hinrich will go back to the starting line-up, and Nate Robinson will come off the bench again.
Robinson has started 12 games this season, and has come off the bench 40 times. In the games he starts, he is averaging 13.7 points on 41.6 percent shooting in 35.0 minutes. In the games he is a reserve, he averages 11.5 points on 44.8 percent shooting in 20.4 minutes of action.
The Hornets are in last place in the Southwest division, but are on a two-game win streak and are 4-1 in their last five games. They are coming off a blowout win over the Trail Blazers, in which Portland shot 32.4 percent from the field and was out-rebounded 52-35 (15-6 on the offensive glass). Only three players for Portland scored in double-figures and two of their best players combined for nine. Nicolas Batum went 1-10 from the field for three points and LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t much better, shooting 2-11 and finishing with six points. Everyone on the Trail Blazers recorded a negative plus/minus except Wesley Matthews, who played two minutes and recorded a zero.
Anthony Davis posted a double-double (21 points, eleven boards), Ryan Anderson went 2-5 from deep off the bench for 14 points and Greivis Vasquez overcame his poor shooting (3-8) to tally ten points, eight assists and five rebounds.
Not to take anything away from the Hornets, but it seems like Portland was looking ahead to the All-Star break a little bit, rather than worrying about that one last contest.
The Bulls had their own embarrassing loss to enter the break, falling to Boston in a 71-69 game that lacked offense (and fun). The Celtics shot 36.8 percent, only to be outdone by the Bulls 36.5 percent. The Bulls out-rebounded Boston, 49-39, but turned it over 22 times for 20 points going the other way. The Bulls scored eleven points off 12 Boston turnovers.
Tonight is the last time this season the Bulls will play the Hornets, and Chicago can get revenge for an 89-82 early November loss. Boozer went 1-8 in the loss, as did Kirk Hinrich. Rip Hamilton made two shots, matching Boozington and Kirk by himself, but also missed ten. Those three guys combined for ten points. Luol Deng led the Bulls with 19 points and Nate scored 15 off the bench, but Chicago shot 33.0 percent and finished 3-17 from deep.
The Pelicans, who were missing number one pick Anthony Davis because of a concussion, didn’t shoot well, but did enough to take care of the Bulls. Vasquez scored 18 points; Robin Lopez went 7-10 from the field and posted 16 points and four blocks. Jason Smith hit 4-5 shots and all eight free throws off the bench for New Orleans as he dropped 16 points.
Eric Gordon is also expected to play tonight. Gordon is averaging 16.4 points this season.