March 19, 2013
It’s too bad they don’t have a “Moral Victory” column in the NBA standings.
The shorthanded-as-always Bulls — who were once again without Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton and Taj Gibson — were faced with a daunting task:
Slow down the Denver Nuggets, the league’s second hottest team, winners of 11 straight games.
The Bulls ended up having one of their best offensive outputs in a while: 49 percent shooting, 12 offensive rebounds, 19 second-chance points, 50 points in the paint, and a scoring rate of 115.5 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference).
Unfortunately, that whole “slow down the Denver Nuggets” thing never quite happened.
Offensively speaking, Denver did everything a little bit better: 20 offensive rebounds, 20 second-chance points, 30 fast break points, 68 points in the paint, and a scoring rate of 116.5 points per 100 possessions.
That’s right, folks. It was “Defense Optional Night” in the United Center.
Chicago’s D shouldn’t have been caught this off guard. After all, the Nuggets are a run-and-gun team that entered the game ranked first in fast break points, points in the paint and second-chance points. They love to crash the boards and attack the rim. Which is what they did. Over and over again.
According to Hoopdata, the Nuggets attempted an astounding 54 shots at the rim. They connected on 34 of them…which is nearly as many as the Bulls attempted. Denver’s offensive rebounding rate was an equally amazing 40 percent.
Normally, I would assume Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was irate over his team’s defensive effort. But in this case, Thibs was irate about something else entirely.
The Bulls kept finding themselves down by double-digits, but they fought their way back thanks to spectacular performances by Joakim Noah (14 points, 7-for-10, 12 rebounds, 7 blocked shots, 6 assists) and Nate Robinson (34 points, 7 assists, 6 three-pointers, including the three that forced overtime).
In the NBA, when a home team erases a huge deficit and forces OT, there’s a feeling of destiny. It just feels like they should win. And it sure felt that way after Robinson nailed a 22-footer to put the Bulls up 115-114 with just over a minute left in the extra session.
Then several things went wrong.
After Robinson’s shot, Denver came back and got yet another layup attempt from Ty Lawson. That attempt missed, but Kosta Koufos tipped the ball in to put the Nuggets up 116-115 with 46.4 seconds left.
One problem: The ball was still on the rim when Koufos touched it. Which is goaltending. But because the officials missed the call, they couldn’t review the play.
As ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell put it: “The officials let the play go and did not review it, despite a new NBA rule addendum that allows officials to review a play in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and any play in overtime. The key is that a violation must be called on the floor in order for officials to be able to review it on courtside monitors.”
This would come back to haunt the Bulls.
But before that, Chicago managed to reclaim the lead thanks to a layup by Noah and a free throw by Robinson. The Bulls were now ahead 118-116 with 16 seconds left. They were 16 seconds of defense away from an improbable win.
Of course, they didn’t get it.
Andre Miller drove deep into the paint only to find himself sandwiched between Noah and Jimmy Butler. Some crazy spinning and pivoting ensued — during which it sure look liked he traveled — before Miller shoveled the ball to a wide open Andre Iguodala. Noah managed to challenge the shot, but Iggy nailed a triple and now the Bulls were down by a point with seven seconds to go.
After a timeout, the Bulls inbounded the ball to Marco Belinelli, who drove to the baseline and lofted a jumper that a leaping Noah touched on its way down.
Unlike the Koufos play, the officials called this one, and they were therefore able to review it. Which meant the shot wouldn’t count. And it didn’t.
As referee Ken Mauer explained: “If we deem the ball in its descent has a chance to score, and therefore it’s in the cylinder, it’s either offensive basket interference or it’s goaltending, that’s it.”
For their part, the Bulls players and coaching staff believed the official initially allowed the basket and only changed their mind after the Nuggets called timeout and demanded a review.
Said Noah: ”They called it good, they called basket.”
Thibodeau absolutely erupted. I’ve never seen the guy that angry.
After the game, Thibs said: ”I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it one bit. Koufos’ play, I asked why it wasn’t reviewed. … Clearly it was on the rim, and they told me that because they didn’t make the call, they couldn’t review it. If that is the rule, then that is the rule. I thought we had the video stuff to make sure we got it right. Then down on the other end, they are tough calls on bang-bang plays, but I don’t understand why one is reviewable and the other one isn’t. After watching the replay, and I watched it when it occurred, they never made the call on that either.
“It’s a tough play. From my angle, it looked like it was a good play, it looked like the ball was short. Koufos’ [play], I know, was on the rim, and to me I guess we have to call the league and get an interpretation. Maybe I don’t understand the rule correctly.”
The rest of the Bulls were as upset as their coach.
Said Carlos Boozer: ”We felt like we got it stolen from us.”
Added Noah: ”Very disappointing. I feel like you play this game so hard and maybe I just don’t understand the rules or something, but I just don’t understand how you can review my tip-in but two plays before that you can’t review the other one. There’s got to be consistency in when you can review [a play]. It’s just frustrating how things like that can happen. I know that the refs are doing the best that they can in those situations, but it cost us the game today, so it’s disappointing.”
I agree that this was a rough way to end a game. But in the final analysis, it was one play. What about all those layups the Nuggets had? Or their 12 dunks? The 20 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points? The 30 fast break points?
The reality is, has the Bulls done a better job protecting the rim, taking care of their defensive glass or getting back in transition, nobody would be talking about a missed call.
It’s a shame that such a great effort wasn’t rewarded. But the Bulls are a team that has to do all the little things to win. Last night, they didn’t do all the little things. And it cost them.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced B ox Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
March 15, 2013
Golden State Warriors Status Check:
Home Record: 22-9
Last 10 Games: 4-6
Streak: Won 2
Last game: 105-97 win over Detroit
PPG: 100.6 (9th)
Opponents PPG: 100.7 (23rd)
Offensive Rating: 105.9 (13th)
Defensive Rating: 106.0 (16th)
Pace: 94.3 (6th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .501 (11th)
Turnover Percentage: .142 (23rd)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .751 (3rd)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .257 (21st)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .208 (15th)
Opp. eFG%: .487 (9th)
Opp. TO%: .123 (28th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .214 (23rd)
Leading scorer: Stephen Curry (22.2)
Stats from Basketball-Reference
Warriors Injury Report:
Draymond Green: left Wednesday’s game (sprained ankle)
Brandon Rush: out (knee surgery)
How do you bounce back from a game like the one the Bulls had against the Kings? Normally, I’d say Chicago bounces back quite well from defeats, but normally they don’t have absolute no-shows like they did in Sacramento. It was the worst defeat I can remember for the Bulls, especially under Tom Thibodeau, and even especially-er considering the opponent. And that’s including losses to the Bobcats and Sun this year.
There is no point in looking at all the stats again. The only one that really matter is that the Bulls have one more loss after an embarrassing face-plant in which they were out-played in every way imaginable.
And coming off that disappointing defeat, the Bulls play their last contest of a three-game California swing in which they looked poor and awful in the first two-thirds. Remember that Bulls great road record? Well, that was fun for a little. Chicago has dropped five straight on the road, scoring more than 83 points just once during that skid. According to Stats LLC, the Bulls are averaging 81.4 points per game during their road losing streak. If that isn’t the definition of rock bottom, I am going to really hate watching tonight’s matchup.
In Chicago’s six games in March, they are averaging 86.7 points while giving up 97.0.
The Bulls have fallen so far, that the difference between their offensive rating (102.6, 23rd) is just 0.3 points better than their defensive rating (102.3, 6th). You can blame it on injuries, which you can partly blame on fatigue, which you can blame on extended minutes, which you can blame on off-season moves…or you can just say that the Bulls really aren’t that great of a team this season and are starting to show it.
As they are in their prime slumping form, Chicago would probably want to avoid a hungry team trying to keep the sixth spot in the Western Conference with a very good home record. But that’s what they are getting. The Warriors are 3.5 games ahead of the eighth-place Lakers, currently riding a two-game win streak.
To make matters worse, while the Bulls are shooting terribly, they will have to slow down Stephen Curry’s hot hand. Over his last ten games, Curry is shooting an absurd 52.4 percent from three and averaging 28.3 per night. Curry hit 5-7 from deep last time out against the Pistons and went 6-10 versus the Knicks in the game before that.
With Kirk Hinrich still nursing his somewhat mysterious foot injury, Nate Robinson could be tasked with trying to slow Curry—which I’m sure will just go perfectly…for the Warriors. Hinrich is listed as questionable for tonight, saying he is optimistic he will play.
Hinrich shined in the Bulls first game against Golden State this season, scoring a season-high 25 points on 8-11 from the field and 6-7 from deep. Chicago owned the glass, grabbing 56 boards to 37 for the Warriors. They also held Golden State to 34.6 percent from the field en route to a 16-point victory.
That somewhat commanding win came at home, but more importantly came in January, a month the Bulls finished 12-4. In February and March, the Bulls are a combined 7-12. They’ve also lost four of their last five, and completely pooped their bed in the last contest.
I’d like to say something good about the Bulls, something they can build on, but I’m not sure what that is. They are still a playoff team with a top six defense that can keep them in any contest when they are playing as a team.
“It’s no time to make excuses. We need to find a way to bounce back,” Joakim Noah said to the Bulls website. “We just have to move on fast and get ready for Golden State. They are a lot better team than (the Kings).”
That’s the scary part. If the Bulls looked that awful against the Kings, they are going to have to flip some switches or something to not get tossed out of the gym tonight.
March 14, 2013
I certainly didn’t see this one coming.
If you’d told me before the season started that this Bulls team — even without Derrick Rose and beset by several other injuries to key personnel — would get blown out by 42 points by a Sacramento Kings team that was 20 games below .500 and playing without DeMarcus Cousins, I’d have said you were cracking up.
Hell, I would have made the very same claim if you’d told me all that yesterday.
This game was over almost faster than I could heat up a few pieces of leftover pizza. The Bulls got outscored 34-20 in the first quarter and then 31-16 in the second.
The offense was bad. The defense was worse. The Bulls had no fight in them. None.
I may as well throw some numbers at you. The Bulls converted a dismal 38 percent of their field goals despite efficient shooting nights by Carlos Boozer (8-for-12), Nate Robinson (7-for-9) and Marquis Teague (3-for-5).
The primary culprits in this brick-a-palooza were Luol Deng (5-for-12), Jimmy Butler (2-for-10), Joakim Noah (3-for-8) and Marco Belinelli (0-for-9), with additional contributions from Daequan Cook (4-for-12), Nazr Mohammed (0-for-3) and Vladimir Radmanovic (0-for-3).
The Bulls were 2-for-21 from three-point range. That’s a conversion rate of 9.5 percent. They also turned the ball over 17 times for 23 points going the other way. According to Basketball-Reference, they scored at a miserable rate of 87.1 points per 100 possessions.
Then there was the defense. If you could call it that. I’m not sure it even qualifies.
The Bulls blocked only three shots. They forced only 5 turnovers.
The Kings shot 54 percent from the field. They had 27 fast break points and 50 points in the paint. Sacramento scored at a rate of 133.4 points per 100 possessions. Tyreke Evans (11-for-13), Isaiah Thomas (8-for-14) and Patrick Patterson (6-for-7) must have felt like they were at a shootaround.
Said Robinson: ”We couldn’t stop them. It starts with our defense. We just couldn’t stop them. No matter what they did, no matter what shot they put up, they made. It felt like they didn’t miss the whole game. It felt like that was the first team in NBA history to go 100 percent [from the field], that’s what it felt like.”
Added Boozer: “It was embarrassing, man. It’s hard to put into words.”
Hard, maybe, but not impossible. For me, the words “low point” and “rock bottom” come to mind.
Look, there’s no doubt this team is running on fumes. Don’t forget, the Bulls fought through several injury issues last season and somehow finished with the league’s best record before losing Rose in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
This season has been more of the same but worse. Three seasons of Tom Thibodeau cracking the whip, scads of injuries and long minutes for everybody left standing. On top of that, there’s the daily questions about Rose: How’s he doing? When will he be back? So on and so forth.
From the outside looking in, it doesn’t seem like the Bulls have much left in the tank, either emotionally or physically.
Said Thibs: ”Our level of intensity was very poor. Our readiness to play: very poor. I’m probably most disappointed in myself. My job is to have them ready. We can’t come out like that. That’s on me. That’s on me. I didn’t like our intensity in the Laker game. I didn’t like it tonight, and I got to drive harder … and I will.”
Here’s the thing: I’m not sure that’s it. I’m not sure driving these guys harder is the answer.
Added Noah: ”I think we all got to look at each other in the mirror and just understand that we’re not competing the way we’re supposed to be competing. We got a lot of guys out, and our margin for error is very small. And if we’re not going into games with the right mindset, then we have no chance.”
Look, I say this a lot, but basketball is a game of split seconds. The quality of coaching and level of talent are so high that NBA players have split seconds to make the right pass or take a good shot. There are only split seconds to slide into the proper defensive position or put a hand in a shooter’s face.
When a team is mentally and physically fatigued — especially in a long-term sense like the Bulls — they’re consistently a split second late in doing all those things. No matter how hard the coach drives them. Just ask guys like Doug Collins or Scott Skiles.
This is a professional, hard-working group of guys. They have the proper mindset and they don’t need to be driven any harder. What they need is some good news. They need Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton and/or Taj Gibson to start feeling better. God willing, they need Rose to feel ready to play again. They need some warm bodies. They need some help.
And until they get some or all of those things, they will continue to struggle.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
March 13, 2013
Sacramento Kings Status Check:
Home Record: 16-15
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Streak: Lost 1
Last game: 115-113 loss to Milwaukee
PPG: 99.1 (11th)
Opponents PPG: 105.1 (30th)
Offensive Rating: 105.2 (17th)
Defensive Rating: 111.6 (30th)
Pace: 93.3 (9th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .486 (19th)
Turnover Percentage: .138 (11th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .707 (29th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .269 (14th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .211 (11th)
Opp. eFG%: .518 (28th)
Opp. TO%: .137 (16th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .233 (29th)
Leading scorer: DeMarcus Cousins (17.0)
Stats from Basketball-Reference
Sacramento Injury Report:
DeMarcus Cousins: questionable (bruised thigh)
James Johnson: expected to be out (personal)
The Bulls offense has been dismal as of late. The last time they scored more than 100 points came on February 22 against the Bobcats. There aren’t many free Big Macs being handed out at the United Center. Since the start of February, the Bulls have scored 100 points in two games. Over that same stretch, they’ve scored fewer than 70 points twice. Scoring in the 60s shouldn’t happen close to as much as scoring in the 100s. But on a given night, if the Bulls are playing a solid defense, it’s honestly more likely that they will score in the low-70s than sniffing 100.
It doesn’t help that Taj Gibson, Rip Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich have missed lots of games recently, but if the Bulls want to hold steady in their playoff spot, and not drop to the eighth seed, they’re going to have to start scoring or just absolutely shut down the other team. As much fun as it is to speculate when Derrick Rose is going to return, this is the team that the Bulls have going forward, and these are the guys that need to start putting the ball in the basket.
Much of the blame goes to Luol Deng and Nate Robinson, because they are (somewhat sadly) the Bulls best scoring options right now. Deng is averaging 13.6 points on 39.7 percent shooting over his last ten. Robinson is down to 11.1 points on 33.3 percent from the field over that stretch. Throw in Carlos Boozer as well (14.2 points, 43.6 percent from the field) and maybe the Bulls are lucky to be scoring 70.
“We have to find a way to spread the court a little bit more,” Joakim Noah said after the last game. A viable three point shooter would help spread the floor, but that guy is currently hitting threes for the Atlanta Hawks (Kyle Korver has hit a three in 56 straight games!).
Perhaps tonight will be the game. The Kings post the worst defense in the NBA. In 14 of their last 18 games, the Kings have given up more than 100 points. Over that stretch, they are 5-13. Sacramento’s defensive rating (111.6) is ten points worse than the Bulls (101.8).
Chicago didn’t get to 100 when they met the Kings in the season-opener, but as least they got the victory. Joakim Noah recorded 23 points, ten rebounds and five steals. So he has clearly been doing everything for the Bulls all season long. Rip Hamilton dropped 19 points. So some things change. And Luol Deng went 3-13 from the field, for seven points. So some things stay the same.
For the Kings, Tyreke Evans tallied 21 points and eight boards, leading Sacramento in both categories. Evans is averaging 14.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in six games in March. DeMarcus Cousins scored 14 points but turned it over seven times.
Cousins could be suspended from tonight’s game because of a flagrant two foul he received for elbowing Mike Dunleavy in the head. He is leading the Kings in scoring this season, at 17.0 points per game.
March 12, 2013
ESPN’s Beckley Mason recently penned an article called Its smart to be fun. Mason’s essential point is that current analytics indicate an “athletic, aggressive open-court style” of offense is both efficient and successful.
Mason supports his case with the following extended quote from Denver Nuggets coach George Karl:
Coaching has now gotten so technical and scientific and there’s so much of it and there’s so much video and and there are so many statistics, that basically the reality of coaching is when you play 5-on-5 basketball it’s very difficult to beat the defense and the scouting reports and the preparation and the tendencies that we know teams have. So what we’re trying to do is play before those things can be settled in to.
We want to play early. We want to play before the defense sets. We want to play when there’s mismatches running up and down the court. And to do that it takes a little extra work on working on your spacing and working on your commitment to run and play fast. I mean very few players want to play fast because you don’t get rewarded all the time. You have to run maybe 10 times to get 2 shots, maybe 15 times to get 2 shots.
It’s like offensive rebounding. A lot of big guys don’t like to offensive rebound because you got to go all the time to get a few reinforcements. Our big guys here have done a great job the last few years. They really do run the floor well which helps the beginning of the spacing and gets the freedom of the ball. And then the other sport aspect of it is I just watch football. They’re playing quicker, they’re getting faster. They don’t want the defense to get set, they don’t want the defense to rotate in and match up their strength against your strength.
We’re kind of trying to play not against the strength of a good defensive team, and the weakest part of the defensive team is normally in transition. I watch a soccer team like Spain play and so much of what they do is they don’t hold the ball. They ping the ball around and make quick decisions. And I’m sure they have great plays and great actions, but it’s basically don’t let the defense feel like they can zone in on you because you’re making quick decisions.
Mason then goes on to say:
Translation: The analytics tell us the best way to play is in transition, and with maximum ball movement. That is, to give the fans what they want.
That’s why the Nuggets lead the league in attempts at the rim by a wide margin and score in transition more than any other team. It’s also great news for NBA fans who prize creativity and athleticism.
This got me thinking. So using data from ESPN.com, Hoopdata and TeamRankings, I assembled the following chart showing how the top ten offensive teams (in terms of Offensive Efficiency) rank in various categories:
As you can see, playing fast and taking lots of shots at the rim aren’t necessarily required for success. To wit, two of the top four offensive teams rank in the mid-20s in pace (the Heat and Knicks) while three of the top four rank outside the top 10 in fast break points (Heat, Spurs, Knicks), with one team ranked 29th (the Knicks). Meanwhile, the top four teams all rank outside the top 10 in shot attempts at the rim, with the Thunder (17th), Knicks (20th) and Heat (23rd) all ranking in the latter half of the league.
You could argue that teams make up for these deficiencies with three-point shooting, although the league’s best offensive team (the Thunder) ranks 14th in three-point attempts, while four of the other top 10 offensive teams rank outside the top 10 in three-point attempts, with the Jazz all the way down at 28th.
So clearly there’s more to offensive efficiency than a fast pace, plenty of transition opportunities, a large quantity of shot attempts at the rim and/or hoisting plenty of threes.
And yet it stands to reason that some combination of those factors — if not all of them — would be key ingredients to solid offensive output.
Now here’s how the Bulls rank in all the same categories:
As you can see, the Bulls are a walk-it-up team that doesn’t score many points in transition. This means that opposing defenses have plenty of time to get into position. Furthermore, they attempt the second-fewest three-pointers per game in the league, which means there’s poor spacing. This likely explains why, although Chicago takes a lot of shots at the rim, they rank only 19th in field goal percentage at the rim. It’s probably also why they have such a high turnover rate. It’s difficult to complete shots around the hoop when the paint is clogged, and it’s tough to thread the ball through passing lanes clogged with hands and arms.
So what the Bulls end up with are lots and lots of low-efficiency two-pointers from 16-23 feet. Add in injuries and fatigue, and you have the perfect ingredients for one of the league’s worst offenses.
March 11, 2013
The Bulls do not have “more than enough” to win.
They just don’t. Not right now.
Not without Derrick Rose, whose status remains as murky as ever.
Not without Kirk Hinrich (swollen right foot), Rip Hamilton (bask spasms) and Taj Gibson (sprained left knee).
Not with Joakim Noah limited by plantar faciitis. Not with Luol Deng seemingly suffering the effects of heavy minutes and torn wrist ligaments that may never have healed properly.
Chicago’s defense played okay during the first half in limiting the Lakers to 20-for-47 shooting. But the Lakers erupted for 29 points on 11-for-20 shooting in the third quarter to put the Bulls on their heels. After falling behind by as many as 18, the Bulls made a push…but the Lakers pushed right back. In latter half of the fourth quarter, they attacked Carlos Boozer on offense, especially off pick-and-rolls, and got pretty much any shot they wanted.
And even after Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was finally forced to yank Boozer, Kobe Bryant still managed to drive right to the rim. Kobe missed the shot but grabbed his own offensive rebound, and after running some more time off the clock, ended up with another layup.
By that point, you could tell the Bulls just didn’t have it. Even when they were able to get shots, they couldn’t score. Chicago shot 6-for-18 in the first quarter, 11-for-24 in the second, 7-for-24 in the third and 9-for-23 in the fourth. Overall, they shot 37.1 percent and misfired on 12 of their 16 three-point attempts. They earned only 12 free throw attempts and managed only 4 fast break points against a Lakers squad that isn’t exactly known for foot speed.
Joakim Noah had a monster statistical game (18 points, 7-for-12, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks) but couldn’t contain Dwight Howard (21 total rebounds, 7 offensive rebounds, 16 points, 4 blocked shots). Nate Robinson played reasonably well (19 points, 8 assists, 4 steals), but he took a lot of shots (19), missed a lot of threes (2-for-8) and couldn’t keep a hand in the face of Steve Nash (16 points on 6-for-9 shooting).
As is often the case, the Bulls tried to make up for their offensive ineptitude by crashing the glass, and they ended up with 18 offensive rebounds and 23 second-chance points. Unfortunately, the Lakers had 19 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points of their own.
In fact, when you factor in the fact that they shot better (and thus had fewer missed shots to rebound), the Lakers finished with a titanic Offensive Rebound Rate of 40.4 percent.
So Chicago’s initial defense was often fantastic…but they couldn’t finish the job. Which actually has been a recurring theme this season. The Bulls are a great offensive rebounding team, ranking third in the league in Offensive Rebounding Rate. On the flip side, they’re a terrible defensive rebounding team, currently 24th in Defensive Rebounding Rate behind teams like Phoenix, Detroit and Toronto.
But while there certainly has been some slippage defensively and on the boards, the Bulls look utterly out of gas on offense. Everything is a struggle. Nothing comes easy. Boozer, Deng, Robinson and Marco Belinelli combined to shoot 22-for-66 from the field and 3-for-13 from downtown. The bench — which as been vastly reduced due to all the injuries — managed only 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting between Jimmy Butler (24 minutes, 5 points, 2-for-8), Nazr Mohammed (9 minutes, 5 points, zero rebounds) and Marquis Teague (3 minutes, 1 turnovers, zero for everything else).
The Bulls sorely missed Gibson defensively and on the boards. And they missed having Hinrich to initiate the offense. According to ESPN Stats and Information:
In the four games since Kirk Hinrich’s injury, the Bulls have shot 38.4 percent from the floor. Luol Deng has felt the extra attention from opposing defenses, averaging 0.84 points per possession in the last four games compared to 0.90 in Chicago’s first 59 games. For context, Deng’s average over the last four games would rank him 279th on the season, tied with Josh Smith and Pablo Prigoni. Chicago is 1-3 over that span.
You can’t draw blood from a stone, but that’s why the shorthanded Bulls have been trying to do on offense lately. But don’t tell Noah that.
Said Noah: ”Nobody care. It’s no time for excuses. We still got to go out there and play the game, play the game the right way. And I think a lot of it is mental with us. We just get frustrated very easily right now and I think that if we stick together through these hard times I think it’s going to make our team that much better.”
The frustration is understandable. Noah and Deng are playing through pain and discomfort. Several other guys aren’t playing at all. The Rose situation is becoming a bit of a circus. And with all the injuries and distractions, the Bulls aren’t close to reaching their ceiling.
Countered Robinson: ”We’re just not making no shots that’s all. Simple as that. We just got to make our shots, we’ll be OK. We’re in every game, we play hard, we’re just not making our shots. We’ll be all right. We’ll start making them.”
I really wish it was that simple, but I outlined the team’s problems last week. The Bulls don’t take or make many threes, so they can’t space the floor. This leads to defensive crowding in the paint and a low conversion percentage on their shots at the rim. Their offense generates an awful lot of long two-pointers, and they don’t knock down very many of them. They also don’t get to the line very often and they have a high turnover rate. Add in that they don’t have a go-to guy on offense and…well…there’s basically nothing these team does well on offense other than rebound some of their many missed shots.
Said Thibodeau: ”Offensively, we have to keep the ball moving. When we hold on to it and settle for the long two, that’s a tough shot.”
It’s a great thought, but it’s hard to keep the ball moving when Robinson plays the point for 43 minutes and 24 seconds, as he did last night. Look, I absolutely love Nate’s energy and effort, and I think he’s great when playing his optimal role, which is energy guy/explosive scorer off the bench. But as a point guard, he dribbles too much and holds onto the ball too long in general. Basketball is a game of split seconds. And Robinson tends to deliver the ball several split seconds too late. Which gums up an already flawed offensive system.
According to NBA.com, the Bulls rank 29th in points per game (87.6) over their last 10 games, barely ahead of the dreadful Charlotte Bobcats (87.2). They’re 28th in field goal percentage (40.9), with only Minnesota (40.6) and Charlotte (39.9). The Bulls are also in the red in terms of rebounding differential over the last 10 games.
The Bulls need answers. And right now, that’s only going to happen when players start getting healthy and returning to the lineup.
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart.
March 10, 2013
During the first quarter of today’s Bulls-Lakers game, ESPN’s Doris Burke reported that Derrick Rose’s hamstrings — and not his surgically-repaired left knee — are delaying his return.
Rose has been taking part in full-contact practices for a month and the big “news” on Friday was that he’s been medically cleared to play (although that should have been assumed given that he taking part in full-contact practices). Which naturally led to the obvious question: Why isn’t Rose playing?
As it turns out, Rose says his hamstrings are “on fire” after practice and that he won’t return until that isn’t the case.
This situation is starting to get a little out of hand. Rose says he isn’t ready to play. As an organization, the Bulls have been saying all the right things, specifically that they will not pressure Rose to return. Then a “team source” leaks that Rose has been cleared to play. Then Rose misses practice on Saturday. Then the hamstring story surfaces today. Meanwhile, there’s not much actual information being provided by Rose or the Bulls about where exactly Rose is at mentally or physically.
At this point, it almost feels like the best thing to do would be shut Rose down for the season. Don’t make him (or allow him) to come back at the tail end of the season and head into the playoffs untried and untested. Give him the time he needs to feel fully prepared and (as he put it) 110% ready to go.
In all reality, there’s no real sense in Rose playing this season, other than a little spiritual lift for the team and its fan base. It’s very unlikely the Bulls could compete for a title this season, even if Rose — and Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton and Taj Gibson — were all completely healthy and ready to go.
Shutting Rose down for the year would end the endless questions and all the associated drama. Scratching this year off the record, Rose has given the Bulls absolutely everything he had and everything the team could have asked for. If there’s little or nothing to be gained by playing someone who isn’t mentally ready to play — especially someone like Rose who has earned a little good faith — then put this saga to an end and let this year’s unit move on.
That’s just my two cents.
March 9, 2013
Los Angeles Lakers Status Check:
Home Record: 21-11
Last 10 Games: 7-3
Streak: Won 2
Last game: 118-116 win over Toronto in OT
PPG: 102.7 (6th)
Opponents PPG: 101.7 (26th)
Offensive Rating: 108.0 (8th)
Defensive Rating: 106.9 (21st)
Pace: 94.8 (3rd)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .515 (8th)
Turnover Percentage: .121 (29th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .742 (9th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .272 (13th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .235 (2nd)
Opp. eFG%: .499 (18th)
Opp. TO%: .121 (29th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .168 (2nd)
Leading scorer: Kobe Bryant (27.8)
Stats from Basketball-Reference
Los Angeles Injury Report:
Pau Gasol: out (partially torn plantar fascia)
Jordan Hill: out (hip surgery)
The Lakers are playing their best basketball of the season right now, finally turning it on after months of underperforming and contending for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Bulls are floundering, dropping seven of their last 12 in a tough part of their season, currently in the fifth spot out East.
Kobe Bryant has recorded 40+ points and 10+ assists in his last two games, the first Laker to do that since Jerry West in 1970, according to Elias. Bryant is on a tear, averaging 36.0 points on 53.2 percent shooting from the field and 45.9 percent from deep over his last five games to go with 7.0 assists and 5.4 rebounds. Over his last ten games, he’s averaging 32.3 points on 53.9 percent shooting, 7.3 assists and 6.1 rebounds per contest. What that means is that Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler are going to have their hands full in this one.
Kobe’s heroics have been carrying the Lakers, as they’ve won seven of their last nine, but they haven’t all been very convincing wins. It took overtime to beat the Raptors by just two points, it took a 20-point comeback against the Hornets to escape New Orleans with a win, they beat the Hawks by one and both the Mavericks and Blazers by four. Both of their losses over that stretch, to the Thunder and Kings, were by double digits, as were victories over the Celtics and Timberwolves.
This isn’t to take away from the Lakers streak, but it does show, especially the last two games, that the Lakers, though winning, are very beatable.
The Bulls took the first game in this series, a double-digit win at home, which gave the Lakers six straight losses away from the Staples Center. But Los Angeles is much better at home, compiling a 21-11 record in the sunshine and smog, compared to 11-20 on the road.
Kobe was held to 16 points on 7-22 shooting in that first contest against Chicago. Without Deng in the line-up, Butler did a solid job on Bryant, while also scoring ten points and grabbing eight boards of his own. The Bulls will be without Kirk Hinrich again, who led Chicago in scoring with 22 points on 9-11 from the field in January matchup with Los Angeles. Kirk added eight assists and seven rebounds in what was his best all-around game this season. Rip Hamilton, who will also be out once again and didn’t travel with Chicago for the three-game road trip, added 13 points on 18 shots.
The Bulls were out-rebounded by ten, but shot 9-17 (52.9 percent) from three compared to 3-17 (17.6 percent) for the Lakers. The Bulls also won the turnover battle (16-8) and dished more assists (25-15).
The Lakers will be missing their own starter, as they will still be without Pau Gasol who is fighting a partially torn plantar fascia. Gasol had 15 points and 12 boards against the Bulls. And even with Hinrich playing, who is the Bulls best point guard defender, Steve Nash shot 5-12 and finished with 18 points. Nash and Nate Robinson are basically going to let the other one do whatever they want to on the offensive end.
It was all knotted up after three quarters in the first contest between the teams, before the Bulls outscored the Lakers 26-14 in the final frame. Chicago held LA to 26.3 percent from the field and forced six turnovers, while the Bulls shot 45.8 percent.
That solid fourth quarter defense is unusual for the Bulls, as the final twelve minutes is usually their worst. The Bulls allow opponent to score 23.6 points per fourth quarter, which is tenth in the league. That number doesn’t seem so bad, a top ten fourth quarter defense; however, the Bulls are 25th in the league in fourth quarter scoring themselves, at 22.5. And when it comes to opponent scoring in the other three quarters, the Bulls are near the top of the league. They are second (first quarter), third (second quarter) and fourth (third quarter) in opponent scoring in the first three periods.
I apologize that last sentence was confusing, let me say it another way. The Bulls are a top four defensive team through the first three quarters, and then drop all the way to tenth. It is fascinating that the Bulls get worse and worse throughout the game. I can’t be the only one drawing connections from heavy minutes for starters to lackluster fourth quarter play.
The Bulls were sloppy in the fourth against Utah, shooting 20.8 percent in the quarter, while allowing the Jazz to shoot 43.8 from the field. Luckily the Bulls brought down nine rebounds to salvage the game and escape with the win.
The biggest thing for the Bulls to keep up for all four quarters will be their defense. Despite struggling to win games this season, the Lakers offense has been quite good; it’s the defense that has been letting them down, and with Dwight Howard coming back into form, that is improving as well. Los Angeles is eight in offensive rating and just 21st in defensive rating.
March 8, 2013
Utah Jazz Status Check:
Road Record: 10-21
Last 10 Games: 4-6
Streak: Lost 2
Last game: 104-101 loss to Cleveland
PPG: 98.7 (11th)
Opponents PPG: 98.8 (17th)
Offensive Rating: 106.7 (9th)
Defensive Rating: 106.8 (22nd)
Pace: 91.4 (19th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .488 (17th)
Turnover Percentage: .139 (15th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .725 (24th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .297 (6th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .226 (6th)
Opp. eFG%: .500 (19th)
Opp. TO%: .138 (16th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .217 (25th)
Leading scorer: Al Jefferson (17.7)
Stats from Basketball-Reference
Utah Injury Report:
Raja Bell: out (personal)
Al Jefferson: questionable (sprained ankle)
Behind all the Derrick Rose being cleared news, is the fact that until he comes back, the Bulls have to keep playing without him, and that continues tonight against Utah.
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls past the Jazz when they played in Utah in February. On the second night of a back-to-back, Boozer scored eleven straight points in the fourth to help the Bulls win 93-89 and hand Utah their sixth home loss of the season.
Boozer tallied 19 points and Nate Robinson scored 18 as a starter. Noah had 12 points and eleven boards, while Taj Gibson came off the bench to score 14.
The Bulls are 5-12 when Nate starts this season and are 1-5 in his last six starts. In his five most recent starts, he hasn’t scored more than seven points. And over the last ten games, Nate is shooting 30.6 percent and averaging just 9.0 points in those games. This is why Marquis Teague played 24 minutes against the Spurs, even though he wasn’t great. Nate Robinson needs to come out of his scoring funk, otherwise the Bulls might as well play down a man. A Nate that isn’t scoring is an invisible Nate.
On the other side of the ball, Al Jefferson tore up the Bulls, dropping 32 points and snagging 13 boards. Paul Millsap added 21 points, and Randy Foye pitched in 14. Those were the only three guys for the Jazz that had more than six points.
In a nice change of pace, the Bulls could be the beneficiary of an injury tonight, with Jefferson. He has missed the past three games with a sprained ankle. Even if Jefferson misses tonight with a sprained ankle, the Jazz have their fair share of talented bigs. Derrick Favors has started the past three games in place of Jefferson, averaging 12.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per contest. He went 2-6 against the Cavaliers on Wednesday night, finishing with just six points. Favors also scored six earlier this season against the Bulls, on 3-8 from the field.
Utah is 10-21 on the road, compared to 22-8 at home, and in need of wins. They find themselves in eighth place in the Western Conference, just a game and a half up on the Lakers, who are playing their best basketball of the season. LA has won seven of their last ten, while the Jazz have dropped six of ten and five of their last six.
The Bulls aren’t really fighting for a playoff spot, because the ninth place team, Toronto, is currently ten and a half games back of the Bulls. Although they may have a playoff spot pretty well sured up, they are fighting for positioning. They are sixth currently, meaning they’d match up with the Pacers. Lots of things will presumably change, but getting into the fifth spot would be nice for the Bulls, so they can avoid the Knicks and Pacers in round one.
The Bulls will be without Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich and Rip Hamilton again tonight.
A standard Bulls news day — Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton and Taj Gibson are all still out with injury — has been disrupted by some pretty amazing news: Derrick Rose’s doctor has cleared him to play!
But he won’t. Not yet anyway.
According to ESPNChicago’s Melissa Isaacson:
Derrick Rose’s doctor has cleared the Chicago Bulls’ star to play, a team source said, but his long-awaited return to the lineup won’t occur until he can confidently dunk off his left foot, Rose has told the team.
Rose, who had surgery to repair a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on May 12, has been videotaped dunking off each foot, but more casually than he would during a game. A source said that although he has been practicing and scrimmaging hard, he told the Bulls that until he feels “in his mind” he can confidently dunk off his left foot in a game situation, he is not 100 percent mentally ready to return to competition.
It’s positive news. Great news. But also a little bit of a letdown to everybody jonesing to see Rose play again.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “He’s doing everything there is to do in practice so he’s been cleared from that standpoint. We’ll cross that bridge [whether Rose will play when he says hes ready] when we get there. We’re just going day by day. Just keep improving. There’s a lot of people that got to sign [off]. Obviously, he’s the most important piece. But from Jerry [Reinsdorf] on down everyone has to sign off on it.”
We just have to keep reminding ourselves: It’s a process. It’s a process. It’s a process…
Obviously, the team isn’t pressuring Rose to return before he’s ready. Nor should they be. But they want him to play.
The Bulls have told Rose that while they will support whatever decision he makes, they would prefer he return this season, the source said, “and get it under his belt, rather than wonder all summer if he could.”
I’m sure Rose is nervous and possibly even afraid about re-injuring his surgically repaired knee. How could he not be? Remember what Rose said about the injury last summer: “Dr. [Brian] Cole, the Bulls doctor [who also performed the subsequent surgery], came up to me and told me it was torn. I couldn’t believe it. That’s the closest thing to death, the closest to death I’ve got to right there, where it just seemed like the wind and everything was taken out [of me].”
That sure seems like a healthy does of fear to me.
Regardless of when Rose actually plays, at least this is another step forward in the process.