When Aaron Gray returning from injury was by far and away the best news of the night, you know things must have gone pretty badly for the Bulls.
Make that four blowouts in the last four games, during which the Bulls have been outscored by a combined 77 points. They are now 1-4 on their annual circus trip…although it feels more like 1-14.
Chicago’s already shaky depth took another blow when Kirk Hinrich joined Tyrus Thomas (left forearm fracture) on the injured list due to a sprained left thumb. The extent of Kirk’s injury is currently unclear, as is how much time he’ll miss because of it.
Of course, Utah coach Jerry Sloan and the rest of the Jazz didn’t want to hear about Chicago’s injury woes. Utah had nine available players and used only eight until human victory cigar Kosta Koufos entered the game late in the fourth quarter. The Jazz were without key role players C.J. Miles, Ronnie Price and Kyle Korver. They had one backup guard. One. And that was rookie Eric Maynor. So, yeah, the Jazz have had problems of their own.
Although, clearly, the Bulls have bigger problems.
Pain in the Paint:
This is one problem the Bulls just can’t seem to solve. They gave up 10 dunks and 13 layups. They were outscored 62-42 in the paint. As always, the opposing frontcourt destroyed Chicago’s big men. Carlos Boozer put on a show by scoring 28 points on nearly perfect 12-for-14 shooting. He also had 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocked shots and a steal. Mehmet Okur added 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including 2-for-2 from downtown. Backup Paul Milsap went 6-for-8 off the bench and finished with a near double-double (12 points, 9 boards).
By contrast, Chicago’s starting frontcourt of Joakim Noah (6 points, 3-for-9, 9 rebounds, 3 turnovers) and Taj Gibson (8 points, 6 boards, 3 turnovers) battled foul trouble all night. Joakim finished with 5 personals and Gibson fouled out. Meanwhile, Brad Miller (no points, 0-for-2, 2 rebounds, 1 assist) looked so painfully old and slow, I half-expected him to announce his retirement after the game. Oh, and Aaron Gray (1 point, 0-for-1, 1 rebound) looked like, well, like Aaron Gray.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Bulls need Tyrus back. Badly.
What a difference four games can make. After beating the Kings in Sacramento, the Bulls ranked 4th in the league in Defensive Rating. After last night’s defensive no-show — the Jazz hit almost 61 percent of their field goals and scored 105 points in only 89 possessions — Chicago has dropped to 15th in Defensive Ratting (105.9 Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions).
The energy the Bulls are saving on defense hasn’t been redirected to their offense. After scoring 86 points on 42 percent shooting in Utah, the Bulls rank 27th in Offensive Rating (98.8 Points Per 100 Possessions). Oh, and here’s some lemon juice for that wound: the Bulls are tied with one other team for the fewest 100-point games (1) this season. The team? The winless New Jersey Nets (0-15).
The Bulls won the rebounding battle (39-36, 13-9 on the offensive glass) for the first time in four games. They were +3 in points off turnovers and +11 in fast break points. That’s pretty much it.
Player of the Game:
Even though he shot poorly from the field (8-for-20, including 2-for-8 on layup attempts), Luol Deng was the only player who came anywhere close to bringing his best last night. He finished with 26 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 assists and no turnovers. He was also aggressive enough to earn 11 foul shots. (The rest of the Bulls’ starting lineup earned exactly one foul shot.) Based on how Noah has been manhandled in the last three losses, Deng has offiically become Chicago’s early-season MVP.
Aggressive looking for his shot? Yes. Rose was 9-for-17 for 19 points. Effective in getting his teammates involved? No. Rose finished with 2 assists and 4 turnovers in 38 minutes. That gives him 10 assists (versus 11 turnovers) in his last 113 minutes of playing time. Forget about his difficulty in getting to the hoop the way Bulls fans are accustomed to. His inability to lift his teammates is becoming a grave concern.