…the Bulls aren’t playing any.
Okay, maybe that statement is a bit on the harsh side, but it’s not too far off the mark. The Bulls have now given up 100 or more points in 10 of their last 13 games. In fact, here’s a rundown of the points they’ve allowed during that stretch: 101, 107, 85, 109, 94, 90, 101, 110, 111, 100, 116, 105 and 122.
See the trend?
And it’s not like every one of those games was against a championship contender. The teams that have notched at least 100 points against the Bulls include the lottery-bound Knicks, Pacers (three times!) and Wizards.
Can I get a hand in the face? Anyone…? Anyone…? Bueller…?
Mind you, the Bulls have been a top 10 defensive team for most of the season. In fact, they’re currently ranked 8th overall in Defensive Efficiency. As Tom Haberstroh of Hardwood Paroxysm put it, the Bulls don’t foul and they protect the rim. But that defense has been conspicuously absent over the last few weeks.
It’s not a crazy random happenstance either.
The Bulls traded their best defender (by the numbers) to the Charlotte Bobcats. Their second-best defender is out indefinitely with plantar fasciitis. Their other top defenders include Taj Gibson (a rookie who also has plantar fasciitis), Luol Deng (gimpy left knee) and Kirk Hinrich (gimpy right ankle).
Chicago’s success this season — however limited — has been due primarily to their defense. Well, that and Derrick Rose, who has been dealing with some gimpy knee issues of his own lately. Rose didn’t look gimpy against the Mavs. He finished with a game-high 34 points on 15-for-22 shooting to go along with 8 assists. The defense…well…that’s another matter entirely.
Dallas shot better than 56 percent as a team and hit just over 40 percent of their three-pointers. They also racked up 31 assists on 49 field goals. And since I mentioned all of Chicago’s potential excuses, I should probably mention that the Mavs were missing starting center Brendan Haywood (lower back tightness), backup center Erick Dampier (right middle finger surgery), sixth man Jason Terry (left orbital bone surgery) and Tim Thomas (personal reasons). Plus they played at home against the Kings on Friday night and Dirk Nowitzki has been bothered by a sore left hip.
In light of all that, the Bulls’ excuses feel a little hollow.
Due to all the missing bodies, Dallas rookie Rodrigue Beaubois — I know you’re probably thinking “who?!” — was press-ganged into action and responded with a career-high 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting. Then, in the fourth quarter, Nowitzki finished what Beaubois started. Dirk scored 13 points in the final 12 mintes, shutting down Chicago’s rally in the process.
Said Hinrich: “We just couldn’t stop them at the other end.”
Shooting 52+ percent and scoring 116 points usually leads to victory. But the Bulls were only clicking on the offensive end. On top of that, they’re facing a serious talent deficit. Even with all their injuries, the Mavericks can still field a team that includes Nowitzki (a former MVP), Jason Kidd (one of the all-time greats), Caron Butler (a proven 20-point scorer) and Shawn Marion (a do-everything player at both ends). That certainly trumps Chicago’s current top four of Rose, Deng, Gibson and, well, whoever else you want to name. Hinrich? Brad Miller? Jannero Pargo?
The Bulls are not good enough without Joakim Noah. Not defensively, not offensively, not in any way. Even with him, they’re merely above average.
To make matters worse, the Charlotte Bobcats and Milwaukee Bucks — who got Tyrus Thomas and John Salmons in Chicago’s “Salary Dump Sweepstakes” — have been on fire. The Bobcats beat the defending champion Lakers on Friday night, while the Bucks defeated the league-leading Cavaliers on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Bulls are playing well in stretches. But ultimately, they can’t hang with the good teams for 48 minutes.
Said Rose: “”The team needs to find a way to win games. It is frustrating.”
Yes it is. Very.
The Bulls (31-31) have lost four games in a row and are now eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. And the Bobcats (30-31) is nipping at their heels. All the team can do is play and hope to get through this rough patch — they are three games into a nine-game stretch against division leaders and potential playoff teams — without falling out of the competition for a spot in the postseason.
But right now…things look pretty grim.