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.
Utah Injury Report:
Raja Bell: out (personal)
Gordon Hayward: doubtful (sprained shoulder)
Earl Watson: questionable (stress fracture)
Mo Williams: out (thumb)
The Bulls got utterly dominated last night against the Nuggets. They were crushed in fast break points (23-6), points in the paint (64-44) points off turnovers (28-10) and just plain old points (128-96). It was ugly. The 128 points were the most the Bulls have given up in the Tom Thibodeau era.
Chicago’s defense clearly didn’t show up, and neither did their hustle. The Nuggets were running all over the Bulls and beating them to rebounds, led by Kenneth Faried who never stopped moving. Faried scored 21 points on 9-10 shooting and grabbed 12 boards in his 26 minutes of action. Wilson Chandler went 5-5 from deep and dropped 24 points. Vladimir Radmanovic logged 13 minutes for the Bulls. That should tell you all you need to know.
The loss was awful, but Denver has won eight straight games now and is 22-3 at home, so there are much worse things than losing to the Nuggets in the Pepsi Center (like losing to the Bobcats at home).
The Bulls now head a little further west and turn their attention to the Jazz, who are also playing well. Utah has won two straight and nine of their last 12. They’re also no slouch at home, amassing a 19-5 record so far in the home arena. Chicago also ends its six-game road trip tonight in Salt Lake City, an injured road trip in which the Bulls have stumbled to a 2-3 record on.
Joakim Noah didn’t look good in his first game back from plantar fasciitis, and it will only get more difficult tonight for him and the rest of Chicago’s bigs. Utah has one of the best and deepest frontcourts in the league. It starts with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Jefferson is averaging a team-high 17.1 points to go with 9.6 rebounds. Millsap adds 14.9 points and 7.4 rebounds. It doesn’t end there though. Enes Kanter averages 15.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes and Derrick Favors averages 15.4 and 10.5 per 36. This is a game the Bulls are going to miss Omer Asik more than usual, especially if Noah still looks a step or two slow as he did last night. It also means the Bulls have to pick their poison with which one of these guys Carlos Boozer will be guarding (my guess would be Millsap).
The Jazz took care of Milwaukee in Salt Lake City their last time out. Millsap and Jefferson each scored 19 points and they combined for 17 boards and four blocks. Kanter came off the bench for 17 points and Favors just missed a double-double, tallying nine points and eleven boards in 22 minutes. The Jazz are using their bigs more and more because of their injuries elsewhere. Gordon Hayward missed the Milwaukee game and is doubtful for tonight’s matchup. Mo Williams hasn’t played since December.
The Jazz scored 56 points in the paint compared to 36 for the Bucks. Utah also dominated the glass, winning the offensive rebounding battle 17-9 and the overall battle 50-37. The Bulls got out-rebounded 46-34 last night and gave up 64 points in the paint. That was mostly because of their lackadaisical defense, rather than good post play from Denver. Kosta Koufos scored just four points and JaVale McGee added ten, almost exclusively on dunks.
The good news is that since the Bulls got beaten so badly, and a lot of that was the starters, they are rested tonight. Noah played 23 minutes, Boozer played 22, Taj Gibson logged 17. Luol Deng (31) and Jimmy Butler (32) were the only guys to play more than 30 minutes (surprise, surprise).
With away games against the Suns, Rockets, Hornets and Mavericks looming darkly on the horizon like the creeping shadows of Mordor – yes, it’s a Tolkien reference, deal with it – this weekend’s two matchups were about as critical as they come. Friday’s game against the Raptors was the Bulls’ last at home until February 10th while Sunday’s battle with the Timberwolves was the first of a seven-game road trip that could officially flatline the season.
And they lost them both.
The Toronto game was actually closer than the final score (114-94) indicates — the Bulls pulled to within a point (91-90) when Luol Deng nailed a 21-footer with 6:22 left in the fourth quarter — but the end result was still a 20-point home loss that earned the team little love (and a lot of boos) from an increasingly cranky home crowd. Turnovers (23 for 27 points going the other way) and an inability to defend (the Raptors shot 56 percent) or finish (the Male Cows were outscored 23-4 down the stretch) were the lowlights of the loss.
As for the game in Minnesota, well, it was pretty important for the Bulls to start this trip off on the right hoof, especially against a Western Conference bottom feeder like the Timberwolves. (Although, to be fair, the Wolves have been surging lately.) But even though the Bulls limited their turnovers to 15 (giving up “only” 15 points to the Wolves in the process), the team still lost the Battle of the Paint to Al Jefferson (a season-high 39 points and 9 rebounds) and Kevin Love (19 points and a career-high 15 boards). Surrendering 15 offensive boards for 24 second-chance points didn’t help either.
And Jefferson’s 39 felt more like 60. Poor Joakim Noah had a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds) plus a career-high 7 blocked shots but got used like a movie prop by Jefferson. Said Noah afterward: “I don’t even know what to say. I was playing as hard as I could and he just kept scoring the ball. He’s just a great offensive player and we just couldn’t slow him down tonight.” Yeah, that was a problem, all right.
The Bulls actually took a seven-point lead (95-88) off two Tyrus Thomas free throws with 3:54 left in regulation but – Shock Alert!! – couldn’t hold on. Here’s a summary of their next eight possessions to close out regulation: Missed jumper by Luol Deng; missed jumper by Ben Gordon; loose ball foul on Thomas; missed jumper by Thomas; missed jumper by Derrick Rose; offensive rebound/layup by Joakim Noah; missed driving layup by Rose; missed jumper by Rose. To recap: 1-for-6 and a turnover. And that’s the story of the season: The Bulls can’t get good shots in the end game.
I mean, they hit almost 58 percent of their field goals (34-for-59) through the first three quarters and had scored 82 points going into the fourth. That’s great! Then they eked out only 15 points on 5-for-19 shooting (26 percent) in the final period, including just two points in the last four-ish minutes. That’s not great. It’s enough to make me want to lobby Vinny to bring Big Shot Larry back off the bench. Because, seriously, as much as I detest him, when Kirk Hinrich is going 0-for-7, it might be worth taking a fresh look at…oh no. I’m calling for Larry Hughes to get back into some games for his clutch shooting. You know clutch situations have gotten bad when…
And Vinny Del Negro sure noticed the fourth quarter collapse, even if he couldn’t coach the Bulls out of it: “We didn’t convert down the stretch. In regulation and then a couple of plays on overtime, we just couldn’t get the ball in the basket.” If you try and tell me that quote — and the game in general — didn’t give you a sick feeling of déjà vu, you’re lying.
I’d say the bright side is that the team’s next two games are against the Clippers (10-32) and Kings (10-35), but at this point, Vinny and the boys can’t afford to take anything for granted. Particularly since they’re 5-17 on the road this season. And at this point, I’m not even sure what to suggest. Block out? Play better defense? Hit a few shots in the final five or six minutes of the game? It sounds so simple and easy. But for the Bulls, right now anyway, it feels impossible.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “Poor late-game execution once again doomed the Bulls, whose season-long losing streak extended to five games after a 109-108 overtime loss to the Timberwolves. Leading by as many as 16 in the first quarter and shooting 57.6 percent through three quarters, the Bulls collapsed down the stretch by shooting 8-for-29. Randy Foye, 1-for-10 to that point, scored on a driving layup with 41.3 seconds remaining in overtime to provide the final points. Making the basket worse, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro had employed his ‘offense-defense’ substitution, replacing Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose with better defenders Kirk Hinrich and Thabo Sefolosha for that possession. Gordon and Rose returned on the ensuing possession, and Gordon missed a 19-foot jumper.”
John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: “Magic Johnson, who made his share of game-winning plays, used to call crunch time ‘winning time.’ It has been anything but for the Bulls this season. The Bulls had an opportunity to set up potential game-winning plays at the end of regulation and overtime but couldn’t convert either time in dropping a 109-108 decision to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night at the Target Center. ‘It’s very frustrating,’ forward Luol Deng said. ‘This is a game we should have won.’”
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “In the final analysis, the Bulls simply couldn’t slow down Minnesota center Al Jefferson, who scored 39 points while hitting 16 of 29 shots. Jefferson scored most every important basket for the Timberwolves except for a driving bank shot by guard Randy Foye with 41.3 seconds remaining that turned out to be the final points of the game. Rookie forward Kevin Love added 19 points and 15 rebounds for the home team.”
Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Rose didn’t dominate Sunday; he still looks like the future. He scored 18 points with seven assists and three rebounds without ever looking lost. If he can develop an outside shot, he will be the NBA’s next great point guard.”
More K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “There are times during almost any NBA game where head coaches appear as if they’d rather be gargling with cod liver oil than patrolling the sideline. Yet even with a five-game losing streak, a minor incident with Ben Gordon angrily questioning a fine and all the injuries the Bulls have endured, Vinny Del Negro is savoring the ride of his rookie coaching experience. ‘I enjoy it all, the good times, the bad times, the frustrations,’ Del Negro said. “Are you going to give in to the adversity, or is your character going to show? I think our guys have handled things well at times. Other times we haven’t. Hopefully, we’ll team up so we compete and get better defensively.’”
Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “The Wolves trailed 12-2 and 20-4 almost before they knew it, but they recovered with an effort the rest of the way that was long on grit and resiliency and lacking nearly any aesthetics. ‘I tell the guys that every night is not a Picasso’ [Timberwolves coach Kevin] McHale said.’I'm sure Picasso threw more pictures in the garbage than he put on museum walls. I won’t watch the film of this one. I’ll just wonder for the rest of my life how we won’”
The result: The Minnesota Timberwolves (15-27) pulled out a 109-108 overtime home victory over the Bulls (18-27), who have now lost five straight and nine of 13 games this month.
The good: The Bulls jumped out to a 16-point lead in the first quarter while the Wolves were clanging their first 11 shots. Joakim Noah came back Hulk Hogan-style from his Scott Hastings impersonation against the Raptors to submit a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds) to go along with 3 assists and 7 Wilsonburgers served. Luol Deng (22 points, 7-for-14, 8 rebounds, 4 assists) looked like the Loul of 2005-06. Ben Gordon’s targeting computer was on the mark (10-for-20 from the field and 3-for-6 from downtown for his team-high 23 points). In fact, the Bulls shot pretty well as a team (47 percent) and – in a refreshing change of pace – managed to force more turnovers than they committed (17-15).
The bad: That 16-point lead? Lost it. But they still managed to go up 97-94 on Noah’s layup with 1:08 to go in the fourth quarter. However, Minnesota scored the next four points (off a hook shot and a tip-in by Jefferson) to force OT. So, you know, here’s another game that can be filed under “Come-From-Ahead Losses.” Derrick Rose’s performance was reasonably solid (18 points, 7 assists) but he also committed a team-high 5 turnovers and blew two golden opportunities to put the game away: He gonged a 17-foot jumper at the end of regulation and later forced (and missed) an off-balance shot under heavy pressure at the end of overtime. (Time for John Paxson to put out a “Clutch Scorer Wanted” sign outside the United Center, I think…)
The ugly: Kirk Hinrich must have caught whatever Noah had against Toronto, because he was dreadful (1 point, 0-for-7, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 3 turnovers). Despite Noah’s 7 blocked shots, Chicago’s interior defenselessness again proved to be their undoing. Al Jefferson scored a season-high 39 points — yes, another frontcourt player had his best game of the year against us — and Kevin Love came off the bench to contribute 19 points (8-for-11) and 15 boards (including 5 on the offensive end). Oh, and Love’s rebound total represented a career-high. Not to go all Hubie Brown on you, but teams that can’t control or at least somewhat protect the paint aren’t going to win many games.