Indiana Injury Report:
Danny Granger: missed Friday’s game (sore knee)
David West: missed Friday’s game (sprained lower back)
The rollercoaster that is the 2012-2013 Chicago Bulls season took another dip on Thursday night when the Bulls slept through the second quarter and lost by double digits to the Trail Blazers. It’s the point on the ride when you feel like you’re going to throw up, but then remember you threw up on that last dip (the loss to Charlotte, probably). Chicago has a tougher opponent tonight in Indiana, the second place team in the East. They do luck out a little bit though, as the Pacers will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Bulls will try to avoid a sweep from their division rivals at home tonight, having dropped the first three games in the series by four, ten and five points.
Who knows which Chicago Bulls will show up tonight, which is really what the game boils down to. Will it be the team that got blown out by the Kings and zombie-walked throught Thursday’s second quarter? Or will it be the squad that dominated Golden State and stuck right with Denver?
To say most of the Bulls were awful against the Blazers would be an understatement. It would have been better if many of them hadn’t been on the court. Kirk Hinrich, in his long awaited return from a somewhat phantom injury, scored two points on 1-7 shooting to go with two turnovers and three assists. Production from your starting point guard!
But it didn’t end there. Nate Robinson finished 4-12 from the field, but at least he had nine assists. Production from your back-up point guard! Luol Deng couldn’t find the hole, going 2-7. Same with Marco Belinelli, who shot 3-10.
Joakim Noah (7-10), Carlos Boozer (8-18), Taj Gibson (7-14) and Jimmy Butler (4-7) played well. But it wasn’t close to enough to overcome that awful guard play.
It was an ugly game, but Tom Thibodeau did something crazy…he played Noah and Deng less than 30 minutes each. Lu played 26 minutes, while Joakim logged 27. I don’t know why Thibs chose this game to rest his guys, considering it wasn’t a back-to-back scenario, and the Bulls actually had a solid amount of rest on each side of the contest. Whatever his reason, I’m not complaining, because I’ve been all over Thibs for his minute allocation this season.
Rest is never a bad thing really in my opinion, and both guys will probably log huge minutes in each game of this upcoming back-to-back.
The Bulls have been getting beaten on the glass so far this season against the Pacers, bringing down just 38.3 boards per game against Indiana, compared to 43.2 rebounds per contest on the season. Noah did miss one game against the Pacers, in which the Bulls 47-35.
The other reason the Bulls are 0-3 against Indiana is foul shots. Chicago has shot 20.0 free throws per game against Indy, a little under their average of 21.3. The Pacers, on the other hand, have shot nearly 31.3 free throws in the three contests against Chicago, almost ten more than their season average (22.7). In games that have been decided by ten or fewer points, those extra foul shots can be the difference between a win and a loss.
The problem for the Bulls, is that they don’t have anyone to really drive and make contact. Boozer fades as far away from contact as possible, and everyone else struggles to create their own shot. Jimmy Butler seems like the only guy on the team that isn’t afraid to drive and take some contact.
The Bulls will luck out as David West is expected to miss the game. West scored 31 points and 29 points in the last two match-ups, after finishing with just ten in the first contest.
Tyler Hansbrough, filling in for West, scored 22 points (8-14) and brought down 12 boards against the Bucks as the Pacers cruised to victory. Paul George scored 20 points, Roy Hibbert posted eleven points, eight rebounds and seven blocks, while the Bucks made just 31 of their 101 field goals (30.7 percent). Milwaukee brought down 22 offensive rebounds, but just could not get the ball to fall.
Indiana is third in the league in defensive rebounding percentage (.749) and will focus on controlling the defensive glass for tonight’s game.
Indiana is 11-6 when playing on no rest, good for second best win percentage in the league trailing only Miami (12-1).
Chicago moved a half-game ahead of Brooklyn and into a tie with Atlanta for fourth place in the Eastern Conference by beating the Nets last night. The Bulls can put a little more cushion between them and the Nets tonight when they take on third-place Indiana on the road.
The Bulls played a good game against Brooklyn last night. Chicago started slow, but the Nets faded quickly on the second night of a back-to-back and then the Bulls took over. After an early deficit, they fought back to end the first quarter in a tie, then ended the half on a 13-0 run and had the lead the rest of the way.
Chicago overcame a poor shooting night from Luol Deng (3-10) thanks to solid nights from both Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson also shot relatively well from the field.
Noah didn’t have another triple-double, but he scored 21 points on 10-13 shooting to go with ten rebounds, five assists, two steals and four blocks (he also had five turnovers). Boozer tallied 20 points and five steals. It was Boozington’s third straight game scoring at least 20 points.
It’ll be great for the Bulls if he can continue that scoring run tonight. Boozer has averaged just 12.0 points in the two previous games against the Pacers.
The Bulls finally found a team that liked to turn it over more than them. Chicago scored 24 points off of 20 Brooklyn turnovers, while the Bulls turned it over 19 times.
The Bulls had a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, but the starters, as expected, still finished the game, which ended as an eleven-point victory.
“I saw the way the game was going,” Tom Thibodeau said when asked why the starters finished. “You’re jogging back. They have a lot of 3-point shooting on the floor.”
I shouldn’t be surprised by this anymore, but for some reason I am. Thibodeau does it every game. It’s as sure to happen as an ill-advised Nate Robinson three-pointer or Carlos Boozer being made to look like a traffic cone on defense. Luckily for Thibodeau, he has the support of his current best player.
“We have a great coach but he doesn’t understand whole rest thing yet I don’t think,” Noah said. “We all want to win, so it’s all good.”
It’s good until an injury happens, or maybe even when Noah (41 minutes), Luol Deng (44) and Kirk (39) come out looking flat on the second night of a back-to-back. Stay tuned for that.
Indiana is going for their seventh win in eight games, and looking to improve to 3-0 against the Bulls this season. Their only loss during their last eight was to the Clippers, one of three losses in February. The Pacers haven’t allowed an opponent to score 100 points since a February 8 overtime loss to Toronto, though the Bulls did score 101 points the last time these two teams met.
David West struggled in the first match-up, going 3-12and managing just ten points, but he exploded the second time around, dropping 29 points on 18 shots. Marco Belinelli also went off in that February game, scoring 24 points off the bench. Noah missed the second contest, and it showed on the glass. The Bulls were out-rebounded 47-35.
Chicago has their work cut out for them on the offensive end going up against the top defense in the league. Indiana is first in defensive rating and 21st in offensive rating, while the Bulls are fourth and 23rd respectively. That probably means we are in for a low scoring game. In its last seven games, Indiana has been holding opponents to 85.6 points and 38.0 percent shooting, according to STATS LLC. The Bulls are coming off a game in which they shot 52.1 percent, their best in a long time.
Luol Deng plans to play today, even though he may need a root canal and says his bottom jaw is out of line from a Spencer Hawes elbow.
Indiana is 24-6 at home while the Bulls are 7-6 playing on no rest.
Pacers Injury Report:
Danny Granger: out (knee)
George Hill: questionable (bruised shoulder)
Originally scheduled for December 26, the Bulls and Pacers will play more than a month after their game was postponed because of weather. It isn’t the best time for the Bulls to face a tough Central Division opponent, as they are dealing with multiple injuries, but the Bulls showed in Atlanta that they can overcome missing three starters (four if you count Rose). Chicago enters Monday’s contest with a one-game lead over Indiana in the Central Division race.
Indiana is also coming off of an impressive win, theirs over the Heat. David West led the way with 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Pacers topped Miami for the second time this season. Paul George and Lance Stephenson both scored 16 points on 6-11 shooting and Tyler Hansbrough finished with eleven points off the bench.
Perhaps the good news for the Bulls is that Roy Hibbert scored seven points on 3-8 shooting. The Bulls will probably be without Joakim Noah, and perhaps Carlos Boozer again, so the fewer bigs Chicago has to worry about the better. Hibbert is averaging 11.3 points on 47.4 percent shooting over his last ten games.
Tom Thibodeau has decided he would rather play small, with Luol Deng at the four and Taj Gibson at center, than give any time to Nazr Mohammed. Mohammed played eight minutes against the Nets, scoring four points, before Thibs decided that was enough.
Going small is not an issue in itself. The Bulls beat the Hawks that way, and Al Horford is a good center. The Heat won the Finals last season going small. The only issue with it is that those “small” guys are playing too many minutes.
Deng played 93:41 and Gibson played 93:13 out of a possible 96 minutes in a back-to-back situation. And that situation wasn’t the NBA Finals. Nate Robinson played 81 minutes and Jimmy Butler played 85. The win was more than impressive, and even the way Chicago fought against the Nets was surprising, but there is a chance these high minutes could cause more injuries, then who do the Bulls turn to?
Mohammaed and Daequan Cook each got “DNP Coach’s Decision” against Atlanta. Playing on no rest, with ten healthy bodies, you’d think everyone would at least get a little run. But apparently that’s not “Thibs Ball,” as basically six guys did all the work. Marquis Teague played seven minutes and Vladimir Radmanovic played five against the Hawks. Similar to Nazr’s eight and Teague’s seven against the Nets.
And again, this isn’t to take anything away from the Bulls. They fought hard both games, ultimately coming up short against the Nets when they ran out of gas. They got some help from the Hawks, in that Atlanta didn’t play its best basketball. The Bulls won the rebounding battle 53-45 in a game which they were playing small.
Two of the NBA’s best defenses face off in this one, with the first (Indiana) and fourth (Chicago) best squads when it comes to defensive rating. The Pacers are first in opponent effective field goal percentage (.452) and the Bulls are second (.459).
Chicago hasn’t allowed its opponent to score 100 points since January 16, and has held opponents to less than 90 points in eight of the past nine games (Brooklyn scored 93). The Bulls are 6-3 in those games.
The Pacers have allowed 100 points in three of their last 17 games. Those three games resulted in a three-game losing skid, against the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Nuggets. Indy has rebounded, giving up 79 to the Pistons and 89 to the Heat (Miami is 3rd in offensive efficiency and averages 102.4 per game).
Indiana is tied for the fourth best home record in the league, at 18-3. The Bulls still have the best road record at 14-7.
Trending up: David West and Paul George are both shooting well over their last ten games. West is 53.5 percent over his last ten, up from 48.5 and George has improved from 42.7 percent on the season to 44.5 over the last ten.
The subtitle of this game should be: The Night that Offense Died.
The Pacers shot 36 percent from the field, went 2-for-10 from three-point range, missed seven free throws…and won.
Chicago’s defense made Indiana’s offense look terrible — outside of Paul George — but The Bulls’ offense offset that. Big time.
The Bulls shot 38.4 percent and scored only 76 points at home against a division rival.
If you were wondering whether the Bulls were going to miss Rip Hamilton’s 13.9 points per game — not to mention his ability to move without the ball and keep opposing defenses off balance — the answer is a resounding yes.
Give credit to the Pacers’ D. They were physical. They had active hands. They contested every shot.
However, the Bulls also played poorly, by there standards or any other. The spacing was poor, which led to several turnovers on their interior passes. Speaking of which…
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers:
As mind-numbingly awful as the Bulls were shooting, they probably would have won this game if they’d been able to take care of the basketball. They committed 19 turnovers for 23 points going the other way, which is a large reason why Indiana enjoyed a 14-11 edge in fast break points.
When you consider the Pacers only managed to score 80 points, giving them 23 points off turnovers in a four-point loss is huge.
As I mentioned above, the Pacers were playing tough defense, so some of the turnovers were inevitable. However, others were committed due to poor spacing (which allowed the Pacers to deflect or intercept several interior passes), and still others occurred due to casual, lazy, sloppy passing.
When a team is getting after it on D the way Indiana was, players have to adjust and be extra careful with their passes. The Bulls were not. And they paid for it.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “It usually comes down to too much one-on-one or making a risky pass and not being aware of what is going on. If you’re dancing with the ball and trying to thread the ball, that will lead to turnovers.”
Even with the lousy shooting and careless ball handling, the Bulls still might have eked out a win if they’d taken care of the glass. The Pacers pulled down 16 offensive rebounds. Add that to Chicago’s 19 turnovers, and that’s a lot of extra possessions to give an opposing team in a close game.
And, frankly, some of those lost rebounds were indefensible.
In the first quarter, after George Hill missed a three-pointer, Paul George waltzed in uncontested for a put back dunk. Later the Pacers stole an offensive rebound after a missed free throw, which shouldn’t happen at the high school level, let alone in the NBA.
Meanwhile, the Bulls managed only 6 points off of their 13 offensive boards as the Pacers repeatedly denied them in the paint and around the basket.
Imposing His Will:
The way George played last night, it’s hard to believe he scored zero points on 0-for-7 shooting against the Golden State Warriors in Indiana’s last game.
He was utterly dominant against the Bulls, scoring a season-high 34 points on 14-for-25 shooting to go with 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists and 2 blocked shots.
Four of his rebounds were on the offensive end.
George hit from everywhere. He hit when he was open. He hit when he was covered. He hit tough shots while fading, leaning, or otherwise falling away from the hoop. Nobody on the Bulls could do anything with him, not even Luol Deng.
Speaking of which, George put some D on Luol, who scored 17 but shot only 5-for-15 from the field and committed 4 turnovers. One of those TOs came in the third quarter when George stripped Deng clean then took it coast-to-coast for a fast break layup.
Watching George almost single-handedly win this one had to have Bulls fans thinking wistfully: “Hey, we used to have a guy like that.”
Derrick Rose is missed. Badly.
Good Nate and Bad Nate:
There is no question that Nate Robinson — who scored a team-high 19 points in 25 minutes off the bench — helped keep the Bulls in this game with his energy and offense.
Nate’s shooting was streaky as usual — he went 2-for-7 from downtown — but he was also the only Chicago player who consistently found his way to the basket. He hit a couple very tough layups and earned several fouls, going 7-for-7 from the line.
Unfortunately, he finished with more turnovers (4) than assists (1) and made several late game blunders that cost the Bulls. He forced a couple quick shots and committed two costly (and rather careless) turnovers in the final minutes. Not surprisingly, Thibodeau pulled Robinson immediately after his final turnover, which happened with 57 seconds left and the Bulls down 76-74.
Bulls fans are coming to realize this is life with Nate Robinson. He’s going to bring wild enthusiasm and explosive bursts of scoring. And he’s going to make mistakes. Not that I’m pinning the loss on him. Not at all. But his crunch time mistakes were definitely part of the team’s losing formula last night.
To his credit, Nate shows some self awareness after the game: “We’ve got to take care of the ball down the stretch. I definitely take the blame for this one. I’ve got to be smarter with the ball, make the right plays and got to execute.”
Outside of Robinson, the reserves didn’t provide much in the way of points. Jimmy Butler scored 4 points and Nazr Mohammed chipped in another 2 points. That was it. Taj Gibson — who is shooting a miserable 41.7 percent this season — went 0-for-5 and didn’t score.
That said, Butler grabbed 9 rebounds and Gibson had 7. And the bench had much better plus-minus numbers than the starters:
Carlos Boozer had a reasonably solid night: 14 points on 7-for-13 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and 2 assists. He even played decent defense against David West, Indiana’s leading scorer, who went only 3-for-12 from the field.
Unfortunately, he missed a critical free throw that would have pulled the Bulls to within a point with 37 seconds left.
Late Game Offense:
Down 78-74 with 42 seconds left, the Bulls ran a nifty play in which a Noah hit a cutting Boozer for a layup and the foul (although, as noted, Boozer blew the freebie). This was a much better idea than letting one of the Bulls isolate and try to create a shot on his own.
Similarly, down 78-76 with 14 ticks on the clock, Noah fed Deng, who had just made a great backdoor cut and looked poised to either dunk the ball or draw a foul. Unfortunately…
…Indiana’s Roy Hibbert was there to meet him. Hibbert jumped into the air, arms straight up, and made an awful lot of contact with the soaring Deng. Deng went down. The ball was lost. As was any chance the Bulls had of winning the game.
Said Thibs: “In my eyes, he got wiped out. I did not get an explanation. He had a layup. It was a train wreck.”
Added Deng: “I got to see it again, but I thought I got fouled. I haven’t seen it yet. … Mad at myself that I didn’t get a shot. When he contacted me, I should have … If I got a shot up even if I missed it I think a teammate could have got the rebound. That’s the one I think I got to do better with, that play.”
The Pacers, obviously, disagreed.
Said Indiana coach Frank Vogel: “He is the best in the league in exercising verticality. That is what earns him no calls. If you can jump straight up and absorb the contact, you are not going to have the call called. Once he learned that and tried to take charges, he became one of the best bigs in the league.”
Added Hibbert: “During the summer, I stayed in Indiana and worked with the coaches on defense — just playing without fouling and blocking shots without fouling. If I jump straight up in my spot, I will get that call. If you jump forward and you come down, they’ll call a foul. I’ve been working on that for the past couple years and I try to make sure I defend the rim without fouling.”
The no-call didn’t cost the Bulls the game. Their godawful shooting, careless passing and poor defensive rebounding were bigger issues. But it was a tough moment, and it’s hard to image that call not going the way of a superstar player.
Rough Night for Noah:
Jo didn’t have a night to remember: 9 points, 4-for-9, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 5 turnovers. He was working hard but often found himself getting out-scrapped by the scrappier Pacers. And his frustration was pretty evident.
There’s been a lot of talk about whether Noah is the best center in the East…but I actually don’t think he’s having the kind of season he should be having.
Yes, he’s averaging a career-high 13 points per game, but he’s also shooting a career-worst 47 percent from the field. He’s also hitting only 53.6 percent of his shots at the rim despite converting at a rate of almost 60 percent last season. His rebounding average (9.8) is identical to last year’s despite the fact that he’s playing almost nine more minutes per game.
In fact, despite a spike in Usage Percentage (up to 17.3 from 15.8 last season), he has suffered declines in Defensive Rebounding Percentage (down to 17.2 from 21.8 last season), Offensive Rebounding Percentage (down to 11.4 from 14.1) and of course Total Rebounding Percentage (down to 14.4 from 18.0). And all of those marks are significantly below his career numbers of 22.2, 13.5 and 17.9, respectively.
There’s more. His Turnover Percentage is currently 18.0, which is way up from last season’s career-best mark of 13.7. His Player Efficiency Rating is 17.7 (down from a career-high 19.6 last season) and his Win Shares Per 48 Minutes is .158 (down from a career-best .223 last season).
My point is this: Noah’s raw stats — 13.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.3 BPG, 1.4 SPG — may make it appear as if he’s having a career year. But he’s not. He’s really not. He’s logging more minutes…but playing less efficiently.