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.
It’s always good to open the season with a win. But, as is usually the case, this game had plenty to like and dislike.
Things to like:
I loved the productivity of Joakim Noah (23 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists, 3 blocks), Carlos Boozer (18 points, 8 boards, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block) and Rip Hamilton (19 points, 3 assists, 2 steals). Those three guys combined to shoot 21-for-41 from the field (51.2 percent) and 18-for-22 from the line (81.8 percent).
I especially liked seeing how aggressive Noah was on the offensive end. In years past, and even at certain points during the preseason, Noah has been hesitant to assert himself offensively. Last night, he was looking to score. And his game-high 12 free throw attempts were a sure sign of that.
By comparison, the Kings attempted only 16 foul shots as a team. The Bulls won the free throw battle handily (33-16). The Free Throw Percentage Margin was 31.6 to 15.5, which underscores how dominant Chicago was at drawing contact.
The defense was its usual self, limiting the Kings to only 87 points on 40.5 percent shooting. The Bulls generated 10 blocked shots and 8 steals. Overall, they forced the Kings into 21 turnovers off which they scored 25 points.
Teamwork was also on display, as the Bulls assisted on 7 of their first 9 field goals and 21 of 33 overall.
Lastly, after a forgettable preseason, Marco Belinelli played well: 12 minutes, 6 points, 1-for-2 from the field, 1-for-1 from downtown, 3-for-3 from the line, 3 assists and a team-best plus-minus score of +7. Let’s hope the lid is off the basket for this kid.
Things to dislike:
Luol Deng was a beast on the boards (12 rebounds) but his shooting was way off (3-for-13 including 0-for-4 on threes). He also went 1-for-3 from the line. I keep saying this over and over, but Lu’s shooting went downhill last season after his wrist injury. I’m very worried he’ll continue to shoot in this area until a) he has surgery to repair the ligament or b) he gets enough time off so that it can fully heal on its own.
And did I mention Deng played 42 minutes. Looks like he’s in for another marathon season.
Kirk Hinrich struggled with his shot too (1-for-7, o-for-1 on threes, 1-for-3 from the line). He had a game-high 7 assists, but if he can’t be a shooting threat, the Bulls’ offense will struggle.
I think offense is going to be a nightly roller coaster until D-Rose comes back.
Overall, the bench didn’t play poorly, contributing 23 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 blocked shots. But they didn’t have that “game changing force” feel the Bench Mob of the last two seasons often had. I say “often” because the Bench Mob didn’t dominate every night…which means we can probably cut the new subs some slack.
I was also disappointed the Bulls struggled to close this game out. They built a double-digit lead in the third quarter but couldn’t hold the Kings off. And Tyreke Evans — who tortured the Bulls with 21 points — pulled Sacto to within three points (86-83) with 41.2 seconds left. Things were secured until Deng hit one of two from the line and Evans committed a five-second violation when he couldn’t get the ball inbounds.
The Kings aren’t a good team. And you hate to see the Bulls struggle to finish off a stinker.
Of course…it’s better than the alternative.
The Bulls offset their sub-par shooting by scoring 19 second-chance points off 14 offensive rebounds.
Slightly irritating stat:
Despite getting a combined 48 points from their starting frontcourt, the Bulls were outscored 44-42 in the paint.
Noah. He set the tone both offensively and defensively (his 5 steals were a career-high by the way).
Former Bull James Johnson had a James Johnson-y game: 2 points on 1-for-8 shooting with 4 turnovers and a plus-minus score of -13. I love seeing him in an opposing team’s jersey.
Quote of the Night:
Joakim Noah: “It’s one game out of 82. Good start. But we have a lot of basketball to be played.”
With 8:49 left in the third quarter of a home game against the Kings, John Salmons – remember him? — drilled an 11-footer to help the Bulls go up 79-44. For those who enjoy simple math, that represented a 35-point lead with less than 21 minutes to go. Completely and utterly insurmountable, right?
Sadly, it was not.
Sacramento outscored Chicago an astounding 58-19 the rest of the way, including 33-10 in the fourth quarter. No home team had ever lost after building a lead that huge. It was the biggest come-from-ahead loss in Bulls franchise history. It was also the largest come-from-behind win in Kings franchise history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the biggest comeback since Utah overcame a 36-point deficit to beat Denver on November 27, 1996.
It was, without question, one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.
On Sunday, anticipating this “rematch” of that epic-level disaster, Derrick Rose said: “It’s a heartbreaker. But you learn from it. If we’re up 30, we’re going to try to push it to 40, 50 points.”
Mission accomplished, Derrick.
Let’s go over the numbers:
They Bulls scored at least 30 points in all four quarters. The 132 points represent Chicago’s highest point total of the season. The 40-point margin of victory represents their second-largest win of the year. The Bulls shot 61.3 percent from the field (49-for-80) and 70.6 percent from three-point range (12-for-17). They earned 31 free throw attempts. They registered 34 assists (to 19 for the Kings). They outscored Sacramento 36-7 on the fast break and 56-22 in the paint. They blocked 10 shots and had 16 steals. They forced 22 turnovers while committing only 10.
Eight Bulls players scored in double figures:
Derrick Rose: 18 on 6-for-11 shooting
Kyle Korver: 18 on 7-for-11 shooting
Luol Deng: 17 on 5-for-9 shooting
Carlos Boozer: 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting
Keith Bogans: 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting
Joakim Noah: 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting
Omer Asik: 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting
C.J. Watson: 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting
Said Kyle Korver: “Sometimes when it rains, it pours, right? I thought we executed really well. We got a lot of good looks. It’s not like we were making a lot of tough shots. We hit a lot of jump shots. Guys passed the ball really well; we had a lot of assists. When you’re doing that, it’s really fun basketball to play.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: ”I love the balance. We’re inside-out, keeping the ball moving, making the extra pass.”
There wasn’t much not to love in this one. Unless, of course, you’re a Sacramento fan. In which case, may heaven help you. The Kings are the second-worst team in their conference and may be forced to relocate to Anaheim.
Kind of takes the shine off the apple, doesn’t it? Out-of-control blowout wins against terrible teams don’t really teach anything to or about a team. Especially when that team is playing on the second night of back-to-back games.
I’m more interested to see what the Bulls do in Atlanta tonight. The last time the Bulls visited Philips Arena, they blew a 19-point lead and lost 83-80. It was one of three defeats the Bulls have suffered in their last 19 games. That loss didn’t set well with fans. And it certainly didn’t set well with Rose.
Said Derrick: “You can’t forget that game. I think none of us on the team have [forgotten] that game. You’ve got to remember it. I think that if we get a lead like that down there again, I think that we won’t let them come back the way they did.”
As for the Hawks, they’ve lost six of their last nine games and are fighting to hold onto the fifth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They’re currently 4.5 games ahead of the surging Philadelpha 76ers. They’ve got a lot to play for, and they’ll be playing at home, where they’re 21-14 this season.
As for the Bulls, let’s go over the milestones they reached last night. Chicago has won 13 in a row at the United Center, their longest home winning streak since 1997-98. Moreover, the Bulls have the NBA’s second-best home record (31-4) behind San Antonio (32-3). At 50-19, they’ve clinched their first 50-win season since 1997-98.
This is meaningful. Ever since they finished the annual Circus Trip with a plus-.500 record, this season has been full of “first time since 1997-98″ moments. That was the last season the Bulls were truly great. The last in which they won an NBA title. The final year of the Michael Jordn era.
These are not small accomplishments. And they’re why the Bulls are tied with the Boston Celtics for the best record in the East. They’re also why the Bulls sit alone at the top of John Hollinger’s Power Rankings.
But this team has higher aspirations than sparking records and top-tier rankings.
Said Boozer: “That’s what we expected. I’m used to being on 50-win teams. We didn’t come here to win 50 games. We came here for much more higher goals. We’re getting better. We’re taking it step by step, but that’s definitely a good step in the right direction.”
Sacramento Kings Status Check: Record: 17-51
Road Record: 8-24
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Streak: Won 1
Last game: Won 127-95 over Timberwolves
PPG: 98.8 (18th)
Opponents PPG: 104.2 (24th)
Offensive Rating: 103.3 (25th)
Defensive Rating: 108.9 (19th)
Pace: 95.0 (4th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .478 (26th)
Turnover Percentage: .144 (27th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .741 (14th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .301 (2nd)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .208 (27th)
Opp. eFG%: .513 (27th)
Opp. TO%: .136 (12th)
Opp. FT/FGA: .234 (17th)
Leading scorer: Marcus Thornton (21.2)
Stats from Basketball-Reference.com.
Sacramento Injury Report: Marquis Daniels: bruised spinal cord (is out indefinitely)
Tyreke Evans: plantar fasciitis in left foot (expected to miss one month)
Hassan Whiteside: left knee surgery (will miss remainder of the season)
Overview: If a team wants to get back on track after a disappointing loss, there aren’t many better options than to play than the Sacramento Kings. The Kings only have 17 wins this season. And they are are playing on the second night of a back-to-back. And the Bulls haven’t lost at home since January 18. Things are looking pretty good for Chicago after what happened in their last game.
Chicago had a tough loss against the Pacers on Friday night. They’ve had the whole weekend off to think about that loss, and to correct their mistakes from that game. It also gave them some time to remember their embarrassing loss to the Kings from December 21, 2009, which they apparently have not forgotten about.
The Bulls have gotten some revenge for that game already this season, beating the Kings by 11 all the way back in November. Rose had a great game, scoring 30 points (10-23 from the field, 9-9 from the line), grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out seven assists. Joakim Noah added 17 points and 8 rebounds, but also tore his thumb ligament. This injury caused him to miss a bunch of games leading into the All Star break.
This win was during their early season stretch without Carlos Boozer. They have gotten used to playing without their new PF. Boozer has missed 23 games this season, and the Bulls played their last five games without him. But according to Nick Friedell of the ESPNChicago.com, Boozington is expected to play tonight. Deng missed practice yesterday, but will play as well.
That is even better news when Friedell also reports that Taj Gibson is a game-time decision. Gibson was seen wearing a walking boot because of a toe injury. It seems the Bulls might have needed more than a weekend off to rest and get healthy.
The Bulls will need all their bigs ready for this game. Sacramento isn’t high on many of the stat lists, but they are good at offensive rebounding. They are second in offensive rebounds per game at 13.2; just half a rebound per game behind first place Minnesota.
One of the Bulls strengths is rebounding. They force their opponents to take low percentage shots and then grab the boards. The Bulls lead the league in opponent effective field goal percentage (.460) and are third in the league in defensive rebound percentage (.759). Protecting their glass and limiting second chance points will be key. But the Bulls also go after offensive rebounds hard.
The Bulls are fifth in offensive rebounds per game, bringing down 12.0 per contest. And they have been even better lately. In their last three games, the Bulls have averaged 17.7 offensive rebounds.
The biggest thing that the Bulls need to rebound from is their poor defense from last game. They allowed 62 points in the first half and 13 points in overtime. In the November game against the Kings, Chicago allowed just 85 points and only 28 points in the second half (9 in the fourth quarter). Expect Tom Thibodeau to have the Bulls ready after the Pacers found a lot of holes in his normally great defense.
Some numbers to chew on: According to Stats LLC, the Bulls are 3-13 when allowing their opponent to score more than 100 points. They are 42-2 when holding their opponent to under 96 points. It’s a good thing the Bulls are allowing just 91.2 points per game (second in the league), or this could have been a really long season.
About the Author:
Braedan Ritter was born and raised in Pennsylvania but was swayed by gifts from his aunt to follow the Chicago sports teams. It didn’t hurt that the Bulls had a guy named Michael Jordan playing for them, and the Sixers had…Derrick Coleman. Braedan has stuck with Chicago through thick and thin, and really thin (see: Chicago Cubs). And speaking of Coleman, Braedan is currently a student at Syracuse University.
Last night, the Bulls beat the Kings. For the record, the Kings have lost 10 of their last 11 games and were clobbered 100-82 by the Clippers during their last outing.
By beating a bad team, Chicago wrapped up their seven-game circus road trip with a 4-3 record, a mere one game over .500. In many ways, what they accomplished doesn’t seem like a big deal. And it’s not…
…it’s a huge deal.
See, the Bulls didn’t just beat the Kings last night. They didn’t just come up with a win at the tail end of a long road trip on the second night of back-to-backs which also happened to be their fourth game in five nights.
No, Chicago also defeated history. Since Michael Jordan retired in 1998, the Bulls had gone 10-61 on their annual circus trip. Last season, they went 1-5.
So by winning last night’s game, the Bulls overcame more than a decade’s worth of psychological baggage and a seeming belief that “We can’t do this.” I can tell you that I’ve seen a lot of giving up on this trip during the post-Jordan years.
The Kings came out on fire and the Bulls stumbled out of the gates, falling behind 57-44 at the half. But the Bullies didn’t quit. During the third quarter, they chipped away at Sacramento’s lead. During the fourth, they turned their defense up to 11 and Derrick Rose (30 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) orchestrated a 27-9 blitzkrieg that broke his opponents’ will.
Said Luol Deng:
“Derrick is great, I think he’s the best point guard in the league right now. He can carry us a lot. He makes all of us better players.”
Rose has some stiff competition in the “best point guard in the league” category. But he sure can carry those Bulls. The great thing is…he doesn’t always have to.
Deng finished with 20 points, a game-best 14 free throw attempts and a game-high plus-minus score of +20. Joakim Noah contributed 17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocked shots. Kyle Korver (8 points, 5 rebounds, +15) and Ronnie Brewer (10 boards, 8 points, +12) both provided a big lift off the bench.
Were these guys determined? How else do you explain a road weary team running out for 20 fast break points and earning a 33-17 advantage in free throw attempts on the road?
These Bulls don’t quit. They just don’t.
Said Noah: ”This is a game where there were a lot of excuses. Four games in five nights. Carmelo hitting that shot [Friday]. Injuries. People make a lot of excuses, but at the end of the day you got to go out there and you got to play. I think that that’s what we’ve done so far.”
ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell says the team’s new attitude comes from coach Tom Thibodeau. It’s hard to argue. Despite the fact that Carlos Boozer hasn’t played a single game, everything about this year’s team feels different than last year’s squad.
Noah agrees…but also thinks much of it comes from within the players: ”Where does that competitive spirit come from? I think it’s just our character. It’s our character. We’re a team that, we dig in, we dig deep, and that’s something that not everybody has.”
That’s something the Bulls didn’t always have last season…or the last 1o-plus years. But they have it now.
After being one-upped in the all-important “Cap Space Race” by the Miami Heat — who created extra financial flexibility by trading Daequan Cook and their first round pick in last night’s draft — the Bulls countered by reportedly agreeing to send Kirk Hinrich and the 17th pick to the Washington Wizards for (you guessed it!) extra financial flexibility.
Take that, Pat Riley.
According to ESPN the Magazine’s Ric Bucher: “The Chicago Bulls have a deal in place that would move Kirk Hinrich and the 17th pick to the Washington Wizards, freeing up enough cap space to pursue two maximum-salary players in this summer’s free-agent market, sources with knowledge of the Bulls’ plans said Thursday.”
Now, the reason I say the Bulls have “reportedly” agreed to this trade is because it cannot become official until July 8. See, that’s when the Wiz will have enough room under the salary cap to absorb Hinrich’s contract without exchanging a player or players of similar value.
“This evening we selected Kevin Seraphin with the 17th overall pick of the NBA Draft,” Forman said. “At this time, we are currently in discussions to trade our draft rights to Kevin Seraphin; however, we will not be able to complete a trade until after the moratorium period concludes on July 8.
“With that said, we are not at liberty to identify the team that we are talking to or reveal any other specifics of potential trades. Therefore, we will have no comment on this selection until we have completed all trade discussions.”
Mind you, Chicago’s agreement with the Wizards is what you’d call a “good-faith deal.” In other words, either party could back out before July 8. Obviously, the Bulls aren’t going to — they started trying to dump Kirk’s contract about fve minutes after the ink dried — but Washington could.
But assuming the trade goes through as planned…what does that mean?
According to Bucher: “Either way, moving Hinrich and the pick would push Chicago’s space under the cap from $20 million to more than $30 million. That puts the Bulls on equal footing with the Miami Heat in pursuing not just one but two members of a free-agent class that is expected to include LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire and Joe Johnson.”
So…although a theoretical core of Bosh-LeBron-Wade would trump LeBron-Noah-Rose, would it trump Bosh-LeBron-Rose-Noah? Or LeBron-Johnson-Noah-Rose? Or Boozer-LeBron-Noah-Rose? Or LeBron-Noah-Rose-Stoudemire? Or Bosh-Johnson-Rose-Noah? Or…?!
And that’s not to mention Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and James Johnson. The only other supporting character the Heat have on staff right now is Michael Beasley…and they want nothing more than to get rid of him.
Look, I was a big fan of Kirk Hinrich. I liked the utility he provided. I liked the way he could play both guard spots, the way he could defend three positions, the way he never backed down and did what he was told with relatively few complaints (the occasional sour look notwithstanding).
But let’s face it: Expunging his salary opens up a lot of amazing possibilities for the Bulls. Many things will have to happen before it’s all said and done – two big-namers must agree to sign, and management will have to fill out the roster with a couple shooters and a few capable backups — but the Bulls could become championship contenders by as early as…
And seriously, why wouldn’t the big-namers want to come here? As John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times pointed out: “With a nucleus of point guard Derrick Rose (the team’s first All-Star since the Jordan era), center Joakim Noah, small forward Luol Deng and power forward Taj Gibson, the Bulls have more quality talent in place than any other of the teams with significant cap room.”
And don’t think the big boys aren’t taking notice.
This is what Bosh had to say on ESPN Radio yesterday: ”Chicago is a team worth checking out. When you have a city like Chicago and you have young talent like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and a new coach like Tom Thibodeau, that’s something worth looking at. I know they’re all about winning. I know they have a winning tradition in Chicago and I know they’re trying to get back there.”
Of course, Bosh also said: “Toronto is a great place. … They have a lot of good things going. And they’re definitely a team that I’m going to be looking at very hard because they can do things that other teams can’t.”
In other words, they can offer him more money than anybody else can. So, like I said, many things will have to happen before Bulls fans start buying their 2011 NBA Finals tickets in advance.
But it’s starting to look like the sky’s the limit.
The Bulls might not want Tyrus Thomas anymore…but almost everybody else does. At least that’s how it seems. And thanks to the way Thomas recently freaked out on Vinny Del Negro – not to mention how he claimed to have no regrets about freaking out – potential trade partners are crawling from under rocks and out of dark corners. Hey, who doesn’t love a high-potential, under-performing, emotionally volatile project? Am I right?
According to Adrian Wajnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: “Everyone understood Chicago executives are now determined to move Thomas, and a clear price has been established for suitors: Expiring contracts and a future first-round draft pick, league sources told Yahoo! Sports. The Bulls are also exploring ways to package Thomas with guard Kirk Hinrich to free themselves of his contract.”
Wajnarowski continued: “Bulls management is telling teams they expect to take the bidding right to the Feb. 18 deadline. The Bulls want to avoid the possibility of Thomas accepting a $6.2 million qualifying offer on the eve of this summer’s free agency, which would deliver a major dent to their salary-cap space. Thomas, 23, will be a restricted free agent this summer.”
Chicago’s end-game is clear: Add a superstar — Dwyane Wade? Chris Bosh? Amar’e Stoudemire? — and another star or semi-star next summer. Oh, and a blue-chip draftee wouldn’t hurt, either. And players who aren’t part of that solution are part of the problem. Even if they don’t scream at the coach. (Sorry, Kirk. That’s just the way it is. It doesn’t mean we don’t love you. Or at least like you. Or at the very worst tolerate you.)
That grunting and panting you hear is Danny Ainge trying desperately to hold the Celtics championship window open a little longer. Plus, if Ainge wants to get anything out of Ray Allen’s expiring contract, this is the time to do it. We could see Thomas and Hinrich included in a deal with Boston.
Apparently, the Bobcats have offered Acie Law, Flip Murray and their 2010 first-round pick for Thomas. The Law / Murray combo represents over $4 million in expiring contracts, plus it would keep Thomas from accepting that $6.2 million qualifying offer. That’s $10 million in cap savings and a draft pick. Don’t we owe it to Michael Jordan to take his team’s money?
The Nuggets want a big man to bolster their playoff odds against the Lakers and their monster frontcourt. However, their roster situation doesn’t look very promising, trade-wise.
New York Knicks:
The Knicks are trying to shift as many pieces as they can to lure LeBron James to New York this summer. But beware: They’re been looking to shed salary as much as anything else. Still, Al Harrington’s expiring contract might be an enticing offer…
Portland Trail Blazers:
The “Frail Blazers” lost both Greg Oden and Joel “The Vanilla Godzilla” Przybilla for the season. Those are their first and second string centers, by the way. Portland has been getting it done with Juwan Howard’s decaying corpse…but how long can that last? Also, teams have been scoring a lot of points in the paint against the Blazers. Thomas would provide depth up front and some interior defense.
It appears Portland “offered either Steve Blake or Travis Outlaw — both of whom have expiring contracts — and two future second-round draft picks for Thomas. The Bulls reportedly declined the deal, though, because they want more value in return.”
San Antonio Spurs:
The Spurs may be the only team that might be grunting and panting at their championship window more than the Celtics are at theirs. And no offense to Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner and Theo Ratliff, but San Antonio needs some youth and athleticism in the frountcourt. At this point, McDyess and Ratliff are this closeto being legally declared “mummy” by leading mummy-ologists.
With 8:49 left in the third quarter, John Salmons hit an 11-footer to help the Bulls go up 79-44 on the Kings. For those who enjoy simple math, that represented a 35-point lead with less than 21 minutes to go. Completely and utterly insurmountable, right?
Historically speaking, it should have been. But, of course, it was not.
Sacramento outscored Chicago an astounding 58-19 the rest of the way, including 33-10 in the fourth quarter. No home team had ever lost after building a lead that huge. It was the biggest come-from-ahead loss in Bulls franchise history. Conversely, it was the largest come-from-behind win in Kings franchise history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the biggest comeback since Utah overcame a 36-point deficit to beat Denver on November 27, 1996.
That’s some pretty epic fail right there. As John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times said: “There’s no way of knowing for sure, but the Bulls might be the first team in NBA history to be booed off their home court in a game in which they had a 35-point lead.”
What makes this loss even more stunning is that things started off so well. The Bulls began the game by playing some of their best, most confident basketball of the season. In the first quarter, they shot lights out (71 percent), took care of the ball (zero turnovers), and played inspired defense (forcing the Kings into 39 percent shooting and 7 turnovers). Chicago went ahead by 24 at halftime and then opened the third quarter with a 12-1 run that seemed to put the game hopelessly out of the Sactowners’ reach.
Frankly, it was the kind of performance that people have been expecting from the Bulls all season: efficiently and rather mercilessly taking care of business at home against a lesser team. And I’m sure coach Vinny Del Negro had to be thinking about getting his starters some rest for tomorrow night’s game in New York.
Well, they got their rest all right…by going to sleep in the court. May I suggest some narcolepsy medication? Some 5-Hour Energy, perhaps?
My mind is still boggled by what happened. The Kings committed their fifth personal foul with 7:45 to go in the fourth quarter, which meant the Bulls would be shooting free throws on every foul from that point forward. After Salmons knocked down his freebies from that foul, Chicago was still up 94-79. All the Bulls had to do to secure the win was be aggressive, attack the basket, and force Sacramento to foul them. You want to know how many foul shots they earned in the next seven minutes? Four. And they missed two of them.
Instead of pressing their advantage, the Bulls got sloppy. How sloppy? Chicago gave up 23 points off 20 after the first quarter. They committed nine of those turnovers in the fourth quarter, including two shot clock violations, a three-second violation and a carry. They went 2-for-10 from the field during the fourth while giving up 17 points in the final 3:08. The Bulls also surrendered four huge offensive rebounds in that final period, including two in the final 1:12 that led to 1) Evans’ 22-footer that made it 99-96 with 50 seconds left and 2) Evans’ free throw that made it 100-98 with 15 seconds left. Obviously, those boards were critical.
What in the world happened?
Said Luol Deng: “I think we relaxed. We were making mistakes defensively. We were just not aggressive and that carries over to offense. It’s frustrating.”
Added Del Negro: “It was a matter of us not being smart at either end. It’s frustrating. It’s difficult. But what are you going to do, put your head down and feel sorry for yourself?”
Oh, I don’t know, Vinny…how about making some defensive adjustments? Tyreke Evans absolutely killed the Bulls down the stretch. In the final 2:13, Evans outscored the Bulls 9-3 by himself. He started by bolting past Kirk Hinrich and converting a layup while also drawing a foul from Deng. (And of course he knocked down the ensuing free throw.) He hit another driving layup on Sacramento’s next possession, tying the game in the process.
On the Kings’ next trip down the floor, Evans got past Hinrich again, drawing the foul. He hit the first foul shot to put Sacramento up by a point. Evans bricked the second freebie, but the Bulls couldn’t corral his miss. The Kings milked the shot clock before Evans drilled a 22-footer in Deng’s face to put his team up 99-96 with 50 seconds left.
That was a dagger.
Here’s what I want to know. Once it became obvious that the Bulls couldn’t contain Evans with single coverage – the dude was leaving skid marks on poor Hinrich – why didn’t Vinny switch things up? Maybe throw a few double teams at him, try to get the ball out of his hands. Wouldn’t it be better to make, say, Beno Udrih or Jon Brockman try to beat you?
Here’s another thought. Once it became obvious the Bulls were sleepwalking through the fourth quarter, why not insert Jannero Pargo? And I mean before there are only five seconds left in the game. The guy is a spark plug. I can guarantee you Pargo would have been aggressive even if everybody else was standing around twiddling their thumbs. If you have somebody who can come off the bench shooting, what better time to use him than to counter a case of group lethargy?
Look, I’ve tried to cut Vinny some slack. I mean, we all know he’s not Phil Jackson. We also know he’s had to deal with a brutal schedule, a variety of injuries and a group of underperforming players. But it’s the coach’s job to make the necessary adjustments when his team starts to let down. Defensive switches, strategic substitutions, demanding that his players attack the rim on every single possession to take advantage of being in the penalty. Any one of these things might have saved the Bulls from this catastrophe.
And make no mistake: my use of the word “catastrophe” is not an overstatement. The team’s psyche has been fragile all season. After a handful of strong performances last week, they were finally getting a little swagger back. I saw it in the first half. But this kind of loss is a confidence killer.
How will the players respond tomorrow night against the Knicks?
The Kings entered last night’s matchup with the Bulls on fire, having won five of their last six games while averaging 111 PPG. Meanwhile, the Bulls hadn’t scored 100 points even once. Their season-high had been 94 points at home against the Philadelphia 76ers last Saturday night.
Yet Chicago currently ranks 6th in Opponents Points Per Game (91.8) and 4th in Defensive Rating (99.5 Point Per 100 Possessions). Sacramento, on the other hand, ranks 25th (104.6) and 24th (109.9 Points Per 100 Possessions), respectively. And history has shown that very good defensive teams tend to beat pretty good offensive teams most of the time, which is exactly what happened last night.
It’s kind of crazy, isn’t it? During training camp and the preseason, Bulls coaches and players talked up the team’s newfound committment to defense. To be honest, I thought it was a lot of lip service. A lot of teams over the years have made the same “defense first” promise only to revert to form as soon as the regular season really gets going. (For further reading, see Suns, Phoenix.) But the Bulls seem to be taking it pretty seriously.
Last night, Chicago held the Sactowners to a season-low 87 points on 43.2 percent shooting. And defense led to offense, as the Bulls scored 28 points by forcing the Kings into 21 turnovers.
Four Factors: The Bulls won Effective Field Goal Percentage (51.2 to 45.6), Turnover Percentage (15.6 to 21.8) and Free Throw Rate (25.3 to 22.2). They barely lost Offensive Rebounding Rate (30.9 to 30.0), so that was a bit of a wash. In the end, the Bulls were +11 points on field goals, +3 on free throws, and +10 on points off turnovers.
Player of the Game:
Although John Salmons broke out of his season-long slump to score a team-high 23 points on 9-for-18 shooting (including 3-for-5 from downtown), Joakim Noah was the PoG…as I will explain below.
Here we “Jo” again:
The league’s leading rebounder — which apparently isn’t good enough to get you onto the All-Star ballot these days — finished with 15 points (5-for-8 from the field, 5-for-8 from the line), 14 boards, an assist, a steal, 2 blocked shots, 47 chest thumps and countless hustle plays. When Chicago’s sloppy play and poor shooting in the fourth quarter started to let the Kings back into the game, Noah stopped the bleeding by tipping in two misses by Kirk Hinrich and then adding a couple free throws.
And forget the numbers. Noah’s energy and intensity is swinging games. It’s happening. Joakim’s transformation into a very special player began at the tail end of last season and it’s continuing now. The people who put together the All-Star ballot may not have realized it, but the people of Chicago are starting to. Noah has been the Bulls’ MVP so far this season. It may sound crazy, especially considering his limitations and the fact that Derrick Rose is the team’s franchise player, but it’s true.
Luol Deng had 16 points (8-for-14) and 10 rebounds. It was his third double-double of the season. He leads the Bulls in scoring (17.4) and is 2nd (to Joakim Noah) in both rebounding (9.3) and Player Efficiency Rating (17.3). I don’t want to make any premature statements, not until Deng stays healthy and productive for an entire season. But his play so far has been very, very encouraging. And his toughness — especially on the boards — is a sign that he may finally shed that “soft” tag that’s been dangling from his toe for the last several years.
Jannero Pargo, who hasn’t been playing much lately due to some lingering injuries, went 5-for-8 from the field and 2-for-2 from downtown to score 12 points off the bench. He provided a real spark off the bench, which is exactly why the Bulls signed him this summer. Let’s hope he’s healthy and ready to do this on a regular basis. The team really needs his shooting.
Former Bull Factor:
Unfortunately, Andres Nocioni missed the game with a hip pointer. Bummer. I was looking forward to seeing Noc play again.
Pain in the Paint:
I hate to throw a wet blanket on the joy of an important road win, but the Bulls were outscored 56-44 in the paint and were once again exploited by an opposing frontcourt player (Sacramento SF Donte Green scored a game-high 24 points on 10-for-19 shooting). Chicago also missed 13 layup attempts (14-for-27). This was a major thorn in the Bulls’ hoof last season, and it has been doing some damage again this season.
Listen. Listen! Do you hear? That is the sound of ultimate suffering. My heart made that sound when the six-fingered man slaughtered my father. Tom Ziller makes it now. Why? Because the Sacramento Kings are sending John Salmons and Brad Miller to the Bulls for Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, Michael Ruffin and Cedric Simmons…otherwise known as “The Salary Dump Special.”
The Kings (despite Noc’s Argentina-sized contract) are saving millions in cap space and avoiding the dreaded luxury tax. (Fear it, mortal fools!) So what are the Bulls getting? Other than the final, shuddering death of all those pesky (though enticing) Amare Stoudemire/Chris Bosh trade rumors, that is. Well, in Miller (11.9 PPG, 8.0 RPG) the Bulls finally get a center who has actual offensive talent (even if he’s more than a little over the hill and way overpaid). He’s not much of a post player, but he’s a very good outside shooter (with three-point range even) and a great passer out of the high-post (and virtually everywhere else). Brad’s not so hot on the defensive end, but he has been known to bang people around and commit hard fouls (and, occasionally, flagrant ones). Athletically, he’s the NBA-equivalent of Stephen Hawking, but he makes up for it with effort, veteran savvy and pure hunkability.
Salmons (career-high 18.3 PPG, 41 percent three-point shooting) can swing between small forward and shooting guard, which should provide some added versatility. And, unlike Thabo Sefolosha, John can, like, score and stuff. Primarily, he’s a slasher who likes to drive hard and either attack the rim or pull up for short-range jumpers. He can also stick the triple and is a top-notch defensive player who can face off against PGs, SGs and SFs. Plus he can block shots, pilfer the rock, and he’s not afraid to take on elite perimeter players (Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Marko Jaric, etc.) It’s no secret the Bulls have needed a big, defensive guard for several seasons. (Ben Gordon…he’s so small!)
I’m not sure how the addition of Salmons is going to affect Ben Gordon’s spot in the rotation, but the trade (due to Miller’s bloated contract) will more than likely mean the end of the Kirk Hinrich Era, since the Bulls will need to jettison his contract to avoid the luxery tax (which could lend credence to the rumored Hinrich/Sefolosha for Brian Cardinal/Jarron Collins swap with the Minnesota Timberwolves). But all in all, I think Chicago came out on top in this one, in terms of talent. But then, the Kings weren’t going for talent, so…
Oh, and then there’s this little tidbit: “No matter what the Bulls do with [Larry] Hughes, they’ve set themselves up to be significant players in the summer of 2010, when the free agent class headed by LeBron James, Chicago native Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh comes up. By getting rid of Nocioni’s contract, the Bulls have less than $36 million committed to salaries for the 2010-11 season, and could add one or two top-shelf free agents to go with rookie point guard Derrick Rose, small forward Luol Deng and whichever of the bigs among Thomas and Noah are still around.”
So, to sum up: Nocioni’s salary was dumped; Gooden’s beard was set free; size and scoring were added to the frontcourt; defense, size and scoring were added to the backcourt and frontcourt (as SF anyway); and the stage was set for another potential deal or two this season and maybe a huge deal during the Summer of 2010. Stay tuned.
Parting shots: Andres Nocioni: “I’m not surprised. There have been a lot of rumors. I’m all right. I was waiting for this. But I don’t feel bad the way I’m leaving. It’s not like I did something wrong. I wasn’t playing my best this season. But I gave everything to this team. I played hard every day whether in practice or in games. I’m a competitive person and I leave this team the best way I could. The only thing I feel bad about is I’m leaving a good team, good players and good coaches. I really enjoyed being with the Bulls. But this is the NBA life. Things like this can happen.”
Drew Gooden: “I’ve been traded before and the way I look at it is it means somebody wants you. Sacramento has been interested in me for a couple years, so maybe something can work out long-term there. If not, I’m an unrestricted free agent this summer, so I’m auditioning for other teams. I enjoyed my time in Chicago. It’s a good bunch of guys and great management. They treat players with respect. I just wish we had won more and I had been healthier.”