Well, then. Those 11 years sure flew by, didn’t they? The Bulls notched their first post-Jordan win over the Kings in Sacramento — 109-88 if you care about that sort of thing — to match their season-best winning streak. At two games. Hey, it’s been a rough year, okay? It was also their second-largest margin of victory of the 2008-09 campaign, just surpassing the 20-point bulge they enjoyed on Wednesday against the Clippers. Gosh it feels good to slap around the really bad teams. (I can’t wait for February 27th, when we get to play the Wizards Generals in Washington!)
It wasn’t much of a battle, really. The Bulls were up 34-22 at the end of the first quarter and maintained a double-figure lead most of the night. Watching lopsided contests like this is kind of like replaying a video game after you already beat it once and get to go through it again with all your weapons/power-ups/whatever: It’s so easy that the outcome, however gratifying, ends up feeling a little meaningless. But, as documented in detail on this very blog, the Kings are the worst defensive team in the NBA. (In fact, their loss to the Bulls was the 10th straight game in which they’ve surrendered at least 106 points.) And you know what that means: Stat padding!
Chicago shot nearly 56 percent as a team…significantly better than their season average of 44 percent. Ben Gordon and Luol Deng both rung up 20 points. Joakim Noah had 17 (on 8-for-11 from the field), which was only a couple points off his career high. Tyrus Thomas had his second consecutive double-double (14 points, 10 boards) to go along with 3 steals and 2 blocks. Derrick Rose finished with only 4 points — just the fifth time this season he hasn’t reached double digits — but had a game-high 11 assists. Kirk Hinrich added 11 points and 7 dimes off the bench. And Cedric Simmons even had 5 points in garbage time, marking his third-best offensive output of the season. (Seriously.)
The Kings had been averaging 106 PPG in January, so going into the game I was somehat concerned that it might turn into a shootout. Particularly since Kevin Martin has shown an alarming tendency to light up the Bulls (29, 26, 30 and 29 points, respectively, in his last four games against them). And, sure enough, Speedracer got his points — 27 of ‘em — but the Kings came out firing blanks as a unit and finished 28-for-76 from the field (36 percent). Even more damaging (to their cause, anyway), they had a group case of butterfinger-itis, bumbling the ball away 22 times and thereby giving the Bulls 28 bonus points.
Said Kings coach Kenny Natt: “We’re going to have to do whatever we have to do to make this change because it’s not fair to anyone — as a team, as an organization, for the fans — the whole bit. We all deserve a lot better so from that standpoint I’ve was very disappointed in our effort.” I feel you, Kenny. Bulls Nation felt pretty much the same way right up until this little two-game reprieve.
Last night’s win was nice, but there was a reason or two for concern. Like the 12 missed free throws (Joakim and Tyrus were 3-for-11) and the 44-37 rebounding disadvantage (including Sactown’s 15 offensive boards). Oh, and that whole Jerry Reinsdorf not publically backing Vinny Del Negro thing. Hey, when your team chairman declares the season “a disaster” and “embarrassing, well, that’s not a good thing. So tomorrow night’s game against the Suns in Phoenix looms large. As in, Shaq-sized. Said Noah: “I’m happy we won and to be able to be a part of it, but tomorrow is Shaq so you don’t want to get too high.” I couldn’t agree more, even if the Suns are having their own problems. As always, stay tuned…
Mel Brooks said it was good to be the king. But in today’s NBA, it’s even better to be playing the Kings. The Sactowners (10-37) have the worst record in the Western Conference. Yes, worse than the Timberwolves, Thunder and even the Clippers. In fact, they’re a scant 0.013 percentage points better than the Washington Wizards Generals who, at 9-36, are the cream of the league’s crap.
But wait. There’s more. The Kings are in the midst of a seven-game spiral of doom…and that’s not even their worst slump of the season: They also lost eight straight from November 21st to December 6th. They’ve dropped 19 of their last 22 overall, including 11 consecutive failures on the road. And the Kings – once nigh unstoppable at home (241-87 from 2000-01 through 2007-08) — are only 7-15 at Arco Arena in 2008-09.
You could say defense — or the complete and utter lack thereof — has been an issue. Kind of like having both legs chewed off by a mutant shark would be a problem for a long-distance runner. Sacramento gives up 108.2 PPG. Only the Golden State Warriors (111.8 PPG) put up less point resistance. Furthermore, the Kings are currently tied with the Grizzlies for the most pitiful field goal defense in the league: Their foes are hitting 48.0 percent of their shots. And this is a worsening trend, considering that Sacramento’s opponents have averaged 120.4 points on 51.1 percent shooting over the last nine games. Finally, according to John Hollinger’s team stats, the Kings are at the bottom of the NBA barrel in terms of defensive efficiency, meekly surrendering 111.6 points per 100 possessions. That must explain why they have the league’s worst point differential (-9.1).
See where I’m going with all this? Playing against the Kings appears to put opposing teams into God mode, in terms of scoring, anyway. Sacramento’s Brad Miller said: “Bad teams tend not to be defensive. It takes a lot of energy to play defense and you know, we score but, you know, we can’t, we’re not outscoring anybody.” Kings’ interim coach Kenny Natt added: “We’re our own worst enemy.” Neither man is wrong.
So where does that put our Bullies (19-27)? It’s not like they’ve been striking fear — or even a slightly nervous twitch — into any hearts lately. It took a game against the Clippers to break their season-high five-game losing streak and they’ve won only six of their last 19 games. Of course, as bad as all that sounds, the Kings would probably take on their woes in a Planck unit. (Smallest unit of time. Anyone? Bueller?)
Of course, the Bulls have the weight of history against them: They haven’t won a game in Sacramento in 11 long years. Their last win in Sactown was on November 23, 1997. In that game, Michael Jordan scored 33 points (on 11-for-19 shooting), Dennis Rodman snared 14 rebounds (including 5 on the offensive end) and Joe Kleine put in his obligatory two minutes of playing time. But last I checked, none of those guys are walking through that door. Although I bet Kleine would. He could probably use the money. (And, really, would he be any worse than Aaron Gray, even at 47?)
The most important things is for the Bulls to NOT be lulled into a false sense of security. Kevin Martin is the kind of explosive scorer who probably looks at a team like Chicago and thinks: “Yeah, I could probably score a season high on these guys at home.” I’m betting Al Jefferson was thinking the exact same thing before he dropped 39 on us a couple games ago. And for the record, Martin put up 29 points in Chicago earlier this month, and he’s averaging 28.5 points in his last four games versus the Bulls. So Vinny: Double him early and often if necessary. And DO NOT get into a shootout with them: The Sactowners are averaging 106.1 PPG in January and have had games of 135, 122, 117, 115 and 110 points. The Cavs and Celtics might be able to get away with not playing any D against the Kings, but the Bulls (probably) cannot.
The bottom line: Chicago needs to play defense like there’s no tomorrow, because the offense will take care of itself. Get off to a strong start and try to crush the Kings early. But don’t let up. The Kings are at home and desperate for a win. That can be a dangerous combination for unwary teams.
Matt Becker of the Associated Press: “The Chicago Bulls haven’t won in Sacramento since Michael Jordan led them to their sixth NBA title. With the way the Kings are playing right now, Chicago may have its best opportunity to end that slide. After snapping their longest losing streak of the season their last time out, the Bulls look for their first victory in Sacramento in 11 years Friday when they visit the lowly Kings.”
John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: “No player ever wants to miss an extended stretch because of injury, but sometimes sitting and watching can help a struggling player find a groove. That appears to have happened in the case of Bulls forward Luol Deng, who sat out eight games with a sprained left ankle and and has emerged from his early-season funk since returning to action 2½ weeks ago. ‘I think it did help,’ Deng said Thursday of his time on the shelf. ‘I think it was just the time period, having a new system, new coaches, a new style and everything. I think it took me a while, it took me longer than I thought.’”
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “As the Bulls play their next-to-last game of the month, [Luol] Deng will attempt to continue the pace he has set in the nine games since he returned from a sprained left ankle. In January, Deng leads the Bulls with 17.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and, perhaps most tellingly, 1.89 steals per game. He also is shooting 50 percent this month. ‘I’m better when I’m moving without the ball and the ball is moving,’ Deng said. ‘I don’t like taking shots out of rhythm. And sometimes when we take quick shots, it affects the way I’m playing.’”
Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “Team captain Kirk Hinrich surveyed the scene as the noisy workout ended and the players began shooting free throws. ‘We had a good practice today,’ he said. ‘Our practice habits have gotten better the last few weeks.’ Coach Vinny Del Negro mentioned the same thing recently. Asked why that happened, Hinrich suggested a few different reasons. ‘I think coach just told us, we need to have better practice sessions,’ Hinrich said. ‘I think you have to come out here and compete. Obviously, there are days you rest your legs. But when we come in here, compete and work on what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively. It’s been good when we’ve done that.’”
More Mike McGraw from the Daily Herald: “Early this season, Rose’s jumper to be seemed much better than advertised. He rarely missed when he pulled up off the dribble. But the jumper took a vacation the last three weeks or so. He’d knock one down every once in awhile, just not with any regularity until it reappeared at the Staples Center. Asked after the game if he felt like he was in a shooting slump, Rose basically agreed. ‘I didn’t think about it,’ he said. ‘But just thinking about it now (after the question), I was missing for a while. Tonight it was just clicking.’
Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune: “Let me get this right: The general manager of the Phoenix Suns had a coaching opening last summer and he had Vinny Del Negro under contract and he said Del Negro is ‘a really bright guy. Very smart and very hard-working” — and the general manager of the Phoenix Suns gave the job to someone else. Why? Because Del Negro has never coached at any level and, Phoenix general manager Steve Kerr says, Del Negro is ‘going through what everybody has to go through at the beginning of their career.” Yeah, and Kerr made sure that the Suns wouldn’t go through it the way Chicago is. What the Bulls did to their fans just gets more insulting.”