From ESPNChicago.com: “The Chicago Bulls exercised the fourth-year option on point guard Derrick Rose, and the third-year options on Taj Gibson and James Johnson on Monday. That means all three players will be under contract with the Bulls for the 2011-12 season.”
Well, there really wasn’t much suspense about Rose and Gibson. Rose might end up being a Bull for life, and Gibson (unless he gets flipped in a major trade) seems to be significant part of the team’s frontcourt of the future. That and I’m sure the team is just waiting to use a headline like “The Rise of Taj.” I know I am.
It’s mildly surprising management picked up Johnson’s option, given his struggles with consistency and an iffy (at times) basketball IQ. Still, according to the salary information ShamSports, he’ll only cost the Bulls about 1.8 million next season. That’s a reasonably low-cost alternative for a backup SF, particularly one who knows the system and is familiar with his teammates. Continuity has its advantages.
It’s also possible that the new coaching staff saw enough of Johnson over the summer to think that they can transform him into a regular contributor. Everything I hear and read about Tom Thibodeau is that he’s an excellent teacher. And let’s face it, J.J.’s physical talents aren’t in question.
According to John Jackon of the Chicago Sun-Times, Taj Gibson — who missed Chicago’s Friday and Saturday night games with a sore right heel — is doing better and expects to practice today.
Said Gibson: “I’ll practice, and I’ll be ready to go on Monday. It was tough watching the effects of [Saturday's] loss on the whole team. I’m just looking forward to getting back to practice and get ready for the next game.”
Added coach Tom Thibodeau: “I think he’s fine. Like I said [Friday], if this was the regular season, he’d be playing. It’s more precautionary. He said he could have gone [Saturday].”
Allow me to wipe the nervous sweat from my forehead and allow relief to wash over me in an awesome wave. The Bulls can’t afford to lose Gibson for any extended stretch, not with Carlos Boozer out.
The good news: The Bulls pulled out a scrappy home win over the Charlotte Bobcats, thus living to fight another day. For a possible playoff spot, that is.
The bad news: The Toronto Raptors pulled out a scrappy win of their own, a 128-123 overtime win over the 76ers in Philadelphia. Despite leading by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, the Raptors almost let the game slip away. Unfortunately for the city of Chicago, Chris Bosh stepped up with a couple big shots down the stretch.
Said Bosh: “I wouldn’t want to imagine the [playoff] scenario if we lost that game.
As it stands, the scenario is this: The Bulls are still 1 1/2 games behind the Raptors with only six games remaining. In other words, the odds are against them and the situation is grim.
The funny thing is, you know who’s killing the Bulls right now? It’s not Bosh. It’s Sonny Weems. I’m being completely serious. Weems scored 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting against the Sixers. On Wednesday night, Weems went a perfect 8-for-8 for 17 points in Toronto’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Sonny Weems. Go figure.
But enough about the Raptors. Let’s talk about the Bulls. This game was a prime example of what might have been had the team been a little healthier during the second half of the season
Joakim Noah, once again starting at center, had a strong game. Jo’s shooting (4-for-14) was as grim as Chicago’s playoff odds, but he finished with a game-high 16 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and one memorable posterization of former teammate Tyrus Thomas:
Speaking of Tyrus, I was really excited to watch the game-within-a-game between Thomas and Taj Gibson, a.k.a the man who made T-Time expendable. Taj seemed to have a little extra spring in his step to start the game. He was skying for rebounds early — I mean, he was really going up after them — and finished with 15 boards, including a game-high 7 on the offensive glass. Gibson also scored 14 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
Meanwhile, Thomas must have wondered whether he was back in a Bulls uniform. He logged only 16 minutes of playing time and the results were mixed. Tyrus blocked a couple shots and intimidated a few others. He started the game by posting Gibson for a short hook and a foul, then rolled in for an easy layup off a sweet dish from Raymon Felton on the Bobcats’ next possession.
But Tyrus went 2-for-5 after that, including an airball, and grabbed only 3 rebounds. Oh, and as I mentioned above, he ate that Wilsonburger served up by Chef Noah.
It was like he never left.
A few things worth noting. Taj obvious had a big edge in minutes played (42-16), but the edge was very minor in terms of plus-minus scores (+12 for Gibson versus +11 for Thomas). Do with that information what you will.
But in the final analysis, Gibson — while not as physically talented — is simply a better basketball player than Thomas right now. He plays smarter, he works harder and he usually makes the right plays. With Tyrus, you just never know. With Gibson, you usually do.
Said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro: “[Gibson] is incredibly coachable. He comes to work every day, plays hard. He makes mistakes like everybody, but he plays so hard. If he has a fault it’s that he helps too much defensively, which is a very, very rare thing. Especially for a rookie.”
Del Negro continued: “Ever since day one when he got here, he works every day. Whether it’s in the weight room, whether it’s on the court. Pregame, halftime, he’s ready to go. And he’s such a great kid. It’s easy to root for a kid like that. You want him to do well, and he’s been a huge factor for us, no question, with everything we’ve battled throughout the year.”
Added Noah: “He’s always been someone who will always listen. He just works really hard. It’s not even just his rebounding. I think his positioning is really good. I think he’s relentless. He doesn’t give up just because somebody’s in front of him. He always keeps trying to go after that basketball. I think even offensively, he’s really getting better. He’s getting a lot of playing time, so he’s really making the best of his opportunity.”
In related news, Derrick Rose continued trying to back up his playoff prediction by scoring a game-high 26 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Rose was reasonably aggressive in seeking the rim, considering that nine of his 19 shots were layup attempts (including a couple acrobatic, Air Jordan-style circus shots). In fact, the Bulls attempted 33 layups versus 47 jumpers. That’s a much better ratio than they usually have…which is probably a product of how important they felt this game was. So was their 56-34 advantage on the boards.
While we’re handing out kudos, I’d like to give a gold star and a sheet of unicorn stickers to Kirk Hinrich. Captain Kirk might have been the best player on the floor. He scored 24 points while shooting a red-hot 9-for-12 from the field. For good measure, Hinrich added 6 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot. He also had a game-high plus-minus score of +18, so you could say he had an impact.
The one blight on this game — other than a flurry of second-half turnovers that helped the Bobcats come back from a double-digit deficit and almost steal a win — was the play of Chicago’s bench. Brad Miller, Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick combined for 52 ugly minutes, during which they scored only 9 points on 3-for-17 shooting. In all fairness, Miller added some non-scoring value by snaring 5 rebounds, dishing a co-game-high 6 assists and (heh) blocking a layup attempt by Tyrus.
At any rate, it was a big win, and — one assumes — the kind the Bulls might have had a few more of minus an injury or two. But there’s nothing they an do about the past. All they can try to do is win out and hope the Raptors hit a rough patch.
After he scored a game-high 24 points in last night’s let’s-try-to-keep-this-thing-going road win over the Wizards, Derrick Rose said: “I try to remind everybody that we’re going to be in the playoffs, we’ve just got to continue to win. Even though the task is going to be hard, we’re still going to fight and try to come together.”
Statements like that make you wonder whether Derrick has read his team’s injury report. Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and James Johnson are all dealing with foot injuries. Kirk Hinrich has that sprained left ankle. And Rose — who already had a sore wrist — banged up a hip in yet another hard fall.
True, Luol Deng returned last night, scoring 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting in a surprising 28 minutes off the bench. But nobody knows whether that strained calf muscle will allow Lu to suit up tonight against the Bobcats.
Said Deng: “We’ll see. I really don’t know how it’s going to respond. The other day from practice it had tightened up a little bit, so, I’m sure it will be a little bit tight. But, it’s feeling good right now.”
In light of the injury problems and the fact that the eighth-place Raptors — who are still 1 /12 games ahead in the race for the East’s final playoff spot — have a distinct scheduling advantage, Rose’s optimism seems somewhat unfounded…maybe even a little wacky.
Remember: Derrick came into the league as one of those quiet, lead-by-example type of players. The kid was — and, really, still is — humble to a fault and appears at time naturally disinclined to let anything but his own game do the talking.
But now…now Rose is encouraging his teammates to rise to the challenge while putting all the pressure on himself by being the one to guarantee the Bulls will make the playoffs. Remember, this is the same guy who practically had to have words pried out of him with a crowbar last season. This is quite a turnaround.
That said, it’s really good to see Rose taking a more active role in leading the team. Let’s face it, Rose is Chicago’s future, and — regardless of whether the Bulls actually qualify for the postseason — this kind of do-or-die, it’s-all-on-me situation is crucial for his development into a frachise player.
And so is tonight’s do-or-die-again game against the Bobcats.
By the way, I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to Taj Gibson, who had a fantastic game (14 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks). Tonight he gets to match up against Tyrus Thomas, the player he made expendable. That should be a fun subplot to watch unfold.
Said Noah: “I want to play the whole game. I think [the coaches] know that. But what can I do? I’m not going to go to the media and say I’m not happy with the situation. They told me this was going to happen. I want to help. But I have to get healthy.”
Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro also wants Noah to play, but Vinny is limiting Jo’s minutes to reduce the wear and tear on his aching foot. The medical staff doesn’t think shutting Noah down is the answer, but neither is asking him to log heavy minutes.
Said Del Negro : “We want him out there. It’s just that he’s not healthy. His foot is healing as fast as it can. It’s frustrating for him, I’m sure. But he’s just got to keep on getting his rest, getting his therapy and hopefully, it will continue to improve. … He’s had a lot of therapy and a lot of time, but those are difficult injuries. And everyone is a little bit different — where it is on your foot. We’ll just take it a day at a time. See how he feels. And increase his minutes as we see fit.”
Sadly, there’s no good answer with plantar fasciitis.
I’ll go ahead and admit I’ve been dealing with this injury for a couple months now. Some days it’s really bad, some days not so much. But as an avid pickup baller who plays two or three times a week, I can tell you it’s affected my game. Heck, it’s affected my walk from the train station to my job in the morning.
I was never much of a leaper, but now I have no lift. I also have no thrust on my first step. As a result, I’ve been struggling to get to the hoop, and I’ve had more shots stuffed in the last 30 days than the past couple years. It’s a bit of an ego-ectomy, really.
Like Noah, I want to play. But also like Noah, the problem persists.
It’s affecting my pickup teams, and it’s affecting the Bulls. And don’t forget that — with much less limelight — Taj Gibson is also playing through a case of plantar fasciitis, and Brad Miller is being asked to log too many minutes in relief. That double whammy could certainly explain why those two guys played so badly against the Wizards on Monday.
As K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune has pointed out, this entire situation — Noah’s injury, Gibson’s injury, Miller’s minutes, and the defensive confusion of new Bull Hakim Warrick — is impacting Chicago’s defense. The Bulls lead the league in rebounding and blocked shots, and they’re tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder in lowest opponents’ field-goal percentage.
But barring a mystical fruit drink miracle, those numbers seem destined to fall. And Washington big man Andray Blatche’s 25-point, 11-rebound performance against the Bulls may become the rule rather than the exception. Hopefully, Warrick can get up to speed defensively. And fast.
Said Warrick: “It’s been a little tough for me. They’re a little more aggressive, especially on side pick-and-rolls and showing and blitzing. With the Bucks, we were sending (opponents) baseline. Coach Scott Skiles had a thing where he didn’t want to switch it up as much. They switch (screens) a little more here.”
These are the little things that haunted the Bulls in their loss to the Wizards, and it could make stealing a decent playoff seed pretty difficult. And unfortunately, Bulls fans can only do what Noah is doing: sit and wait and hope.
As I was watching Chicago absolutely destroy a Philadelphia team that had won six of its last eight games — including an overtime win over the Bulls – I had to marvel again at the fact that only two members of this season’s projected starting lineup were actually in the starting lineup. And not only did Hakim Warrick (15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocked shots) and Flip Murray (12 points, 2-for-4 on threes, lots of communication on the defensive end) look better than the guys they just replaced, they played like they’d been Bulls for life.
Said Warrick: “It really felt like we’ve been together since preseason. Just the way the ball’s been moving. The new guys have come in just ready to play and the old guys have really just welcomed us new guys in and whenever we make a mistake or we’re in the wrong spot, they make sure to point us and get us in the right spot and get the play right.”
Against all reason, the team has not seemed this unified all season.
The result of that unity was pretty sweet. The Bulls established a new season-high for points scored (122) and — even more impressively — set a franchise record for fewest turnovers (4) while racking up 26 assists. It’s hard to gauge, the team might have provided season-highs in energy, effort and enthusiasm too.
Said Philly’s Allen Iverson: “They were finding the open man, just making the right plays.”
Indeed they were.
Chemistry is a funny thing. Last season, after John Paxson brokered the deal that brought in Brad Miller and John Salmons from Sacramento, Chicago’s chemistry shot off the charts, culminating in one of the great first round playoff series of all times. Unfortunately, that chemistry didn’t carry over into this season. It just didn’t. And the Bulls have been searching for answers all season. And now it looks like they’ve found those answers.
I guess it was addition by subtraction.
Don’t get me wrong. Despite their recent hot streak, the Sixers (21-34) aren’t a good team. And really, until a few weeks have passed and Chicago racks up at least a couple victories over teams on the plus side of .500, it will be hard to judge exactly what the Bulls have going for them.
But blowing an opponent out by 32 points on the second night of back-to-backs always feels kind of good.
And now let’s have a round of applause for rookie Taj Gibson, who grabbed a co-game-high 13 rebounds (5 offensive) and tied his career-high by scoring 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Despite being totally awesome, Gibson kept his Fonzie-like cool.
Said Taj: “You’re only as good as your last game.”
No self-serving sense of entitlement there. Unlike, ahem, some other former Bulls power forwards who shall remain nameless (and, thankfully, in Charlotte).
Added coach Vinny Del Negro: “He’s such a good kid. He is very coachable. He wants to learn and is always working. I like some of the passes that he and Hakim made to each other. They worked well against the zone.”
First off, that’s absolutely correct. Like I said above, Warrick played like he’d spent his career in the Windy City, and he and Gibson displayed something akin to ESP on a few plays. Second, all this goes a long way in explaining why Tyrus Thomas (okay, I named him) got benched after his forearm injury and was eventually sent packing…along with all his “limitless potential” (which more often than not equated to unlimited headaches).
I’ve said this more than once, but allow me to repeat: Gibson is already almost everything the Bulls wanted Thomas to be. And he’s a rookie!
But hey, I was talking about teamwork earlier, and this was no one-man show. Seven Bulls scored in double figures. Miller had a double-double (15 points, 10 boards). Derrick Rose had 17 points and 6 assists. Kirk Hinrich added another 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting and passed Ben Gordon to become Chicago’s all-time leader in three-pointers made (773). Luol Deng shot poorly (1-for-8), but he went 10-for-10 from the line and had a game-high four steals.
I don’t know if the Bulls can keep this up, but the immediate future looks pretty good. On Monday, they play the Wizards in Washington. On Wednesday, they have a home game against the Indiana Pacers. On Friday they play at home against the Portland Trail Blazers and they fly to Indianapolis for a Saturday night game against the Pacers.
There’s no reason they can’t keep this thing going.
Here we “Jo” again:
Joakim Noah made a surprise return from his seven-game layoff due to plantar fasciitis. Jo entered the game with 3:33 left in the first quarter and played…like someone who was rusty and dealing with an ongoing injury. Noah logged only seven minutes and finished with almost as many missed dunks (1) as rebounds (2), but at least he was able to run up and down the court a few times. Albeit gingerly.
Said Noah: “I’m happy to be back out there. I’m not happy about that missed dunk. But, hey, I guess it happens. … I really feel no pain, and I feel really good that we’re playing such good basketball right now.”
Former Bull factor:
Chicago’s former 20-10-50 guy scored only 7 points on 2-for-8 shooting. He did grab a team-high 13 rebounds, including 6 offensive boards. Still, it was a pretty silent night for a dude playing out an $80 million contract.
1st timeout: Deng was fouled before the timeout (2-for-2)
2nd timeout: Andre Iguodala was fouled before the timeout
3rd timeout: Thaddeus Young was fouled before the timeout
4th timeout: Elton Brand was fouled before the timeout
This was a blowout, so it’s pretty hard to see any kind of pattern…other than the fact that Vinny kept calling timeouts after somebody was fouled.
Thomas is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. He has infinite potential and unlimited immaturity. He’s a team-first player as long as he gets his minutes. He’s a big man who converts only 53 percent of his shots at the rim and would much rather take jump shot after jump shot than bang bodies down low. In fact, over half his shots are chucked up from the outside. Which is how he likes it.
As Tyrus put it last November: “I shoot a lot of shots a day, so when I’m in the game and I feel like I want to shoot the ball, I’m going to shoot it. I’m not going to take a shot I haven’t worked on, so whatever I shoot is a shot I know I can make, and if I miss it, oh well.”
That quote has been festering in my Bulls notebook all season. To me, it says almost everything you need to know about Tyrus Thomas the basketball player. But it’s also worth pointing out something about Tyrus Thomas the human being. Namely, this: Although Ty grew up in what was, by all accounts, a loving and supportive home, he may well be living in the shadow of a father who was in and out of prison for most of Thomas’ youth.
This manifested itself in a sometimes troubled adolescence. As Tyrus once put it: “I just couldn’t take other males telling me what to do. I’d be like, ‘You’re not my dad. You can’t tell me this. You can’t tell me that.’ It was kind of like a rebellious stage in my life.”
That troubled childhood has transformed into troubled adulthood. Even now, Thomas is still rebelling. Vinny Del Negro is not his dad. He can’t tell Tyrus what to do. The question is: Who can?
Maybe nobody. Or maybe a stronger coach could, someone capable of being a supportive father-like figure. Or maybe it’s impossible. Maybe the bad habits are set in the stone of Thomas’ stubborn personality. After all, he knows what shots he can hit, and if he misses, oh well.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune seems to believe that these problems could be solved by simply starting Thomas and bringing Taj Gibson off the bench. Is PT the correct method of therapy for a player who doesn’t get it and seems as though he never will? It’s a thorny situation. And anyway, what kind of precedent would the team set by giving in to an underperforming player who is determined to do things his own way. Remember, players earn minutes by accepting their role, making smart decisions and performing to the best of their abilities.
When has Tyrus ever done that on a consistent basis?
Even more damning to Thomas and his situation is the re-arrival of Chris Richard, who was waived before the season started but whom the Bulls signed to a 10-day contract after shutting Joakim Noah until after the All-Star break. Richard came dutifully off the bench against the Heat, snared 7 rebounds, blocked a couple shots, and banged every opposing body in his general vicinity. When he left the game, there was blood on his jersey. The crowd ate it up.
Said Richard: “I know what my role is no matter what team I’m on. I’ve just got to bring energy, defend, rebound, help, whatever I can do. I figured if I get lost on the offensive end, I can just go set a random screen. That’s a great thing about being a big.”
Imagine what Tyrus could accomplish with that attitude.
Potential can sustain coaches and fans for only so long. Eventually, a player must either perform like an All-Star or kill themselves for the team…or they will wear out their welcome. Thomas will return to practice today. Unless he pulls off a Hollywood movie-like transformation from heel to hero, he may discover the Windy City has pulled its welcome mat off the stoop.
Come to think of it, that may have already happened.
And here we all thought the Bulls were finally healthy.
After Taj sat out of practice yesterday, Vinny Del Negro said: “He going to go see the doctor today and get some therapy. He’s feeling a little bit better, but that plantar fasciitis is bothering him a little bit, and he’ll get some treatment on it.”
There’s no word yet as to whether Taj will miss any time.
Said Del Negro: “Let’s see how he feels [Wednesday]. I’d like to get him some practice in [Wednesday] before we get up to Boston.”
That would be nice.
Perhaps sensing the need to fluff Tyrus in case he’s called on to start, Vinny also said: “Tyrus played well (Monday against the Pistons) and had a good practice (Tuesday) too. He was under control. I loved his activity.”
Just say “No-ah” to “Knee-Mac”:
Regarding the rumors about a possible tradethat would bring Tracy McGrady to Chicago for Joakim Noah and some expiring contracts: No, no, no, a thousand times no. There are plenty of reasonsnot to make a deal for “Knee-Mac,” but the biggest and most glaring reason is that (based on this rumor) it would cost the Bulls their second-best player (or third-best, if you believe Luol Deng is superior to Noah).
Fortunately, there are also rumors that McGrady could end up in Washington or Philadelphia, so there’s probably no need to panic just yet. About Noah, anyway. But if you’re a Kirk Hinrich fan, there’s always reason to worry. According to ESPN the Magazine’s Chris Broussard: “Kirk Hinrich is ahead of even Tyrus Thomas on their list of players they’d love to trade. In fact, Thomas is being offered around the league as a sweetener in any Hinrich deal. But with two years, $17 million left on his contract after this season, there’s not a great market for Hinrich.”
Seriously, has anyone in NBA history been involved in more trade rumors than Captain Kirk? I think ESPN should rename its famous “what-if engine”to The Kirk Hinrich Memorial Trade Machine.
I moved to Chicago back in the summer of 1998, so I didn’t become a hard core Bulls fan until the Michael Jordan era was coming to its storybook ending. It was a case of unlucky timing on my part, because the Bulls were about to go from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the trash heap.
This meant that, as a fan, I had to live through some very dark times.
I’m talking about the Tim Floyd era. I’m talking about a three-season stretch in which the Bulls won a total of 45 games. I’m talking about 47-point losses to the Orlando Magic. In short, I’m talking about real wrath of God type stuff: fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!
Yeah. Dark times indeed. I’ll tell you this much: I learned to appreciate what Clippers fans have gone through for, well, ever. But I can honestly say I’ve never felt as demoralized as I did when the Bulls lost to the New Jersey Nets last night.
I really thought that 110-78 homecourt loss to the Toronto Raptors was going to be the low point of the season for the Bulls. I was sure of it. I simply could not envision a more painful loss. Then the Nets strolled into town with a 1-19 record and nothing to lose. I have to admit, I was looking past them to the game against the Hawks in Atlanta tomorrow night. I don’t know if the Bulls were looking ahead too, but I sure was.
Well, my bad. And Chicago’s bad, too. Very bad.
What makes the whole dreary situation even more galling is that there were actually some really positive signs in the game. Taj Gibson scored a career-high 20 points (8-for-12) off the bench. Luol Deng scored 27 points (10-for-17) on a variety of jumpers, post moves and even three-pointers (two of them!). But best of all, there was Derrick Rose, who had his best game of the season (27 points, 7 rebounds, 10 assists, a steal and a block).
It wasn’t just the gaudy statistics, though. Rose asserted himself — I mean, really asserted himself — down the stretch for the first time this season. He scored 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, two of which came on a running, one-handed jumper with 19 seconds left. That shot gave the Bulls a 100-99 lead…but it didn’t last.
After a New Jersey timeout, it took Devin Harris all of five seconds to answer Rose’s shot with a running one-hander of his own. Said Harris: “I saw an opening and I knew what to do. It was the same play they ran, we ran on the other end. Pretty much an isolation. It was my shot to take. It just happened that we both ended up hitting runners, going right.”
Now the Bulls were down 101-100 with 14 seconds left, and it was Vinny Del Negro’s turn to write up a clutch play.
I don’t know what play the Bulls were supposed to run. What I do know is that John Salmons (12 points, 4-for-12) caught the inbounds pass, dribbled to the top of the arc and jacked up a 25-footer with seven seconds still on the clock. It didn’t go in, Harris pulled down the rebound and the game was pretty much over.
And that, my friends, is how the Nets got their second win of the season.
Pain in the paint:
Oh yes. Chicago’s interior defense was once again the goat in yet another brutal loss. Brook Lopez (25 points, 9-for-14, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocked shots) became the latest in a looooong line of big men who have had their way with the Bulls (both this season and last), and the Nets racked up a whopping 54 points in the paint. In all, they got 16 layups and five dunks. And when they weren’t scoring outright, they either earned free throws (28 of them) or created open looks.
In all seriousness, the Bulls’ inability to protect the basket is their biggest weakness. Bigger than any of the many things going wrong for them on offense. Although, speaking of which…
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers:
With the way the Bulls handled the ball last night, I can only assume they’ve been taking passing lessons from Jay Cutler. By game’s end, they had given up 20 points off 19 turnovers. By contrast, the Nets gave up only 11 points off 14 turnovers.
Other little problems:
The Bulls missed eight free throws. Sure, the final miss was intentionally bricked by Rose because Chicago had to try and get the ball back for a last-second, game-tying two-pointer. But still, Rose and Gibson went 0-for-4 on back-to-back possessions near the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Both teams looked great when they got out on the fast break. Unfortunately, the Nets did more running, which is why they outscored the Bulls 20-10 in fast break points. You know, the Bulls are such a lousy shooting/scoring team that they really need to run, run, run and then run some more. Why not take advantage of Derrick’s speed?
Like I said, Rose stepped up and became a go-to guy down the stretch. That was awesome. What was decidedly less awesome was Rose’s defense. He simply could not stay in front of his man. Even Rafer Alston (15 points in only 17 minutes) was burning Rose alive. It boggles my mind that someone as speedy and athletically gifted as Rose can’t stay in front of, well, anybody. Honestly, my gast is flabbered.
Vinny’s big adjustment was starting Brad Miller. ‘Nuff said.
Here’s what he had to say about the three by Salmons that killed any chance the Bulls had of pulling this one out: “The play was designed for Derrick to come and get the ball. … Derrick was unable to get open and we went to John Salmons. We did not attack on that and pulled back for the jumper.”
Quote of the night:
Said Joakim Noah: “It never feels good to lose to the team with the worst record in the NBA. It hurts.”
New Jersey entered last night’s game on an 18-game road losing streak stretching back into last season. Furthermore, the Nets came into the game scoring a league-worst 87.6 PPG. They surpassed that average by over 15 points against the Chicago defense.
If I’m being completely realistic, it was probably too much to ask for this particular Bulls team — still without starter Tyrus Thomas and key reserve Kirk Hinrich — to beat this particular Cavaliers team in Cleveland for a second time this season.
It was simply a bad matchup on paper, and a worse matchup in reality. NBA players are a proud breed, and the great ones are even prouder. Back on November 5, LeBron James didn’t really play up to his typical ultra-lofty standards. Moreover, he lost the ball at the buzzer on a potentially game-winning drive. (For his part, James thought he was fouled.) Players like LeBron don’t forget about losses like that. They store the memory for motivation, and they almost alway exact a little revenge later, especially against lesser teams. Which, unfortunately, the Bulls are…for now.
The Bulls were actually pretty competitive for the first two quarters — the halftime score was Cavs 47, Bulls 46 — but Cleveland started pulling away in the third quarter as LeBron imposed his will: hitting jumpers, earning foul shots, dishing to his teammates. LeBron finished with 23 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds and an unspecified number of hip-hop dance moves. And that last “stat” got one of the Bulls pretty fired up…
Here we “Jo” again:
Joakim Noah had a rough night. He missed one layup and had another stuffed by Jamario Moon. He bricked a couple jumpers from about 17 feet out. (Uhm, why were you taking 17-footers, Jo?) He finished with 7 points (2-for-7), 10 boards, 3 assists, a steal, a blocked shot and a game-worst plus-minus score of -18.
Look, Noah may not be a great player yet, but he’s got almost as much pride as LeBron James. He doesn’t like losing, and he doesn’t like having a loss rubbed in his face, either intentionally or unintentionally. Which is what happened last night when LeBron started dancing a jig on the Bulls’ grave:
Noah didn’t like that. Not one bit.
I’m not sure what Hubie Brown was so confused about. Back in his coaching days – particularly when he was coaching the New York Knicks in the mid-1980s — Hubie would have gotten pretty upset if, say, Larry Bird had started dancing all over the place during the fourth quarter of a 20-point Boston Celtics blowout. I don’t blame Joakim for being angry. He should have been. All of the Bulls should have been. It was an embarrassing loss, and the fact that LeBron was dancing all over the court was symbolic of how easily they swatted the Bulls down in the second half.
Said Noah: “When you’re losing the way you’re losing and guys are rubbing it in your face, dancing and all that. I have a lot of respect for LeBron. It’s just a frustrating situation. … It stinks to lose, man. That’s the toughest thing, we can’t compete for 48 minutes. We’ve got to find a way to win games because this losing thing is not a good look, man, it’s just not. It’s not what anybody in this locker room expected. This losing thing is really frustrating.”
It sure is.
As for LeBron, he said he was just having a good time. “It’s nothing against the Bulls and it’s nothing against Joakim or none of those guys. It’s nothing about showboating on a team. I’ve seen it happen all last year. I think he [Noah] was more frustrated about the way he played as an individual. He didn’t help his team win.”
Pain in the paint:
Same old story. Cleveland pulled down 17 offensive rebounds en route to a 24-10 advantage in second-chance points. They also and outscored Chicago 46-20 in the paint. Of course, credit goes to the Cavaliers’ defense, which either kept the Bulls out of the painted rectangle or forced a tough shot at the basket.
Here’s some extra bad news courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information: “When the Bulls struggle with their interior defense, it has hurt in the win column — this season, Chicago has allowed 38 points per game in the paint in its seven wins, compared to 47.4 paint points per game in its 10 losses.” Yep. That’s pretty much what I’ve been saying all season.
By the Horns reader Mike also wrote in with some good points: “We have no one who can get calls in the paint. Also, every time someone goes into the paint, there are 2-3 defenders collapsing. This is the biggest problem with the offensive system. Rose and Salmons are both penetrating slashers, but since we don’t have anyone to spread the floor, the shots that both players are getting in the paint are low-percentage. Derrick’s most reliable shot is the one where he bursts through the lane, leaps and tosses the floater. He’s good at it, but here’s my issue: it’s not a “downhill” attack. He’s slashing across the lane at more of an angle, rather than directly at the basket. It’s a less-aggressive move that fundamentally avoids contact, rather than seeking it. This shot and the 18-footer feel like they make up about 75% of derrick’s shots. If he’s going to thrive, those shots shouldn’t top 50%, with the other half coming on “downhill” drives all the way to the basket for lay-ups/ fouls, and back-cuts for lay-ups and dunks.”
Player of the Game:
Taj Gibson was on fire in the first quarter, during which he scored 11 of his team-high 14 points (7-for-14). He also snared a game-high 13 rebounds. Of course, it’s probably a bad sign that the Bulls got their best performance out of a rookie who, if Tyrus Thomas hadn’t gotten hurt, might not be seeing much playing time.
Rose had 13 points and 7 assists in only 29 minutes. He went 5-for-16 from the field, and 13 of his shot attempts were jumpers…of which he hit three. Look, I understand why Derrick would like to play with LeBron — who wouldn’t — but right now the Bulls need Rose to play a little more like LeBron. Rose is the team’s superstar. He has to be his absolute best for Chicago to compete against the best.