Imagine if a Bulls fan had used the Hot Tub Time Machine to travel from some time last October to right before last night’s tipoff against the Grizzlies in Memphis. They’d probably think they had traveled to some horrific alternate reality instead of through time.
After all, Chicago opened this season with a core group of Derrick Rose (out with a sprained wrist), Joakim Noah (out with plantar fasciitis), Luol Deng (out with a strained calf muscle), Kirk Hinrich (serving a one-game suspension), John Salmons (traded to Milwaukee) and Tyrus Thomas (traded to Charlotte).
In the absence of that core group — which includes the team’s current best four players — the Bizarro Bulls opened last night’s game with a starting lineup of Brad Miller, Taj Gibson, Flip Murray, Acie Law and Jannero Pargo. After giving it some serious thought, I came to conclusion that it was the worst lineup I’d seen since 1998-99 when Chicago finished the season with a starting lineup of Tony Kukoc, Ron Harper, Dickey Simpkins, Rusty LaRue and Cory Carr.
Honestly, I expected the Bulls to get blown out in the first quarter…so imagine my surprise when Law hit four of his first five shots (including a few wide open layups), Memphis couldn’t hold onto the ball (7 turnovers in the first 10 minutes) and Chicago took a 20-10 first quarter lead. It felt too good to be true.
And it was.
The Grizzlies went on a 17-0 run during the second quarter to establish a 55-44 halftime lead. That bulge grew to as many as 25 points in the third quarter before Memphis went back to sleep on the Bizarro Bulls…
…and the Bizarro Bulls nearly pulled off the upset.
They were aided and abetted by the Grizzlies, who opened the fourth quarter by missing 10 of their first 12 shots — which included two sweet blocks by James Johnson — and committing 5 turnovers. Chicago rampaged all the way back from that 25-point hole to within four points (94-90) with under three minutes to go in the game.
Then things came undone…thanks to Pargo. If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder whether somebody in the Memphis front office had paid off Pargo to throw the game. Not only was his shooting horrific (4-for-15 from the field and 0-for-4 from downtown), but Jannero committed three of his co-game-high 5 turnovers in the final 2:27. That included turnovers on back-to-back possessions, which led to a hook shot and layup for Zach Randolph that pushed the Memphis lead to 98-90.
After Hasheem Thabeet hit a shot on the Grizzlies’ next possession to put Memphis ahead 100-90, the game was pretty much over. I just hope Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins did the right thing and gave Pargo the game ball. He was their MVP down the stretch.
In all, the Bizarro Bulls gave up 20 points off 19 turnovers. That’s way too many for a team that had basically no margin for error, even if the Grizzlies surrendered 25 points off 22 turnovers themselves.
Said coach Vinny Del Negro: “We had too many turnovers. We cut it to four, we couldn’t convert. We had a couple stops. We didn’t value the possession of the basketball well enough and just turned it over too much. It’s frustrating because you don’t even get a shot at the basket. We had some costly turnovers and that was unfortunate. … I was pleased with the effort, but I was disappointed with the outcome.”
The outcome was Chicago’s eighth straight loss, which dropped them to 1.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The only good news is that the Charlotte Bobcats lost to the Pacers in Indianapolis and the Miami Heat dropped a home game to the San Antonio Spurs. Every loss by a team competing for the East’s final four playoff spots is kind of like a win for the Bulls, right? Which is important, since the Bulls can’t win an actual game themselves.
Chicago’s Bizarro squad gave a strong showing, especially Murray (game-high 25 points), Hakim Warrick (22 points off the bench), and Law (season-high 18 points). I’m not sure what that means. If things were going a little better, I’d say their increased PT might lead to some development that would benefit the Bulls come playoff time. Only Chicago’s playoff hopes are looking worse by the day.
Let the “if the Bulls can only get healthy” refrain continue.