The Bulls moved the ball, just like Vinny Del Negro wanted. They committed only six turnovers, which is crazy low for them. Luol Deng (25 points, 9-for-14) and John Salmons (22 points, 8-for-15) had it going on offense. Jannero Pargo (15 points, 2-for-3 from downtown) provided instant offense off the bench. Why, the team even outshot an opponent from three-point range for the first time in recent memory (6-for-13 versus 6-for-15).
And yet…the Bulls were blown out for the third time in the last three games. They are now 1-4 on their circus road trip.
It isn’t as if the players aren’t trying. They are. But — at least in the case of the Lakers, Nuggets and Trail Blazers — Chicago has been facing better, more talented, more complete teams. And last night in Portland, the Bulls ran into a familiar and seemingly unsolvable problem.
Pain in the Paint:
Let’s get something straight: Chicago does not match up well with Portland. Not even remotely. Especially not up front.
The Bulls lost this game in that painted rectangle around the basket. They were outscored 50-32 there. They were also outrebounded 47-27, including 14-8 on the offensive glass. Portland hit 14 of their 21 layup attempts and dunked the ball three times, so it isn’t surprising the Blazers shot 57.7 percent from the field.
As always seems to be the case, the Bulls were overwhelmed by an opposing frontcourt. Greg Oden matched his career-high by scoring 24 points on 7-for-8 shooting. Oden also earned 12 foul shots (he hit 10) and grabbed 12 rebounds (6 offensive). Said Oden: “I’m not saying my game is where it should be, but when I can get good deep post position and overpower people and get good shots up, I definitely want to use my strength.” And that’s what he did.
Meanwhile, LaMarcus Aldridge — you know, the guy the Bulls traded away for Tyrus Thomas — also scored 24 points (10-for-16) and ripped down a game-high 13 boards. Even Joel Przybilla came in and chipped in with 8 points on perfect 3-for-3 shooting.
Poor Taj Gibson (6 points, 3-for-11, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 5 fouls) was abused mercilessly by Aldridge. Noah (7 points, 3-for-6, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 fouls) didn’t do any better against Oden. And Brad Miller (2 points,0-for-2, 4 rebounds, 4 fouls) was little more than a prop during the 15 minutes he played.
I don’t know if Tyrus Thomas could have helped, but I don’t see how he could have possibly hurt. Heck, I was silently wishing Aaron Gray was available to bang bodies with Oden. That’s how badly the Bulls were beaten in the trenches last night.
The Four Factors:
It hardly seems worth summarizing the Four Factors after a 24-point loss, but what the heck. The Bulls won Turnover Percentage (6.8 to 11.3) and were +10 in points off turnovers. That’s the good news. The rest is pretty bad. Obviously, they were killed in Effective Field Goal Percentage (61.6 to 50.0), Offensive Rebounding Percentage (42.4 to 19.5) and Free Throw Rate (54.7 to 24.5). With regards to that last stat, the Blazers had a 40-22 edge in free throw attempts and were +14 in points from foul shots.
With Ben Gordon gone, Rose is now taking the bulk of the criticism when the Bulls don’t play well. Derrick’s numbers are down. It’s possible his ankle is still bothering him. Some say he’s shooting too much, others think he’s taking bad shots. According to ESPN’s David Thorpe, the reigning Rookie of the Year isn’t even among the top 20 sophomore players this season.
It’s basically bad news all around.
Last night, he played okay (14 points, 7-for-14, 5 assists), but he spent most of his time on the perimeter (three layup attempts and one dunk versus 10 jumpers) and was abused by his old buddy Andre Miller (16 points, 10-for-11 from the line).
Management has decided that Rose is the team’s future. It’s critical for him to start playing like a true franchise player. And I’m not talking about numbers. I’m talking about inspiration and leadership. I’m talking about making his teammates better. That’s not happening yet…and it has to. It absolutely has to.
I already quoted Deng’s numbers above, but one stat I neglected to mention was that he went 2-for-2 from beyond the arc. Luol doesn’t attempt many threes — he has taken only nine on the season — but he’s currently by far the team’s best percentage marksman from long range (55.6 percent). And there was a telling sequence near the end of the first quarter when Brandon Roy isolated Deng on the wing. Roy used a couple of jab steps to get Luol on his heels and then drilled a 19-footer in Deng’s face. After the Bulls charged back downcourt, Deng received a pass, took a dribble or two and then nailed a three-pointer. It was a classic “got ya back” moment, which is something Deng has rarely (if ever) taken part of during his career. I was honestly stunned to see him do it, because Luol simply isn’t a personal duel kind of guy.
But I think it speaks of Deng’s quiet pride and determination to come back with a vengeance this season. A lot of fans left Deng for dead after two straight disappointing and injury-plagued situations. It’s not a stretch to say that there hasn’t been a more maligned player on the team in the last year or so, nor a player whom the fans have wanted (even begged) to get rid of any more than Deng. It’s funny. Heading into this season, nobodywas worried about Rose and pretty much everybody was worried about Deng. And yet, here he is, the team’s best or second-best player in the early going. In fact, after the way Joakim Noah has struggled against the Nuggets and Trail Blazers, I have to give Luol a slight edge. He hasn’t been a game-changer like Noah has been, but he’s been a little more consistent.
At any rate, Deng is proving an awful lot of people wrong so far.
One of Chicago’s most glaring needs continues to be a reliable frontcourt scoring threat. So, as a Bulls fan, it’s rather painful to watch Aldridge play so well (15+ PPG on 50+ percent shooting) while Thomas is collecting dust on the injury shelf. And let’s face it, Ty wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire before his injury. Aldridge isn’t a great player by any stretch of the imagination, but having a big man who can score in the post and shoot reliably from the outside would make the Bulls a better team almost immediately. John Paxson gambled on Thomas’ potential back on draft night in 2006, and that gamble looks like a bigger mistake with every game.