Circus Trip Game 4: Blazers 122, Bulls 98

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.

Derrick Rose:
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.

Comeback watch:
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.

What ifs:
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.

Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

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8 Responses to Circus Trip Game 4: Blazers 122, Bulls 98

    Tony C. November 24, 2009 at 4:28 pm #

    “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…”

    That’s exactly correct. The most worrying aspect of Rose’s game is his apparent lack of leadership. He appears to be the opposite of a ‘floor general’; more like a soldier who is often AWOL.

    Now again, the Bulls’ coaching is obviously very poor, so it isn’t all Rose’s fault. Nevertheless, given his natural talent and willingness to work, it is a glaring problem for the team.

    The Bulls are also in trouble every time they face teams with big front court players. Noah is undersized, Miller is too slow; Gibson is too light and inexperienced at this stage of his career, etc.

    As I’ve mentioned before, it is precisely this sort of team that requires a good coach in order to succeed (i.e. overachieve). With VDN at the helm, I’m afraid that we are in for a long, painful season.

    Matt McHale November 24, 2009 at 4:52 pm #

    Tony C. — You’re exactly right. And I can’t help but notice how Scott Skiles has an undermanned Bucks team overachieving in Milwaukee. That’s actually the secret doom of Skiles. He shows up, coaches the hell out of a team, and gets them to play above their heads. After a couple seasons of that, the players start believing they’re better than they actually are and don’t want to listen to their coach constantly preaching all-out effort and leveling harsh but totally fair and justified criticisms of their shortcomings. That’s the real reason Skiles falls out of favor with his players.

    VDN might be an okay coach for a veteran squad that already has leadership in place. But the Bulls are disjoined, their franchise player can’t take the reins, and their only clutch scorer is playing in Detroit. If Skiles was cracking the whip, this team could probably win 55 games. As it is, unless Rose explodes out of his shell, they’ll struggle to win 40. Or less.

    Brad S. November 24, 2009 at 5:52 pm #

    Great point Matt.

    It seems lost, (and yet strangely obvious) in all the 2010 talk that what the Bulls really need is some Beef! I love Bosh’s game and would love to see him in a Bull’s uniform, but I don’t know if he is the only answer. Right now, if the reports are correct, Okafor could be had, Boozer or Brand could be had, even Eddy Curry (gulp) could be had. I am not saying every one of these guys is the right long term solution, but the team seems pretty complete to me …except for one large (beefy?) glaring hole in the center.*

    * I’m not slamming the effort of either Noah or Taj, but at this point Taj needs to be a 2nd teamer, and I would use Noah at either frontcourt position the “Beef” doesn’t play.

    Greg November 24, 2009 at 6:06 pm #

    No back to backs… but this road trip is still about a team that’s getting worn out.

    Noah has had a phenomenal year up to this point, Taj gives great effort (though not a huge fan of his Tyrus like love of the 18 footer… 1.02 pps), and Miller is well Miller.

    That said, our 7 man rotation that had us out hustling and out performing other teams on D is gonna wear out the undersized front line we have. It’s not just the big guys either, or smalls are having trouble staying in front of people too…

    Think about going to the gym and how you feel when you’re five is playing a third/forth/fifth against a fresh five. They run and work you die. Simple as that. There’s a reason teams that play Defense (i.e. not Nash-Suns) don’t play 7-8 man rotations in Novemeber. This team has no gas left and you can’t blame that on the two twigs and the old man we got patrolling the paint.

    Varese November 25, 2009 at 12:07 am #

    Matt and Tony, I’m not sure VDN and the coaching staff has been “obviously very poor.” It’s been a growing process, certainly, but the series against Boston and this year’s development defensively has been solid.

    More to the point, we don’t have the bodies down low, we don’t have a guy who can create his own score, and D-Rose continues to be passive on the court. I’m not sure how you coach those issues away. (In Rose’s case, it’s not lethargy, it’s his character – he’s not a leader. Period.)

    I mean, really? Scott Skiles would push them to 55? The Bulls don’t need a whip, they need a top-flight player, and a couple healthy bigs.

    Matt McHale November 25, 2009 at 4:07 am #

    Greg — It’s true, the Bulls are down a few able-bodied players and it shows. And they have indeed been wearing down late in the last few games.

    Varese — Admittedly, I was exaggerating a bit on the Skiles-projected win total…although I do believe that he could coax more wins out of this club than VDN.

    Ultimately, though, I think we can all agree that, in terms of personnel, this is not a complete team.

    the bigest bulls fan in Florida November 25, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    this Bulls team is ok. they need more points, a player that can get foul and hit free throws. they need Allen Iverson. Iverson will make this team better. the bulls will not have to give him a lot of money. they coul use him for this season and thats it. John salmons can come off the bench and still have the same affect on the game. Rose can stay passive with Allen Iverson on the team. Rose will then have to find ways to score like pipen did when MJ were bulls.

    Da Fan November 26, 2009 at 9:17 pm #

    Oh man, another person advocating AI to this team? How could anyone think that is a good idea? What exactly would that accomplish? Rose is passive enough as it is, with Iverson dribbling madly and hoisting up 20 shots a night, Rose would all but become invisible.

    That won’t help our big men do anything either. Noah has played like a champion and I love the fire he brings to the game, but he’s too thin to bang against the bigger front court players. Gasol and company literally ran him over all day long. It happens every time the Bulls play someone with a strong frontcourt.

    Miller is big enough, but at this stage of his career, he just can’t compete against guys a decade younger than he is.

    Gibson is way too unpolished at this point to even pretend to be a viable starter. I see good things, but he’s not a starter right now.

    Salmons has been either hit or miss, much like the man he was supposed to replace. Are we really happy with what has essentially been Diet Ben Gordon all season?

    Pargo…well, he was supposed to take up some minutes and do some scoring. Again, he’s been hit or miss. He either lights it up for 15, or vanishes completely missing 5 or 6 shots and gathering up 3 points or so.

    This team is good, but they’re far too inconsistent. They have players playing out of position (Salmons is much more of a small forward, where he can use his speed to create) and a frontcourt that needs a big body.

    My question is this: where on earth is Jerome James? He’s making more money than anyone on the team not named Brad Miller, Kirk Heinrich, or Luol Deng, and yet he hasn’t even gotten on the floor. He’s a big body, even though he’s older than God. I mean, if you’re going to pay him 6.6 million this season, you might as well trot him out there to soak up some minutes. If he’s really that useless that you don’t even want him in the game…why is he on our team? I sure can’t figure it out.

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