Beat the Nuggets at the United Center, fall to the Pacers at Conseco Field House. Defeat the Magic at home, lose to the Nets and Wizards on the road. Overcome the Rockets in Chicago, get overrun by the Bobcats in Charlotte.
See a pattern here?
The Bulls have developed a tendency to rock it at home and then play poorly when away, and they were truly terrible in last night’s 96-80 road loss to the Bobcats. They couldn’t shoot (39 percent), couldn’t defend (the ‘Cats connected about 49 percent of their field goals), couldn’t hold onto the ball (18 turnovers), and couldn’t seem to grasp that they were facing a team that’s suddenly competing for the same playoff spot they’re looking up at with hungry eyes. Hungry when they’re playing at home, that is.
Young teams struggle on the road. I get that. The Atlanta Hawks pull the same Jekyll and Hyde routine. But Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich are veterans now, and John Salmons and Brad Miller are 29 and 32, respectively. So we have guys who should know when it’s time to play with a sense of urgency.
And whereas the offense exploded in that 23-3 end-of-game run against the Rockets, it imploded while they were trying to fight their way back against the Bobcats. The following ugly possession — at which point Chicago was down 92-75 — sort of sums up the Bulls’ fourth-quarter futility:
5:18: Ben Gordon misses 24-foot three point jumper
5:16: Tyrus Thomas offensive rebound
5:11: Ben Gordon misses 25-foot three point jumper
5:11: Brad Miller offensive rebound
5:00: Ben Gordon bad pass (DeSagana Diop steals)
Welcome to Vinny Del Negro’s “fail from behind” playbook.
It’s hard to think of something that went right in this game. The Bulls couldn’t control the paint: Charlotte connected on 15 layups and two dunks. (Emeka Okafor may have scored only 14 points, but he basically did whatever he wanted down low.) Their perimeter defense was lax too: Raja Bell burned them for 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting (including 2-for-2 from downtown) in the first half…despite an injured bicep that made it difficult to even lift his right arm.
Jumping back to Vinny for a second, you might have read that John Paxson basically gave him a “Play Derrick Rose Or Else” edict. Well, Vinny, as you may remember, is Italian, so he had a chippy retort when asked about his conversation with Paxson: “That’s between us. I’ll make decisions on the team on what I see fit for players and when they should play and when they don’t. I know my players better than anybody. Derrick is going to be out there in the fourth quarter. Everyone is going to be held accountable defensively. If I feel there’s an advantage for us to do certain things in the fourth quarter, those are the decisions I have to make as a head coach. And I’ll make them.”
Reading between the lines, Vinny seemed to be saying: I will do what I think is best, regardless of what my boss tells me, even if that means benching our franchise player in the fourth quarter. Rose was subbed out of the game with 4:03 left, but by that time the Bulls were down 17 and there wasn’t going to be a comeback. Not that it really mattered either way, because Rose played like garbage: He was 3-for-11, finished with only 5 assists and had the second-worst plus-minus score on the team (-17).
And if you think that’s an aberration, you’re wrong. Rose’s play on the road has mirrored the team’s woes. Check out his game log. In the last four roadies, Derrick has scored 3, 9, 10 and 13 points while shooting a combined 12-for-39. Compare that to 22 PPG on 21-for-41 shooting in his last two home games, which included that 16-point fourth-quarter explosion against the Rockets. Maybe it’s the rookie wall, maybe he’s getting caught up in the team’s lackadaisical road play. Maybe he’s even at the root of the problem, because if Derrick isn’t making things happen…who is?
It was just a bummer of a night, and Aaron Gray almost getting into a fight with Alexis Ajinca was the perfect punctuation mark. I just don’t know whether it was an exclamation point, a question mark, or ellipsis points.
Player notes: Not much good to report here. Tyrus Thomas had a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds) to go along with 3 steals and 3 blocks, but he also committed 3 turnovers and got treated like a sack of feathers on defense when he wasn’t swatting shots. John Salmons got his first start in place of the injured Luol Deng, and he responded with his worst game as a Bull (9 points, 4-for-13, 1-for-7 from downtown, 3 turnovers). Joakim Noah compiled an uninspiring stat line of 4 points (1-for-3), 5 rebounds, a turnover and 3 blocked shots while getting pushed around under the basket by Okafor. Noah also beat out Rose for the team’s worst plus-minus score (-19). Ben Gordon didn’t hit a three-pointer and finished with 14 points on 15 field goal attempts and a game-high 5 turnovers. Brad Miller scored 13 points (5-for-10) and snared 7 offensive boards, but he committed 3 turnovers (to only 2 assists) and looked frozen on D. (Brad also grabbed one lonely defensive rebound.) Kirk Hinrich had 10 points (4-for-10) and 2 assists in 25 minutes.
I should have seen this one coming: The Bobcats, believe it or not, are a pretty good defensive team. They came into the game ranked 9th in Defensive Efficiency, while the Bulls were ranked 18th. If defense wins championships, it’s certainly going to decide games between two sub-.500 teams.
Bottom line: The Bulls are now 1.5 games behind the Bucks for the East’s eight seed. They’re tied with the Nets (although Chicago has the tiebreaker in that series) and are only one game up on the Bobcats, who won the season series with last night’s victory. So, you know, uh oh.