Getting blown out on the road by the Cleveland Cavaliers was understandable, maybe even expected. After all, the Cavs have the reigning MVP, the reigning Coach of the Year (even if Mike Brown road LeBron James’ coattails to the award), post players, shooters, loads of depth. In short, Cleveland is a championship-caliber team. The Bulls are not.
The Toronto Raptors, on the other hand, came into last night’s game 8-13 and losers of five of their last six games. What’s more, the Raptors were playing the second night of back-to-back games, which also happened to be their third road game in four nights and fourth game in five nights overall. Their previous night’s game, against the Washington Wizards (7-11) even went to overtime. Oh, and did I mention that Toronto is ranked dead last in Defensive Rating (116.6 points allowed per 100 possessions)?
Even without Tyrus Thomas (left forearm injury) and Kirk Hinrich (sprained left thumb), this game should have been a gimmie, right? Instead, the Bulls suffered a devastating homecourt loss — by 32 points! — in which they managed to score only 78 points (on 39 percent shooting) against the league’s worst defensive team. It wasn’t even competitive, as the Bulls were down 37-16 by the end of the first quarter. The Raptors didn’t pull any LeBron-esque antics, but I bet Chris Bosh felt like riverdancing.
Speaking of Bosh, he put on a nice audition for a team that might want to sign him when he becomes a free agent next summer: a game-high 25 points (9-for-12 from the field, 7-for-7 from the line), a game-best 12 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block. Go ahead and add Bosh to the ever-growing list of frontcourt players who have dominated the Bulls over the past two seasons. And he did it in only 22 minutes. Bosh was feeling so good after his limited duty, he said: “It feels like I might be able to have a choice in doing something tomorrow, other than just recover. Maybe I’ll go to the mall or something.” I’m really glad the Bulls helped Bosh get a chance to do some Christmas shopping.
So…what went wrong? That’s an easy one: pretty much everything. On defense, the Bulls could not stay in front of anybody, often missed their rotations and regularly failed to provide help coverage. On offense, they couldn’t deliver a crisp pass or decide on a good shot. Derrick Rose attempted too many floaters instead of driving with authoritah. John Salmons and Jannero Pargo jacked up too many threes (a combined 2-for-13). Taj Gibson committed too many turnovers (a game-high 4). Joakim Noah got too many technical fouls (and therefore a complimentary ejection). I can’t even name a Player of the Game because their wasn’t one. Nobody played well last night.
Update! If you think I’m being hard on the Bulls, just watch this video:
Perhaps the most frustrating — and certainly the most depressing — aspect of this loss was Chicago’s stunning lack of effort and intensity. Simply put, there was no fight in the Bulls last night. How else can you explain the fact that Toronto outrebounded the Bulls 53-32, including 18-11 on the offensive glass despite the fact that Chicago had quite a few more available offensive boards? Look, I understand the Bulls are shorthanded right now, but they should not be getting outhustled and outworked at home by bad teams. They just shouldn’t.
Said Rose: “I feel like on Monday or something like that, we’ve got to go back to school or something. I feel like that right now. Tomorrow is an off day, get treatment or whatever and come back the next day, have a strong practice and we’ll be fine.”
Are you sure about that, Derrick?
I predicted the Bulls would suffer through a rough start. The team has had to contend with a change in identity (due to the loss of Ben Gordon), key injuries and an early schedule that has been packed with road games. So the sub-.500 record — currently 7-11 — I expected. What I did not expect was to repeatedly watch the Bulls fail to even compete. Blowout losses to the Nuggets, Lakers, Blazers, and Cavaliers are one thing. Blowout losses at home to other sub-.500 teams are a sign that something is seriously wrong.
I understand depth is an issue. Like I said, Thomas and Hinrich are still out. I understand the Bulls don’t have any crack shooters right now, so the spacing is bad. Their shooting is awful (29th in Effective Field Goal Percentage). Their interior defense is terrible. Their interior scoring is nonexistent. Like last season, they are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league (currently ranked 30th in Total Defensive Rebounds and 29th in Defensive Rebounding Percentage). They are 28th in Point Differential (-7.4), ahead only of the 1-18 New Jersey Nets (-10.4) and the 3-17 Minnesota Timberwolves (-11.6).
I could go on, but let’s just say that virtually every statistic available provides cause for some serious concern. And I can’t help but feel like Vinny Del Negro is in over his head. He’s not making the obvious mistakes he made during his rookie coaching season, like wasting timeouts or sitting Rose during crunch time. But Vinny seems ill-equipped to deal with the team’s personnel problems. He also can’t seem to fire them up, motivate them to go all-out on every play, every night.
That was the magic of Scott Skiles, until the players got tired of being driven like cattle, that is. Of course, it could be a problem of group mindset. Noah is the only fiery player on the team. (And sometimes, like the last few nights, a little too fiery.) Rose, Salmons, and Luol Deng all look pretty laid back. Kirk Hinrich and Brad Miller can appear mellow from time to time. Pargo has some gumption, but he’s been hurting all season. Gibson and James Johnson are wide-eyes rookies. Aaron Gray…is Aaron Gray, bless his heart.
Therefore the question is: who’s going to take the reins and pull this team out of its funk? Somebody has to, because the leadership is seriously lacking right now.
Who’s going to step up?