Back on Thanksgiving night, Charles Barkley predicted the Bulls would win the Eastern Conference and reach the NBA Finals. Not in the future, mind you. Chuck said the Bulls would do it this season.
This prompted a strong response from Joakim Noah:
“Poison. We’re not in the Finals yet. I love Chuck. I think he’s great for the game. I love his honesty. He always tells you how he feels. But it’s poison. … I want to be in the Finals. But just because Chuck says it doesn’t mean that we’re there, ya know? We got a long way to go. We got a big game against Orlando. … I love Chuck, but at the end of the day, it’s one thing to talk about it, and it’s one thing to actually live it.”
Remind me to add “prophet” to his next scouting report.
Let me be blunt: The Magic didn’t just beat the Bulls…they spanked ’em. It was demoralizing. With all the good vibes from the 4-3 circus road trip, all the excitement over Carlos Boozer’s return, all the generally high expectations, this game was like a punch to the face you never saw coming.
Orlando is one of the best teams in the league. We all knew that coming in. To be honest, I didn’t necessarily expect the Bulls to win this one. In part because teams tend to struggle in their first game home after a long road trip, and in part because integrating someone like Boozer — a starter, a 20-10 guy, a foundation player — takes time. Transition of this magnitude is rarely clean and easy.
But still…win, lose or draw, I expected the Bulls to compete. Pure defiance. That’s been the defining characteristic of this team in the early going. Last night, I saw pure bewilderment. Nobody had an answer for anything. Not coach Tom Thibodeau. Not Boozer (5 points, 2 rebounds). Not Luol Deng (8 points, 2-for-8). Not Joakim Noah (zero rebounds). Not the bench. Not even Derrick Rose (15 points, 5-for-13, 4 assists, zero rebounds).
The Magic overwhelmed the Bulls. They got whatever they wanted. They scored at will. They totally dominated that shaded rectangle known as the paint, outrebounding the Bulls 44-21 and outscoring them 46-26 in the paint. The 26 points in the paint were a season low for the Bullies. The 21 rebounds were a franchise low.
Chicago’s worst rebounding game ever? Yep.
The previous low was 25 boards in a 102-80 loss to the Miami Heat on February 18, 2002. That particular Heat team won only 36 games. That Bulls team — which featued a starting lineup of Fred Hoiberg, Kevin Ollie, Trenton Hassell, Tyson Chandler and Eddie Curry — won only 21.
But the 2010-11 Bulls surpassed them in rebounding ineptitude.
It was stunning. The Bulls entered the game a pretty solid rebounding team. Noah began the night as the NBA’s second-leading rebounder at 13.2 per game. And he didn’t grab a single board. It was inconceivable.
Do you know when the last time Noah went an entire game without grabbing a rebound? It was December 27, 2008, in a 129-117 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. In that game, Noah logged five minutes and 35 seconds and finished with a five trillion. But there’s a world of difference between the Joakim of then and the Joakim of now. Before last night, Noah had never gone rebound-less in games in which he’d played at least eight minutes. What happened?
I guess he was poisoned.
Said Noah: “It’s frustrating. That’s my job, to rebound the basketball, and I wasn’t able to do that tonight.”
Man, everything was awful for the Bulls. Their 78 points were a season low. Their Defensive Rating last night was 126. That is, they gave up 126 points per 100 possessions. They were a step slow all night…assuming they were moving at all. The Bulls committed three defensive three-second violations. And as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune pointed out: “Omer Asik and Kyle Korver drew defensive three-second technical fouls within 46 seconds in the first minute of the second quarter.”
And let’s face it, Boozer — who picked up the other three-second violation — looked…bad. Totally out of synch, with his teammates and with himself. He had a shot cruelly swatted by Mickael Pietrus. Rashard Lewis, of all people, walked by Boozer en route to the basket as if Boozer’s feet had been surgically fused with the court. About the only thing Boozer did right…
…was not getting re-injured.
Said Thibodeau: “That was to be expected his first game, some good, some not so good.”
Ah well. All teams have bad nights. Look at how the mighty Miami Heat have been playing recently. The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers just lost their fourth in a row. So this loss isn’t the end of the world.
But it still feels crappy.