Last night, the Bulls held a divisional opponent to 75 points on 38 percent shooting. In doing so, they established a perfect 12-0 record in the Central Division – they’re the only team in the league with a perfect division record – and won their 40th game of the season. And they did it on the road against a team that (in theory) is trying to claw itself into an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Not a bad night.
That said…I wasn’t totally happy with Chicago’s performance. The Bucks rank dead last in FGP, eFG%, PPG and Offensive Rating. So, frankly, I expect Milwaukee to suffer on offense even when they aren’t playing a Bulls team that ranks a very close second (to the Celtics) in Defensive Rating.
Moreover, now that the Bulls have all their pieces on the chess board — Joakim Noah had a game-high 17 rebounds, including a mind-scrambling 9 offensive rebounds in the first half — I expect a little better than 83 points on 41 percent shooting. Even against a scrappy defensive squad like the Bucks.
And even though Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau sounded pleased afterwards — “I like our team. Every night you get it from somebody different. Both units are playing well right now.” — he seemed unusually feisty during the game, marauding up and down the sidelines, looking exceptionally irritable and giving poor Kyle Korver a furious tongue-lashing during a fourth quarter timeout.
The Bulls have taken their place as one of the NBA’s elite teams, especially after their recent victories over the East-leading Heat and the league-leading Spurs. So when they face a team that’s 14 games below .500, the expectation is that they should blow them out of the water.
Expectations are getting high.
Of course, the Cleveland Cadavers, er, Cavaliers have beaten the defending champion Lakers and the new-look Knicks in their last few games, so I guess expectations should be tempered just a bit.
So, yes, I loved what they Bulls did defensively. I loved how they dominated the boards (49-37) and how they converted their 18 offensive rebounds into 26 second chance points. I also loved how they cranked things up in the third quarter, using a 19-5 run to outscore Milwaukee 31-20, building a cushion that helped wipe some of the ugly off their 13-point fourth quarter.
But, you know, the Bulls barely managed to outscored Earl “Mother You-Know-What-ing” Boykins (10 points) over the final 12 minutes.
I’m nitpicking. I know I’m nitpicking. I know I am.
The Bulls are still adjusting to having Noah back. This was only the third game of his return. And despite the lousy record and their offensive anemia, the Bucks have a differential of -1.5, which means they typically keep things close. And, like I said, they were the home team and had a lot more to fight for than the Bulls.
So I’m going to try to chill out now.
Said Derrick Rose: ”We are getting into a nice rhythm now that everyone is back. Noah has come back and really helped us. I think we can get nothing but better as the season goes along.”
Added Noah: “The more I’m out on the court, the better I feel and the more energy I have. The longer we get to play together, I think we are going to find out how good we can be as a team.”
The Bulls have one more “easy” game against the Wizards and then they get tossed into the meat grinder: back-to-back-to-back road games against the Hawks, Magic and Heat followed by a home game against the Hornets.
The tests never end.
Second-Best Bull of the Game:
Noah was my Player of the Game, but Luol Deng came in second. Lu scored a game-high 19 points on only 11 shots and went a perfect 8-for-8 from the line.
Said Noah: “Lu’s been huge. But Lu’s been huge all year. He’s been real consistent for us. He’s playing very, very confident basketball. He’s not somebody who gets too excited, never too high, never too low, just consistent. And he’s been playing very aggressive as well, so we need that from him.”
The reserves chipped in with 23 points and 15 rebounds. What’s more, every sub who logged time finished the game with a positive plus-minus score. Nobody is giving huge, Sixth Man of the Year-type numbers, but the Bulls’ bench continues to bring it every game.
Quote of the Night:
Scott Skiles on Noah’s nine offensive boards in the first half: ”I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that. I didn’t play with Wilt Chamberlain.”