Then there was the 21-point road defeat by the Los Angeles Clippers that began a three-game losing streak.
Let’s not forget that time the Bulls choked away a 27-point lead to the Milwaukee Bucks and fell to one game below .500.
And then there were those back-to-back blowout losses to the Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets, the latter of which was a 23-point home setback that represented the Bulls’ biggest loss of the season.
With all that said…
…yesterday’s home loss to the Charlotte Bobcats may have been the worst of this season’s lowlights.
As you can tell by our preview, the Bobcats are a terrible team: 30th in Opponents PPG and Defensive Rating; 29th in Effective Field Goal Percentage, Defensive Rebound Percentage and Opponents Effective Field Goal Percentage; 18-game losing streak; and so on.
If you thought the Bulls squeaking out a victory against the four-win Washington Wizards was a bad omen, you were absolutely right. The Bulls played like they were the ones who entered the game having lost 18 in a row by an average of 13.3 points per game. The Bobcats took it right to the home team. They played harder and hungrier. And the Bulls never could quite pull out of their collective stupor.
Chicago’s defense forced 18 turnovers…but that was about it. The Bobcats came in shooting 42.2 percent as a team for the season. They shot 47 percent last night. They also got to the line 38 times — an absurdly high number — and might have blown the Bulls out had they converted better than 55 percent of those attempts. In fact, Charlotte’s missed free throws were what kept the Bulls in the game during the first half.
The Bobcats are one of the league’s poorest rebounding teams, yet they won the battle of the boards 52-49.
The Bobcats are one of the league’s worst defensive teams, yet they held the Bulls to 81 points on 35.1 percent shooting from the field and an Offensive Rating of 86.5 points per 100 possessions.
The Bulls shot 7-for-24 (29.2 percent) in the first quarter and 6-for-26 (23.1 percent) in the fourth.
Chicago got double-doubles out of Carlos Boozer (19 points and 14 rebounds) and Luol Deng (20 points and 12 boards), but they combined to shoot 16-for-37 from the field. Nate Robinson started in place of Kirk Hinrich — who missed the game due to “a compilation of things” — and went 2-for-11. The bench combined to shoot 9-for-33 for the game and 0-for-12 during the final 12 minutes.
And then there was Joakim Noah.
I have never seen Noah play a less inspired 30 minutes. He finished with 2 points on two shots and only four rebounds, none of which came on the offensive end.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “Jo wasn’t feeling well today. He gave us what he had.”
Maybe that’s why Chicago’s interior defense was so awful. According to Hoopdata, the Bulls rank seventh in the league in Opponents Field Goal Percentage at the rim. And according to Hoopstats, the Bobcats score fewer points in the paint per game than any other NBA team while Bulls opponents score the second fewest points in the paint on average.
None of those trends held true last night. The paint looked like a red carpet to the Bobcats, who strolled in for 22 fast break points and 34 points in the paint overall. And many of Charlotte’s 38 foul shots came from drives to the basket.
Bad defense, worse offense, and poor rebounding. No team can win that way. Especially a team that’s still missing its superstar.
Said Thibs: “We put ourselves in a hole right off the bat. The defense and the rebounding and the low turnovers, that has to be there every night and right now, we’re not getting that done, so we’ve got to figure out a way to get that corrected. You can live with the shots — some nights, you’re going to shoot it better than others — but the defense and the rebounding is not where it needs to be. Every team in this league is talented. You look at the guys coming off the bench: Ben Gordon and [Ramon] Sessions, those are two big-time scorers. Kemba Walker’s playing well. You’ve got three guys who can crack you off the dribble. Henderson has been a very good player in the league for a while now, so they’re good. You’ve got to give them credit. They played well, very well.
“You can’t get discouraged if you’re missing shots. Right now, we’re not a 48-minute team. For some reason — and I’ve got to figure this out — I have to have us ready at the start of the game. We have to have an edge at the start of the game. We can’t ease our way into the game and say, ‘Okay, we’re good. We’ll get it corrected.’ It doesn’t work like that.”
Added Deng: “Obviously we’re not playing as well as we can. We’ve played better this year, so we’re not going to make excuses. We’ve just got to find our way out of it. We didn’t get stops in the fourth and they went on a little run, got the lead and never looked back. We’ve been there before. We’ve just got to play hard. Obviously we want to win. It’s not the end of the world. Just stay positive, keep playing together. When you’re struggling like that, next game we’ve just got to come out and play harder.”
Playing harder would be good. Playing better would be, well, even better.