You know those National Geographic-style nature specials where a pack of hungry lions stumbles across an injured buffalo/elephant/hyena/whatever? The moment those lions sense weakness or smell a little blood, they launch into a brutal and savage feeding frenzy. Have you ever seen a buffalo get stuffed into a blender? No, probably not, because that’s crazy. But it’s sort of what the attack looks like, only the “blender” is a throbbing mass of swiping claws and snapping teeth. It’s vicious and it’s ugly. It’s also nature in action: Only the strong survive.
Watching the strong prey on the weak isn’t something that’s limited to Animal Planet programming, though. It happens in the NBA all the time. When a team senses that its opponent is vulnerable, that team immediately moves in for a swift and merciless kill. That’s exactly what happened in New Orleans last night. The Bulls pounced on the Chris Paul-less (not to mention Mo Pete-less and Tyson Chandler-less) Hornets from the opening tip, and in doing so they looked as confident and assertive as I’ve seen them this season.
The Men in Red — yes, it’s a blood analogy — hit 13 of their first 16 shots and were up 31-20 by the end of the first quarter. The bulge grew to 18 by halftime (62-44), and those first 24 minutes were like a pregame shootaround: Chicago hit 63.4 percent of their field goal attempts, converting seven layups and seven dunks in the process. (Again, there was no Tyson Chandler around to protect the rim.)
The Bulls’ lead bulged to 22 points in the third quarter and then again early in the fourth. The Hornets tried to rally — hey, it’s the NBA, and everybody makes a run — but the best they could manage was cutting the deficit to 10 with 4:01 left in the game. But from that point, the Bulls just ground things out and ended up winning 107-93.
The Hornets shot only 36 percent and committed 15 turnovers. But without Chris Paul to guide them, the offensive woes were to be expected. No, it was New Orleans’ relative defenselessness that was stunning. Those 62 points the Bulls scored in the first two quarters represented the most the Hornets have given up in a half this season. And Chicago’s 56 percent shooting was the highest field-goal percentage by a New Orleans opponent during the 2008-09 campaign. Simply put, they could not stop the Bulls. And at times, it was like they weren’t even trying.
Said Hornets coach Byron Scott: “Guys getting to the paint for layups and dunks — I don’t think that has a lot to do with Chris Paul. It has more to do with us and toughness and pride more than anything. … It’s got to get to a point where you say, ‘Enough is enough.’ Then you start taking some pride on the defensive end. We’ve got to really take pride in that end where we’re not allowing guys to get down the lane for layups and dunks that are uncontested. It’s got to be different than that.”
That sounds like something Vinny Del Negro could have said at various times throughout this up-and-mostly-down season. But he never did. And suddenly he doesn’t have to. A lot of people figured the Bulls would probably go 0-7 on this road trip. Instead, they’re 4-2 with one game to go (in Dallas on Saturday). That should be considered an unqualified success in anyone’s book, even if that person rated this season a “disaster” and “embarrassing” just a few days ago.
Of course, it would be easy enough to dismiss those four wins, coming as they did against the hapless Clippers, the hapless-er Kings, an imploding Suns team and now a Hornets squad that was missing a key reserve, their starting center and an MVP candidate. But whatever the circumstances, they all go into the win column in the season standings. And the Bulls have looked like an actual team. One that could be decent, even good someday…maybe even sooner rather than later.
Versus the Hornets, Derrick Rose was fantastic (21 points, 10-for-14, 4 rebounds, 6 assists). Tyrus Thomas had his fourth double-double in the last five games (15 points and 10 rebounds, plus 3 blocked shots). Joakim Noah came back from an embarrassing outing against the Rockets to contribute 16 points (on 7-for-9 shooting) and 9 boards. Ben Gordon added 19 points and a game-high 7 assists. Andres Nocioni provided 13 points and some attitude off the bench. Six Bulls scored in double figures, providing the kind of balanced, all-around effort coaches love.
Of course, the Bulls were once again exploited by an opposing big man: David West had 24 points, 14 rebounds (including 8 offensive boards), 4 assists, and 3 blocked shots. So Chicago’s interior defense is still an issue. But that’s a worry for another day. This win marks the first winning road trip the Bulls have enjoyed since 1997-98. So please excuse the team and their fans for basking in their 15 minutes of glory.
TrueHoop Network: According to Ryan Schwan of Hornets24/7: “The Bulls came out, smacked the Hornets in the mouth in the first half, and it was pretty much over. I know last game against Portland there was much criticism about the Hornets offense with Paul out — how Byron’s schemes were at fault – how the guys aren’t cutting enough, but here’s the reality — and it’s been the reality about the Hornets all season: The Hornets are a mediocre defensive team.” Read more.