Not all losses are created equal

Scola

I was hesitant to admit this in the game preview, but my gut told me it was unlikely that the Bulls would (or even could) extend their longest winning streak in almost two years on the road against a quality opponent. They’ve made progress on this seven-game Western Conference safari, there’s no doubt about it. But the NBA is a “baby steps” league, and beating the Rockets would have required a giant leap this team probably isn’t ready to make. So all I was really hoping for was a solid outing. And you know what? I got it.

Although there’s a certain stigma attached to every defeat, there were also several positive signs in last night’s 107-100 loss. First and foremost among them was the play of Luol Deng, who finished with a season-high 28 points while hitting 11 of his 16 shots. Can I just tell you how incredibly relieved I am to see the old Luol back? I thought we’d lost him for good, that he’d been sucked into the black hole that was the 2007-08 season never to return. Watching his resurgence has been like seeing a close friend wake up from a coma. Deng averaged 17.5 PPG (on 50 percent shooting) and 8.5 RPG in January, and he’s now scored 20 or more points in six of the last 10 games. Can I get a hallelujah? Look, Deng is the team’s second-best player, next to Derrick Rose, and if the Bulls are going to reach their potential — or even have any potential in their current incarnation – Luol has to play like it.

(For the record, I have no idea why Vinny Del Negro left Deng on the bench down the stretch. And by the rather grumpy look on Luol’s face as he watched his team’s failed rally from the bench, neither did he.)

Then there was Tyrus Thomas, whose 14 points and 13 rebounds gave him his third double-double in the last four games. He also dished out four assists and did a great job protecting the rim, finishing with three blocked shots and several intimidations. It wasn’t all sunshine and puppy dogs, though. He committed three turnovers, had two of his shots fed back to him, and misfired early and often (5-for-15). The latter was due to his continued (and oh-so-very frustrating) insistence on taking too many jump shots, of which he hit 2-for-8. What I wouldn’t give for Tyrus to learn a post move. Just one.

The Bulls missed their first 10 field goal attempts and shot 42.4 percent for the game – that’s to be expected when facing a team that currently ranks sixth in defensive efficiency — but they rebounded reasonably well, considering Houston’s considerable size advantage, and ended up ripping down 17 offensive rebounds. (The Rockets pulled 12 boards off the offensive glass, but four of them came in the fourth quarter, and they were backbreakers.) They tried their best to run after Houston’s misses, hence the 14-2 advantage in fast break points. The Bulls also took care of the ball — always a moral victory for them — and crossed the finish line with only eight turnovers (compared to 24 assists).

On the downside, they missed 11 free throws (ugh) and were once again exploited inside (double-ugh). Yao Ming shot 9-for-12 from the floor and 10-for-10 on the charity stripe, and he was held to 28 points only because he was limited to 30 minutes of PT due to first-half foul trouble. He utterly dominated poor Joakim “The Prop” Noah, who struggled and gasped his way to two points (1-for-3) and one rebound before fouling out in only 17 minutes of action. Aaron Gray (two points, 1-for-6, six rebounds) didn’t fare much better. Once the ball was in his hands, Yao either scored, got fouled, or initiated ball movement off the double team. He also blocked four shots and scared away a few others. Meanwhile, Luis Scola chipped in with 13 points and a career-high-tying 18 rebounds.

Said Yao: “They don’t have any guy who can match up against us inside. I have the confidence. I just needed to get my game to work. It’s very simple.” He’s not wrong. Memo to Drew Gooden: Hurry back. Please.

Other random mish-mosh: Ben Gordon scored 20 points. Derrick Rose was within shouting distance of a triple-double (12 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) despite the fact that he was clearly hampered by that sprained left foot. Kirk Hinrich (10 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists) and Andres Nocioni (11 points) provided 99 percent of the team’s bench production. Thabo Sefolosha (one point on 0-for-2 shooting in 16 minutes) continues to be an offensive liability.

On the other side of the ball: Tracy McGrady was reasonably effective (16 points, 7-for-14, 6 assists) and almost gave Tyrus a Spaulding tattoo in the first quarter. Ron Artest finished with 10 points, most of which were scored with a helpless defender on his back. Aaron Brooks contributed 18 points off the bench. And Houston’s roleplayers came through in the clutch: During the fourth quarter, Von Wafer hit a huge trey and Carl Landry snared three ginormous offensive boards.

In the final analysis, it was a tough, scrappy game with plenty of fight and hustle, and the Bulls simply lost out to a better team. But it was every bit the solid effort I’d been hoping for. Let’s hope they can match it against the Hornets tomorrow night. (And if Chris Paul misses the game due to that groin strain, who knows…?)

Extras: Recap, Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

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7 Responses to Not all losses are created equal

  1. pokerpro2006@gmail.com'
    Jeremy February 4, 2009 at 6:45 am #

    “What I wouldn’t give for Tyrus to learn a post move. Just one.”

    I’m with you on this, but I really have to wonder if anyone on the bulls coaching staff, for the past several years, knows any post moves to teach him. All of the young, big guys have been way under developed.

  2. mark.t.paulson@gmail.com'
    Mark February 4, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    “What I wouldn’t give for Tyrus to learn a post move. Just one.”

    He also needs to learn what a jump stop is. He is out of control too much but if he just jump stopped and went off two feet, he can out-leap everyone else out there.

    I saw Lindsey Hunter teaching him post moves the other day in the background while Vinny was being interviewed after practice. He’s used the move (a post-up, reverse pivot) a couple times with some success recently. At least it shows he’s working. Also, what I wouldn’t give for Joakim Noah to learn a baby hook.

  3. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale February 4, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

    Jeremy — In all fairness to Chicago’s coaching staff, I’ve read that they have at least tried to work on post moves with Gray, Noah and Thomas. But you know, I’ve often found in the NBA and in my own pickup experience that the ability to play in the post is partly instinctive and therefore cannot be learned through instruction alone. Like, some guys get it, and others just don’t. Take Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire as examples. Both are or (in Amare’s case) have been considerered dominant paint players, but they mostly rely on athleticism to score their points. Their low-post repertoires are incredibly rudimentary…and they don’t add new moves from year-to-year.

    Mark — Indeed. Noah would benefit greatly from just one go-to move down low. Of course, on offense, he seems to have all the flexibility of an old-school Star Wars action figure…you know, the ones that couldn’t bend their arms or legs? At least he understands not to shoot jumpers…unlike Tyrus.

    And you’re right: Ty’s jump stop is terrible. He never gets squared up. He’s alway falling forward or sideways or into someone. It’s like he can’t control his own amazing athleticism.

  4. chand5a@hotmail.com'
    Drake February 4, 2009 at 6:27 pm #

    Can I just tell you how incredibly relieved I am to see the old Luol back? I thought we’d lost him for good, that he’d been sucked into the black hole that was the 2007-08 season never to return. Watching his resurgence has been like seeing a close friend wake up from a coma. Deng averaged 17.5 PPG (on 50 percent shooting) and 8.5 RPG in January, and he’s now scored 20 or more points in six of the last 10 games. Can I get a hallelujah?

    No hallelujah, unfortunately. Remember – as much as you hate him, John Paxson could have had Mamba if he simply threw in Luol Deng. Too bad he decided Deng was simply too valuable to give up.

    “Let’s see – NBA superstar who can win you a championship, or an overpaid softee who’s a borderline All-Star at best? No question about it, I’m going with the softee – I just love those baseline midrange jumpers. So pretty!!”

  5. remexlar@gmail.com'
    Victor February 4, 2009 at 9:13 pm #

    “The latter was due to his continued (and oh-so-very frustrating) insistence on taking too many jump shots, of which he hit 2-for-8.”

    This sounds a lot like Josh Smith.

    “What I wouldn’t give for Tyrus to learn a post move. Just one.”

    Don’t worry. Josh Smith has a couple post moves and still takes too many jump shots.

  6. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale February 4, 2009 at 10:05 pm #

    Drake — Well, yes and no. The Lakers wanted more than just Deng for Kobe, and likely would have gutted the roster, leaving Mamba with a team that wasn’t even as good as the one he was already long. Meaning Kobe probably would have invoked his no-trade clause and killed the deal. I agree with what you’re saying in principle — Deng most definitely does not equal Kobe — but I don’t think Pax could have pulled that deal off even if he’d wanted to.

    Victor — Yeah. Seems like Josh and Tyrus are both already in the “late Chris Webber” stage of their respective careers. Only they can’t blame it on a debilitating knee injury.

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    [...] see our guys run more, like, at every possible opportunity. Oh, and Luol Deng continued to be MIA since I dubbed him “back” after the Rockets game: 6 points, 2-for-6, 3 [...]

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