Assumptions can be dangerous things.
Never assume a team can’t stumble.
Never assume a team is unbeatable at home.
Never assume that superstars can’t have an off night that will prove disastrous.
Never assume a team is ready to contend for a title before the regular season has even ended.
Speaking of which…the regular season hasn’t even ended.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for forgetting. Lately, all the talk has been about MVP (Will Derrick Rose win it? Should he?!) and Chicago’s place among the league’s best teams (Will they win the East? Are they they best team in the NBA?! Can they win a title?!?).
Reality check: Have we actually been, you know, listening?
After almost every game, the Bulls coaching staff and players remind us. They remind us that they have work to do. That they need to get better. That they need to become a 48-minute team. That they haven’t accomplished anything of true hoteworthiness yet. That they haven’t actually met their goals.
And some old problems haven’t been solved.
To wit: The Bulls have been plagued by slow starts throughout the season. This has been politely (some would say conveniently) covered up by the fact that they tend to start revving up in the second quarter and then turn on the defensive afterburners in the third and fourth quarters. Many times, that has been enough.
Sometimes it hasn’t. It wasn’t last night.
Not when the Sixers jumped out to a 27-13 lead after 12 minutes. Not when they pushed that lead to 48-25 with 4:47 left in the first half. Not when the Bulls missed 13 free throws and Derrick Rose committed 10 turnovers.
Complacency can be a basketball team’s greatest enemy. Players develop this nebulous sense that they can “turn it on” when necessary and win without playing their best. And by “their best” I don’t mean hitting their shots and rebounding well. By “their best” I mean working hard and playing with intensity from tipoff to the final buzzer.
The Bulls didn’t do that against the Grizzlies or Bucks. Those teams came out hungrier and outworked the Bulls for about 3.5 quarters. Defense and clutch play by Rose covered for that. So, really, we should have seen this coming, but winning can alter perception so subtly that fans forget the bad stuff.
Until they get a reality check.
Said Carlos Boozer: “We’ve got to start the games better. I think the game was won and lost in that first quarter. Give them credit, they took it to us. 27-13 in the first quarter, that’s tough to come back from even though we did, we fought back. We used a lot of energy to get back in the game. We can’t get down by that much. Give them credit, they did a good job. We’ve got to step up to that challenge and have a better first quarter.”
Frankly, that could have been a stock quote from earlier in the season, because (as I said above) slow starts have been a recurring issue. Lately, they’ve been covered up by success. Last night’s game pulled off the Band-Aid and forced us all to stare at the ugly, seeping wound.
Rare is the NBA team that can win on reputation alone.
Said Joakim Noah: “There’s really no excuses. It’s a wake-up call. We don’t have anything figured out. We don’t have anything figured out. People are always telling [us], ‘Oh, it’s OK. You guys are going to win this game. It’s easy.’ Nothing’s easy in this league, it just shows us. We didn’t start the game with the right mindset and it bit us in the [butt] tonight. You’ve got to come out with the right edge. When you start thinking that you have it all figured out, that’s when you lose. Losing always sucks, but we’ve got to learn from this. And there’s definitely a lot of areas to improve in.”
Maybe we should thank the Sixers.
Thank you, Philadelphia 76ers. Thanks, Doug Collins, for coaching one heckuva game. Thank you, Andre Iguodala (19 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 1 block), for an all-around brilliant game. Thanks, Thaddeus Young, for scoring a team-high 21 points on 10-for-16 shooting off the bench. Thank you, Spencer Hawks, for those back-to-back-to-back long jumpers that killed what was shaping up to be another fourth quarter rally for the Bulls.
Thanks for the reality check.
Sometimes teams’ need one. And you know what? These Bulls respond pretty well to losing. They’ve haven’t lost more than two games in a row all season, that that’s happened only four times. I have a feeling they’re going to come out with blood in their eyes on Wednesday night.
I almost feel sorry for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
As for Stan Van Gundy’s undisputed MVP winner, Rose had an otherwise brilliant night (31 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and a blocked shot) canceled out by those 10 turnovers. And he knows it.
Said Rose: “We came out sluggish. This one is definitely on me. Just me taking care of the ball and missing shots that I normally hit. … Just careless, some of them was me driving and kicking the ball off my foot. It gets ever tougher now where teams are fighting for a spot. And when you come out like we did tonight, like I did tonight, you are going to lose games.”
Oh, yeah. The Bulls are going to bounce back, and so will Rose. Big time, I’m betting.
Did I mention feeling sorry for the Timberwolves?