Trades, trades, trades. It feels like that’s all I’ve been talking about lately. Even last night at my pickup league. When a teammate asked me to switch onto his man in a pick and roll, I was like: “Yeah sure, but trading for Brad Miller provides the Bulls with additional size and a scoring threat up front, and it gives them their best chance to feature a center with cornrows since Ben Wallace….” Okay, the man I was supposed to be guarding strolled in Goran Dragic-like for an uncontested dunk, but whatever. It’s pickup basketball. “Defense” is just “waiting to get back on offense” anyway.
Speaking of “anyways,” the Bulls played in an actual NBA game last night, proving that the organization hasn’t been transformed into a full-time trade machine. Predictably, several of the game recaps I glanced at described the Bulls as “undermanned” or “depleted.” Seriously? Because Vinny Del Negro was really going to put Cedric Simmons or Michael Ruffin into the game? Right. Look, those guys were nothing but bodies Vinny was using to hold down sheets of paper and keep doors open. And Drew Gooden hadn’t played in almost a month. Effectively, we were down one guy, and a part-time player at that. (Not that I’m dissing Noc; he was our spark plug off the bench.)
If you want to talk undermanned, let’s discuss last night’s opponent. The Bucks were without three starters (Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut and Luke Ridnour) and playing in the second game of back-to-backs. And a couple of their key guys had logged over 40 minutes of PT against the Pistons the night before. Even their mascot is hurt. I call that “Advantage: Bulls.” And it was.
Captain Kirk put on a show by scoring a season-high 31 points off the bench (8-for-14 from the field, 5-for-6 from downtown, 10-for-10 from the line). That total included an 18-point explosion — not to mention some timely defense – in the fourth quarter. Milwaukee had just pulled to within 89-86 after Vinny was hit with a technical foul, then Hinrich swiped the ball from the Bucks on back-to-back possessions…and he punctuated those steals with a breakaway layup and a triple. On the Bulls’ next possession, Kirk hit a jumper to put us up by 10. That was the critical stretch.
You have to figure Hinrich’s performance was equal parts anger (at the Bulls for looking to dump his salary) and audition (for the team or teams willing to take on his contract). Said Kirk: “Tomorrow’s the last day [before the trade deadline]. I’m just trying not to think about it, trying to focus on being here and trying to do whatever I can to help this team to play better and get in the playoff picture.” But then he added: “Sometimes you play best when you’re a little upset, when you’re angry.” So much for trying not to think about it, huh?
If this was Kirk’s swan song as a Bull, it was a pretty good one. For my part, I don’t want him to go. The Bulls have been a better team with him than without him this season. He’s the perfect safety net to have under Derrick Rose, who still makes his share of rookie mistakes (particularly on the defensive end). I know conventional wisdom says Hinrich’s contract is greater than his worth as a basketball player, but I’m not sure I agree with that. Remember, it wasn’t even two full seasons ago that he was being touted as the next John Stockton. And while that was a gross overestimation, I’d say he still has value, more to the Bulls, maybe, than to anybody else. I hope we hold onto him.
Of course, as if often the case, when one player steps up, one or more players take a step back. Such was the case with Joakim Noah (who fouled out with 9 rebounds and 4 points on 1-for-3 shooting) and Tyrus Thomas (who played only 26 minutes, shot 3-for-7 and finished with only 4 boards). Still, Rose had 18 points and 9 assists (and, gulp, 7 turnovers). Luol Deng chipped in 21 points (and 8 rebounds) and Ben Gordan added another 18 (although he shot 6-for-15). As for the Bucks — who shot 39 percent as a team — only Richard Jefferson (32 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) had it going.
The net result: The Bulls moved into the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference…just a game and a half behind the Bucks. And they can win the tiebreaker against Milwaukee by beating them on March 6 in Chicago.
Secret key to success: The Bulls committed 19 turnovers for 20 points going the other way. However, the Bucks turned the ball over 22 times for 33 points. Being +13 in points off turnovers is always huge in a close game.
Coaching wisdom: According to Vinny: “Kirk was the difference.” Gong, gong, gong!! That’s at least a seven on the Dull-Negrometer.
Nocioni will be missed: According to Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: “Before the game, Deng cut an interview short and seemed to be feeling the emotions of losing Nocioni, his best friend on the Bulls and next-door neighbor. ‘It’s tough,’ Deng said. ‘You become friends with those guys. It’s sad that we’re not working together anymore, but at the same time you’ve got to understand we’ve got to get the job done. You’ve just got to keep in touch.’”