With rumors swirling about Vinny Del Negro’s dubious future, Bulls GM Gar Forman finally spoke up: “Vinny is our coach. Our goal is to get better each and every day. As a management team, we’re exploring all options in order to get better. We expect our coaches each and every day to get this team better. And I met with the team [Monday] for a while, and we expect them to work each and every day to get better. And that’s where we’re at at this point.”
So there you have it. Vinny is still the coach until he isn’t the coach, and the team goal is simply to “get better each and every day.” Not quite “Start moving toward championship number seven” is it? Nor were Forman’s words what you’d call a ringing endorsement of Del Negro’s coaching performance. Especially the “we’re exploring all options in order to get better” part. After all, firing Vinny certainly is one option for improvement.
Were the Bulls better during last night’s home victory over the Danny Granger-less Pacers? Insomuch as wins are better than losses, yes they were. But the game was a little too similar to that nightmare loss to the Kings for my tastes. Chicago started out on fire, outscoring the Pacers 34-15 in the first quarter. It looked like the Bulls were going to run their hapless opponent out of the building. After all, Indiana was without their best player, had lost six straight, and was coming off a 34-point blowout loss to the Miami Heat.
Talk about a team ready to roll over and die.
But just like in the Sacramento debacle, Indy came back, outscoring the Bulls 38-23 in the second quarter. Let me be frank: there is no reasonable excuse for letting this particular Pacers squad — who, again, are missing their leading scorer and best player — drop 38 points in a 12-minutes span.
Indiana drilled five three-pointers in that second quarter. What I don’t understand is how the Pacers kept getting open. They attempt 20.2 threes per game. That’s the seventh-most in the league. Everybody knows they want to shoot threes. So hands in the faces of the shooters, right? Only the Bulls struggle to deny penetration and have trouble protecting the paint. That tends to get players open for long-range jumpers.
The Pacers kept fighting tooth and nail, and they eventually took a 72-71 lead with 6:24 left in the third quarter. Deja vu all over again, right? However, less than a minute later, Troy Murphy left the game with an ankle sprain and didn’t return. Murphy is Indy’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. Obviously that was a big break for the Bulls.
They made the most of it. Chicago immediately ripped off a 10-0 run that was capped off by back-to-back three-pointers from John Salmons (17 points, 5 assists) and Luol Deng (15 points, 8 rebounds). The Pacers never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Despite Indiana’s almost-comeback, the game may well represent Chicago’s best offensive performance of the season. They scored a season-high 104 points on 53 percent shooting while also hitting 60 percent of their three-pointers (6-for-10) and 92 percent of their foul shots (22-for-24). To top it off, they outrebounded the Pacers 47-31.
If you’re wondering why the Bulls didn’t win by 30, you can blame sloppy defense in the second quarter and a case of group butterfingers (they surrendered 17 points off 21 turnovers). Chicago’s big men also had a rough night. Both Joakim Noah (4 points, 5 rebounds and 5 fouls in 24 minutes) and Taj Gibson (6 points, 5 rebounds and 5 fouls in 18 minutes) were limited by foul trouble, and Tyrus Thomas (2-for-10, 5 turnovers and a missed dunk) looked incredibly rusty (although he did grab a game-high 15 rebounds and block a game-best 3 shots).
One positive sign was the aggressive offensive play of Derrick Rose. D-Rose scored 18 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter. I like that Rose looks ready to be the team’s closer. I do. Really.
But…I also worry about little things. Little things like the fact that 18 of his 20 field goal attempts were jump shots. Like the fact that he had only 6 assists while also committing a game-high 6 turnovers. The fact that Rose often looks like a shooting guard who’s being forced to play point guard worries me a lot. Maybe it’s the coaching, maybe it’s the system, or maybe that’s just the player Derrick is.
But at least we know that the team is working hard to get better each and every day. So I’m sure everything that went wrong last night should be improved by the time the Bulls play the Pistons in Detroit on Thursday.