If someone had told me earlier in the season that — without Derrick Rose (sprained left wrist), Luol Deng (right calf strain) and Joakim Noah (left foot plantar fasciitis), not to mention the guys Chicago traded away — the Bulls would shoot over 52 percent and nearly pull off a 20-point comeback against the Mavericks in Dallas despite being forced into a starting lineup of Brad Miller, Taj Gibson, James Johnson, Kirk Hinrich and Jannero Pargo…
…well, first, I would have thought that person was messing with me. I mean, a starting lineup consisting of two rookies, an old man, and a dude who played in Russia last season?
But in all honesty, I’m kind of proud of these Bizarro Bulls. They could have called it a night when they were down 64-44 at the half, or when they fell behind 81-57 midway through the third quarter. They didn’t, though. They made the Mavs — winners of 14 of their last 15 games — work for it.
However, the fact that Acie Law was our leading scorer (22 points, 7-for-8 shooting) and Chris Richard led the team in rebounding (9) sort of tells the story. The near-comeback was part desire by the Bulls and part sleepwalking by the Mavericks, who switched out Jason Kidd for J.J. Barea in the fourth quarter.
Of course, Barea recovered enough to score 10 straight points after the Dallas lead had shrunk to 100-90, which was enough to help stave off a surprisingly feisty Chicago team. But in the end, all the fiestiness in the world couldn’t put a halt to the Bulls’ worst losing streak in years. The skid now stands at nine, by the way. Oh, and hey, the best team in the league is coming to the United Center on Friday night.
We could be looking at an imperfect 10 soon.
Without a healthy Joakim Noah, the Bulls have forsaken defense. Or maybe the defense has forsaken them. It’s hard to tell at this point. But just check out the points allowed over the last 12 games: 101, 110, 111, 100, 116, 105, 122, 132, 111, 108, 104, 113. Last night, the Mavericks were still shooting around 70 percent into the third quarter. And despite taking most of the fourth quarter off, Dallas still shot nearly 53 percent for the game.
I wonder if LeBron James is already thinking about notching his 29th career triple-double on Friday. I wouldn’t be surprised.
The Bulls (31-36) are now 2.5 games behind the Raptors (33-33), who beat the Atlanta Hawks in Toronto last night. The Raptors are sitting on the eighth and final Eastern Conferece playoff spot, and right now, that appears to be the only spot Chicago has a realistic shot at.
Remember when, just nine losses ago, it looked like the Bulls might challenge for the fifth seed?
All these injuries might prove catastrophic, not just to the team’s playoff hopes, but to their offseason hopes as well. It’s an open secret that the Bulls have been lusting after free-agents-to-be Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. But it’ll be hard to make a strong pitch to those guys if their teams make the playoffs and the Bulls don’t. Plus, I read yesterday that Wade “plans to speak with several upcoming free agents, like LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire about their plans and encourage them to sign with Miami.”
…and let’s not forget the Milwaukee Bucks — who, thanks in part to the stellar play of John Salmons, have risen to fifth in the East — have the option to switch draft picks with the Bulls this year. Chicago’s pick is top 10 protected, but it seems most likely the Bulls will end up with the 11th pick while the Bucks will be in the high teens.
Management’s gambit might end up dooming the Bulls for years to come.
Of course, this is all speculation. Wade might want to come home. Bosh might want to play alongside an up-and-coming PG like Derrick Rose. Stoudemire might want a fresh start in a big media market like Chicago. The Jazz — who are kind of set at PF thanks to Paul Milsap — might not resign Boozer, and he’s previously mentioned the Windy City as a possible destination.
But it’s starting to feel a little hopeless.
The only antidote for this crap feeling is winning. Forget the playoffs. The Bulls need to get their big guns back and win some games. Period. Finish strong. Show what kind of team they can be next season, with or without another All-Star, and maybe someone will want to join in on a good situation.
The Bulls just have to make sure people realize it’s a good situation. Starting with themselves.
Update! Here’s something I forgot to mention. With about two minutes left in the game and the Bulls still trying for the rally, Kirk Hinrich stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki. Before Hinrich could get away, Nowitzki grabbed at Kirk and then gave him a little slap. The officials caught the grab but missed the slap, and it was the slap that got under Hinrich’s skin. Kirk then gave Dirk a little shove and earned himself a technical in the process.
Hinrich now ranks 10th in the league with eight technical fouls. I wonder why Kirk is feeling so fired up lately? I mean, I understand why he was frustrated by Nowitzki’s little karate chop, but I expected a little more composure coming off a one-game suspension for making contact with an official during a game in which he had just been ejected for committing two techs.