The Bulls have lost four of their past five games and have fallen to fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. They've been decimated by injuries and can use the rest both physically and mentally.
Say what you want about Kirk Hinrich's lousy PER, inability to score, and poor shooting percentages, the Bulls struggle mightily when they rely on Nate Robinson for long stretches. I love Nate Robinson this year, he's perhaps the most exciting thing the Bulls have going on, but less is more with Nate. His best play is in bursts, and teams find ways to take advantage of him too easily when he's on the floor so long.
The Bulls probably played better with Marquis Teague on the floor last night despite how absurdly open the Celtics were willing to leave Teague and how Teague more or less refused to shoot even when given wide open looks inside the three point line. When he did shoot, he generally missed. Teague definitely has a long way to go before he's a viable back up PG in this league.
It doesn't look like it's happening, but someone should be fixing his form everyday in practice while forcing him to take 1-2000 jumpers a day. If Teague can't come back in the next couple of seasons with some semblance of a shot or improved finishing around the rim (he gets there fine, but rarely finishes) then he's unlikely to ever reach his high potential.
As for the game last night, there's almost nothing more painful than sitting through a 71-69 NBA battle except when your team comes out on the losing end. Kendell Gill made the ridiculous comment in the post game that the defense let the Bulls down. The Bulls set a record for fewest points allowed in a loss ever. I don't know if Gill's been drinking the Thibodeau kool-aid, but sometimes the offense lets you down. Like when you hold a team to 71 and lose.
The Celtics are obviously disciplined defensively, but the Bulls looked gassed lately. The heavy workload appears to be wearing on the major players for the team. Loul Deng in particular looks laughably far away from an all-star recently, in the Bulls most recent four losses, Deng has shot 29.6%. The Bulls rely on Deng to carry the offensive load, and if you want to put the losses at anyone's feet in particular it might as well be Deng's for failing to give the Bulls the scoring they need.
It's a tough spot for Deng who realistically isn't a number one scorer but is forced to play one on TV for 45 minutes a night every night with Derrick Rose out. While Deng wasn't confused with a superstar earlier in the season, he obviously played well enough to get all-star consideration. Something which is hard to remember right now watching him slug through awful game after awful game.
Some of the luster has also worn off of Jimmy Butler who started off with magnificent play while filling in for the injured Deng, but has also fallen on hard times and struggled to score. Last night, Jimmy made a few tough looks, but also showed multiple times where he was scared to shoot wide open jumpers where the Bulls failed to ever get a better look later.
Both players, and the team overall, appear to miss Kirk Hinrich. What's odd is that watching Robinson, he appears to freely move the ball around the court. He's not playing hero ball for 40 minutes a night. He's a willing and able passer, and the defense needs to respect him as a shooter. On the surface, I don't see why things aren't working better with him on the court even though it's clear that they aren't.
In fact, strangely enough, the Bulls typically play much better when Nate goes into hero-ball mode and carries the scoring load himself. Maybe Kirk imbues the ball with luck as he passes it off to other players while Nate holds onto all the luck himself for when he attempts to score.
All in all, the Bulls will benefit from the break and hopefully getting Kirk Hinrich back afterwards. I had hoped for a long time that Derrick Rose would be back as well, but that looks fairly unlikely at this point. We'll simply have to sit and wait a bit longer. If the Bulls want to make a legit championship run, they probably need Rose back by mid March in order to give him enough time to gel on the court with his teammates and build some chemistry for the playoffs.
Hopefully that still happens.