For all the mocking we've done of the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls have now fallen into the bottom half of the bracket. Technically, they're tied with Cleveland, but their 0-2 record against the Cavs means they'd lose the tiebreaker.
It was much of the same old story for Chicago with some new and old culprits. Derrick Rose had a familiar game. One that would have been efficient except that he jacked up all kinds of threes to ruin his night. Many of his threes were good looks, and he had his mid range jumper going for some of the night, so I'm not completely perplexed by the attempts.
Still, Rose needs to pass on some of these looks even if they feel like good looks. They aren't, because you aren't a three point shooter.
The bench, for once, did the Bulls in. Chicago was destroyed when Mirotic, Brooks, and Moore were on the floor. Why don't we try McDermott? Who knows, but as I said yesterday, this guy better look like a non NBA player in practice to justify our reluctance to put him on the court given Moore is getting regular minutes now.
Typically the Bulls have thrived with the bench on the floor with Aaron Brooks actually playing like the best PG in the roster, but it didn't work out last night as the Rockets consistently got runs off against the bench group.
The game basically fell apart in the fourth going from manageable to unmanageable when Brooks had a couple of turnovers in a row that Houston capitalized which pushed a lead that had hung around 10 to one that hung around 15.
Chicago made a bit of a run in the end, but Brooks tried to play the hero and missed a 30 footer that would have dropped the lead to five with a minute and change left. As it stands, Trevor Ariza scored the dagger on the next possession ending the Bulls threat to make a serious run in the game.
Butler more or less played Harden to a draw, though it was frustrating to again watch how bad the Bulls pick and roll defense is, particularly when Gasol is involved. Pau Gasol is year one Carlos Boozer for the Bulls. His defense is abysmal, his scoring is high volume but pedestrian in its efficiency.
Fortunately, we're paying Gasol under seven million instead of over 14. At the pricetag, he's still a bargain, but the Bulls need to figure out how to utilize him more and keep him fresher. Nikola Mirotic has struggled recently, but I still think the Bulls force more minutes on Mirotic's shoulders.
He again was played extra at SF last night. I don't like this look for him at all. The Bulls aren't generating a lot of value from his spacing at SF because he's not taking SFs off the dribble so easily if they leave him. His defenders can quickly recover on him at this position, and he's less prone to take advantage.
Perhaps in a year or two he'll have a deadly post up game to use against NBA SFs, but right now, I'm not sure he has the strength to make this consistently work. It was a good thing to try, and I'm glad Thibodeau is showing the flexibility to give it a shot, but it'd simply be far better to keep him at PF where his strengths are maximized and lower the minutes of Gasol/Noah some to keep them fresh.
I suppose the Bulls are looking for anyone to avoid playing Hinrich/Snell more. With Mirotic playing the three and Moore getting some burn, Snell didn't play at all. There's still one more guy left to try Tom. One more guy who actually can do the same things Dunleavy can do on offense.
At any rate, Chicago's now 5-10 in their last 15 games. That's the record of a lotto team. They only have 12 of 32 games left against playoff teams [at least if my quick math was right], but that doesn't include a couple matches against OKC who will certainly play like one even if they aren't.
In that sense, most of the Bulls tough schedule is behind them. More than half the NBA makes the playoffs, which means Chicago has played an overloaded schedule to date in terms of competition and likely has an easier run than other Eastern Conference teams the rest of the way.
That said, Chicago isn't exactly falling to the giants and beating up the crap teams of the league, so while the schedule will help, it won't solve all of their problems.
Let's just hope Mike Dunleavy really is as important as he seems and that whenever he does make it back, he does so at full health. The Bulls have two days off to think about it before a Pelicans/Magic back to back this weekend.
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