After word came out that the Chicago Bulls would be missing star point guard Derrick Rose, I all but ruled out any chance of them competing tonight against the dangerous Denver Nuggets.
Boy, was I wrong. Led by C.J. Watson's 33 points, the Bulls made a heck of a game out of it, only to have it slip away as Carmelo Anthony, who has been rumored to have interest in coming to Chicago, hit a buzzer beater to give the Nuggets a 98-97 win.
The crucial possession for the Bulls came with 12.9 seconds left: with the Bulls up 97-96, John Lucas III, who was signed hours before the game to give the Bulls a backup point guard with Rose out, was fouled with 12.9 seconds left. Lucas clanked the second, and missed the second one, as well.
It's really surprising that Lucas, who was a career 78.9% free-throw shooter, was in the game. Not doubting Lucas' free-throw shooting, but he was just signed hours before the game, and obviously didn't have his shooting socks on.
Nonetheless, let's take a look at Friday night's game, as well as tomorrow night's game against the Sacramento Kings:
Stud of the Night: C.J. Watson- 33 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists on 11/22 from the field. 2/4 from the three-point line, 9/12 from the free-throw line. 43:46 minutes played (game-high.)
This "award" clearly goes to C.J. Watson; he stepped up big time in a game the Bulls really needed him, with Rose sitting out with neck spasms. Watson, at one point late in the 4th quarter, took over the game, driving at will, making Bulls fans forget about Rose for just a quick second.
Watson has always been a streaky scorer, but tonight, given the opportunity, Watson made the most of it and gave the Bulls some very needed fire-power.
Step up Performance of the Night: Luol Deng- 24 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block on 9/17 shooting. 0/4 from the three-point line, 6/7 from the free-throw line.
C.J. Watson was a prime candidate for the step up performance of the night, but he played so well there had to be another player who did his role, stepping up for the Bulls in Rose's absence.
Deng played very well tonight, offensively and defensively. Although Anthony had a buzzer beater, Deng held the former scoring champion to 22 points on 7/18 shooting.
Deng also had his mid-range shot going tonight, as well as his usual cutting/slashing game. The 0/4 from three-point land leaves something to be desired, but overall, he had a very solid night, stepping up for the Bulls on the glass with Taj Gibson at less than 100%.
Why was John Lucas III on the court in the most crucial possession of the game?
Lucas III didn't get much of a chance during training camp and preseason, but when he was in the games, he showed good presence out on the court.
However, it's unacceptable to have a guy who was signed hours before the game, and probably the coldest player on your active roster, in a position to take the most crucial free-throws in the game, and easily the most tense situation in his young career.
Tom Thibodeau has made very good coaching moves thus far, but this one really was a head scratcher. It doesn't make sense to have a guy like Lucas in the game, when Thibodeau could have went with a guy like Gibson, Bogans, or even James Johnson.
All three of those guys don't have great free-throw percentages, but they were in a much better position to be shooting them than Lucas.
This move will definitely be second-guessed, but it was very discouraging to watch the Bulls come down from 19 points down, only to lose at the end because 2 free-throws couldn't be made.
Where's Keith Bogans or Ronnie Brewer?: Keith Bogans had another underwealming performance against the Nuggets, scoring 5 points on 2/6 shooting (1/4 from the three-point line.)
The past 5 games, Bogans is averaging an inexplicable 1.8 PPG. For your starting SG slot, that's simply outrageous.
Bogans was brought here to provide veteran leadership, outside shooting, and solid defense, and so far, he hasn't provided much at all.
During this 5 game stretch, Bogans is 3/15 from the three-point land, and shooting 3/19 overall. He's simply not providing any time of spark in the starting lineup; if he was hitting the wide-open three-pointer, he would have some sort of value, at least, but he isn't even doing that.
Fellow SG Ronnie Brewer, who scored 2 points on Friday night, isn't doing much at all either. It's hard to tell if Brewer's 100% healthy at this point, because he'll show signs of explosion like he has a few times over the road trip, and other times he'll look a step behind again on defense.
When Brewer signed here, I expected him to have an immediate impact, providing great athleticism on the break, and locking up the opposing team's best offensive player.
The latter didn't take place tonight, as Deng had the responsibility of guarding Anthony.
Korver is a solid piece, but he's going to be a shooting specialist for the Bulls. He's not a good defender, which is why either Brewer or Bogans have to step up their game if the Bulls want to compete.
Joakim Noah is an All-Star. Period.: Noah had another superb night, with 17 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 assists on 5/11 shooting. 7/7 from the free-throw line. 39.17 minutes played.
Looking tired and exhausted, Joakim Noah turned in another double-double on Friday night. Noah, who's tied for third in the NBA in double-double's with 10, has become easily one of the best centers in the NBA, and it would truly be shocking if he isn't voted on the team by the Eastern Conference coaches.
There's really not much more to say about Noah-- he does all the dirty work and provides most of the energy and spark on the court.
There's no doubt Noah is playing like an All-Star; barring an injury, he should be an easy vote-in by the coaches.
Final Thoughts on loss: It sucks to see the Bulls take a tough loss like this at the hands of Anthony, but it's the NBA, and there's always time to make up for it.
The Bulls played well enough to win the game against the Nuggets, and probably would have if Lucas could have made one, if not both, free-throws with 12.9 seconds left.
I didn't expect the Bulls to win in Denver with Rose, and certainly didn't see them winning without Rose, so it's astonishing how close they came from stealing one in Denver without their best player.
What's Next: Bulls @ Sacramento Kings(4-10) on Saturday night. 9:00pm C.S.T. WGN/WGN America/ESPN 1000.
This is a game I certainly expect the Bulls to take, with or without Derrick Rose. The Kings, coming off a 18-point loss against the L.A. Clippers, are just not a good team right now. They have some young talent, but not enough to run with the Bulls.
It's going to be another back-to-back situation, so hopefully the guys aren't worn out after Friday night's tough loss.
Rose will probably be a game-day decision, depending on how he feels when he wakes up Saturday morning. Hopefully, he feels much better and is able to give it a go Saturday night. If not, I wouldn't mind if he sits out one more game to get as healthy as he can.
Rose would then end up getting 6 days of rest, with the Bulls' not playing again until Wednesday night.
Rose or not, the Bulls should take care of the Kings pretty easily. It would be great watching the star guard suit up and give it a go, though.