Bulls starting big men fail to produce on road-trip

The Bulls went 4-1 on their five-game road trip, defeating the Milwaukee
Bucks, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic, and Miami Heat, and losing --
in heartbreaking fashion -- to the Atlanta Hawks.

There
were several positives during the road trip: Derrick Rose started
strong, then had a rough night in Atlanta, but bounced back huge against
Orlando and Miami. Without Omer Asik, the Bulls wouldn't have won in
Orlando; besides that game, Asik was rock solid during the five-game
trip. Luol Deng was the usual Mr. Reliable, averaging nearly 18 points
and five rebounds on the trip. The bench provided the usual spark, and
several times they not only held leads, but extended it.

Lost in
all the positives was the rough play from the Bulls' two starting big
men: Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah -- Boozer specifically.

Boozy, Boozy: Boozer headed into the All-Star break averaging
19.3 points and 9.9 rebounds on 54 percent shooting. Since the three-day
weekend, Boozer's offensive production and rebounding has slipped. He's
averaging 14.3 points and 8.1 rebounds on 42 percent shooting.

Since
February 2nd, Boozer's only had two 20-point games, a feat that he was
piling up on a consistent basis.

Several fans and analysts have
pointed to Noah's return as a reason why Boozer's numbers -- points and
rebounds -- have slipped. But that isn't the issue. Even before Noah
came back, Boozer was on the downfall.

In 11 February games,
Boozer averaged 16.5 points and 8.4 rebounds -- a far cry from his
nearly 20 and 10 numbers in December and January. Boozer looked much
more confident in those first two months back -- after missing the
entire first month of November nursing a fractured pinkie -- but it's
been a different case over the past month and a half.

During the
five-game trip, Boozer averaged 12 points and eight rebounds on a
pedestrian 38 percent shooting. There hasn't been a lack of touches for
Boozer, as he's still averaging 14 to 15 shots per game, but the
constant double-teams that's sent Boozer's way has seemed to be bugging
him.

Another issue with Boozer is his athleticism, or lack there
of. It's been well-documented that Boozer has problems with big men who
are lengthy and athletic. At 6'8", the asset that gives Boozer the
ability to keep up with taller players is his strength. He's very
well-built and as Stacey King beautifully puts it, plays "bully ball"
with certain players.

His backup Taj Gibson isn't as adept
offensively, but on the defensive end Gibson is far superior to Boozer.
That is why Boozer wasn't on the court for the final play against Miami
-- an ending that had Tom Thibodeau fist-pumping.

There hasn't
been much fist-pumping from Boozer. He just isn't getting it done
offensively for the Bulls right now. Noah's return isn't the cause of Boozer's
struggles, it's been his own doing.

Noah's Arc: The
release, arc, and spin on Noah's jump-shot is what fans have been
talking about since the day he arrived on the basketball scene. During
his days with the Florida Gators, he would typically receive the Brian
Scalabrine treatment from fans: they would cheer for him to shoot
mid-range jumpers -- not to see the result, but just to get a laugh from
the bizarre-looking shot.

The criticism on his jumper began
in the NBA, and it was to the point that Noah wouldn't even look at the
basket. All that changed near the end of last season and started to look
more reliable this season. Then he tore ligaments in his right thumb,
and the shot that was improving, is now back to square one.

Before
having surgery that resulted in missing 30 games, 21 percent of Noah's
offense came from 10 feet and beyond. Since returning, Noah has
attempted just two shots 10-feet and beyond -- which is 4.3 percent of
his offense.

Simply put: Noah has zero confidence in his
mid-range jumper. When he was knocking the shot down, the Bulls' offense
was nearly unstoppable. With Derrick Rose's penetration ability, Noah
was getting wide-open look after wide-open look form 10-15 feet. Give
Noah credit, he was knocking the shot down.

Now fans can see how special it is to havea seven-foot center who can knock down jumpers. Opposing centers couldn't roam and freelance with Noah having
the ability to knock down mid-range jumpers. Well, now they can, and we
saw Dwight Howard, Al Horford and Andrew Bogut do much of that in the
past week.

Noah isn't even looking at the basket right now when
he gets it beyond the painted area. We all thought he had turned a new
page in his offensive growth -- it seems like the thumb injury has set
him back much farther than we thought.

Won't be seeing any
three's from CP:
After being carted off the court on a stretcher
last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chris Paul will miss
tonight's game against the Bulls at the United Center.

Word is
that Paul is fine and his brother tweeted that he wanted to play last
night, but the New Orleans Hornets are taking the cautious approach with
their already ailing guard.

The Bulls will catch a break, but the Hornets were big underdogs coming in. The Bulls have the
second best home record (tied with the Boston Celtics) with a 26-4 mark
at the United Center.

Final notes: With a win tonight, the
Bulls can move to 2.5 games behind the idle Celtics for the first seed
in the Eastern Conference.

Erik Spoelstra admitted after losing
to the Bulls that a couple of players in the Heat locker room cried.
There's two aspects to look at this: Spoelstra is trying to show that
his players care and really want to win. But the other aspect is that
makes the Heat look like babies -- something they've already gotten
gripe for in the past. Honestly, when you're a man playing in a
professional sport, would you really want to be ratted out for crying?

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