Despite No Noah, Shaky Defense, Bulls Maintain 2.5 Game Conference Lead

Despite No Noah, Shaky Defense, Bulls Maintain 2.5 Game Conference Lead

The Bulls defense was bad in ways against the Pistons and Raptors last weekend, but won the back-to-back set. The Heat moved into the #2 seed as the Celtics fell to #3, going into the final handful of regular season games. The weekend included a monster performance from D-Rose:

The Bulls (56-20) beat both the Pistons 106-91 by forcing 20 turnovers to make up for allowing a 54% eFG% on Friday in Detroit and the Raptors 113-106 on Saturday with 21 second-chance points to make up for just all-around awful defense. With seven games remaining in the season, they maintained the 2.5 game lead in the Eastern Conference, but the Heat (54-23) slipped ahead of the Celtics (53-23).

Joakim Noah missed his second and third straight games with a minor ankle sprain that we keep hearing he could play on were these playoff games. No doubt that his absence has weakened the Bulls' dribble penetration defense.
Either way, the defensive lapses of allowing two straight bad teams to shoot high percentages are inexcusable and play with fire. Derrick Rose had an amazing weekend where he scored 27 and 36 in the two games at a .524 FG%, going 4-for-10 on threes, and 21-for-25 on FTs and Carlos Boozer was the higher-volume impact player -- scoring 22 and 18, shooting a .531 FG%, and grabbing 18 rebounds -- he was before spraining his ankle earlier in March.
"Offensively, I like the way we played. I thought we shared the ball; the ball was movin'," Tom Thibodeau said after Friday's win. "I thought Carlos was outstanding.... But again, it's out defense. We gotta' do a better job with our defense."
"I take a win any day, [but] it's fool's gold, too," he noted, adding: "The three things we always look, particularly on the road are the defense, the rebounding, and the turnovers. We didn't defend well, we didn't rebound well, and we turned the ball over."
"[Boozer playing well] makes us a different team," he noted on Boozer's added production. "You have Carlos in the post, Derrick on the dribble, and then the  pick n' roll creates a lot of easy offense for you... We're doing a better job of searching him out.... He's playing really well right now. We gotta' keep him going."
After taking a 53-43 lead into halftime on Saturday, the Raptors lit the Bulls up for 32 and 31 points in each of the final two quarters. After the game, Thibs credited Toronto's athleticism against the Bulls' low energy.
The bench was crucial to keeping up the Raptors' speed -- which also made it very difficult to have Kurt Thomas on the floor. Taj Gibson played 31 minutes, scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds against the Andrea Bargnani-less -- and therefore, even quicker -- Toronto squad. Ronnie Brewer notched two steals that created offense and moved the ball well while Kyle Korver made up for a bad early shift where he made Leandro Barbosa look like Monta Ellis with hitting a trey and another shot in the fourth quarter to finish with 10 points in a limited 14 minutes.
"The Bulls' second unit is known as the Bench Mob and it made a difference," Paul Ladewski wrote at NBA.com. "Led by guard Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson, the five-man band combined for 35 points, 22 rebounds and seven assists. For the undermanned Raptors, guard Leandro Barbosa accounted for all 18 of their points off the bench."
The Raptors scored 18 fastbreak points. "They're very athletic," Thibs said after Saturday's win. "They can get up and down the court on you, so if they get behind you, now you're giving them easy scoring opportunities. They're second in the league in fastbreak points, so you know you gotta' take that away goin' in."
Rose's 36 points and 10 assists marked the sixth time he's notched 30-and-10 this season -- the most by any Bulls since Michael Jordan in the 1988-89 season. His 23rd double-double of the year included this silly turnover -- one of his four -- but also one of the sickest blocks you'll ever see on former Bull and still incompetent James Johnson:

Ronnie Brewer's inbound steal into a jam and his lightning-quick assist to Omer Asik were easily my the #2 and #2A favorite plays of Satuday's game:

Next, the Bulls host the Suns (37-39) on Tuesday before the C's on Thursday. But before coming to Chicago, the C's will host the 76ers (40-37) on Tuesday. The Heat -- with only six games remaining -- have an easier week, only hosting the Bucks (31-45) before the Bobcats (32-44) on Friday.
The Bulls' magic number is four to clinch the conference, three for the #2 seed.

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