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2012-13 Bulls | 82 games of coverage | March

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Game 72 | Bulls go for another thrill ride and get a one-point win

Bulls 95, Pistons 94 | 03.31.2013 | Chicago 40-32 on the season

Sam Smith: So you have a bad day at work, like the Bulls did Saturday in blowing a 12-point late fourth quarter lead and losing to the Dallas Mavericks on Dirk Nowitzki’s three pointer.

But then it’s Easter Sunday the next day and you need a break; you need to have some fun and laugh. So you take a trip to NateWorld, like the Bulls did late in Sunday’s 95-94 win over the Pistons as Luol Deng’s 28 points with 11 of 17 from the free throw line and Jimmy Butler’s career high five steals and 16 points helped put a smile back on their teammates faces.

You ride a bit on Nate’s Tower of Terror, like the three and 20 footers that missed with the Bulls having come back from a 13-point deficit and hanging on to an 85-84 lead with 5:14 remaining.

“That’s the good thing about Nate; he always thinks he’s hot,” laughed Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, able to laugh this time. “I say that in a positive way. He’s not dwelling on a miss. He has this belief he’s making the next one. That’s what shooters do. He’s been playing some really good basketball for us.”

When you are at NateWorld the fun hardly stops there. After Butler pressured Greg Monroe into what became Butler’s third steal of the quarter, Deng, who has been carrying the Bulls of late with Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli out injured again and averaging 23.6 the last five games, made his third three of the game for an 88-84 Bulls lead. There is always excitement in NateWorld as Thibodeau relied on a diminutive group with Deng, Butler, Taj Gibson, Robinson and Daequan Cook playing much of the fourth quarter.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room: Jimmy Butler | Luol Deng | Discuss the game

Game 71 | Bulls have trouble with Big D — Dirk

Mavericks 100, Bulls 98 | 03.30.2013 | Chicago 39-32 on the season

Sam Smith: Sometimes the other guy is just too good and he gets you as Dirk Nowitzki did to the Bulls Saturday with a phenomenal shooting performance, 14 of 17 mostly tough shots for 35 points in an unlikely 100-98 Dallas Mavericks comeback win.

“Contested, off balance, off one leg,” muttered a dejected Jimmy Butler. “He’s a really hard person to guard. You’ve got to challenge every one and make it as difficult as possible.”

The Bulls did, though it ended stunningly with 15 Nowitzki fourth quarter points, including the three-point winner with 2.9 seconds left to finish a 15-1 Dallas run to end the game.

“Dirk was able to free up and took us out,” said Kirk Hinrich. “He’s made a career out of doing that. This was definitely a tough loss. I thought we played with high intensity most of the game. We just didn’t finish it out.”

You can always find fault and second guess with a close loss in a basketball game, and this one was brutal if as unexpected as this Bulls team with its defense rarely loses games this way.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 70 | Bulls cool off hot Heat and end winning streak

Bulls 101, Heat 97 | 03.27.2013 | Chicago 39-31 on the season

Sam Smith: It really was something to see. LeBron James was losing it, unraveling like a worn Nike Wednesday with the Miami Heat trailing the Bulls 90-82 with about four minutes remaining on the way to a 101-97 loss and the end of Miami’s 27-game winning streak, the second longest in NBA history.

Don’t kid yourself, and don’t believe James when he said afterward the streak didn’t much matter and it’s only been about winning games. He wanted this streak badly, just as Michael Jordan and the Bulls wanted those 70 wins in 1995-96. The great ones are not humble. They want milestones, not asterisks. You could tell the way James was pounding his chest and exulting in some of those nearly a dozen fourth quarter comebacks during the fabulous streak.

“What they’ve been doing is once they took a lead a lot of teams would stay back and let them attack,” said Luol Deng, who was terrific with 28 points and a pair of big fourth quarter threes when the Bulls were supposed to join the others and yield in the face of the supposedly inevitable. “We did a good job keeping our focus and our foot on the pedal.”

Those were gigantic threes by Deng, and Jimmy Butler with one as well in the fourth starting for the injured Marco Belinelli with Joakim Noah also out and Derrick Rose not back yet. That sort of stuff just wasn’t supposed to happen, and it was all becoming just too much for James as history began to slip away.

So after James absorbed a hard foul on a drive from Butler and Taj Gibson, merely enforcing a playoff like no layup rule that James should have welcomed as preparation for the playoffs, James instead sought retribution for the insult. After all, is this the way to treat a king?

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Inside the Locker Room: Jimmy Butler | Luol Deng | Taj Gibson
Heat shootaround: Wade set to return when Heat visit Bulls
Sam Smith: Does the Heat stop at track 27 in Chicago?
Blogs.Bulls.com: Bulls hope to put an end to Heat’s streak

Game 69 | Bulls win back to back for second time since January

Bulls 104, Timberwolves 97 | 03.24.2013 | Chicago 38-31 on the season

Sam Smith: The Bulls Sunday night won their second consecutive game, 104-97 over the Minnesota Timberwolves, after having lost 14 of their previous 24.

The Miami Heat Sunday won their 26th consecutive game.

The Bulls have Jimmy Butler, who started for the injured Marco Belinelli at shooting guard, and had 20 points, nine rebounds and three steals. The Heat has Dwyane Wade, slightly better known coming out of Marquette.

The Bulls have Nate Robinson, their leading scorer Sunday with his first 20/10 game of the season with 22 points and 10 assists. The Heat’s top scorer, of course, is LeBron James, who is in the top five in the league in scoring, in the top 10 in assists and double/doubles, the top 15 in steals and in the top 25 in rebounding and almost certainly will be voted the league Most Valuable Player.

Let’s get it on!

That’s Wednesday when the Heat figure to come into the United Center just six wins short of equaling the alltime NBA consecutive win streak of 33 after a likely Heat win in Orlando Monday.

Miami now has the league’s best record and has a better road record than the Bulls have home record. But for the Bulls, it’s encouraging small steps again as they moved to 38-31 with another solid victory even as Nazr Mohammed started at center again for the ailing Joakim Noah, Butler was the third string shooting guard with Richard Hamilton and now Belinelli out, and the Bulls stitched together another win with their typical assortment of mismatched pieces, discarded elements (three of their top eight Sunday were released after last season) and often unwanted figures.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 68 | Bulls take down Pacers in possible playoff preview

Bulls 87, Pacers 84 | 03.23.2013 | Chicago 37-31 on the season

Sam Smith: With the Bulls’ gritty 87-84 victory over the Indiana Pacers Saturday at the United Center, I’m reminded of history, of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence.

Stay with me here.

Jefferson famously wrote about everyone being equal, though conveniently forgetting about one population group. And while I assume Jefferson wasn’t looking ahead to this season’s Eastern Conference, though he was said to be an expert Parcheesi player, the Bulls victory even without the injured Joakim Noah suggests all Eastern Conference playoff teams but one are pretty much equal.

“It took heart,” said Taj Gibson, who led a strong 32-15 Bulls bench edge with 11 points and a pair of blocks. “Guys were doing what they do best. Guys were putting forth effort on defense; we were getting stops. We got a lot of big minutes out of Daequan (Cook, nine points) and Nazr Mohammed (season high 11 points starting for Noah). Guys just filling the role. Nobody complained. Guys were just playing basketball. We kept running the right plays with the right people at the right time, and it worked.”

Luol Deng snapped back from some mediocre shooting efforts with 20 points and seven rebounds and solid post play in small lineups working at power forward while Carlos Boozer added 18 point and 10 rebounds and a booming poster dunk over the languid Roy Hibbert. The win moved the 37-31 Bulls into sixth in the East, and if the playoffs began today it would be a matchup with the 43-27 Pacers.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Inside the Locker Room: Taj Gibson | Nazr Mohammed

Game 67 | Bulls continue to be too welcoming at home

Trail Blazers 99, Bulls 89 | 03.21.2013 | Chicago 36-31 on the season

Sam Smith: The Bulls’ face of frustration Thursday in their mostly one sided 99-89 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was wearing a pony tail.

“We got smacked; we got smacked,” Joakim Noah said in clipped comments after the game.

Asked what the team could do differently, Noah was direct: “I don’t know.

“It’s disappointing, it’s really disappointing,” he said. “It’s tough. We’re not playing great right now, disappointing. It’s the final stretch and we’re not getting it done. We’ve got to find a way.”

Again, about changes? Noah shrugged: “I don’t know.”

You don’t want to lose your spirit and your energy, which Noah manifests in basketball form for these Bulls, now a fading 36-31 and losers of six of their last eight and 14 of 22 since the end of January.

That’s right: If the season began in February, the Bulls would be the Washington Wizards. The Bulls are going to make the playoffs since they’ve got more than a 10-game lead on ninth place with 15 games left. And they’ve still got a two-game lead on Milwaukee to avoid Miami in the first round of the playoffs and holding the tiebreaker with the Bucks with the better division record after splitting the season series.

But the Bulls fell to 18-16 at home with another frustrated effort, tied for 19th in home record and being routed—they trailed by 27 after three quarters—by a non playoff Western Conference team winless thus far on their road trip and with the 26th ranked defense.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room with Taj Gibson | Discuss the game
Also: Derrick Rose remains close but not suiting up yet

Game 66 | Bulls suffer heartbreaking loss to Nuggets in OT

Nuggets 119, Bulls 118 (OT) | 03.18.2013 | Chicago 36-30 on the season

Sam Smith: Well, at least no one asked about Derrick Rose for a change.

Because in the Bulls’ 119-118 overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets Monday there is likely to have been some history made. No, not necessarily the Nuggets’ 12th consecutive win, or Nate Robinson’s season high-34 points or Joakim Noah burnishing his possible Defensive Player of the Year credentials and path toward a quadruple-double with 14 points, 12 rebounds, seven blocks and six assists.

All of that made for one of the most entertaining games of the season, albeit disappointing results for the Bulls still playing without Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and Richard Hamilton.

It was the stunning and confusing conclusion that most likely is going to result in an NBA rules change regarding instant replay. Because whether the officials got it right or wrong when Noah appeared to win the game with an amazing finish of a Marco Belinelli miss with 1.7 seconds left, the spirit of replay failed–of getting it right–because the officials were caught interpreting a technicality in the rules.

The replay rule effectively states the officials can review goaltending–the issue here–in the last two minutes and overtime. But in order to review, one of the three officials must make a call on the floor.

“I thought we had video stuff to make sure we got it right,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was certainly the most upset since coaching the Bulls and had to be retrained by players and team officials.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room with Joakim Noah | Discuss the game

Game 65 | Bulls strike gold against the Warriors

Bulls 113, Warriors 95 | 03.15.2013 | Chicago 36-29 on the season

Sam Smith: Bulls fans, you can open your eyes again.

“Win or lose,” Joakim Noah was saying in a relaxed Bulls locker room late Friday night after a dominating 113-95 victory over the Golden State Warriors, “that was the best we’ve played in a long time.”

Probably, and shockingly given recent events and a 42-point loss in Sacramento Wednesday, that was one of the better wins of the season considering: The lately offensively challenged Bulls scored their third most points of the season, they held the league’s best three-point shooting team without a three until the fourth quarter when the Bulls were leading by 31, and they did this with Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and Richard Hamilton still out along with Derrick Rose and against a team now 37-30 and fighting for a playoff spot.

I’ll admit after the debacle in Sacramento and no help on the way I had the explosive Warriors, who are averaging more than 100 per game, winning this one by 20.

“I think we played with the right mindset today,” said Noah, whose big time first quarter hustle with 10 of his 16 points ignited the Bulls sleepy offense. “Losing to Sacramento the way we lost to Sacramento the other day was very humbling and it’s a reality check. If you don’t come ready to play we can get our (butts) kicked. We’ve been going through a lot of adversity. It was a big win for us tonight and we just got to keep fighting.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 64 | Bulls treat the Kings like royalty in 42-point loss

Kings 121, Bulls 79 | 03.13.2013 | Chicago 35-29 on the season

Sam Smith: I have learned in life that before you criticize someone — and the Bulls probably deserve their share after their shockingly poor effort Wednesday in a 121-79 loss to statistically the worst defensive team in the NBA, the Sacramento Kings — you need to walk a mile in their shoes.

That’s advisable, by the way, because then when you criticize them you’re a mile away and you have their shoes. C’mon guys, lighten up. It’s just one game.

“I’m probably most disappointed in myself,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau after the team’s worst loss in his three seasons as coach. “My job is to have them ready. We can’t come out like that. That’s on me. I have to drive harder. I have to get the intensity up. And I will. Trust me on that.”

Uh, oh.

“Our level of intensity is very poor, our readiness to play, very poor,” Thibodeau went on. “I didn’t like our intensity in the Lakers’ game and I didn’t like it tonight. I’ve got to drive harder and I will.”

You can’t get blood from a stone. Or is that a turnip? I mix them up.

But you can also only get so much production from a team not only with its former MVP out all season, but still without three of its top six players in the rotation in Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton and Taj Gibson.

It’s no coincidence the Bulls have failed to shoot better than 40 percent the last four games, why they’ve lost four of five to fall to 35-29 on the season and why they’re averaging 83 points the last four games and 87 points the last nine games to fall to 29th in the league in scoring ahead of only the Wizards.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 63 | Lakers look like playoff team to Bulls

Lakers 90, Bulls 81 | 03.10.2013 | Chicago 35-28 on the season

Sam Smith: Sometimes when things are going badly—as it was for the Bulls Sunday in a national TV 90-81 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers—you have to be thankful for the positives.

Which were, well actually, they were, when no, well not that…

Oh yeah, no one else got hurt and none of the Bulls many, many missed shots injured any spectators.

“I feel like we can still do better defensively,” said Joakim Noah, who had a terrific effort with 18 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks. “And we can definitely do better offensively. It’s just hard sometimes when we’re not used to seeing Lu (Deng with 11 points and eight rebounds) play the four; guys have to play out of position right now. No excuses, though. It’s tough but we just got to bounce back and get a W in Sacramento (Wednesday). We’ve just got to keep fighting. Sometimes we get a little too frustrated. We have to understand that.

“Nobody cares,” said Noah about others’ concern about the Bulls injuries. “It’s no time for excuses. We still got to go out there and play the game, play the game the right way. I think a lot of it is mental with us. We get frustrated very easily right now. There’s a still a long way to go. Guys are going to come back healthy and we are going to make our run.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 62 | Belinelli with another, ho hum, game winner

Bulls 89, Jazz 88 | 03.08.2013 | Chicago 35-27 on the season

Box score | Discuss the game | Blogs.Bulls.com

Sam Smith: When LeBron James made a game winning driving basket against the Orlando Magic Wednesday, his first game winning shot in two and a half years with the Miami Heat, ESPN devoted much of its SportsCenter highlight show to the milestone. There’s also believed to be a 30 for 30 documentary about the shot coming and reaction being sought from Bill Russell and President Obama.

On Friday, Bulls shooting guard Marco Belinelli made his third game winning shot in the last two months, a three pointer with 5.9 seconds left to defeat the Utah Jazz 89-88. ESPN research is believed to be working on finding out who Belinelli is.

“Just a good player,” said Carlos Boozer, who shared scoring highs with Belinelli at 22 points in the dramatic victory. “Very underrated. A good shooter, great pick-and-roll player.”

And continuing to make the case for who should be the Bulls’ shooting guard of the future.

“I didn’t think much on the last shot,” said Belinelli, who was quick after a great team play as Joakim Noah grabbed an offensive rebound and handed to Jimmy Butler, who then found Belinelli in the left corner. “I was ready to shoot the ball and the ball was there. I try to be ready every time, I missed that shot (with 43.9 seconds left and another with 13.9 seconds left) but I’m not scared about that situation.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game
Inside the Locker Room: Marco Belinelli | Jimmy Butler | Nazr Mohammed

Game 61 | Bulls fail to defend in San Antonio

Spurs 101, Bulls 83 | 03.06.2013 | Chicago 34-27 on the season

Sam Smith: There are many ways to know you’re tired, like when you decide to take a bath because standing in the shower is too grueling. You know you’re tired when you fall asleep while having a root canal without Novocain. You know you’re tired when you brag about running a race over the mountains in Iowa. And you especially know you’re tired when Tim Duncan blows by all of you in a fast break.

Just as the 36-year-old, 15-year veteran did late in the Spurs’ going away 101-83 victory over the Bulls in San Antonio Wednesday.

“I don’t know what Duncan’s been drinking from the fountain of youth, or something, but he had five blocked shots,” cracked Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was actually not in all that jovial a mood after the Bulls were outscored 54-31 after halftime by a Spurs team without the injured Tony Parker that shot 54.1 percent for the game.

Duncan also had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Manu Ginobili 18 points and nine assists off the bench, and since this Spurs team without Parker, Duncan and Ginobili defeated the Bulls in Chicago last month you figured this wasn’t going to be easy. And even as the Bulls got themselves a 14-point late second quarter lead on hot shooting from Marco Belinelli and rookie Marquis Teague with three three pointers, the 48-14 Spurs aren’t a team to sleep on.

“That’s a championship team right there,” said Joakim Noah, who had eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks while having four of his shots blocked by Duncan. “They do all the little things. Play together defensively, everybody on the same page. They make very little mistakes. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. They picked up their intensity in the second half and we crumbled. Right now we’re average, pretty average.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 60 | Bulls crash just short of finish line in Indy

Pacers 97, Bulls 92 | 03.03.2013 | Chicago 34-26 on the season

Sam Smith: Jimmy Butler, who set a career high with 20 points, had just hit a three pointer to bring the Bulls within 95-92 with 19.9 seconds left in the game after George Hill, who had a good game, had gagged up a pair of free throws to give the Bulls a chance in this unusual game against the Indiana Pacers Sunday in Indianapolis.

Unusual in that Derrick Rose sat on the Bulls bench for the first time all season, though Rose and most everyone else but the media and the ESPN national broadcast dismissed it as insignificant. It could just have been Rose wanting to prove to his family he was going to the games as he usually watches from the locker room.

Unusual also as joining Rose injured were Richard Hamilton and Taj Gibson, as expected, but also Kirk Hinrich with a toe injury that revealed itself overnight, Nate Robinson with a rib injury that kept him sidelined late and the Bulls having to travel to Indianapolis Sunday morning after their charter experienced mechanical problems Saturday night and they had to borrow the Blackhawks’ plane for the flight to Indianapolis.

Though there was some confusion with the use of the plane as players asked if there’d be a shootout if they tied the game, eh?

So the Bulls came out in the crucial last seconds to try to steal a game against the Central Division rivals with their closers: Marco Belinelli, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Vladimir Radmanovic and Butler. Huh?

“We fought collectively and fought really hard,” said Noah, who had 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. “I think overall that a lot of guys stepped up. If we keep this mentality, there’s good things for us in the future.”

There just wasn’t enough this time, despite what coach Tom Thibodeau preaches, and the Bulls could not get that tying three and lost to the Indiana Pacers 97-92.

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Discuss the game

Game 59 | Bulls crush Nets as Noah continues dominance

Bulls 96, Nets 85 | 03.02.2013 | Chicago 34-25 on the season

Sam Smith: The Brooklyn Nets are supposed to be good. They have the NBA’s second highest payroll and are committed to the biggest for next season. They have four current and former All-Stars in their starting lineup. And Saturday at the United Center the Bulls absolutely dominated them in a 96-85 dismantling that included a paralyzing 19-0 run.

So just how good are the Bulls? And what chance do they have in the Eastern Conference as they moved to 34-25, tied for fourth with Atlanta and three games behind the Indiana Pacers, whom the Bulls visit Sunday night.

“They’re (Indiana) playing very good basketball,” said Joakim Noah. “It’s going to be a big game tomorrow. So I’m excited for it.”

Which is good because nobody in the NBA, at least in the last few games, has been playing better basketball than Joakim Noah, who Saturday tacked on 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals to his dominating 23 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocks Thursday against the 76ers.

“In the last two games he has played unbelievable,” marveled Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo. “He was always super active with rebounding and defense. Now he is playing a lot better offensively. He is making good decisions and shooting well. He makes his free throws (14 for 14 for the team) and he is just putting up unreal numbers.”

Read Sam Smith's complete postgame analysis

Additional coverage:
Box score | BullsTV recap | Inside the Locker Room with Jimmy Butler | Discuss the game

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