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Bulls have no rhythm against Jazz

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By Sam Smith | 1.08.2015 | 1:31 a.m. CT

You know how it goes in life. Some days bug, some days windshield; some days statue, some days pigeon; some days dog and some days hydrant; some days the baby and some days the diaper; some days sitting in the living room and telling your wife you never want to live in a vegetative state dependent on some machine and fluids in a bottle. So she gets up and unplugs the TV and dumps out your beer.

C’mon, smile a little.

Some days you just have to shake your head and laugh and move on when you had one like the Bulls did in the United Center Wednesday, a season low points, shooting and biggest margin of defeat in a 97-77 loss to the 13-23 Utah Jazz.

The Bulls now are 25-11 after losing for the third time in the last 16 games. It can be worse.

Jimmy Butler led with 16 points and 11 rebounds, but shot five of 13 and was second poorest in plus/minus on the floor. Taj Gibson added 15 points as the only regular shooting more than 50 percent in a game the team shot 33.3 percent and was outrebounded. Pau Gasol added 13 points and also shot five of 13.

“Low energy game on our part,” said Gasol. “Didn’t seem to have it all night long; that was pretty consistent throughout the game. We wanted to continue to build. We were doing well. But tonight for whatever reason we just didn’t have it; it was consistent throughout our roster. Put it behind us, but learn from it. Let it feed you for the next one. We’ve got to bounce back. We’ve got a tough one in Washington (Friday). They are going to be ready for us. We have to make sure we come out ready to play.”

Yes, that about explains it during a game in which the Bulls came out cleverly disguised as a title contending team with 10 wins in their last 11 games, including over some of the Western Conference’s best, like Portland, Memphis and Houston. These delusions of competence would quickly disappear in an agonizing first half in which the Bulls briefly led for the only time in the game, and at 30-28 late in the half. They would trail 36-32 at halftime after scoring 62 points in the first half Monday in the win over the Rockets.

And the first would be the Bulls’ more impressive half against Utah.

The Jazz, led by Derrick Favors with 20 points but more so Rudy Gobert’s 11 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, broke open the game in the third quarter with a 14-5 run to close the quarter and then 16-3 to open the fourth quarter.

“We could not get into any rhythm offensively,” offered Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, not seeming particularly upset. “Defensively we were a step behind on everything. We were just lethargic, I thought, throughout. When you start a game out like that, you put yourself in a hole. So, it was disappointing. You are always concerned; (but) I don’t want to overreact and don’t want to underreact, either.“

As Thibs often says don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things. Well, someone must say that.

These things happen in an NBA season coming off an emotional victory, like against the Rockets, sixth game in the last 10 days and knowing it was Elvis’s birthday. It can leave you all shook up.

“I really don’t know (how this happens after the Houston win),” said Derrick Rose. “If I had the answer right now I would tell you. But the only thing we can take from this game right now is just our energy level. They came out, we had a lot of turnovers; I had, what, four or five of them (three). They really got after us. They were the aggressor tonight. When our shots aren’t falling, we have to make it up on the defensive end.”

Given there wasn’t much explanation offered other than nobody much felt up to it, the topic of the day again became Rose.

He shot three of 15, though had perhaps a half dozen layups and floaters roll off the rim. But over the last six games he’s shooting 28 for 110, which is about 25 percent. He did shoot 54 percent on 32 of 68 the four games before that. But that was then.

It doesn’t seem like a significant issue to me, though I haven’t missed any shots.

It didn’t seem to concern Rose or, in fact, anyone else on the team. There did appear to be a fair amount of media and community angst, however.

“It's basketball,” explained Rose, who had seven points. “ Shots aren’t going to (always) fall. It’s just part of the game. When they start falling, things will change. I’ll continue to shoot my shots. We just weren’t making any of our shots. I know I wasn’t making any shots. Shots I normally hit, floaters, wasn’t making any. Just have to get a rhythm like I used to be. Losing the way we did tonight, it hurt. Especially how good we are as a team. We have another game coming up soon and we can easily put this behind us.”

They can, for sure, as Rose would say.

Though not playing like they did Wednesday, which wasn’t that unusual to start games. The difference is the Bulls generally are able to overcome their halting starts. It wasn’t there this time, though they don’t have to open games with their stroll-in-the-park offense. It’s understandable having a big man like Gasol and looking to get inside.

But the Bulls, especially with Rose, have the talent to play faster. That also benefits players like Joakim Noah, who had just one point and seven rebounds, in the pick and roll in the open court. What opponents are doing more often lately given the Bulls do not have great perimeter shooting even when guys aren’t in slumps is create that tight defensive shell around the lane. It thus makes driving more difficult and the shots much harder when the defense can set. The Bulls certainly rebound well enough to push the ball more often.

But they too often come out in their paint-by-numbers game. They did again, which forces a lot of standstill jump shots, which is not a way to succeed. Unless they are going in, of course. There was another big issue that isn’t going to happen much, Gobert.

The Jazz’ backup center—starter Enes Kanter was out—can be kryptonite for a Gasol. Tends to make Pau look a little green. The extra long 7-2 center is familiar to Gasol as the guy on the French national team who ruined the summer for he and his brother and Spain. It was Gobert who was big in France’s major upset of Spain in the Basketball World Cup. Gasol isn’t accustomed to going against players taller than he is, and it slowed the Bulls to start.

They’d have just 16 points on 26 percent shooting in the first quarter, trailing 22-16. The Jazz were able to double Gasol with the Bulls offense in slow motion, dropping off a guard. Rose and Kirk Hinrich, the latter starting for the injured Mike Dunleavy, combined for zero for eight in the first quarter, which made the strategy look better. Nikola Mirotic, sorry, was a rookie in this game, shooting one of seven and zero for four on threes in about 23 minutes.

Gibson looked like the only Bull who’d gotten a nap as his energy enabled the Bulls to take a 25-24 lead with a 9-2 start to the second quarter. The Bulls would get ahead later 30-28 on a Butler three, and then trail just 36-32 at halftime despite Rose, Hinrich and Noah a combined zero for 15 in the first half.

“Just a bad overall game,” noticed Aaron Brooks. “Just didn’t have it today; can’t make any excuses. Didn’t come out and play hard enough. We tried to get it going, but they made some shots and extended their lead. You have different matchups with different teams; we had a tough time in Utah playing against them (97-95 Bulls win). You can’t look at records all the time. Utah is a good team against us and we didn’t do a good job. They made us shoot jumpers today and ours didn’t go in because our intensity wasn’t there.”

In a league of runs, the Bulls’ wasn’t much of one, Gasol with a three as he got tired of being crowded inside, Rose with a pair of driving scores and Butler with a steal and a run out dunk. That got the Bulls within 49-46 with 6:02 left in the third quarter.

All Bulls from there, right?

They got three offensive rebounds in one possession and couldn’t score, contributed four turnovers in the last five possessions basically unforced, got beat back door by Gordon Hayward wearing a nicely parted Leave if to Beaver haircut and Favors favoring them with jumpers. The Jazz led 63-51 after three and it was over a few minutes later amidst some seasonal booing.

“They came back right after that and hit some big shots,” noted Rose. “When playing against a team like that you have to come out and take their confidence away early and let them know it’s going to be a hard game.”

Unlike what the Bulls did.

After some questioning, it was basically agreed Rose would survive his shooting issues.

“He’s a player who is aggressive, is a scorer,” noted Gasol. “He’ll find a way to be effective. Just got to brush it off, always the next game. We want everyone to be effective, but especially one of our key players. It’s important to shoot a better percentage, but that goes for any of us. I think he’s just as aggressive. He’s just missing some good looks. It’s not like he’s forcing anything. He’s just taking what the defense gives him, taking the same shots he’s made all season long. Just continue to do the things he is doing.”

I like Brooks. Good sense of humor with revealing facial expressions. Listens closely to your question and tries to give you a complete answer.

“We know eventually he’ll get it going,” Brooks said of Rose. “Whenever we’ve needed him he’s been there this year.”

At least no one seemed concerned. And they get to leave Chicago for a few days with the schools closed because it’s too cold even for here. That should warm everyone a bit.