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Bulls have no magic in loss to Wizards
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By Sam Smith | 1.10.2015 | 3:13 a.m. CT
Forget talking about the slump that Derrick Rose seemed to be going through. It’s team wide now for the Bulls. Hey, it is flu season, after all, and you should cover your mouth and nose.
And perhaps your eyes as well watching this Bulls team, which Friday lost 102-86 to the Washington Wizards, their second consecutive double digit loss, the third loss in the last six as they fell to fourth in the Eastern Conference with their fifth game in the last seven shooting below 50 percent.
“The way we’re playing is concerning,” admitted Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “You get into things together; you have to get out of things together. The challenge is to get ourselves right and get ready for tomorrow (Milwaukee Saturday in the United Center). It’s an unforgiving league. The games keep coming. We know what we have to do; we have to straighten it out and do it together.”
It’s probably not a major concern as these sorts of things can occur during a long season. After all, the Bulls are 25-12 with their first sustained poor stretch of the season.
And Rose, though one of seven on threes with a few spinning out, shot the ball better and was aggressive, leading the Bulls with 19 points.
“It’s not mental, it’s physical,” said Rose of the Bulls troubles. “Guys got to get going; everybody, including myself. We’ve just got to get going, find ways to make the game simple. Guys were missing the shots they normally shoot; can’t do anything about that.
“I wouldn’t want (a slump) to be natural,” added Rose. “But it happens. We lost two, have a lot of games left. The thing about losing is you can learn from it. The last two games, it was the energy (with slow starts). Tomorrow we’ve got to make sure to come out and dictate everything going on in the game. Really jump on them and be the aggressor.”
That’s certainly a part of it as the Bulls showed in the win over Houston earlier this week an aggression from start to finish. This was going to be a tough one after the Bulls won in Washington last month with Rose having a big fourth quarter and Rose in one sequence skipping in delight after a big basket.
John Wall, who is leading the East guards in All-Star votes and tied for the league lead in double/doubles, did an excellent job in directing the Washington offense with 16 points and 12 assists. In some respects, Wall has emerged as much as Jimmy Butler by becoming a floor leader instead of just a laser light to the basket.
“This is probably, by far, John’s best game in terms of the pace of the game from an offensive standpoint,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “For us to score 60 in the first half (60-42 lead) was based on our pace of play. John was excellent.”
Wall even did a little skip step to imitate Rose’s from the last game late in the third quarter when former Bull Rasual Butler rescued the Wizards with a pair of three pointers after the Bulls made their best run of the game behind Rose to pull within 72-66 with 2:16 remaining in the third quarter.
But Rasual Butler, whose career has been surprisingly revived this season, made those shots as Jimmy Butler helped off and Wall first and Marcin Gortat made the plays. That ignited an 8-2 close to the third quarter for an 80-68 Wizards lead. The Wizards then opened the fourth quarter with a 5-0 start as the Bulls failed to score in five straight possessions with a pair of turnovers and there would be no fourth quarter to savor.
“Rasual (was a) game changer the way he was shooting the ball,” said Rose of Butler’s 13 points in 21 minutes. “They’ve got a lot of shooters on their team; hopefully the next time we play them (next week) we can change that and contest their shots.”
Though Wall was excellent in the matchup with Rose, neither was truly the difference maker. It was another dominant inside performance by Nene and Gortat. Nene, who was the pivotal figure in last spring’s Wizards’ five games playoff series win over the Bulls, had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Gortat had 21 points and 13 rebounds as they outplayed Pau Gasol with 12 points and 13 rebounds and Joakim Noah with three points and 10 rebounds.
“Tough, tough game tonight,” said a pensive Noah. “We were supposed to come ready, big game. Just disappointed we lost. They did a great job. They were definitely more physical than us. They executed better than us. They just played a better all around game. They (Nene and Gortat) were very active all over the place, very skilled players. You’ve got to give credit when credit is due. Just got to find better ways to attack them.’’
Still, one of the worrisome signs was how much Noah is pushing himself still get back to his former style after a summer knee surgery.
“Just keep working,” said Noah. “I’m a worker and I’m never going to stop until I get it right.’’
Thibodeau said he has no doubt Noah will.
“Jo is still working through things,” said Thibodeau. “He’s out there battling; he’ll find his way. I thought his rebounding effort was good. We need him to just keep working.”
But the combination of losing a game he clearly wanted—as Noah is a true big game player—and seemingly not able to get his body to perform as he’d like, Noah late in the fourth kicked the basketball for a technical foul.
“You hate to see him get frustrated,” said Thibodeau. “It’s been a very long rehab for him. He’s got to continue to work at it. Almost have a blind faith it will work out and it will. We need him. As he gets his timing and continues to strengthen his leg. All that stuff takes a lot of time; he can’t get frustrated with it, just has to keep working. It will get better.”
Though it was hardly just Noah as Jimmy Butler struggled through his toughest game of the season, two of 12 for 10 points. Gasol was five of 12 and Kirk Hinrich starting for the injured Mike Dunleavy was one of three. Dunleavy’s ankle problem has not been improving, so he is scheduled for a reexamination Saturday. Plus, Doug McDermott remains out a few more weeks after surgery.
It’s thus left the Bulls short at small forward as Thibodeau said before the game he felt Nikola Mirotic was having difficulty when playing small forward and would try to use him more at power forward. That gave a few more minutes to Tony Snell, who did well with nine points in 18 minutes. But it did leave the Bulls again spread a bit thinly, which the Wizards took advantage of by pounding the Bulls on the interior to open the game.
Rose came out aggressive in his matchup with Wall with drives to the basket on the first two possessions and a pull up three. Wall missed a pair in response, though the Wizards then forced the game inside and took it away from the Bulls with a shocking 30-10 lead (the Bulls opened shooting four of 24) before Snell ended the first quarter with a three.
“That was the game, really, the start,” said Thibodeau. “We got ourselves in a big hole, 30-13. Fought back a couple of times; thought the bench came in and did a good job. Gave us a shot at it (within seven late in the second quarter). Then we fell behind again and came back again. It was too much to overcome in the end.”
There were some fun moments, like Rose taking it to Wall on a drive and Wall coming right back with a jumper, Rose blocking a Wall shot to end in the first half with a sort of “not against me” warning, though the Bulls trailed by 18 at the time. And Rose with a heck of a play late in the third quarter when he assisted on a Butler shot and then collected the miss and scored, Rose at his athletic best in that last run that got the Bulls within six. It was Rose and Jimmy Butler exceptional together in that 10-0 third quarter run that looked like it might lead to stealing the game until Rasual Butler’s clutch threes.
The Bulls would have one brief fourth quarter flurry after Mirotic and Jimmy Butler threes. But again Rasual had the answer with a 20 footer and a three, the other surprise Butler of the season.
And as the season goes, Rose was asked after the game to rate his season.
“What would I rate it?” he asked. “I’d rate it an A. Missing two years, coming back, still competing. I don’t know if too many people can do that. I’m fighting through. I don’t think I’ll ever stop fighting. If anything I’m just going to keep getting better. The (Bulls) team is great. If anything, I’m just trying to catch up with the team. They’re way ahead of me. I’m just trying to find my way back, find my rhythm. As far as the team and the way they are playing. I’m just trying to catch up to them.”
But the game with a Wizards team that showed it can be a contender on the level of the Bulls this season at least along with Toronto, Atlanta and Cleveland raised questions for this Bulls team.
The Bulls’ strength other than the play of Rose and now Butler this season is the depth and size of it’s front line. But in the first quarter alone, Nene and Gortat combined for 14 points and 13 rebounds while Gasol, Noah and Taj Gibson had a combined four points and eight rebounds.
“Our biggest key was to make sure we played physical, and to make sure we hit Gasol and Noah whenever possible,” said Bradley Beal. “Just to get them uncomfortable. I think our bigs did a tremendous job of guarding them and making them put the ball on the floor and take tough shots. We definitely have to tip our hat to our bigs.”
Plus, it was another Bulls overall mediocre defensive effort as the Wizards were over 100 points and shot almost 48 percent, the last four games opponents shooting at least 45 percent against the Bulls.
It’s a different Bulls team this season with greater scoring thanks to Gasol, Mirotic, Aaron Brooks and the development of Jimmy Butler, the latter a strong two way player. But the defense cannot really be what it was with so much more scoring (most in 15 years) and presumably more pace, which hasn’t transpired of late. And so not as many defensive specialists on the floor combined with Noah’s limited playing time in trying to regain his leg strength.
Lately, the Bulls have been caught in slow first quarters in which they try to work inside to Gasol, which the defenses have begun to counter. The Bulls haven’t responded as well to moving the ball. Plus, defenses lay off Noah, who has been more reluctant to use his jumper.
“If they’re digging hard and collapsing on penetration we have to hit the open man,” said Thibodeau. “That’s what our second unit did; they spread the defense out, moved the ball and then they penetrated and made the right play. Then we got good shots. Sometimes it’s that simple. We’ve got to trust the pass; it’s something we have to continue to work on.”
The best times Friday overall for the Bulls were with a smaller second unit spreading the court in the second quarter and some nice moments from Brooks with 16 points and four threes and E’Twaun Moore. So perhaps go with a smaller team to open the court, move the ball and maybe run one of their big guys out of the game?
But that’s a short term, perhaps desperate solution.
First of all, the Wizards were mostly playing their reserves against the Bulls’, and the Bulls’ prevailed for a time. Thibodeau went back to his starters after the reserves cut the lead to 41-34 late in the second quarter as the Wizards went with their starters. You can say let Nene try to guard Mirotic outside. But the Wizards likely would have abused the Bulls worse inside. And the Bulls game is their big men; you don’t give in to being outplayed. It’s not Thibodeau’s philosophy. You do more, better and harder.
In this game after the slow start they weren’t capable. The Bulls will get another opportunity against the Wizards next week. There are no statements to make in January. Perhaps other than to themselves.
“Tonight they jumped on us,” said Rose. “It wasn’t about a matchup (with Wall). They jumped on us pretty quick from the beginning, making a lot of shots. We’ve got Milwaukee (Saturday); got to stay focused on Milwaukee. They’ve been playing well together. Make sure to be focused for them.”