At least no one got hurt.
We think. Except that was maybe because in Friday's Bulls 135-106 loss to the Charlotte Hornets there weren't enough guys trying hard enough to pull something.
"I know we are throwing a lot of makeshift lineups out there," acknowledged Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg about the Bulls MASH unit. "But it is not an excuse to not go out there and play hard."
Double negative alert!
Actually, there were way more than two negatives to this game in which the Hornets basically ended it with a 45-point second quarter, a stanza, by the way, ignited by Tony Parker, who was just about old enough to be the father of most of those trying to defend him. And Parker kept getting farther and farther away from them with those dozen second quarter points among his 18. Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 30 points and didn't play the fourth quarter.
"Tony Parker was the one who turned that game around, I felt," said Hoiberg. "He had a couple of answer backs, got to the middle of the floor, got to his right hand and went through our gaps early in the possession and he got right to the rim on us. That took the lid off, they got confident and then they got going.
"To give up 102 in three quarters is unacceptable," Hoiberg added. "I don't care who is on the floor. You have to go out there and have some type of resistance. We did not do that. I thought the last couple of games we had taken a step in the right direction as far as battling through adversity, but tonight we took a step back."
And still couldn't get in front of anyone.
Zach LaVine's streak of 30-point games ended as he scored 20 points to lead the Bulls. Jabari Parker off the bench had 19 and Cameron Payne had another good shooting game with 15 points and two of four threes. LaVine made four of eight threes, but the avalanche of Hornets points early drained his ability to rally the Bulls as in previous games. LaVine still was by far the best Bulls player in the game.
Antonio Blakeney had 13 points, but 11 in the fourth quarter that began with the Bulls trailing 102-75. New acquisition Shaquille Harrison had his 10 points in the fourth quarter and displayed some rigid defense that could earn him more playing time with both Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono dominated by the Hornets' small guards. The Bulls, 1-4, Saturday play in Atlanta against penetrating rookie guard Trae Young.
With Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and now also Bobby Portis injured, the Bulls started Payne and rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison. Hoiberg said he preferred to keep Parker as an offensive option for the second unit.
He might rethink that even with the Bulls taking a 25-23 first quarter lead and their largest, 29-23 early in the second quarter. Though the Hornets were zero for 11 on three-point attempts in that stretch. Thereafter as they began to go in and Walker and Tony Parker began to blow by, there was little competition with a 27-10 Hornets run through the heart of that second quarter. It was 68-54 Charlotte at halftime. A 14-2 Hornets run a few minutes into the third quarter made it Shaq time.
"We came out of the gate with the right mentality," said Hoiberg. "I thought we really had a defensive mindset and we were up two and held them to 23. We started struggling offensively and then again it's always a theme for us. You start struggling on the defensive end when we are not making shots. You have to get back and do your job."
Payne was good on the offensive side again, shooting well in weak side spot ups and driving to the basket. The Bulls also got some unexpected offense from Cristiano Felicio with nine points and seven rebounds as he's replaced Robin Lopez as the backup center. Lopez now sits on the baseline throughout the game, but he has remained engaged with teammates and seemingly supportive.
Though Hutchison again rebounded well and is active defensively, he was scoreless in 27 minutes. He still has difficulty finishing in the half court and is slow with his shot. Though Jabari Parker was poor defensively, there is some case to start him with Portis out since it was a combined 12 points among three starters, Hutchison, Justin Holiday and Carter. And that's with Payne having his greatest scoring run of his career. What seemed curious was the explanation from Jabari Parker, who made a rare post game media appearance.
These were his comments as posted by the Charlotte media department:
"I really felt like we didn't adjust. They did a totally different thing. Instead of setting a single side pick and roll, they set a double drag and we couldn't guard it. We didn't have a scheme for it, so that kind of buried us. It was our plan. They kept running it, too."
"Like I said with the double drag situation; got us in a bind. We didn't prepare for that. And we got buried from that. We just didn't expect it. But along with that, we just need better energy. I could have controlled that, too."
The Bulls' Parker did add he wasn't pointing or blaming the staff as some interpreted comments from LaVine in Dallas.
"Nah," Parker told Chicago reporters. "Don't set me up like that."
And Parker did admit his energy should have been more apparent. But since there really wasn't much of a game to discuss after the first quarter, thanks to Jabari for getting into basketball vocabulary.
So, class, anyone know about a double drag?
Me, me, pick me. I know, I know.
It's two ball screens, generally set diagonally by two big men. The power forward first and then the center, or taller player, set screens toward the middle of the floor, but spaced out so more than one defender is needed. The ball handler then goes over both and, as it happened Friday night in Charlotte, to get a layup or pass for a roll or pop. It mostly was layups Friday. So the Bulls weren't ready or didn't adjust? I call Bull on that one. Just didn't react, more likely.
The Hornets actually only set those double drags a few times. They are set in transition, and two times I saw the screens so close to one another it should have been ineffective. This notion that Fred Hoiberg, of all people, would be unprepared for a double drag is ludicrous. Hoiberg even has YouTube instructional videos of double drags and double staggers from when he was at Iowa State.
Admittedly, it's going to be difficult to be ready for many defenses with two rookies in the starting lineup and two other starters who when training camp began were uncertain about whether they'd even be near the top of the rotation. But to suggest the Bulls weren't prepared is inappropriate.
What happened is the Hornets got misses—and more often makes—and heard a starter's gun go off and sprinted full court toward their basket. The Bulls, not all of them, but certainly some went into full trots. Though if you don't sweat, there's not much chance of slipping in the shower and getting hurt.
Tony Parker is 36 years old and was let go by the San Antonio Spurs, likely in part, because he wasn't athletic enough any more to play a high level offense. Yes, that guy was blowing through your defense. Seriously?
There actually were some good Bulls defensive efforts. Carter, though with just seven points and four rebounds, did have three blocks. and several times on those screens came out and cut off Parker or Walker. Carter has been shaky on offense, but his defensive positioning is especially good for a rookie. But the Hornets took advantage of the Bulls tendency to switch and caught Felicio in several untenable matchups. LaVine and Jabari Parker again did a lot of ball handling out of the backcourt to initiate the offense and Parker does have a scoring knack second to LaVine. But again too many possessions devolved into excess dribbling.
Though no individual possession establishes a pattern, one stuck out when LaVine made a sharp pass inside that was whizzed to Holiday in the left corner. The interior defender closed on Holiday. Jabari Parker was open on the wing. Holiday shot. Holiday's shot was a good one. That it missed wasn't the point; it's that the Bulls rarely select the better shot. There's often a good pass and shot instead of a good pass and a good pass and a good pass and shot. No way these guys ever played for Norman Dale.
Hoiberg understands given the injury circumstances, the Bulls for now will be overmatched just about every game. But they don't have to be outworked. Charlotte shot 57 percent, scored 64 points inside, mostly on layups, and outrebounded the Bulls by 16 with their only guy over 6-9 playing 20 minutes. And he scored 14 points, mostly on dunks.
"We have to go out," said Hoiberg, "and give effort for 48 minutes to have a chance with as shorthanded as we are."
It's really just a drag if they cannot.