Nikola Mirotic
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Bulls fail to maintain pace and lose in Indiana

Bulls unable to recover from slow start

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By Sam Smith | 11.28.2015 | 9:00 a.m.

There was a dog in the locker room and he ate the game plan. No, they ate a seafood pregame meal and pulled a mussel. Wait, no, they couldn’t get their pregame naps because there was a loud chess team staying in the hotel on a holiday trip and the chess nuts were boasting in an open foyer. They thought they were wearing the camouflage uniforms and couldn’t find them. Got up late and was rushing: It was the AM/PM nob; no the volume, separate knob.

First game being back from the Western Conference? Yeah, that, too.

“They outplayed us at both ends, point blank, period,” said Jimmy Butler after the Indiana Pacers Friday led pretty much the entire game and defeated the Bulls 104-92. “Turnovers, missed shots; they just outplayed us both ends of the floor. Not too much to blame it on. They played better.”

It was the end of the long road trip with a lot of days and few games, the Bulls finishing 2-2 after three games in the Western Conference, a 5 a.m. arrival Wednesday morning and then back out Thanksgiving evening for the Friday game in Indiana.

The Bulls pretty much looked like that sounded in a mostly spiritless effort that included a season worst 34.8 percent shooting, outrun 21-5 in fast break points, a 16-9 deficit on second chance points, 20-10 in points from turnovers, losing on points inside 42-28 and with Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol each shooting four of 16, and Jimmy Butler four of 10 and four turnovers.

Nikola Mirotic led the Bulls with 25 points and was the only Bulls player scoring in double figures through three quarters.

“Oh, my god, I felt like I played like (crap) tonight,” agreed Rose, who was a team worst minus 19 in plus/minus. “I don’t know what the case might be. Thanksgiving, I don’t know. It’s a hard one losing like that in here, but the energy level, my energy, wasn’t up. It is a tough game when you come back from the West Coast, but we can’t use that as an excuse.”

Pretty much everyone did, though they were all quick to say it wasn’t excuse, but they were just sayin’.

“Coming out of the gate (down 19-9 the first six minutes) we turned the ball over a lot, I think nine times in the first quarter,” noted Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. It was actually seven, but it seemed worse with three straight in an 11-0 Pacers run.

“We allowed them to have too many second chance opportunities,” Hoiberg pointed out of 14 Pacers’ points on turnovers in the first quarter. “We fought back; that was one positive when we cut that thing, I think, to five in the third quarter (66-62 with 1:32 in the third). But just couldn’t quite capitalize and get over the hump. Coming back from the West Coast is always a very difficult one to play; but can’t use excuses. You have to come out of the gate better than we did tonight.”

The Bulls actually have been doing a reasonably good job lately of getting first quarter leads after some issues earlier in the season. So maybe it was just one of those games as the Bulls fell to 9-5. The Pacers going to 10-5 avenged a loss in Chicago before the trip began. But the loss also put the Bulls behind the East leading Cavaliers at 12-4 and Miami also at 10-5. But the Bulls also are just a game out of eighth in the Eastern Conference, though the Bulls now play nine of their next 10 games at home.

It would be an opportunity to make a run at the Cavaliers, but the Bulls have to fix a capricious offense that has good intentions if not complementary results.

The Bulls with a defense that ranks second in the NBA in field goal defense are 22nd in the league in scoring and 25th in shooting.

It was the Pacers pushing the ball, moving in the half court and taking quick shots that more resembled what the Bulls have been talking about under Hoiberg, if not exactly executing.

As the old coach said when asked about his team’s execution: “I’m all for it.”

“Just have to keep fighting to get better; just didn’t play well,” said Hoiberg. “Especially on the offensive end as a team. Movement, get the ball swung; we’re doing it in practice, getting the ball swung. We’ve got to carry it over to the games.”

The Bulls actually did get a good start going to Gasol inside and taking a 7-2 lead. But just about everyone seemed a step or five slow and the Pacers put on a Golden State show, getting the offensive rebounds and loose balls, turning them into fast breaks and dunks, setting the pace, as it were. It was 30-18 Indiana after one and other than that tease to within four points in the third quarter this mostly looked more like the 25-point loss to Charlotte except for giving up much later.

“I missed a lot of layups and bunnies, turnovers; missed layups, floaters, shots I normally hit with my left hand,” lamented Rose. “The way we play, shoot a lot of jump shots, we have to make it hard on them; our defense has to be consistent, at least the energy level. Tonight’s game was all about energy. We came out sluggish, I came out sluggish, had (two) turnovers in the first quarter, missed bunnies; I have to change that next game.”

Rose will need to, especially because his support keeps disappearing. Aaron Brooks remained out with a hamstring injury and it appeared Kirk Hinrich after another good game with three of four threes (nine of 13 on the season) and 11 points appeared to hurt his hip trying to get over a screen late in the game. They’re runnin’ out of deputies. Plus, Doug McDermott had to leave after a scoreless six minutes with illness.

“Overall, not very sharp, an off night,” agreed Gasol. “We had some good looks, but I thought we were too stagnant. We need to do a better job of moving the ball side to side and getting movement that way.

(We’re hearing that one often.)

“We’re not trying to make excuses,” Gasol added. “It’s always tough to come from the West Coast, plus with a holiday in between; also your body is not going to feel normal as usual. But you have to fight through it.”

The reserves led by Hinrich and with Mirotic scoring a season high 25 points in probably his most aggressive and controlled play of the season got the Bulls within 51-42 at halftime after they trailed 41-24 earlier in the second quarter. The Bulls were constantly slow to the ball even when they went with their quicker big man defenders and were outrebounded again. Joakim Noah was scoreless with five rebounds in 19 minutes. But Rose did have five assists and a nice fast break bounce pass to Mirotic after a Butler block on Paul George that got the Bulls going in the third quarter. They got within 66-62 on several strong defensive stands. But George with 33 points drove for a score and came out in the fourth quarter making jump shots and getting to the basket for 15 fourth quarter points in running Butler ragged. George missed a potential game winner in Chicago with Butler hanging all over him and getting the block. Paul remembered. Not this time.

“He is playing at an MVP-type level right now,” Hoiberg said of George. “He’s doing it on both ends, playing great basketball.”

George wasn’t having any Bulls comeback, and the Bulls late in the game tried intentionally fouling Pacers center Ian Mahimni, who came in shooting 21 percent on free throws. He made seven of 10 in five straight possessions, which made it time for Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio.

Sometimes neither the players nor the coaches can get it going.

Perspective, though, perspective.

“Our execution sometimes is poor, other times really good,” said Butler. “Depends on the night. On the whole, the team has to execute from the jump of the game. You have to be pleased (overall), to tell you the truth. Everything is new to everybody; not an excuse for losing games, guys are coming to their roles and working on their games. Just need everybody to be confident. We’ll be OK.”


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