Anyone get the license plate number of that tractor trailer?
There are signs you are having a bad day. You know, like when your financial manager is hitchhiking; when the fortune teller sends you a sympathy card; when as an NBA player you have just come from a workout wearing your NBA jersey and the cashier gives you the senior citizen discount without asking; when your doctor says you are allergic to playing hard and on defense.
Just as Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg did Tuesday after the Bulls were dominated by the previously winless Charlotte Hornets 130-105.</p<
“It was a complete domination from the tip and they just had their way with us,” Hoiberg said after the Bulls worst loss in almost five years. “We didn’t have any fight, no resolve, didn’t try and go back at them. Just kind of accepted it tonight. There’s nights that ball is not going to go in the basket; you’ve got to fight. They scored over 30 every quarter. Everyone seemed like they were on an island. Not only on defense, but offense and defense.
“We’ll see what we’re made of,” challenged Hoiberg. “We’ve got the most powerful offensive team in the league (Oklahoma City Thunder) coming in on Thursday. You’ve got to get back there to erase the sting of this one. Just flush it down the toilet and hopefully move on with a better effort on Thursday.’’
A toilet was the appropriate image for the creaky Bulls Tuesday in a curiously indifferent game pretty much everywhere. Jimmy Butler led with 26 points, but his plus/minus was poorest among the starters. Doug McDermott had a career high 17 points off the bench making five of eight threes. Butler made four of six threes, and the Bulls did score 105 points with rookie Bobby Portis late in the blowout loss getting into his first NBA game with 10 points in nine minutes.
Derrick Rose had a passive four points in 24 minutes, his third straight single digit scoring game for the first time in his career. Joakim Noah had four turnovers and was scoreless in 17 minutes with the team’s poorest plus/minus at -22. Tony Snell starting and playing 25 minutes was scoreless and Nikola Mirotic was two of 11.
Though the principal issue was a shocking lack of defensive urgency that Butler said he saw coming, Charlotte drivers, even the average Jeremy Lin, getting all the way to the rim without a contest, no one fighting over screens. The Bulls were outrebounded 52-33 and attempted just eight free throws, five by Butler.
“They just out toughed us tonight,” agreed Butler. “We didn’t guard anybody from the jump; it got out of hand. We haven’t been playing any defense; other teams have just been missing shots, to tell you the truth, to be honest. We score enough points; that’s not the problem. They put up 130 or whatever they did, you’ve got to nip that in the bud now because that’s not winning basketball.
“It will never be winning basketball here,” said Butler in direct postgame comments. “It has never been winning basketball here. We’ve always prided ourselves on playing hard and not being pretty; tonight we were pretty, we were soft; we got our (back sides) whipped. Effort, you’ve got to fix all of that on the defensive end. It’s all about whether you want to do it or not. I think we’ve got guys capable of it; I think we focus too much on offense a lot of the time. Not most of the time; a lot of the time.
“And we forget about what you have to do on the other end of the floor,” Butler continued. “Speaking for myself, speaking for a lot of guys on this team, we’ve go to guard; that’s where it has to start for us. We’ve got to be the dogs that everybody in Chicago knows that we are, that we always have been. Just some hard playing guys who play harder than everybody.
“It was going to happen sooner or later,” warned Butler ”I’m just glad it happened in what, our fourth, fifth game in. So we can fix it. Because I’ll tell you one thing: Come Thursday it can get really ugly very quickly again if we don’t guard.”
So the Bulls get a good test immediately and all the appropriate clichés of a potential wakeup call and a measure of where they are.
They are 3-2 now and it was no secret to those watching closely that 3-1 was a comfortable mirage. Hoiberg is using 10 players and splitting the playing time in trying to enforce a new style of play with players in different rotations and combinations, Noah now off the bench, Mirotic and Snell starting and E’Twaun Moore with a regular spot.
Hoiberg is walking a dangerous picket fence with his demands for a quicker pace, spacing and more shots in balance with the defensive effort that the Bulls were accustomed to playing. That level of defense, frankly, is not possible given the Bulls previously played slowly so they would always be in position to get back and keep the score down.
The Showtime Lakers were a good defensive team, though close to the middle of the league in defensive averages. They overcame that to win titles given the spread between offense and defense. The Bulls are not there yet, and they are trying to work in several players not regarded for defense first, like Mirotic and McDermott, the latter shooting better than anyone on the team.
So it’s a learning process for Hoiberg as well as identifying who does what with whom.
But the NBA schedule waits for no one.
“It was an individual effort out there tonight,” said Hoiberg. “Nobody had each other’s back, nobody made extra passes; they outrebounded us by 19. You can go right down the line. Just wasn’t there. We’ve been pretty solid on that end of the floor, holding a good percentage from three, keeping teams off the line pretty well, and they just beat us in all areas tonight.’’
It was from the start as the Hornets played like the Bulls say they want to, pushing the ball, getting shots quickly. The Hornets went into Al Jefferson, who shot easily over Pau Gasol. Kemba Walker was beating Rose off the dribble with no help inside. Butler could not control Nicholas Batum, who led the Hornets with nine points in the first quarter when Charlotte took a 37-20 lead. The game was effectively over from there as the Bulls never really made any run except for an Aaron Brooks near half court three as the half ended with the Bulls trailing 69-47.
The Hornets then started the third quarter 6-0 and the fourth quarter 10-0 when the Bulls each time were in position to try to make a run. Threes were wide open for a Bulls team that was top five in three-point defense coming in and guards got to the basket without any Bull blocking a shot.
“We didn’t have an edge,” agreed Rose. “It showed. It’s frustrating. That’s the first time I think we saw that this season. It’s all about giving that effort. That’s from the starters all the way down to the bench. I think BP (Portis) came in and the people that finished the game did a great job. As far as the starters, we’re supposed to do better.
“It’s frustrating knowing that we could’ve stopped it in the first quarter,” said Rose. “When they were going on their run we could’ve done something to adjust. But we took too long. I really think it was just the effort and having that competitive edge. We didn’t compete. The great thing about this league is we have a lot of games and we’ve got a game in a couple days. It’s the first time we looked like this as far as a unit. Tonight everyone was off. Only thing you can do from it is learn. As far as my performance, I love the way I pushed the ball. Trying to get my conditioning under me and my legs under me and wait until everything heals. I’m not worried about my offense. It’s all about conditioning, running, getting my body in shape, getting used to moving around. All that other stuff like offensive looks and all that, that’s going to come.”
The Bulls can only hope as Rose has to be the engine that drives the team.
“That’s the biggest thing, getting him reps,” Hoiberg said of Rose. “He basically had the first 20, 25 days off and then came back. The first game he came back he was great with the pace against Dallas. We’ve got to get him back to playing that way. It’s way too much holding the ball. We’re not moving, not cutting, no thrust on the defense. I think a big thing for Derrick is just getting his rhythm back. I understand it’s going to take some time, but again, hopefully, we’ll bounce back with a good solid effort in practice tomorrow, and hopefully that carries over to Thursday.’’
Which will take more of a team wide commitment against one of the league’s elite offensive teams.
“It comes from everyone can score on the roster,” explained Butler. “When you have guys who can put the ball in the basket they want to try to outscore teams instead of trying to get more stops. We’ll never have a problem scoring because everybody knows all the freedom we get on offense; everybody, including myself, thinks it’s OK to get scored on and you just go down there and try to get them back on the offensive end instead of, ‘Hey, get this stop and then go down there and score on your own, then go down there and get a basket.’ The game will go a totally different way.
“Compete; it’s more important to go in tomorrow and compete, man up, roll that ball out and be dogs, y’all go dive on that ball, play one on one, get a basket, get a stop. When we start competing the way we normally compete, no film, no talking is going to get you to do that,” said Butler. “You have to go out there and compete; the way we compete in practice everybody is going hard. They want to hit each other, they want to foul. Do that to the opposing team. We have to force our will on the opposing team; not just ourselves in practice.
“I know everybody’s mindset is to win; at times people take it on themselves, ‘Hey, I’m going to get us a basket. I’m going to do this or that.’ But we have to focus on team, offense, defense,” said Butler. “We can never lose the fact we are all really good players. We are a really good team, a really deep team. When we buy into the team aspect where everybody is going for a common goal we are going to be tough.”
It starts again Thursday in a featured national TV game against two of the top scorers in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
“It should be fun having them come in,” said Rose. “Those guys I know pretty well. It should be exciting.”
The Bulls, national TV and fans can only hope.