Bulls win Run, Pass and Shoot competition over Wizards


Dec 7

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

It would be nice to be a good defensive team, but it’s not going to happen for these Bulls. It would be nice to be able to throw it inside and get some scoring inside/out, which is considered the tested NBA formula for success. But it’s not going to happen for these Bulls. It would be nice to get consistent perimeter shooting, but it doesn’t really happen for anyone.

So you go with what you have and what you think is best, and it’s what I’ve basically been saying about this Bulls team, which played, in effect, it’s prototype game Saturday in defeating the Washington Wizards 117-110.

The Bulls scored a lot and got scored on. They shot well and couldn’t do much against the opponents’ shooting because they put their best players on the floor, who basically added up to an average height of about 6-5. But almost all can dunk.

Their strength is their offense and quickness. Their best players are guards and small forwards. So in quest of a victory after two disappointing losses to the losing 76ers and Bucks, the Bulls went small and outran, outshot and played not quite as poor defense as the Wizards.

This is your 2008-09 Chicago Bulls, a lot closer to the best of the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors than the best of the champion Bulls or this season’s Boston Celtics.

Ready, set, score.

“The small line-up was more effective,” said coach Vinny Del Negro of the group with Andres Nocioni at center and Luol Deng, Larry Hughes, Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose that opened up a 17-point lead late into the third and through the middle of the fourth quarter. “We need to get more commitment and consistency from our bigs. I just thought the guys who were competing and playing the hardest whether small or big was who we wanted out there.”

And I cannot disagree, at least for the short term.

Joakim Noah was benched for Aaron Gray and didn’t play. Tyrus Thomas made a five-minute cameo and missed a shot. Del Negro basically went with a seven-player rotation throughout the game, emphasizing ball movement and perimeter shooting, stealing not only a page but a volume from the Mike D’Antoni handbook.

D’Antoni and the Knicks are in Chicago to play the Bulls Tuesday.

Anyone ready for 158-139?

“They went small and we went small,” said Luol Deng, with a second straight strong effort and team high 26 points. “That turned out great for us. We moved the ball real well with the small line-up. All the guys on the floor can make shots. When we do that, we are pretty tough to stop.”

The Bulls really were, especially with a season high 31 assists on 43 field goals. There were season highs in points, three-point shooting and matching a season best in Ben Gordon blocks.

Gordon had 21 points and seven assists, but he also made the best defensive play of the game, a face up block of Antonio Daniels as Daniels had a running start from the top of the key as the Bulls began a 19-6 run to end the third quarter and take an 88-74 lead.

Gordon caught the athletic Daniels (we thought) at the top of his jump and blocked the attempted dunk.

Gordon stopped as the Bulls ran out for another slashing Deng basket off a nice inside pass from Larry Hughes, who if he was in an audition for an eventual trade back to Washington was brilliant with 24 points, five assists, zero turnovers and five three pointers.

Gordon then did the Dikembe Mutombo finger wagging wave off, “Don’t bring that weak stuff in here.”

“I always wanted to do that,” said Gordon, seeming to enjoy what he said in the preseason was likely his final season in Chicago. “I used to see Dikembe do it. I figured tonight was the perfect opportunity.”

Daniels left shortly thereafter for the rest of the game with what was described a back injury.

We think he caught a severe case of Gordonitis.

The only thing missing was that noxious bell clanging we used to have in Chicago when Ben Wallace got his one block a week.

Yes, it was a night for enjoying things, and Del Negro did as well, quipping when he came out for his postgame media comments: “That was a pretty normal game for us, 31 assists and 52% shooting.

“Why are you laughing?”

It should have been a laugher because the Wizards, now 3-15, pretty much go through the motions of competing. They don’t close on shooters or contest many shots, and just try to outscore you, which they can do with Caron Butler with 27 and Antawn Jamison with 23.

Like Friday in Washington when they came back and almost stole a game from the Lakers. Saturday they were trailing by 17 with about seven minutes left when the Bulls stopped paying attention. It was like that for Washington against the Lakers Friday when coach Phil Jackson went with his reserves the rest of the way and Butler missed a three to win it after being down 19 in the fourth quarter.

Del Negro was only playing seven guys, so there wasn’t much bench to use. But up 15 with 5:54 left, Del Negro took Rose out.

So what had been a beautiful Bulls game of ball movement, cutting and hard screening became a one dribble and fire it up carnival: Gordon quick jumper, Andres Nocioni quick jumper, Gordon another force and now the Bulls were ahead 102-94. Timeout:

“Derrick! Get in there!”

So much for stealing some rest, though Rose, in the top 10 in the league in minutes played, went for 37, one below his average. It also was the kind of game Rose loves to play but probably will ultimately deny him an All Star spot this season. Rose had 15 points, eight assists, two steals—he always asks first after the game how many turnovers he had—and zero turnovers.

Players like the Nets’ Devin Harris have become more shoot first guards piling up big points numbers, which generally sway All Star voters and coaches. Rose’s way eventually will pile up more wins.

Coming out of a timeout with 3:45 remaining, Deng missed off a quick inbounds play and then Gordon missed a quick jumper. And, uh oh, it was 102-98 with 2:34 left as the Wizards scored on seven of eight possessions.

So who do you go to when you are desperate for a score?

Drew Gooden, streak buster? The guy one of 16 in the last two games? I guess Gooden was taking it literally that December is a cold month in Chicago.

Like I suggested with some fear the other day, “As Drew Gooden goes so goes the Bulls?”

Because even though he’ll never score like Deng, Gordon or Hughes or play like Rose, he’s really the only Bull now who can get a score inside as even with all the happy Saturday statistics, the Bulls were outscored by 10 inside.

And Gooden came up big.

He backed his way in strong and drop stepped in a layup and was fouled by Darius Songaila and made the free throw in the “Whew” moment of the game for the Bulls. Though Songaila knocked in a 20 footer in the next Wizards possession, Gordon found Hughes with the ball swinging against a finally trying Wizards defense and Hughes knocked in a three, then stole a Juan Dixon pass and was fouled and added a free throw on the runout.

“Larry has been consistent all year,” said Del Negro. “He wants to compete. He wants to play every minute. He’s one of my best defenders. He’s got versatility and years of experience. He was hitting his shot and got us going early. He had a real solid game.”

The nine-point margin with 1:24 left was breathing room enough even though the Bulls let the Wizards get two more threes and 10 points in the last 70 seconds. Fortunately, Washington seems to prefer to accumulate statistics rather than wins.

“It was nice to see the ball move,” said Del Negro. “When they move the ball like that they make the game easy. That is why you shoot a higher percentage. As we get better at that, you see the benefit of making an easy basketball play and keeping the other team out of transition.”

Gray also had a solid effort, even if you cannot count on him much for scoring—he took one shot and missed in 22 minutes—and when the Wizards went with a more perimeter oriented big man in Andray Blatche, Gray was getting caught trying to run out and committing fouls or giving open looks. That’s when Del Negro went small, and though the Wizards went to Blatche and he scored twice quickly over Nocioni when Gray went out, it is, after all, Andray Blacthe and not exactly Tim Duncan for that much of a matchup disadvantage.

The Bulls took advantage the other way with Del Negro outmaneuvering Washington interim coach Ed Tapscott, scoring on eight of the next 11 possessions to end the third quarter and take control of the game as Nocioni popped out for a three and then cut in from the top for a score on a clever pass from Deng. Gordon hit a three, Deng continued his hard curling off screens and was open again for a score and was active on the boards in following up a Nocioni miss that drew the defense.

Oh, that Luol Deng.

“He was aggressive, he moved the basketball and only had one turnover,” said Del Negro. “He rebounded and guarded well. He was aggressive and he was cutting to the basket well and our guys found him. This is a progression for Luol. In some of his slow games it was not just him. We needed to do a better job of getting him in the flow and I thought we did. His aggression of defense and being aggressive is his game. He played a lot of minutes but he was productive.”

It was a nice change from the Deng we’d been seeing this season who was trying to beat guys off the dribble, hardly his specialty, and facing up and shooting quick jumpers.

I thought Deng worked very well early off Gray setting weak side screens and Deng coming over them hard and diving to the basket, which he hasn’t been doing.

“I was slowed down with the injury a little bit,” Deng conceded of his ouchie hammy. “But now I’m feeling better. I’m just trying to take open shots. Definitely I’m more aggressive out there.”

The Bulls offense this season, whether because Del Negro was new or some of the players couldn’t figure out what to do (and perhaps didn’t play Saturday) was extremely basic with almost no weak side action, which is where an offense frees cutters and shooters. But Gray knows the game, and while he is slow, he seems to know where he is supposed to be to get in position for a screen. And with his body he is capable of delivering a jarring one.

I have held off saying it, but I may not be able to any longer.

Yes, yes, Aaron Gray is the Bulls best center.

There. Though I don’t feel that much better.

Del Negro was the most experienced coach in Saturday’s game, so I’m not quite sure what Tapscott was doing. But his best defender looked like JaVale McGee, who blocked three shots in the first 52 seconds and even put in a couple of drives, despite looking awkward on offense. Yet, he played just 11 minutes and wasn’t in foul trouble.

The Bulls had to be glad to get him out of there. It also was a sign Del Negro has had it with Joakim Noah since Del Negro always talks about matchups, and Gray was hardly a matchup for the slender and athletic starting McGee. Who would seem to rival Noah. We assume he didn’t play because he didn’t know the plays or where to be. Like Noah?

Gray stepping out and screening on the side instead of the team’s usual high screen action got Deng going and it was Washington 25-24 after one, though Washington primarily was shooting jumpers. The Bulls pulled ahead when Nocioni, with a new haircut in an anti-Samson (not Ralph) sort of strategy, cut his hair apparently to gain strength and broke his slump of failing to shoot better than 50 percent the last nine games. Nocioni was six for 11 for 19 points, his best output in three weeks.

Hughes then hit consecutive threes and soon added another as the Bulls were 11 of 20 on threes for the game as they went to 9-11 for the season.

But Washington finally got a slow starting Jamison going and took advantage of the Bulls smaller size as Jamison scored after four offensive rebounds on the same play. Though Gordon ran out to finish the quarter with a high banker for a 57-52 halftime lead. The Bulls outscored Washington 17-2 on fast breaks. We hope Obama does as well with Washington as the Bulls did.

The Bulls now are one of a dozen teams giving up at least 100 points per game, only two, the Suns and Nets, with winning records. It’s not a way to win a championship, but the Bulls are not playing for one this season. They’re trying to be competitive and win some games. It just may work.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: