Magic Celebrate New Year at Bulls' House and Leave a Mess


Dec 31

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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.

Look, it’s not fair to have to play on New Year’s Day. Even pro athletes are people, and you’ve got to let them blow off a little steam on New Year’s Eve. So how much can you really expect playing on New Year’s Day.

Hey, don’t bother me, I’m writing my blog.


It wasn’t New Year’s Day?  It’s New Year’s Eve?

And the Bulls played like they had hangovers?

Oops, sorry.

And, yes, it was a sorry effort from the Bulls Wednesday to close out 2008 in losing 113-94 to the Orlando Magic. So you think the stock market crash was ugly and your 401k is now a 101k. Well, Bulls stock took a big dive in this game, so bad that even Derrick Rose with 11 and zero assists and Ben Gordon with 18 (10 in the fourth) were pulled because they were playing so poorly and with so little energy, emotion and intensity. They were so bad coach Vinny Del Negro didn’t even have enough clichés to describe it.

“I didn’t see anything good happening out there, so you might as well go with other guys to see if you can get a spark or something positive, or a positive direction going,” Del Negro said of an early second half mass substitution with Rose, Gordon, Tryus Thomas and Aaron Gray going out with the Bulls down 30. “No matchups or rotations were going to fix the problems that we had today. So we will go back and refocus and get ready to face Cleveland. We have Orlando and Cleveland back-to-back so we will get ready for Cleveland. You have to look at the film, look at the mistakes, because there are plenty of them. We’ve got a tough stretch.”

In theory that ends in Cleveland Friday with the Bulls now 14-18.

But it’s right after which could decide the season.

Because the Bulls return home Saturday to begin four games with arguably the four worst teams in the NBA, the Timberwolves, Kings, Wizards and Thunder.

Anything less than winning three of four in that stretch and the Bulls could face the kind of deficit that would make a run for a playoff spot unlikely. And no one wants to play out a season like the last one, marking time for summer, especially with decisions to be made about the use of Rose and direction of the franchise.

Drew Gooden should be back by then from his ankle injury. He was activated Wednesday, but didn’t play. Luol Deng also should return sometime next week, and Kirk Hinrich perhaps in a few weeks. Yes, the Bulls are not anywhere near full strength, and it’s inevitable there is a cumulative effect of injuries in having reserves play more minutes than they are accustomed to. It’s unfair to have to rely on those players to be as effective as the starters for long stretches.

Still, this was a brutal, disorganized effort from the beginning, as bad a beating as the Bulls absorbed in Portland in November.

What they were doing out there was unfathomable, especially considering one of their better defensive efforts of the season down the stretch in New Jersey Monday to come away with a win.

By halftime Wednesday, Orlando had 65 points.

The surprise was why they had so little. It got you thinking that maybe since the Nets run every play for Vince Carter and Devin Harris and couldn’t even figure out how to put Ben Gordon in postups against Bobby Simmons, maybe that defensive effort was an aberration. I don’t think it was because of the way the Bulls were scrambling side to side, aggressively playing man to man and ignoring the soft zone they come out in sometimes, often after timeouts.

But Wednesday I had no idea what was going on.

Jameer Nelson had been one of the hottest shooters in the league, so the Bulls went under the screen several times and Nelson opened the game with a three and had seven of the Magic ‘s first 16 as they went ahead 16-6.

Then Anthony Johnson, who doesn’t shoot as well came in and the Bulls went over the screens on him. Go figure.

Gray had no chance against Dwight Howard, who had 15 points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes. But few really do. No one is blaming him. Though he did have two quick fouls and began to lose it with a technical.

“If he’s not the best player in the league he’s certainly one of the best,” said Gordon. “One of the things that makes him so tough is that he takes so much attention away from their shooters. He clogs up the lane and you have to account for him.”

Ok, so account for him.

The way you play Howard, though it’s not easy, is you attack him with a guard coming off someone when he puts the ball on the floor. This is not easy because the Magic has a system like the Spurs used to have before Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and that did win a championship. You enter the ball to Howard, wait for the double and swing it around to good shooters all over the perimeter. The Magic isn’t quite as disciplined, and often their shooters will forget about Howard and start firing threes as they enter the offense.

They began to do that in the third quarter after Del Negro’s mass substitution, but without Gordon and Rose on the floor, even though the Bulls defense stepped up with Lindsey Hunter, Thabo Sefolosha, Joakim Noah, Andres Nocioni and Larry Hughes, there wasn’t enough offense, effectively no one to create a shot or get one for someone else.

So the Bulls were outscored just 23-22 in the quarter, a victory of sorts.

But you don’t make up a 27-point halftime deficit that way.

“They’re obviously one of the most talented teams you’re going to see, with Howard up from and their shooters that spread you out,” said Del Negro. “That’s why they are 25-7. It seems like we were running in circles today. Our energy was not good, for whatever reason. You can pinpoint the road trip, or whatever, but those are just excuses. You still just have to come out and compete and play hard. I don’t think we did that tonight. But, like I said, they are very, very talented, and that’s why they are one of the best teams in the East and in the league. No one really played well. Joakim had 19 and 11 (a career high in points), which is good. He was active and made his free throws (11 of 13) and that was good. But we didn’t have an answer for their post-up game.”

Wednesday I had no idea what was going on.

After Nelson’s mini shooting rampage, the Magic went to Howard again, but there really was little help even as Howard began to move. Occasionally a Bulls defender would stunt. But I think you have to try to disrupt Howard and lull them into their three point shooting game. They are good at it, but not as good as they think, and they fall too much in love with the three. Which the Bulls saw in Orlando back in early November and almost stole a win after trailing by 17 in the third quarter. Those threes lead to long rebounds and run outs, the Bulls games. Those postups lead to…losses.

“We dug ourselves a hole from the very beginning of the game,” agreed Gordon. “It seemed like we weren’t in it early in the game and it carried on throughout the game. I think we can play a lot better than we are playing right now. I think we have to find out our strengths on the floor and what we each do well but I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. I wasn’t ready. My teammates weren’t ready. It’s inexcusable.”

The Bulls missed Gooden in this game as he plays Howard surprisingly well. Also, Orlando, despite its height advantage, isn’t always smart about it as Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis prefer the perimeter three. Also, they don’t seem to enjoy a lot of contact, and Turkoglu, as he usually does against the Bulls, spent considerable time complaining to the referees about Nocioni.

But this time in the first quarter Lewis, leading the Magic with 21, took advantage of his size over Thabo Sefolosha and posted up and scored.

Especially in the first half, I felt like I wasn’t going to miss a shot,” Lewis said. “When I missed one, I was more surprised than anything.”

And with Gordon and Rose lethargic, the Bulls didn’t have their usual answer to offset their size and defensive disadvantages.

“I don’t ev

en remember. Probably never. This might be the first game (I didn’t have an assist),” said Rose. “(It was a lack of) energy, focus. That was basically it. They just came out and got on us really quick.”

As a result, Hunter played a season high 23 minutes and Rose played 27, his third fewest of the season, all coming in the last two weeks as it’s becoming clear he’ll need some time off and the Bulls could use the return of Hinrich.

The Bulls, for all their weaknesses, have been a team that is resilient and generally isn’t out of games, especially because of the ability of their guards to score in bunches.

But after trailing 33-17 after one quarter, the Magic used the same formula of inside/outside play and Bulls ennui to go ahead 56-28 with about five minutes left in the first half. And this wasn’t Dallas on the short end against Minnesota the other night coming back from 29. This is a well coached Magic team, and you had to love Stan Van Gundy’s post game lament.

“We gave them a 7-0 at the end of the game, but I guess that’s something we had to expect,” said Van Gundy.

Yes, he smiles more, but he’s a Van Gundy.

It’s also why I’ve never cared for those plus/minus statistics the NBA is now including in its box scores. It’s a nice addition at times, though for Wednesday showed the Bulls were best with Hunter and Cedric Simmons playing.

Actually, the Magic was able to go deep into its bench to find J.J. Redick and Martin Gortat, the latter with 14 points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes in overwhelming the Bulls front line. Gortat is a 6-11 guy from Poland who was a second rounder a few years back and played in the D-league last season, effectively a rookie. He had a good left hand in the post the Bulls couldn’t identify, and Magic broadcaster Matt Guokas, a Bulls player in the 70’s, joked that if Gortat could play against the Bulls all the time he’d be an All Star.

Yes, that’s how bad it got.

The Bulls did show some defensive life with that non scoring group in the third quarter, and Gordon found his shot when he returned in the fourth, though nothing like the 39 he had at the United Center last New Year’s eve when the Magic stole a terrific overtime game on a Turkoglu winner.

OK, fellas. Now you can go out and party away. Too bad there isn’t much to celebrate.

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