There was a time when the Bulls always did this to the Cavs


Jan 3

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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 its 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.

Maybe these Bulls need to wear some of those bracelets you see like, WWJSS, that being What Would Jerry Sloan Say. We know what Norm Van Lier says almost every night on the postgame. But what would Artis Gilmore say? Or Cliff Ray? Or Bob Love and Tom Boerwinkle? Or John Mengelt?

Those guys with all the pre-Michael Jordan teams didn’t really win anything, other than respect, perhaps. They came to the games ready and let the opponents know they were there.

I don’t know what Andres Nocioni said to Joakim Noah in an animated third quarter huddle Friday with the Bulls behind by 31 on the way to losing 117-92 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But I suspect it was something like, “Hit someone!”

“When you are playing a basketball game, and you’re losing by 20 points, you’re frustrated,” Noah said. “I don’t have any problems. It’s just the way it is. It’s the heat of the moment, things are said, but I don’t have any problems with Noce. Yeah, of course, losing is frustrating.”

I’m not a violent person by nature. I have more the Larry David or Cliff Clavan attitude toward fighting. “Not in the face! Not below the belt! Don’t you see I’m wearing glasses. Hey, someone get my glasses!”

But basketball is a game of skillful and physical competition, and for some reason this Bulls team is not competing.

It was embarrassingly evident Friday in Cleveland with a third team in the last four going into halftime with more than 60 points scored, with still another opposing reserve big man dominating the Bulls.

Anderson Varejao, starting for the injured Zydrunas Ilgauskas, scored a career high 26 points in a game LeBron James merely toyed with the Bulls, attempting three first half shots (only eight for the game) and making one and finishing with his first triple double of the season with 16 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

Varejao had never even reached 20 points in an NBA game and his performance came after Orlando reserve Marcin Gortat was two off his career high with 14 against the Bulls Wednesday and it was two weeks ago Kendrick Perkins had a career high 25 against the Bulls, now 14-19 with five losses in the last six.

It’s not all that surprising with eight of the last 12 on the road and with starters Luol Deng and Drew Gooden still out with ankle injuries, though Gooden could play Saturday at home against Minnesota.

“We’re not healthy and we’re not playing particularly well,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “We need to get our captains back and we need to get Luol and Drew back on the court and see if they can give us a little bit of help, which I know they can. We’ve got a long homestand coming up, so (we’ll) see if we can get some home wins, which we definitely need. With our schedule and with the injuries we’ve had, I think we have a little bit of, and I don’t want to say it’s fatigue because that’s an excuse, but we just don’t have that extra burst that we had before. We had relied so much on our bench during those resilient moments. Now, some of those bench guys are starting and the minutes are different, so our rhythm at both ends isn’t great right now.”

Saturday begins as crucial a stretch as a team can have in early January with four straight at home against teams with a combined record of 25-105. But nobody is a pushover if you don’t compete and contest, and this has been as soft a Bulls team as we’ve ever seen.

Even in the worst of the Tim Floyd years, Charles Oakley was around to cheap shot someone.

Gooden will play physically, even though it’s hardly his reputation. So the Bulls are feeling the effects of his absence. But there also needs to be some pride of effort, some willingness to stand up and say, “I’m tired of getting embarrassed.”

I even would have liked it Friday with the clock winding down in the last two minutes for someone to at least challenge J.J. Hickson, one of four Cavs in addition to Varejao with season highs as Hickson and Ben Wallace each had 13 in getting virtually anything they wanted inside.

“Our rotations to him (Varejao), we just, for whatever reason, are not accepting that challenge,” said Del Negro. “I don’t think night in and night (we) control some of the other team’s big guys.”

The Bulls interior players—and they were hardly the only ones at fault with Larry Hughes launching away at one of nine—could even have learned something from the Cavs rookie. Hickson stayed around the basket, which Tyrus Thomas needs to do more regularly, ands got himself a couple of putbacks and after one late in the first quarter as the Cavs bolted out 32-17, Hickson ran out on Noah after a Nocioni miss for an easy layup.

It was so bad, really embarrassing, that Wallace dominated the first quarter… scoring! The usually stone handed Wallace took a Mo Williams dropoff pass for a slam as the Bulls guards also failed to control penetration, put back his own miss, even drove with his left hand for a score and lost Noah on a screen roll and took the pass and scored his eighth point of the first quarter.

The Bulls were spending considerable time trapping the Cavs guards, sending double and triple teams constantly, so they were vulnerable inside. And James had hit them with 41 twice already this season, so, yes, the game plan was obviously not to allow him to do it again.

Though James came out seemingly not even trying. I don’t think it was the doubles that affected him. I think he just didn’t take the game that seriously the way the Cavs scored so easily, which probably should have been a hint to the Bulls.

“I just read the defense,” said James in sounding most Jordanesque. “I don’t force anything, I never force the action. This was one of those games. I had gone off the first two times against Chicago so I figured they would try to get the ball out of my hands. We have playmakers around me that allow me to make plays. Offensively, I didn’t have to be aggressive. I could be aggressive to the point where I created opportunities for my teammates to make plays.”

Nevertheless, the Bulls continued to send help defenders at James and the guards, who simply dropped the ball inside, where there was little contact or rotation to change the outcome. The Cavs shot 50.6 percent and were the 10th team in the last 14 to score at least 100 points against the Bulls with three of the last four over 110.

You may not be as talented as the opponent, and the Bulls weren’t, at least when James was in the game.

The Cavs are 27-5 and 17-0 at home, which is very impressive, obviously.

But when James is not in the game, they seem, to me, like a very ordinary team about on a par with the Bulls.

That may be how really good James is. Stuff like this if you take it all the way gets you considered with the greatest ever, if not the greatest.

The only time the Bulls threatened to make it a game was to open the second quarter with James out.

Without James but basically their starting team, the Bulls outscored the Cavs 13-10 to get within 42-30. Thomas dove for the basket with Rose trapped, which he saw plenty of Friday, and got a three-point play. Gordon ran out for a layup after a turnover and Noah slammed a drop off pass from Thabo Sefolosha, who can at least say he held James under 20.

The Bulls cut it to 42-34 just after James returned. But then James drew a triple and found Sasha Pavlovic for a three, then Varejao again on multiple coverage with the Bulls interior players unable to get back, and then James got himself fouled on a few drives to put the Cavs back up by 19 before the Bulls got within 61-47 at halftime on a pair of Gordon scores.

The Cavs trapped whomever had the ball on top for the Bulls, and Gordon opened the second half with a turnover as he has trouble with that defense because of his size. Rose and Sefolosha then had passes picked off as the Cavs with Wallace tipping in misses twice opened the half with an 11-0 run and there wasn’t much enthusiasm after that other than when the Bulls left the floor.

It was an awful game for Derrick Rose, perhaps his poorest of the season with two fouls in the first 81 seconds and seasons lows of three points and six shots. He may be feeling the large number of minutes he’s played, though only 22 Friday, or the unusual effects—for him—of losing so much. In any case, he hasn’t seemed particularly explosive of late and made the highlight film when James posterized him by blocking a breakaway layup attempt in a highlight defensive play.

“No, I haven’t worn down at all,” Rose said. “I can still run out there, but I am not wearing down at all, right now. It’s tough, but it’s the NBA. I’m playing against other professional basketball players, so it is going to happen. I don’t know what it is right now. I think the effort isn’t really there right now a little bit. But, we will be alright.”

Gordon led the Bulls with 22 and Lindsey Hunter was next with 13 as he fired off a bunch of threes late with the outcome long decided.

Though that hardly was the issue.

You may not have the talent, but everyone can compete, harass your man, fight over screens, take a hard foul and make them shoot free throws, send a message that when you come into the paint you may leave wet from getting the spit knocked out of you. The Jordan years were an aberration for Chicago. We’re not used to pretty. We’re used to tough and an attitude. They sang about Chicago’s Leroy Brown, who had the custom Continental and Eldorado, perhaps like the players, but also some of that junkyard dog. Anyone know if he can play power forward?

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