We're not kidding: Timberwolves too much for Bulls


Jan 4

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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.

No, losing at home to the now 8-25 Minnesota Timberwolves, as the Bulls did Saturday 102-92, may not be the bottom. But you surely can see it from there.

It may get a bit better when Luol Deng and Drew Gooden return from ankle injuries, perhaps in a week or so, and Kirk Hinrich comes back from thumb surgery in maybe two weeks. But now with six losses in the last seven and at 14-20 and nearing midseason in a downward spiral, it’s not time to give up on the season. But it is time to begin preparing for the future.

Tyrus Thomas, who had 15 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks in a wonderfully active performance, starts and plays at least 30 minutes every game.

With Thomas playing weak side defense like Ben Wallace of five years ago and running the court, I was even glad to see Thomas take a few jumpers. That should be the message. Play defense and run the court, pick up some garbage points and you’ll get rewarded with jump shots. That’s the way it works. I can see Thomas buying in.

“They blocked like 10 shots at the rim or this could have been like a 30-point game,” said Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale.

It was that bad.

Aaron Gray. C’mon, that’s over with. He tries. He’s not a quitter. He’s just not an NBA starter and never will be. Get him out of there. Joakim Noah had five points, eight rebounds and five fouls in a bit less than 15 minutes. Yes, he gets way too many fouls because he gets pushed around because he is so weak and out of shape. So every day at practice he doesn’t practice. He runs. And then he starts. Plays at least 30 minutes, or how long six fouls will take him. He’s at least an athlete. If someone finally teaches him to stop bringing down the ball after every rebound and getting stripped all the time, he can average those 13 or 14 points he did in college. And he’ll run himself into 10 rebounds if he can stay out there. And finish strong! Everytime. C’mon, he had one shot blocked late in the third quarter by Kevin Love, who couldn’t jump over Beach Boys sheet music. Wouldn’t it be nice?

Larry Hughes. Bench, baby! For the remainder.

The guy’s selfish whining is en embarrassment. Who does he think he is? They hated him so much in Cleveland they still were booing him Friday with a 30-point lead. Let him mope making his team most $12.8 million this season.

Here was your Larry Hughes moment Saturday.

After stinking it up in an unbearable first half in which the Timberwolves played Timberwolves basketball (translation: bad) and Minnesota still led 45-38, the Bulls got back in the game with a nice defensive stretch to open the fourth quarter. They took a 73-72 with about nine minutes left lead on an Andres Nocioni three off Lindsey Hunter penetration.

Though hardly a long term solution, the aged Hunter (I think he calls me young man) picked up at least at half court, which the Bulls rarely do, but should. Just a few seconds having the opposition get into their offense can lead to a bad shot. The Bulls have enough young legs to do this regularly. The team’s oldest guy shouldn’t have to be the model.

The Bulls opened the fourth contesting shots. Noah stepped into a charge. Jefferson, with 18 points and 14 rebounds with the Bulls stunting on him when he put the ball down, couldn’t find a shot as the clock ran down and had the ball as the shot clock expired. The Timberwolves, who’d blown a 29-point lead to the Mavericks last week and have spent the season giving back late leads, were in one of those “here we go again” modes and didn’t score until more than four minutes into the quarter, and only then to retake a one-point lead on a pair of Randy Foye free throws.

The Timberwolves were ahead 79-75 when Derrick Rose, after a shaky first half when he missed eight of his first nine shots, converted on two hard drives to the basket around Gordon hitting a wide open three.

You figured the Timberwolves would gag this one, too. It’s what teams like that do on the road.

“We have a tendency to be up in a close game like tonight and find a way not to close it out,” said Ryan Gomes. ” We turnover the ball or do something else to lose it. Tonight we held together.”

So the Bulls were trailing 85-84 with about three minutes left when Jefferson missed a short jumper. Gordon dribbled the ball toward the top of the key and handed off to Hughes, who with about 15 seconds still left on the shot clock fired off a wild three. It was one of his seven misses in nine attempts.

The fans knew. What’s the hurry? And with Rose blowing by Sebastian Telfair like he’s standing still? They started booing.

Telfair then came back with a 17 footer. Nocioni got called for a charge and Gomes, after being denied at the basket by Noah for another of the Bulls 14 blocks, slipped along the baseline into the corner and got the ball back for a three.

“Not a real strong suit for us tonight,” coach Vinny Del Negro said of the second chance points deficit. “Seventeen offensive rebounds for them Jefferson is a real big body out there. I think we gave a real good effort but they got some taps and the ball bounced their way. It’s disappointing to lose, especially at home. We struggled and we have to shoot better than 39%. I thought the effort was good, the energy was there. But for whatever reason, we couldn’t finish the deal.”

The Bulls’ last, best chance was gone when the momentum and home crowd was in their favor, and Minnesota then continued to pound the Bulls on the offensive boards-28-8 on second chance points-and the Bulls never got closer.

Love added 18 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. I’ll admit I had my doubts about him because he doesn’t jump much. But he constantly frustrated the Bulls with relentless effort and clever positioning.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Hunter. “We’re got a lot of growing up to do. No matter how short handed you are you have to look to the integral things that you need to do to win. We’re all pros. There’s a reason why each and every one of these guys are here. When you have the opportunity to play, you have to be ready to play. I’ve played on teams that have had 5 or 6 guys out and the guys who replaced them didn’t play over their heads, but they did what they had to do to help us win.”

“I don’t think it’s because…some people that are out,” Nocioni said. “We are not playing enough defense to win. We are not stopping the people when we need to stop people. I think we need to quit with the excuses.”

Amen to that, but it is time to make some significant changes.

I do think the injuries are hurting because Rose, who ended with 22 and was seven of nine after halftime, desperately needs a backup who can run the team. Hinrich. The Bulls need some bulk in Gooden and they could use Deng’s activity.

Yes, all teams have injuries, and it’s part of the season. You play through them, and the Bulls should not be having as much problem as some teams with several relatively high quality bench players, at least in my opinion.

So I’d get a team out there until the others begin to return that will play hard all the time, pressure up court at times, hustle back, challenge shooters without running past to get down court quickly for an easy basket.

Rose starts with Thabo Sefolosha, who hasn’t been great of late and needs to make himself more of an offensive threat. Yes, a Bull who passes too much. But he can defend. Gordon still gets his 30 to 35 minutes, but if you consider Gordon’s career, his points generally come in short stretches. He doesn’t need time to warm up. I give him this. He works on his shot and is in great shape.

But you can’t continue to let him run offense.

Perhaps the key play to finish the Bulls was Gordon getting blocked by Foye after that Gomes three and Foye and Gomes with 19 running out for a two-on-one basket.

That happens. I’ll take my chances with Gordon shooting big shots, but Foye with 21 was blitzing him.

Until Deng returns, I use Nocioni at small forward. I know. He’s out of position on defense a lot and too often helping too much and unbalancing the defense, leaving shooters. But he’s competing. They play with Thomas and Noah and Gordon in first off the bench for scoring as they can go small with Nocioni at four and Thabo at three. When Gooden returns, I use him some with Thomas or Noah depending on matchups.

When Hinrich returns, I use him some at shooting guard for Sefolosha.

Yes, Rose may be suffering some fatigue, though he denies it. And he makes a good case on the floor.

Friday in his poorest statistical game of the season against the Cavs with the Bulls getting blitzed, he had a shot blocked and raced all the way down the other end in the kind of competitiveness you rarely see. So again Saturday, I loved the sequence in the third quarter with the Bulls behind 53-45. Telfair stripped Rose near midcourt and took off for a layup. Rose took off faster, ran Telfair down and blocked the shot, then got the ball back from Sefolosha cutting to the basket for a layup and three point play past a bewildered Jefferson.

“It’s tough (losing so many). You’re going to lose games but it’s how you handle it,” Rose said. “Personally, I just need to watch film and figure how to get better. No (I’m not tired) at all. I hope that (rookie wall) won’t happen for a while. I’ve been eating right, sleeping right. I think I’ll be alright.”

I think he will also.

But we also see that he’s probably the best all around scorer on the team.

So I’d play him at the two quite a bit when Hinrich returns as the champion Pistons of the late 1980’s at times used Isiah Thomas with Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson coming off the bench. Dumars wasn’t a true point guard. In fact, he was somewhat like Hinrich, though a better scorer. Dumars could run the team, though, and find Thomas coming off screens and put him in position to attack the basket without Thomas having to use so much energy.

Gray goes to third string with Hughes. Eventually, Nocioni moves back to the bench in a swing role between three and four, which is his main issue as a player since he has no true position.

But now is the time to act before the season slips away with the Kings, Wizards and Thunder at the United Center this week. Making the playoffs isn’t out of the question in the East, though it shouldn’t be the first priority for this season. This season, as it’s been said all along, is about developing some players and finding the right fit. But part of that is identifying players who will compete and defend. That should be the No. 1 priority, and it won’t happen trying to search out a few more wins with a bunch of guys hauling off jump shots.

You don’t want to compete, run the court, contest, hustle. Well, you sit. The only leverage an NBA coach really has is playing time. And it’s time to use it that way with this group. Bring it or sit it!

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