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Bulls Show President Obama Huge Deficits
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 28
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I’m hoping there’s something in that President Barack Obama stimulus package to kickstart the Bulls. Energy crisis? You just have to look at Friday’s Bulls 113-90 loss to the Washington Wizards here with President Obama sitting courtside to know the Bulls’ energy issues are as compelling.
“They stood on us from the very start. We just didn’t show up,” agreed Ben Gordon, who was three of 14 for 11 points as the Wizards’ starters outscored the Bulls’ 77-41. “After that point (trailing 12-2 four minutes into the game) it was pretty much a wrap. It was like the game was over before we pretty much stepped on the floor. For whatever reason the focus wasn’t there. We just played awful. We never were even in the game. I’m speechless. I don’t know how we came out and did that.”
And coach Vinny Del Negro, with Luol Deng scoring four points on two of eight shooting and Tyrus Thomas seven points on one of six shooting and both put back in the game in so called garbage time at the end, suggested he might consider adding some of his players to the nation’s unemployed, at least as far as their starting roles are concerned.
Asked about whether he is considering a lineup change, Del Negro said: “I’ll think about that.”
The focus of the night, of course, was the presence of First Bulls/Sox fan Obama sitting courtside across from the Washington bench, enjoying a late beer, engaging in some playful banter with fans, even signaling the referees with a chopping sign on his arm that Derrick Rose had been fouled on a late drive.
As good a try as it was, it wouldn’t have helped in arguably the Bulls’ worst effort of the season. It was their second biggest loss to the Portland disaster in November, though perhaps more galling because the Wizards have by far the East’s worst record and tied with Oklahoma City going in for the league’s second poorest.
Washington is second worst in the league in defense, yet held the Bulls to 39.5 percent shooting. The Wizards are one of the league’s poorest offensive teams, fourth worst in scoring and fifth worst in shooting. Yet they shot 50.6 percent and scored 113 points, highlighted by a sickening series of dunks and layups after the Bulls had pulled within 85-79 early in the fourth quarter.
“We were hanging around,” noted Kirk Hinrich in a somber locker room. “I don’t know how. Then we gave up some back doors. It was like four possessions in a row they dunked on us.”
First it was Andray Blatche after three offensive rebounds, then Caron Butler going by three Bulls for a reverse baseline slam, then Blatche again driving in for a layup and Antawn Jamison, who led Washington with 27 points and 11 rebounds as the Bulls tried both Deng and later Joakim Noah on the Wizards power forward.
Shortly thereafter, with 4:29 remaining and the Bulls listlessly playing out the game and trailing 103-86, Obama got up to leave to a standing ovation. It would have been a good time for the Bulls to slink off the court as Nick Young knocked in a three with Obama heading out and the Wizards kept piling it on with Deng and Thomas sharing the floor with Lindsey Hunter, Aaron Gray and Anthony Roberson.
That, especially, will be something to watch as Del Negro appears to be taking a stand against the dispiriting play, not unlike Scott Skiles did at times and which led to issues.
Del Negro made a big, early substitution with the Bulls down 18-8, lifting Deng, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah, though the Bulls still trailed 27-18 after one quarter.
Del Negro went extensively with John Salmons into the second quarter, and Salmons was the best Bull player of the night with 25 points. His second quarter play helped get the Bulls within 49-45 at halftime. Though the starters held firm to open the second half and were within 57-55 four minutes in, Del Negro then brought Salmons in for Tyrus Thomas, and soon thereafter Miller for Noah and Hinrich for Gordon.
That group with Rose saw the Wizards go ahead by a dozen and lead 83-74 after three quarters before Washington blew the game open early in the fourth quarter.
And it was the 14-44 Wizards enjoying themselves with Butler pumping his fist at Obama after a three pointer and Chicagoan JaVale McGee slamming a lob from Butler and saluting Obama.
“We were getting killed on the glass,” Del Negro noted of the Wizards 53-37 rebounding edge and trying Miller and Noah together. “I tried to get some big guys in there, get some physicality so we get some rebounding and we can get out and run a little bit. We took poor shots. You’re just trying to find a lineup or a matchup you can exploit. We were on our heels all night. You’re just trying to find lineups who are going to play hard and go out and play and we never could.
“Our starters didn’t get off to a good start,” said Del Negro. “We’re not nearly tough enough. We’ve got to get more physical. They killed us on the glass in pretty much every aspect and played better than us. We’re going to have to come out with some toughness and urgency and get after it defensively.
“John was aggressive, shot the ball well, got after it defensively a little bit,” said Del Negro. “He was the only guy who really got going. But you need more than one guy and it starts on the defensive end. It starts with the starters starting the game off. We went for steals, didn’t get them. Giving up layups, dunks. Just a bad game.”
So Del Negro certainly left the door open for changes as he’s chosen to rely more on the veterans and new players since the recent trades. It’s left Deng and Tyrus Thomas, who were playing well before then with Thomas almost a regular with double/doubles, seemingly in prolonged confusion.
“We haven’t been playing well as of late and therefore our loss was not surprising,” said Deng. “The Wizards had to play in front of the president as well and therefore I don’t think the president had an effect on the outcome of the game.”
It had been a traumatic and exhilarating time for the team, from the trip to the White House Thursday to the deaths of Bulls founding fathers Johnny “Red” Kerr and Norm Van Lier. It was eerie in a sense, like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, sometimes adversaries and longtime heroes of the new United States, dying on the same day, exactly 50 years to the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
So there were all sorts of symbols in the first president to attend a Wizards game since 2000. And certainly the first president who seemed to know Bulls other than Michael Jordan.
There was a pregame moment of silence for Kerr and Van Lier, and then the tip was help up so Obama could get to his seat in the front row corner.
“I didn’t want the ball to be thrown up until he walked in because I didn’t want to miss that,” said Caron Butler, who had 14 as eight Wizards scored in double figures. “I was telling the refs, ‘Let’s warm up some more. Let’s stall. You all want to play tic-tac-toe or something just to kill time?’ I was truly nervous for the first time in my career just to have the president over there.”
Obama had been advised by the Secret Service to remain in a suite. But Obama insisted on being in the crowd, chatting amiably with those around him, including five-year-old Nicholas Aiello, who happened to draw the seat next to the president.
Nick happened onto the seat from dad Tom, a Realtor whose company had the spot, and Obama was seen often in discussion with the little boy.
Asked what it was like sitting next to the president, Nick paused and said, “It was like sitting next to the president.” Nick was wearing a Wizards jersey, though said the president wanted to talk about the Bulls.
It should have been a celebratory night for the Bulls after Thursday’s visit to the White House and inspirational chat and message from the president about not giving in. It didn’t appear to have much stimulating effect as the Bulls deficit rose throughout the game with the Bulls leading only for the first 35 seconds.
“Not taking anything away from them, (but) this was a bad loss,” said Hinrich. “We didn’t have energy tonight. We didn’t play with any sense of urgency and we got our butts kicked, which is usually what happens when you play like that. We deserved this one tonight. We’ve got Houston who really has been playing well and have to be ready.
“Maybe the excitement of the White House was a little drain,” said Hinrich. “But all that is is excuses. This is NBA basketball. You’ve got to be able to go out and play. There’ll always be things going on. I didn’t feel distracted. I don’t think that’s a valid excuse. We’re right in the thick of a playoff race and you’d think we’d come with a better effort.”
The loss dropped the Bulls to 26-33, though it will be hard to fall out of this race for eighth against the Weak competition at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Unless, of course, we see more of this. And who knows what kind of bail out would occur then.