Oh, no! Another one point overtime loss for Bulls


Feb 8

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What the heck was Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro thinking at the end of that regulation against the Dallas Mavericks Saturday? One shot to win it. You’ve got to go to Amare. Or Amar’e, or STAT (Standing Tall and Talented) or whatever he’s calling himself these days. Look, you’ve got a perennial All Star and big time scorer and…

What? Huh? He’s not with the Bulls. Still plays for the Phoenix Suns? You’d have fooled me with all we’ve heard about him the last week or so.

So the Bulls couldn’t get a winning basket from Derrick Rose at the end of regulation after Rose lost Jason Kidd, who made the tying three.

And then a tag team of defenders couldn’t stop Dirk Nowitzki, who had 14 of his 44 points in overtime (14 of the team’s 18) as the Mavericks stole one at home from the Bulls, 115-114.

It was a good Western Conference road trip for the Bulls, who ended 4-3 and return to the United Center Tuesday to honor longtime broadcaster Johnny Kerr and face the Detroit Pistons at 22-29.

But it’s now a better team than its record. Or at least a team playing better than it’s record, but not getting enough out of it quite yet.

“We should have won,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “We had opportunities. We had some mistakes, too many turnovers. We had been doing a better job. You can’t give up a three at the end, and we have to convert on the offensive end when we have opportunities. It’s a tough one to swallow.”

What a coulda, shoulda woulda trip.

It was the second overtime loss by one point after starting the trip with one in Minnesota two weeks ago. The Rockets were probably a bit too good with no one able to deal with Yao. But this was as good a road trip as the Bulls have had in a decade, the first winning one this long since 1998, and it could have been much better.

Though so many players are performing better– notably Tyrus Thomas with 23 points and 12 rebounds for his fifth double/double in the last six games and Joakim Noah with eight points and 10 rebounds and Rose with 22 points and nine assists though with 25 shots, his fourth game of at least 20 points in the last five–it came down to a last play again, and the Bulls really have no one to make it.

Rose was called upon once again as he was at the end of regulation in Minnesota when he botched the screen and ended up shooting a bad miss with about a second left.

Rose got a better look this time, breaking left past Jason Kidd’s relentless defense into the lane and pulled up in front of Nowitzki. But Rose’s floater bounced off as he bounced off the floor again. Sure, it’s not right. But rookies don’t get calls.

You’d say where was Ben Gordon, who led the Bulls with 28 points in 33 minutes. But he has missed a bunch of these the last few years as teams have been able to collapse on him and shield him from the rim given his smallish size and lack of Rose’s quickness to get open. Plus Ben spent much of the game being yanked for defensive reasons and had barely played in the fourth quarter.

Luol Deng likely was wondering, “Why not me?” And probably waving his hand like the kid in the back of the room the teacher keeps ignoring, though at three of 15 he probably was quiet this night.

And so the Bulls blew a 95-90 lead with about a minute and a half left, and then with a three-point lead and 24.7 seconds left and Dallas with the ball, Rose got sucked in watching Nowitzki hand off to J.J. Berea, who flipped out to a wide open Kidd for the tying three with 13 seconds left.

”We don’t want to give up a three there, we talked about that (in the timeout),” Del Negro said. ”But we lost our guy a bit, and Jason made a big shot.”

Then in the overtime, it seemed Nowitzi made every shot.

“That’s why he’s a superstar,” Del Negro said. “We tried trapping him, we switched on him, but we couldn’t get to him.”

I questioned Noah on Dirk with the score tied at 99 after Thomas opened the overtime with a driving score and Nowitzki split a pair of jumpers against Andres Nocioni.

Then as the Bulls missed five shots and committed an offensive foul on three possessions as they continued to fight and got three offensive rebounds, Nowitzki hit a pair of jumpers over Noah before Del Negro went back to Thomas on him.

“It was crazy,” said Noah. “He misses nine of 10, then hits nine, 10 in a row, tough shots. I was watching some of his shots and thinking there’s no way it’s going to go in. ‘There were times, when I was like: There’s no way he’s going to shoot. I felt like I was on him. He was just making shots I don’t think anybody in the NBA could [defend]. ‘He has such a different game than everybody else. It’s hard to explain unless you’re out there guarding him.”

Usually teams use a smaller, quicker player against Nowitzki, and Thomas did a decent job earlier in spurts, though Nowitzki had a big third quarter mostly against Thomas with 15 points. As Del Negro said, that’s why he’s so good. When he’s on, maybe it doesn’t matter what defense you use, though a stronger double might have been an idea.

The killer shot may have been the 20 footer Josh Howard smoked in with 1:20 left in overtime when the Bulls doubled Nowitzki and he moved the ball and the Mavs went ahead 107-101.

Thomas came back with a drive to the left. He’s actually been more effective that way, seemingly going with his quickness where the defense hasn’t set for him. Nowitzki then backed down Thomas for a score. Yes, Thomas is still too weak against head to head defense and does better coming from the weak side. After Gordon made two free throws, the Bulls went back to Nocioni and Dirk hit a 14 footer over him for a 111-105 lead with 22 seconds left.

But then Nocioni answered with a three and darn those Bulls wouldn’t go away. Nowitzki was fouled on purpose and made two free throws, and then Thomas pulled up for a 30 foot three and made it, the fourth of his career and third this season as his 23 points was a season high. The Bulls fouled Nowitzki again and he made two more with two seconds left for a 115-111 lead, leaving the Bulls to pitch long down the sideline for Gordon to hit a three to get within one as the clock ran out.

“The guys battled and worked hard on the trip, and it’s just tough not to get rewarded,” said Del Negro “I thought we played well enough to get another win on the road.”

And so the Bulls return home to perhaps face 10 days of questions about who’ll be on the roster after the trading deadline, Feb. 19.

The last time the Bulls had this kind of drama with the Kobe Bryant rumors, they grew fragile and collapsed, beginning this season and a half spiral that they only now seem to be pulling out of with two weeks on the road of the best basketball of the season.

It’s part of NBA life, especially when your team is seven games under .500 and there’s the chance to get a potential star player. It’s likely everyone but Rose is available in trade, though perhaps the Bulls are harboring second thoughts given the improving and consistent play on this trip of Thomas and Noah. Which is vital with Drew Gooden still out and now possibly longer as he’ll be examined for a possible hernia.

And there is the growing importance of Hinrich as Del Negro, who never talks about such things, stopped the game several times to remove Gordon for defensive mistakes or indifference, the first time just over two minutes into the game.

Antoine Wright went right at Gordon, making a layup and dunk for Dallas’ first two scores, and Del Negro immediately signaled for Hinrich, though he had his own issues as Gordon and Hinrich combined for 10 of the Bulls 18 turnovers.

Hinrich did make two three right afterward as the Bulls went on a 11-0 spurt and ended the first quarter ahead 24-20. The Bulls held onto a 50-48 lead at halftime as Del Negro quietly was trying to get his defensive message across, also yanking Nocioni midway through second quarter after Nocioni missed on a drive and trotted back to see James Singleton run by him for a dunk.

Del Negro immediately called timeout and benched Nocioni for Thabo Sefolosha.

The Bulls came out of the timeout to their new, sometimes go to guy in Thomas, who again went left handed to the left side and scored and was fouled. Though I still wouldn’t make that my end game call.

The Bulls had some nice plays as the quarter wound down, Noah taking a lob from Rose and finishing strong as Rose was doubled on the pick and roll and Nocioni bouncing a back door pass to a cutting Gordon for a score.

Midway through the third quarter, Berea blew by Gordon twice for scores in this entertaining game no one controlled with 16 lead changes and 13 ties. So Del Negro signaled for Hinrich again, and Berea then drove at Hinrich and spun and was fouled, though Hinrich did get the little guard under more control.

The Mavs were forced to go extensively to Berea, who had 20 points, with Jason Terry suffering a broken finger late in the first half, a major blow to Dallas’ playoff hopes.

“Out for a while,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. “So I think we’re going to have to piece this thing together without him for a while. We’ve got a lot of good players and we’ve got enough to win games. We’ve got to look forward to that challenge.”

The third ended 77-72 Mavs with the long demanded Berea-Hinrich showdown as Berea drove by Hinrich for a score and added a three sandwiched around Hinrich beating Berea for a layup. But Gordon carried the Bulls in a 9-0 run early in the fourth to give the Bulls an 81-79 lead, and it began to look pretty good for the Bulls with some good individual efforts on defense, like Thomas closing out fast to force Howard into a miss and Nocioni stepping in front of Berea and drawing a charge on what seemed like a sure score.

Hinrich drove to take a 91-90 lead, Rose following a Berea miss beat Nowitzki on a switch for a 93-90 lead and then Thomas, after Nocioni drew that offensive beating Nowitzki face up, slam dunked for that 95-90 margin.

For the Bulls, though, the challenge remains finding that closer and stopping teams as Dallas scored on its last three possessions of regulation. The Mavs also scored on eight of their last nine possessions of overtime.

One major Bulls issue continues to be how to play screen/roll, the basic NBA offense.

Opponents keep putting Rose in the play because Rose has not yet proven adept on defense, and too many times Rose was stuck on Nowitzki. Bulls players still generally get caught in the screens or go way under, leaving Del Negro several times to signal switches on the pick and roll, which puts the team into endless mismatches. It was a marked contrast watching Kidd fight over screens and cut them off, quietly playing a terrific defensive game until his big shot at the end, which was his first basket of the game.

“I thought what Kidd did out there tonight was beyond belief,” said Carlisle. “He’s in on so many plays on both ends of the court. His five points (10 assists, two blocks and two steals) were the biggest five points of the game. I don’t think there would be any argument to that. He routinely takes the best player down the stretch and does great things when we need him to.”

Oh, and that’s right. Stoudemire is regarded as one of the league’s weakest defenders.

What to do? What to do?

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