Bulls play in Orlando but Fail to Show Up


Mar 12

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You could see this one coming for the Bulls.

All the way from that three point line in Miami Monday that Dwyane Wade was just about to step on when he put up that running three in double overtime that…

Yes, broke the Bulls’ hearts, and it turned out their spirit, too. And then Wednesday against the Orlando Magic weighted down their legs and froze their brains as the Bulls submitted meekly to the Magic, losing 107-79 in a game not as close as the score would suggest.

As much of a brave face the Bulls tried to put in this one—and Ben Gordon with one of 10 shooting for four points after 43 Monday and said he didn’t think Monday’s game had any effect—it was clear the team had nothing left.

Gordon and Derrick Rose combined to shoot three for 22. Joakim Noah had two fouls in less than a minute. They were outscored by Anthony Roberson and Aaron Gray after the Bulls were down 26-13 after one on four of 15 first quarter shooting. The Bulls emptied the bench soon after the Magic closed the third quarter with a trio of threes to lead 85-53, Rafer Alston actually going into the crowd one time for a loose ball and stopping to eat some popcorn with a fan he’d knocked over.

The Bulls were too pooped to pop.

I first remember the late Cotton Fitzsimmons doing this after one of those huge blowout losses to the old Bulls in the 80’s. He went into the visitor’s locker room at the old Stadium after the game, didn’t say a word to his team and flushed all the toilets.

Yes, fellas. This one was manure. Best to flush it and move on. It’s the only way to begin feeling better.

“We gave them the day off yesterday to try and get them their legs back,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “With the short rotation (Luol Deng and Tim Thomas still out), with a long game the other night, our starters didn’t get off to a good start, we weren’t moving the basketball. We didn’t really bring the energy, we didn’t make any shots. We couldn’t get anything going offensively and it put so much pressure on us defensively. It was one of those nights.

“I think the guys are for whatever reason—if they don’t have their legs or whatever—the flow of the game was bad from the start,” said Del Negro. “They jumped on us early and we were just battling uphill the whole game and when you don’t make shots and don’t get after it defensively it’s going to be a tough night. We’ve got to bounce back against Philly (Friday). Our effort was not good enough to beat a team like Orlando for sure and there are no excuses.”

You get one like that occasionally, and you can excuse it to some extent given the nature of that double overtime loss Monday in which five Bulls played at least 45 minutes and the team went basically with a six-player rotation throughout. And then losing the way they did after having the ball and a chance to win, well, they are human.

It does hurt, and I’m glad it did bother them. Caring gives you a chance to come back.

“We had to get up for Miami,” which was a game we should have won,” said Brad Miller, who had 11 points to go with John Salmons’ 18, the only Bulls in double figures. “Tonight, we just didn’t have it from the beginning. We beat them pretty good a couple of weeks ago in Chicago (120-102). I am sure Coach (Stan) Van Gundy reminded them of that.”

I’m not sure he did since the Magic didn’t actually play very well.

“That was interesting in the way that it happened because we didn’t have [Hedo] Turkoglu (out injured), Rashard [Lewis] doesn’t make a shot (0-9 for three points) and Dwight plays 22 minutes and that’s the formula for a blowout win (not) being up 36,” said Van Gundy as the Magic also officially clinched a playoff spot.

It’s actually not a very smart Orlando team, which you hate to say when they win by almost 30.

But they’ve got this remarkable force in Dwight Howard, whom the Bulls had no idea how to deal with Wednesday. Noah was out 58 seconds into the game with two fouls as Howard was beating him down the court and Noah was fouling him from behind. Yes, beat Miller down court. But not Noah.

The Bulls first decided to double Howard on the dribble, which wasn’t working. So then they began to come on the catch, and Howard will pass. But the Magic rarely go back to Howard, who easily can repost close to the basket. Generally, Orlando players seem to feel they can follow the game plan with an initial entry to Howard. But if it doesn’t yield points in two trips, they begin hurling up threes, 27 in this game.

It’s why they lost against to the Pistons the other night, and are looking now at a playoff rematch with Detroit in a likely three/six matchup, which could be tough for the Magic even with their far superior record because they too often fall into the easy habit of jumpers. Even Lewis with a huge height advantage and Gordon on him, pulled up for jumpers rather than going to the basket and posting up.

There was an intriguing wrinkle in the Bulls offense that I’d like to see more of.

It wasn’t a good game for Rose, just two of 12 for seven points with three assists. With that poker face expression he never looks tired. But he played a team high 55 minutes Monday, and that after at least 40 minutes in three of the previous four games, and 39 in the other.

But it was interesting to see Rose go into the post several times early in the game against Rafer Alston, who is weaker. It’s a good offensive option and change of pace for the Bulls, who don’t have any post offense. It’s a tactic Don Nelson has had success with when he’s been trying to win games. Plus, if you post your point guard, he’s also usually your best passer and should be able to find guys.

It wasn’t going to matter much Wednesday, though when Rose took Alston deep the first time and scored, the Bulls only were down 13-8. Though the Bulls couldn’t shoot as they clearly had little lift left in their legs, there was effort.

Tyrus Thomas made a pair of nice steals against Alston on consecutive possessions, though Thomas would lose it again later on a foul call and get another technical. Thomas has been more like Rasheed Wallace of late, constantly arguing out of frustration, and the referees seem to be tiring of it. The Magic also played at least four to five feet off him all game and he began to settle again for jumpers, going four of (a team high shots) 13. Though he was hardly to blame for what occurred Wednesday.

The Magic was having a fairly miserable first quarter as well as Howard drew a second foul less than six minutes in and with the Bulls down just 10-6. But it was still a mess of unforced turnovers, short shots and weak efforts that allowed Marcin Gorcat and Tony Battie to dominate, Gorcat with 13 points and 15 rebounds and Battie with a Magic high 18 points and eight rebounds.

The game was a rare live broadcast to Poland, and Gorcat is known as the Polish Prince around Orlando. You hate to think the Poles believe this is the best of the Bulls.

“Our bench was the reason we were where we were at halftime,” said Van Gundy. “Dwight had only played nine minutes and the rest of our starters really didn’t do much, but Marcin, Tony, A.J. [Anthony Johnson], J.J. [Redick] all played great and we got 31 points off our bench in the first half and stayed in the lead and in the third quarter everybody who played was outstanding.”

Redick, who had been something of a draft bust in two poor seasons, was shaking loose for shots, and when Alston finally stopped pulling up for ridiculous jumpers and went to the basket, Del Negro had to go with Kirk Hinrich as Rose was getting blitzed from the outside and the help was non existent. Even Thomas, who did extend his consecutive game block streak and has been best in weak side help this season, was basically lost and slow to react.

The Bulls opened the second quarter like perhaps they could make it a game against what is generally a poor Orlando bench, and it was then. The Bulls hit Orlando with a 10-2 spurt with Rose back in and muscling Alston inside for a score and Noah putting back a Salmons miss.

Van Gundy then rushed Howard back into the game with his two fouls, and then no one even went at Howard to try to draw contact and get Howard out of the game with a third foul. So the game probably turned there as the Bulls weren’t reacting physically or mentally.

Noah then got his third foul and Del Negro began to go with four guards and either Miller or Thomas, and Battie scored eight points in a 13-2 Magic run to go up 41-27, and you sensed that the Bulls had made their run for the game.

“We could never make enough shots or put anything together to even put a run together to try and get back in it. So that was a little frustrating,” said Del Negro.

It became a comedy of errors with Gordon trying a behind the back dribble and turning it over, Hinrich throwing right to Courtney Lee for a fast break, a 24-second violation with no movement on offense, Thomas losing his dribble for a turnover.

“Some guys are still trying to get back from injuries here and there,” said Gordon. “We got off to a bad start and everything kind of compounded. We were not able to recover.”

Noah opened the second half with a fourth foul a minute in, and the rout was on. Alston drove by a screened Rose and Thomas literally waved at him and didn’t move. Miller couldn’t. Thomas finally went to the basket after six straight jumpers and scored over Howard to get within 54-40, but Orlando ripped off a 13-4 run and then closed the quarter with a 13-2 and three threes in the last 57 seconds.

“There are nights like that,” said Gordon. “It is kind of bizarre and you can’t get anything going. We have experienced that before this season. We have to try and find ways to be effective if things are not going our way. Every game is a big game. Maybe we are thinking about it (playoff run) too much or putting too much pressure on ourselves. We have to go out there and believe we have nothing to lose. We have to play hard and take it one game at a time.”

“I felt pretty good out there,” insisted Gordon. “I can’t speak for anybody else. I don’t think that game (vs. Heat) had any impact on how we played tonight.”

I think it had a big impact. It was obvious, and it’s OK to admit that occasionally. It happens in the NBA.

It was easy to predict, and after that little run in the second quarter the Bulls couldn’t sustain, you wonder if the Bulls should have packed it in by halftime to be ready for the bigger game in Philadelphia Friday. It is being played at the old Spectrum, adjacent to the new arena, the last game for the Spectrum before it is torn down. You hope that doesn’t become a metaphor for the Bulls season.

It probably is not in the spirit of the game to give up quite then, though it was clear watching that no one had their legs or enough hustle to fight back against a Magic team stung by a loss in Detroit Monday.

They emptied the bench early in the fourth quarter and newly signed Linton Johnson got 11 minutes with a uniform without a name. There wasn’t time to stitch one on, though you’d think there would always be one for a Johnson. I remember that great David Letterman Top 10 list when he had Rejected Slogans for the NBA. One was, Come See our Johnsons.

I digress here because you may need a laugh if you watched that game.

Some of the others were:

At Least our commissioner isn’t named Fay.

Unlike Bowling—No Fat Guys.

Like Big Sweaty Ballerinas.

And: NBA—We’re Easy to Spell.

As for the Bull with no name, I wondered if it was an inside Bulls joke that Johnson was assigned No. 54, worn by Horace Grant, who once defected to the Magic. Anthony Roberson hustled around and hit a couple of threes and probably could pick up a few minutes along with Lindsey Hunter, who hit a three.

Though Del Negro is likely going to push this same group hard with little hope that Deng is back anytime soon and still uncertainty involving Tim Thomas. The Bulls fell percentage points behind Milwaukee for eighth with now six teams are separated by a game and a half between eighth and 13th.

And now the Bulls, 29-36, continue on a tough stretch with the Hornets, Celtics and Lakers coming up starting Saturday around a second of a back to back in Oklahoma City, which already beat the Bulls in Chicago. That is the last tough stretch of the season, and the Bulls probably need to get through it no more than a game or two out of eighth to have a shot at the playoffs.

Or you can probably think about flushing this season.

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