Bulls Take a Day off and Gain in Playoff Race


Mar 11

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That painful Bulls Monday double overtime loss to Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat felt just a little better Tuesday.

That’s because everyone who needed to lose in the Eastern Conference for the Bulls to gain ground in the playoff race did lose. Heck, Larry Hughes even hit the big shots and scored 39 points as the Knicks knocked the Bucks out of an eighth place tie with the Bulls.

I knew he’d help eventually. Better this way.

It was an engaging night for former Bulls as the showdown of the night was in Sacramento, where Thabo Sefolosha’s Thunder hung on to beat Andres Nocioni’s Kings.

And it actually turned out that way.

Sefolsoha had 17 points and five steals and Nocioni 16 points and seven rebounds. But when it came down to the last shots, it was Sefolosha on Nocioni, who was shooting a three for a tie. Sefolsoha actually stumbled, leaving Nocioni open for the shot, which Nocioni air balled. Sefolosha then was fouled and made both to effectively clinch the game, though Sacramento almost got another shot at it. That’s what happens when teams with fewer than 20 wins meet, though the Thunder continues to play remarkably well, even with Kevin Durant out, especially because of the rave reviews for Sefolosha’s defense.

So could they have used him on Dwyane Wade?

Nah, bad second guess. I had no problem with that deal because the draft pick will be useful, there’ll be salary flexibility and Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro barely was using Sefolosha. So, you say, with the injuries he would have had to use him now. Perhaps, especially with Kirk Hinrich now having quad issues.

But the Bulls have become an offensive team, and Del Negro just never got comfortable with Sefolsoha’s versatile game and hesitancy to shoot. Anyone who saw Vinny as a pro knew he never had a shot he didn’t like, and you could tell he was not going to accept Sefolsoha passing up as many shots as he did.

Which, of course, doesn’t explain Del Negro passing up Ben Gordon for potential game winners in regulation and both overtimes Monday after Gordon shot the Bulls back into the game in the fourth quarter with a remarkable shooting exhibition. It’s really a minor complaint and nitpicking since Wade just stole that game from the Bulls with extraordinary play, and that happens with great players. You got the feeling no matter what the Bulls did, Wade wasn’t going to let his his team lose.

The Bulls once had a guy like that. No, not Rusty LaRue.

It’s one game you had to see to appreciate, and I don’t believe the national media gave it its due given the lack of glamour players on the Bulls and the relatively poor records of both teams. But I’m still smiling at the recollection of Gordon’s Three Jamboree in the fourth, of Wade’s chilling threes in regulation and double overtime, the Bulls’ refusal to yield despite being down constantly, Wade’s huge defensive plays. It is what makes the NBA special.

The bigger issue for the Bulls now is fatigue, and the Bulls rested a bit Tuesday with a bowling outing. I don’t know what happened, though I’d guess it still had to be stressful being there with Joakim Noah. Can you imagine what his bowling release would look like the way he shoots free throws? I assume everyone wore helmets. Also, Del Negro supposedly didn’t let Gordon bowl his 10th frame. No, I’m just joking.

You hope the Bulls players can joke and have regained some energy after five players went at least 45 minutes each on Monday night. Del Negro has grown most comfortable and trusting of his short, seven-player rotation, and the Bulls have played well for the most part.

For those who criticize Del Negro, the Bulls players showed again Monday they’re willing to compete and are not laying down or giving up, as they could have in the face of Wade’s amazing display. It’s a credit to the staff and the players the way they’re continuing to fight back.

But they need some help. There has to be some time somewhere for Aaron Gray, and I never imagined saying that. I even like this Anthony Roberson, picked up in that Hughes deal from New York. He wasn’t expected to play, but he’s got an outgoing, high energy personality, which is relatively rare on this Bulls team. And in the locker room despite being new he has been in the middle of the bit more joking around and openness that has occurred since the February trades. It suggests confidence, and I’d like to see him get a shot. Or, at least, pick up someone from the D-league or the defunct CBA, assuming it doesn’t put the team in the luxury tax. These guys need a beer frame.

The Bulls, meanwhile, now lead the Bucks and Nets by a half game for eighth with Charlotte, a loser to the Spurs Tuesday, a game behind. The Pacers, losers to the Jazz, are two games behind the Bulls and Knicks now trail by two and a half. So that looks like six teams playing for one spot. Ouch. That could be ugly in April, when the Bulls presumably have the edge with five of six games at home, including consecutive home games against the Nets, Knicks, 76ers and Bobcats to start the month.

The seventh place 76ers, whom the Bulls visit Friday, are two and a half games ahead of the Bulls with Friday’s game the first of two remaining with Philadelphia.

So, yes, this is going to go on like this for quite some time, and there are going to be a lot of disappointed teams about a month from now.

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