Bulls Unprepared for the Charlotte Menace


Mar 4

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Bad loss for the Bulls in Charlotte Tuesday, 96-80 to Michael Jordan’s mismatched team, sigh, which now is just a game behind the Bulls in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Though calling this downward spiral toward eighth a race is insulting the concept.

Still, I’ll get to the game later and how the beat up Bobcats outworked the Bulls with the kind of defense the Bulls too often lack.

It was a fairly poor Bulls effort all around, 39 percent shooting and three of 15 on threes while Charlotte was up over 50 most of the game. Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas led the Bulls with 14 points. Luol Deng sat out after it seemed he was scheduled to play, but not start because of his bothersome leg problems. Deng said shortly before the game it acted up and he couldn’t play.

“It didn’t feel right in warmups,” said Deng. “I couldn’t really push up. So it’s day by day.”

Tim Thomas also sat. John Salmons started for Deng, but Salmons had his poorest effort as a Bull, shooting four of 13 and one of seven on threes for nine points.

So there really wasn’t that much to say about a game like that, another baffler after beating the Western contending Rockets Saturday and losing to the near bottom dwelling Bobcats. For the schizophrenic Bulls, that makes it four straight losses to teams with losing records and five of their last six wins against teams with winning records.

And Wednesday the Bulls play one of the league’s worst teams, the Warriors.

Go figure. We’re trying to figure this one out.

I have a theory on that, though I’ll finally get to my point and my curiosity.

I thought most interesting the response of coach Vinny Del Negro prior to Tuesday’s game when asked about the recent comments of general manager John Paxson.

Paxson was on ESPN-1000 with Steve Kashul at halftime of Saturday’s win over Houston and said he had talked to Del Negro, as he often does, and noted they get along well. But Paxson added he let Del Negro know his interest in having Derrick Rose on the floor at the end of games given Rose’s importance to the future of the franchise. This fourth quarter Rose presence has been something of a controversy of late since Del Negro sat out Rose at the end of a home loss to Miami and parts of some subsequent fourth quarters. Paxson then essentially repeated the sentiment Monday morning on Comcast SportsNet with Mike North and Dan Jiggetts.

Del Negro was asked to comment for the first time before the Bobcats game and told reporters and which was later shown on the Comcast SportsNet broadcast: “I’ll make decisions on the team on what I see fit for players and when they should play and when they don’t. I know my players better than anybody. Derrick is going to be out there in the fourth quarter. Everyone is going to be held accountable defensively. If I feel there’s an advantage for us to do certain things in the fourth quarter, those are the decisions I have to make as a head coach. And I’ll make them.”

The intriguing part of this is there is so much speculation on Del Negro’s future. The team has a better record than at a comparable stage of last season, has had more injuries and generally has competed better. Del Negro is a rookie coach with two years remaining on his deal. It would suggest on paper there is no good reason for Del Negro not to return. But these often are emotional decisions.

And coaches tend not to be like normal people.

Probably even rookie ones.

Coaches don’t generally deal well with what they perceive as being told what to do. Paxson has made a policy of never telling his coaches how to coach or who and how to play, though coaches tend to read things into most everything. It’s common and universal for general managers to discuss their teams’ play with their coaches and their priorities as an organization. They’d be irresponsible if they weren’t doing that.

But that became one of the issues with former coach Scott Skiles, who began to interpret questions about the players as criticism of his coaching. This happens way more than you’d imagine. It really was the genesis of Mike D’Antoni’s split in Phoenix. Most are familiar with D’Antoni’s vocal disagreement with general manager Steve Kerr, which was publicly discussed after D’Antoni left.

Many in Phoenix said it actually started when Kerr inquired somewhat innocently after a game about Amare Stoudemire going into the post more when he had a mismatch. D’Antoni was said to storm out, screaming about knowing more about offense than Kerr, and it’s the rift never really was mended.

And so we have Vinny a bit testy of late, though that could have as much to do with The Team No One Can Figure.

“They outworked us,” said Del Negro in brief post game comments. “We gave a very poor effort in the first half. We tried to get after it in the third quarter but their toughness mixed with no urgency to our game is why we lost. It was very frustrating to see that effort tonight. You have to play every night. That’s what you are paid to do. You have to come ready to work and do your job and we didn’t do that tonight. Our guys weren’t ready for the jump ball and our guys didn’t get after it. No excuses. They played harder than we did, that’s why they won.” The Bulls really never were in this one, as curious as that would seem against a team now 26-35, though with four straight wins. Suddenly, you can forget that talk of getting sixth or seventh in the East. Charlotte is a game behind the 27-34 Bulls and with the tiebreaker.

The Bulls now are 10th in the East, a game behind eighth place Milwaukee and a half game behind ninth place New Jersey. They are just a game ahead of Charlotte and Indiana and two ahead of New York, putting the Bulls closer to 13th in the East than they are to seventh.

“Every game now is a battle,” said Del Negro. “Everybody is fighting for that eighth spot and we have to play much better than we did.”

Yes, the Bulls were without Deng and Tim Thomas, both now listed day to day. Though you also have to wonder if feelings are being bruised over who might start with the additions of Salmons, Tim Thomas and Brad Miller.

Del Negro didn’t want to hear anything about that postgame, and Paxson Saturday reiterated that he didn’t see an issue adding new players because they were veterans.

“If guys were smart and professional, they’d understand the guys we brought in can help us win,” said Del Nergo. “That’s what it’s about. It might alter somebody’s minutes or somebody’s shots. But that’s not being a pro. It’s about winning at this level and doing your job every night.”

It didn’t happen Tuesday as the Bulls led for 49 seconds in the first quarter, and that was it.

Though there was a question whether Raja Bell could play because of a biceps injury which inhibited his arm movement, he went right at Gordon to start the game and had all of his 18 points in the first half.

“This morning I couldn’t shoot at all,” said Bell. “So I was really shocked that I was able to come out (like that). I didn’t lift it all day, and I said that I would come in and hopefully it would be working, and it was. I was a bit surprised because I didn’t anticipate shooting the ball the way I did, but I was shooting wide-open shots. Emeka (Okafor) was burying my man on the pin-downs and they were delivering the ball when I was wide open, so that’s all you can really ask for. A big win for us. We came out against a team we’re jockeying with position with right now and we desperately wanted that tiebreaker.”

And as Del Negro—and John Houseman—would have said, they earned it.

Actually, the Bulls were going back and forth early and down 17-15 despite Okafor bullying Joakim Noah with deep postups for most of his 14 points. It was then Del Negro tried a small lineup with Salmons at power forward, and Charlotte pounded the ball inside as the Bulls committed four turnovers and were behind 32-25 after one.

Again, way too many points given up and allowing Charlotte to score too easily.

Though there wasn’t much to say about the Bulls, Tyrus Thomas’ 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks probably was the highlight, and Thomas kept the Bulls close early in the second when he took advantage of defenses sagging off and away from him for a driving score and jumper.

The Bulls were obviously outhustled by, of all guys, reserve DeSagana Diop, who had a spirited 13 minutes with six points, five rebounds and a pair of steals, recovering a Boris Diaw miss for a slam dunk and beating Bulls to loose balls. Gordon in getting lost chasing Bell went back at him several times late in the first quarter and scored. But Bell added consecutive threes late in the second quarter to put the Bobcats ahead 54-38 and Gordon’s responses went awry.

There was some awful stuff as the third quarter unfolded with Noah failing to look on a pick and roll and being hit with a pass by Gordon, and after a miserable series of opening possessions by both teams, the Bobcats closed with scores on five of their last six possessions, including a pair of long Ray Felton jumpers to lead 79-62 after three.

The Bulls got a few scores to open the fourth, but hardly enough to threaten the Bobcats, and Del Negro pulled the plug with another game Wednesday by putting in Aaron Gray and Anthony Roberson with about four minutes left and the Bobcats ahead by 15.

About the most fight the Bulls showed was late in the fourth when someone named Alexis Ajinka, a seven footer from France, no less, elbowed Gray, who pushed him back and Ajinka threw the ball at him. You’d love to see those guys throw down sometime.

“We had a lot of guys play well,” said Bobcats coach Larry Brown. “It was a lot of fun watching us.”

It will be interesting to watch the Bulls these next several weeks, though perhaps not so much fun the way things have been going.

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