Bulls buck losing trend against Milwaukee


Nov 4

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Could it be the Bulls have rediscovered that developing All-Star, Luol Deng?

Here’s how former Bulls coach Scott Skiles described how his Milwaukee Bucks blew an 18-point lead and lost to the Bulls Tuesday, 83-81, as Deng had 24 points and a career high 20 rebounds.

“We got physically dominated by Deng tonight,” said Skiles. We just couldn’t do anything with him. There was no pressure on him. Then we froze when they pressured us defensively. When they took the lead, and we were making as many mistakes as we did, it’s hard to come back. I thought we defended fairly well all night. We just couldn’t control Deng.”

Our Luol Deng?

Yes, the guy who seemed on the verge of stardom a few years ago but who sunk with injuries and uneven playis averaging 17.8 points and 10.5 rebounds in the 2-2 start and 25 points and 14 rebounds the last two games.

“We just said it (trailing 43-29 at halftime) was embarrassing,” said Deng of the horrendous Bulls first half. “We wanted to come out with a lot of energy. I thought (Jannero) Pargo came in and gave us a big lift and (then) we had a chance to win the game. We had to have somebody show energy and hope everyone followed. I felt like I hadn’t even played yet at halftime. I had a lot of energy and wanted to go out and play as hard as I could.

“This league is about getting hot and gaining confidence,” said Deng. “It’s still early, but a game like this will help us.”

It might help in ways that could keep the season for slipping away.

The Bulls won, but hardly against a top team and with unusual difficulty. The Bucks, led by rookie point guard Brandon Jennings with 25 points, seemed to have this game won leading 58-38 midway through the third quarter.

The Bulls could not have been much more inept.

Even when they rallied wonderfully and held off a last minute meltdown with a couple of good defensive plays, coach Vinny Del Negro conceded, “We were fortunate to win to be honest with you. We didn’t play well at all in the first half. We were dribbling all over, fumbling the ball, losing the ball. The second half we gutted it out and found ways to win.”

That was thanks to Deng virtually throwing himself at the ball at times and Pargo coming off the bench after sitting the first half, in part because of a sore back, to ignite the 18-4 rally to close the third quarter with a three, a steal and jumper, and then a three to enable the Bulls to take their first lead of the game at 71-68 with 6:05 left in the game.

“Mentally, I prepared myself to be ready,” said Pargo, who had 10 points on four of five shooting. “(Against) Miami I wasn’t ready. It was the same situation. I wanted to be ready this time. I want to come in and be a spark and change the game. I felt I let my teammates down (two misses in five minutes Sunday in Miami) and didn’t want that to happen again.”

This time it went the Bulls way in the fourth quarter with Miller tying it with a three just after Deng’s play of the game when he grabbed a Salmons miss, buried his left shoulder into Andrew Bogut, who staggered backward and then went up for the score and foul and a tough three point play. Though there would be some unnecessary drama down the stretch. In the last minute after leading by seven, Brad Miller committed an offensive foul and missed one of two free throws, Derrick Rose lost the ball on Jennings’ pressure and Joakim Noah missed both his free throws.

That got the Bucks within one with 22 seconds left on a Jennings floater. That’s when Miller could only make one of two free throws. But Rose came up with a terrific block on Jennings, not going for a pump fake and then blocking the shot. Noah then was fouled as he came up with the miss and clanked both his free throws as his tornado ball was twirling badly.

So the Bucks had another chance to tie or shoot for a win. Reserve Ersan Ilyasova, who’d played little and hadn’t attempted a three, pump faked on a pass from Jennings and then air balled a three short and the Bulls survived.

Skiles seemed baffled by the shot selection, and watching the Bulls you had to be baffled much of the game at what they were up to.

This much is clear about this Bulls team. There isn’t a huge amount of individual talent, as the Boston Celtics will tell you. They don’t have an inside scoring threat and are not particularly great at an execution game.

They need to attack on offense, try to disrupt the opponents on defense and knock the ball loose and fast break, fast break even on made baskets to keep the defense from setting up and scramble the game with youth and hustle.

So they came out running a lot of simple screen/rolls in which there was a lot of standing around and jump shooting. What that translated into was a rush to the record books to see if the Bulls were ever officially this bad before.

They shot 25 percent in the first quarter and trailed 25-13. They also committed seven turnovers, four straight in a brutal stretch early in the first quarter that left them trailing 13-4. Nice way to open at home.

They were just out-efforting us in the 1st half. I guess that’s kind of a word,” said Miller, with 13 points, about sort of a Bulls effort.

Bogut, with 16 points and 13 rebounds, wore out Miller and Noah in the second quarter as the Bulls fired it up at a sizzling 28.6 percent. Can’t say they weren’t getting better. John Salmons already was two of nine on the way to three of 15. Somebody call that guy a shooting coach.

Finally, midway through the third, led by Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls started pressuring the ball in the backcourt, leading to one five-second inbounds turnover. They also forced four turnovers in the last 3:44 of the quarter and closed that quarter with an 18-4 run to get within 60-56. Ballgame!

“We started attacking,” said Del Negro. “We have to play faster. We need to get some kind of pace to our game. We got some defensive stops and got in the open court. Kirk’s defense was tremendous. His effort changed the complexion of the game at times.”

It also was looking like another depressing early season, post injury night for Derrick Rose, who was two of six for six points until the fourth quarter and seemingly couldn’t even get to the basket when Luke Ridnour was guarding him early.

Though I wasn’t sure if that was Rose’s lack of explosion or the cramped offense the Bulls were running with players bunched, and thus defenders crowding the middle.

But Rose was very good in the fourth, taking a pass from Miller for a dunk, though with two hands, and then running off screens to hit a pair of pull up jumpers and running a nice backdoor on Jennings with a crisp pass from Miller to give the Bulls that 82-75 lead with 1:28 left they almost gave away.

“We couldn’t keep track of Lu,” said Skiles. “Then Rose got the pick and roll game going late. And when they went to full court pressure we had a hard time getting to our spots and it knocked us off balance.”

Rose had 10 points and two assists in the fourth quarter in the kind of play the Bulls we’ve become more accustomed to seeing.

“Derrick was huge in the fourth,” said Deng. “Derrick is coming back from injury. It’s not easy to sit out and not practice or play games and jump right in. He’ll get his touch back and rhythm and we’ll be a better team.”

Not seen anywhere was Tyrus Thomas, who was sent home after shootaround Tuesday with flu symptoms. With the H1N1 flu concerns, NBA teams are being more careful this season and keeping players with any symptoms aay from the arena.

Thomas didn’t play in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to Miami, so there was some speculation that perhaps there was an issue.

Del Negro said there wasn’t, that Thomas was legitimately ill.

Del Negro was questioned about whether there was some other reason, but said, “Everyone needs to pick it up. I haven’t seen Tyrus all day (Tuesday). Next time I see him if he has something on his mind he knows where to find me and we can talk. We need to get healthy right now.”

That includes Thomas, Rose and Pargo, the latter two recovering from injuries. Del Negro continued to leave rookie James Johnson benched without explanation other than the obvious Del Negro doesn’t believe he can help. Taj Gibson started for Thomas and had five points and six rebounds.

Though the issue of the rotation also is of concern.

Del Negro went with a small lineup with Deng at power forward at the end of the Miami game and it didn’t work well with the Bulls outscored in the fourth 26-17 and beat on the boards without Thomas.

But Tuesday against the Bucks the use of three ballhandlers with Pargo, Rose, Salmons and Hinrich alternating with three usually on the floor enabled the Bulls to move the ball better and avoid the Bucks pressure that had thwarted them in the first half, though it might more be accounted for by not playing as hard.

Now comes LeBron and Shaq Thursday on national TNT. Starting as the Bulls did Tuesday won’t produce any such comeback. And by the way Lu, you got LeBron. Good luck with that.

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