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Bulls take another beating out west
by Sam Smith
Posted on Nov 22
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You might say Saturday’s Bulls’ 112-93 loss to the Denver Nuggets had its ups and downs.
That’s right. The Bulls seemed to give up when they got down.
“I thought our defense, our transition defense, our energy, our effort in the second half was very disappointing,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro in perhaps his harshest critique of the team in his two seasons as coach. “The Lakers and Denver (who both blew out the 6-6 Bulls on this road trip that is now 1-2) are two of the top teams. They’re big and strong and they have guys you can guard well (and they still produce). But I didn’t like out intensity, our effort, especially rebounding the ball. Our rotations were slow, and once they got on a roll we had no answer for them offensively. They picked their defense up and we let the pressure bother us.
“Guys make shots on this league,” said Del Negro. “But you’ve got to continually give the effort, the energy and the professionalism, and I didn’t think we did that in the second half.
“Once they got the lead and got rolling, we kind of fell into (their) momentum instead of being physical and having a little fight to us,” said Del Negro. “Giving up layups in transition, tip dunks. The list goes on.”
But otherwise Mrs. Lincoln did you enjoy the play?
Actually, in there was a 14-point Bulls lead and still a dozen points ahead midway through the second quarter as the Bulls looked like perhaps they’d pay back the Nuggets for that tough loss back in Chicago earlier this month when Brad Miller’s winner at the buzzer was disallowed.
There’d be no need for replay this time, and the Bulls especially didn’t figure to want to see what became an almost 40-point turnaround as the Nuggets went up by 25 late in the game.
“I thought we had the game,” said Derrick Rose, who had his biggest scoring game of the season with 28 points, though he committed five turnovers as the defenses continue to focus on him with the Bulls having difficulties again getting perimeter scoring. “We had the big lead early. Some of their key players stepped up and make big shots for them.
“(But) you can’t give up,” said Rose. “It was embarrassing. We’ve got to run back, play defense, play hard. I‘m not calling out anybody. All of us were all out there. Toward the end we were acting all lackadaisical and not playing together. They were getting layups, backdoor. We were not communicating, but we have time to work on it.”
No that much, actually, as the trip doesn’t get any easier Monday with rugged and big Portland, who gave the Bulls their biggest beating last season, and then then Jazz on Thanksgiving night with Utah now coming on. The Bulls close the road trip Nov. 30 in Milwaukee, which looked like a potential breather until the Bucks became the surprise team of the season and rookie Brandon Jennings the talk of the league.
That was Rose last season, and he is starting to return to form. But they aren’t dumb around the NBA. Despite what you may think of Allen Iverson’s career trajectory.
Rose continues to face collapsing defenses at a time the Bulls continue to keep the ball in his hands. It tends with the team’s reliance on side and top pick and rolls to make the offense somewhat predictable.
So the Bulls have to work that much harder for shots. Though the principal flaw is a lack of scoring. The Bulls’ 93 points was their third highest total of the season. Denver has been held to 93 or fewer just twice.
While Rose had 28 and Luol Deng was sharp early and finished with 22, there was no one else in double figures. John Salmons, after a brief spurt, was back to a two of 11 game and Brad Miller has been missing his usually reliable elbow jumper this season and is shooting 43 percent.
The Bulls were two of 11 on threes to fall to 28.9 percent on the season and remain last in three point attempts. In today’s game you have to shoot them to help space the court, and you’d probably like to see a bit more of Jannero Pargo to give it a try.
Though Del Negro continues to keep his rotation tight. The Bulls could be getting center Aaron Gray back soon as Gray joined the team in Denver Saturday and said he feels close to playing. Del Negro said he’ll see Gray go through a few practices before activating him. Any fresh body helps, though it won’t help the perimeter shooting.
The result of all that is it gives the Bulls a narrow margin of error and forces them to be at a high level defensively all the time.
The impressive thing about the team is it almost always has been, but in Los Angeles and Saturday the Bulls were pushed around quite a bit and pretty much absorbed the blows without much reaction.
Kirk Hinrich did draw a technical foul at the end of the first quarter for throwing the ball in anger into the scorers’ table when he was grabbed and held by Chauncey Billups and then stumbled into Miller and couldn’t get up a quarter ending shot.
Taj Gibson, who had a career high 12 rebounds in a hard working effort, got his usual defensive three second call which he almost never deserves, and got a technical foul early in the third quarter, supposedly for pushing and jawing with Kenyon Martin. Martin, of course, is a bit of a punk and generally always is talking and preening. Which shocked Gibson, who never says anything on the court.
“I told the referee, ‘I’m a rookie. I don’t say anything,’” Gibson said.
But no one was listening to the Bulls on this night.
Actually, they started off terrific with Deng and Rose each getting 10 points in the first quarter and Deng frustrating Carmelo Anthony into two of eight shooting. The Bulls handled Anthony well in Chicago Nov. 10 with Deng overplaying and the defense sagging into the middle to take away his spin move.
Meanwhile, Rose was showing off all his shots but the dunk with a nice floater over Nene and some jumpers as Denver often likes to switch defensive coverages and Rose got to face up against big men.
The Bulls surged ahead 25-11, and Hinrich came in when the Nuggets put in J.R. Smith, who’d lit up the Bulls in several previous visits to Denver, where the Bulls have now lost 10 of 11.
Smith missed both of his shots badly, and it looked like the Bulls might steal this one early when they still led 35-24 with 7:43 left in the second quarter and the Bulls already in the bonus with the Nuggets having committed five fouls.
But Nuggets coach George Karl made a nice adjustment at that point. He went smaller, and the Bulls got caught in some mismatches as Deng tried to defend Smith and was beaten twice with his quickness and then Billups attacked Rose and scored 14 points in the second quarter to get the Nuggets back in the game, trailing 52-49 at halftime. Billups would finish with 21 points in just nine field goal attempts.
“Chauncey realized his team was struggling,” noted Del Negro. “He started scoring and being aggressive, and we were in the penalty and instead of trying to go the basket and get to the foul line we started taking jump shots.”
Late in the second quarter Joakim Noah, who had eight points and 10 rebounds and zero offensive rebounds, drew a technical foul along with Nene as the two got tangled.
“We just got to be tougher,” said Hinrich. “Seems like the last couple games they (refs) just let a lot go. We got to have a feel of how they are calling the game and adjust to it. Go out there and do what it takes.”
The Bulls did begin to get somewhat stagnant on offense, especially Salmons, who has a habit of holding onto the ball when his shot isn’t going. Overall, the Bulls had 19 assists on 36 field goals.
The Bulls hung in during the third quarter as Deng had a highlight follow dunk over Martin, Miller stripped Anthony and dove on the floor and got the ball to Rose for a fast break layup and then Rose hit a 12 footer to give the Bulls a 71-70 lead with 53 seconds left in the third quarter. So even though Smith got open for a three to close the third with Denver ahead 75-71 it didn’t look too bad for the Bulls.
But then their motor shut down like a power boat in a quiet lake.
“It was like we felt a little bit of fatigue and we gave into it and you can’t do that,” said Hinrich.
It’s not easy to play in Denver where the Nuggets have won 15 straight back to last March. There’s that mile high altitude, which Del Negro dismissed as an excuse, and some shooters who are tough when they get it going.
Like Smith, who ended with 19 points and hit a couple of threes near 30 feet and one with Hinrich still in his face.
“The shots he was making, there’s no way,” said Hinrich. “He’ll shoot five feet behind the line falling away. When he gets in the zone you never know what he’s going to do. We felt like we were doing a great job and then they just exploded on us. As a group we gave into fatigue too easily.”
And then it got way out of control.
Anthony, who is leading the NBA in scoring and added on 30 points with 11 rebounds and seven assists, began spinning down the lane uncontested. Ty Lawson ran out for a fast break after a strip of Rose, Chris Andersen grabbed misses and went back up to score, Andersen dunked, Joey Graham dunked, Smith dunked, Malik Allen made a layup. He’d have dunked if he could jump.
“They were just very physical,” said a somber Noah shaking his head. “We didn’t really match their energy at the end of the game,
Their physicality. We weren’t tough. We definitely got roughed up.”
The Bulls now have given up 108 and 112 points in the last two games after giving up 100 in just one of the first 10 games. There aren’t going to be any reinforcements on the way. They’re going to have to figure this out for themselves.