Portland sends Bulls to third straight big loss


Nov 24

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The frustration—of a third consecutive loss in which the Bulls trailed by at least 24 points, of playing against a big, physical front line, of just not being able to compete throughout—finally burst out of Joakim Noah with 5:34 remaining in what would be a 122-98 loss to the Portland Trailblazers.

Noah was doing his best all game, banging against Greg Oden and his 50-pound weight advantage, trying to scramble outside to blitz the pick and rolls and then hustle back only to find the opportunistic Trailblazers with the ball sent into Oden with little weak side help. So Rudy Fernandez launched a three and there was Oden grabbing the rebound again and Noah fouling him and it was all just too much as Noah fired the ball into the basket stanchion, his hands falling to his side and his head hanging.

Technical foul!

“He kept putting his body on me…(Joel) Przybilla coming in…… All their big guys played well,” Noah sighed. “Yeah. I was frustrated. What do you want me to say? I’ve just got to find a way. I feel like I’ve been getting overpowered the last few games, guys putting their bodies on me. It’s taken a toll. I’ve got to find a way to sustain.”

Noah, wearing a coat and hat as his teammates dressed around him and left the locker room quietly, continued to sit silently and stare at the box score. He ended with seven points and eight rebounds and no thanks. He didn’t speak to anyone and no one said anything to him. He just sat there and studied that box score over and over.

Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points each with Aldridge with 13 rebounds and Oden with 12. Portland shot 57.5 percent and outrebounded the Bulls 47-27. They had 50 points in the paint and 40 free throws. Portland scored more than 30 points in three of the four quarters.

Could this be?

It’s been a bad week for the Bulls, though not tremendously unexpected. In the Lakers with Pau Gasol back, the Nuggets and Trailblazers, the Bulls were facing on the road and generally rested three of the league’s best teams with a combined record of 30-12. Portland is the league leader in field goal defense and the Lakers second. And they both have at least three seven footers up front.

So the Bulls would have had to play at an extraordinary level with their roster and Tyrus Thomas out to win those games.

That’s right, as coach Vinny Del Negro suggested earlier this season, the Bulls don’t exactly expect to win this season’s NBA championship. No, he never promised you a Rose Garden.

Though they do expect to compete, and they have, though not that great of late. Not terribly, though, as the Bulls primarily have given way in the fourth quarters, outscored in the fourth the last two games by 14 and 15 points, somewhat respectfully.

It suggests, of course, a lack of depth, which is apparent in Del Negro generally using a seven-player roster with the occasional Jannero Pargo, though Pargo shot well again Monday and had 15 points and a pair of threes in 14 minutes.

Brad Miller, who generally opens seasons not in the greatest condition and works his way up to it, was 0-2 shooting, his second o-fer in the last three games. Kirk Hinrich was three of six for seven points while Luol Deng led the Bulls with 25 and John Salmons added 22.

The defense wasn’t particularly sharp Monday against Portland, though it has been good for most of the early season as the Bulls came in sixth in defensive field goal percentage and fifth against threes, two impressive defensive indicators.

But against Oden, Aldridge and Przybilla, it was too much given the accumulation of fatigue in having to play significant minutes for players like Noah and rookie Taj Gibson, the latter an undersized but hustling power forward, having to also battle players 50 pounds heavier.

“Jump shots in this league come and go,” said Del Negro. “Layups and penetration is what beats you and a lot of easy baskets. They are able to control that with length and young bodies.

“They overpowered us,” said Del Negro. “Aldridge got going in the first half. Oden took over in the second half. We fought back (to within 77-73 with 3:53 left in the third) and cut it. But they outrebounded us by a lot and that was the difference in the game. They controlled the glass and were hurting us inside and outside.”

Yes, the Bulls are at a disadvantage in dealing with a big, physically powerful team like Portland.

Though the problem is the Bulls should have some advantages, but don’t seem to use them.

With Derrick Rose, who had 14 points and five assists and just two turnovers, and Noah, the Bulls should be able to run and attack teams. Again, Del Negro went with a three guard lineup often with Deng at power forward, and several times, like in a 9-3 run to close the first half leading 66-51, Aldridge took advantage and went over Deng.

But you ask yourself—and Deng seemed to as well—why the Bulls don’t run those big men in those mismatches, push the ball even on made baskets, take them outside and drive? Yes, Portland with coach Nate McMillan is a George Karl disciple and likes to switch on defense and fall into a disguised zone. But Portland’s going with multiple seven footers.

“Definitely, there was a mismatch for them, but it also was a mismatch for us,” said Deng. “When we go with a small lineup we have to realize that and try to move the ball and run. We went to a small lineup and did not take advantage of it. When we go to a small lineup and move the ball we do real well.

“I thought our big guys played hard,” said Deng. “They kept coming down to dump (the ball) in. But we’re not doing it on the other end. We didn’t do a good job as players moving the ball. We should realize that and share the ball better. We’ve got to realize why the coach is going small and to take advantage, penetrate and kick.”

Instead, the Bulls settled for just too many jump shots, and while everyone talks about not being able to win with jump shots, no one seems to be able to do anything about it.

You watch some offenses and they run into the post or spread the court and send guys to the three point circle. The Bulls seem to run more into mid range jump shots, thus also stopping movement.

There seems to be something of a disconnect as even Rose, after pushing the ball and attacking more as a rookie, seems now to pull up more and go side to side.

“We have to find a way to polish the game off and finish,” said Rose. “It’s very hard to rebound when you have someone like 6-6, 6-7 boxing out 7-footers. We have to find a way to get rebounds and run. I’m doing fine. It hurts losing. That’s the only thing.”

Right now it’s a difficult and confusing thing as the Bulls fell to 6-7 on the season. They get two days off before playing the Jazz Thanksgiving night. The road trip ends in Milwaukee next Monday before the Bulls return home Dec. 2 to play the Pistons and Ben Gordon.

That should be something of a relief as the Pistons mostly play small guards. Because the Bulls have discovered out west that size does matter.

“The bottom line is we’ve got to keep playing,” said Deng. “If I had an answer (to what’s happening), I’d tell you.”

Again, the Bulls started off well, ahead 12-6 as Salmons got his shot going again, eight for 15 overall.

The Bulls defense is designed to blitz the pick and roll and then form a shell around the paint to protect the middle. So Portland began stepping outside as Aldridge and Brandon Roy made threes. But Deng, matched Roy and had a pair of threes on his own from the top of the floor, where he usually doesn’t shoot them and said he’s expanding his range. For the season, Deng is by far the Bulls best three point shooter at five of nine.

“I always said if I’m wide open I’ll take it,” said Deng. “I play my game try to take high percentage shots.”

The Bulls trailed 31-29 after one quarter and got a highlight of their own when Noah took a pass from Pargo on the run and slammed in Oden’s face. But Oden, as he was doing much of the game, then practically backed over Noah and put the ball in.

“Greg just came out and dominated the boards, killed them,” said Roy. “And we got their bigs in foul trouble and were able to establish ourselves in the paint.”

The Bulls probably should have fronted Oden more as the Trailblazers rarely look to lob to him. And Oden did have just eight field goal attempt and averages about seven for the season. But Oden got 12 foul shots as the Bulls could do little in the end but try to wrestle him to the floor.

“When I can get good deep post position and overpower people and get good shots up, I definitely want to use my strength,” said Oden, who isn’t exactly looking like he’s ready to dominate the NBA. But he’s no longer looking lost and though somewhat mechanical, with his strength and size he is becoming something of a force inside.

The Bulls will attest to that.

The Bulls came out firing in the third quarter starting with a shocking Rose dunk over Oden and hitting their first eight shots as Rose also hit a floater and a sharp reverse drive and Deng finished up, including a big slam on a beautiful inside bounce pass from Noah to get within four.

“I liked the way our guys came out in the third quarter,” said Del Negro. “We played hard, moved the ball. I liked our effort, but we couldn’t sustain it. We couldn’t match their physicality up front.”

Portland then got a big lift from its bench with showy Rudy Fernandez finding a slashing Roy and then putting in his own over the head layup to give Portland a 90-80 lead after three.

Though the Bulls got close, you still didn’t get the feeling the way Portland was playing it was a game the Bulls could win. And, again, the Bulls bench was vastly outscored, 47-24.

And then came the misery once again down the stretch.

Fernandez tried a pass from the hip that caught Deng flush in the face and nearly knocked him out. It was further symbolic of the fourth quarter dam of frustration breaking and drowning the Bulls’ chances.

Fernandez splashed in a pair of long threes, the Trailblazers began playing volleyball on misses, rebounding one after another. Andre Miller and Fernandez found Oden for lob dunks—they finally found him for that—and then Noah just lost it.

Again the Bulls emptied their thin bench early and headed into the night with more questions than answers.

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