Bulls blown out again in echoes of Tim Floyd Era


Dec 10

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I admit I wasn’t watching the Bulls game with the Atlanta Hawks that carefully when the Bulls were down 36 points in the fourth quarter with Jason Collins and Randolph Morris shooting uncontested jump shots. But I thought I saw someone hand a pink piece of paper to Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.

I know, that’s what you want.

Let’s fire the coach. Lovie Smith and Lou Piniella, too, while you’re at it, and didn’t the Blackhawks already fire a coach? It’s a Chicago passion. Isn’t there a backup quarterback to put in the game?

Things don’t look good for Del Negro or the Bulls after still another rout, a 118-83 loss to the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday on national TV, no less, that wasn’t as close as the final score suggests. I know. I’ve used that bad line too many times in the last few weeks, and it’s as tired as the Bulls play.

“This game is all mental,” said Derrick Rose, who led the Bulls with 19 points and seven assists but had his own mental lapse in the third quarter with three turnovers in 74 seconds which helped turn the game into a rout for the Hawks. “Either you want it or you don’t. The score tonight speaks for itself. We have to find ways to win. A loss like this really hurts. We’ve been blown out in several games this season, and it’s really frustrating.”

Anyone who has watched this knows the level of disaster with nine losses in the last 10 games to fall to 7-13, a half dozen games in that stretch in which the Bulls have trailed by at least an inexcusable 24 points during the game and a loss to the then 1-19 Nets.

Even worse, the Bulls have become something of an object of league wide ridicule.

There was LeBron James dancing around while the Cavs were dominating the Bulls last Friday and Chuck Hayes of the Rockets saying you don’t complain but knock him on his rear. There was Jarrett Jack tying his shoes during a possession while he had the ball and Raptors coach Jay Triano saying they would have knocked him on his rear. There’s not much rear knocking done by anyone these days, but you don’t want to be the one they are talking about not so nicely.

We all were warned it was a tough early season schedule; there were injuries to Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas, the latter still out and Hinrich returning Wednesday without having practiced and, predictably, missing all nine shots in 22 minutes; it was a thin roster with two rookies and the season, while not a throwaway, was a transition year until the free agency class of the summer of 2010.

Still, no one expected anything like this, especially after a nice start to the season in which the Bulls defense clearly was better and more active and the team beat the Spurs and Cavs and had that replay call go against them to take away a win over the Nuggets.

No one said the Bulls were Eastern contenders or even with much chance to get past a first round playoff matchup. That was for future seasons. But the expectation was to be one of those teams in the last three playoff spots, like last season, and definitely competitive.

It’s not happening the way this team is playing, obviously.

So fire the coach and do what, exactly? The two coaches fired thus far this season were replaced by general managers with little or no coaching experience. John Paxson? Nah. How’d you like that Jim Boylan interim experience?

I feel and understand the frustration everyone feels, and the conventional wisdom is a new coach lights a fire under the team, that now they start defending and hustling because if you lose like that it means the players have given up on the coach.

“I don’t think me and my teammates have given up, but we’re going to have to find some ways to turn things around,” said Rose amidst growing questions to players about Del Negro’s status. “This is not to take anything away from the Hawks, because they are a good team, but we have to give better efforts if we hope to win some games.”

So maybe the Bulls put in the 65-year-old Bernie Bickerstaff, the team’s top and most experienced assistant.

I have high personal regard for Bernie, and perhaps such a change is inevitable. But does changing the voice make up 30-point deficits? Win one for Bernie! Bernard?

If the Bulls continue like this, it’s difficult to imagine something isn’t done. No one ever survives that in sports. No one ever has.

But you can make changes, at least in the short term, and it’s time to do that.

If anything, Vinny has been exceptionally loyal to his players, rarely making lineup changes and never calling anyone out. It’s not his personality and you see that in some former players who become coaches because they treat players as they wanted to be treated.

Del Negro changed the starting lineup before the Nets loss Tuesday taking out Taj Gibson for Brad Miller, who doesn’t seem in season condition yet as his usually reliable shot has been unreliable.

It’s not a deep Bulls roster, especially with Thomas still out. But what the Bulls lack now is what they didn’t to start the season, energy and effort.

You lose games like the Bulls have when you bench your effort and energy.

The Bulls need to explode into games, and they’ll have to Friday at the United Center with the high flying and fast firing Golden State Warriors.

The Bulls, really, have two distinct sets of personalities on the team with energy guys like Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich and more passive guys like John Salmons, Miller and Rose when he doesn’t have the ball. Thomas can be that kind of energy player when he returns, though he hardly makes up those deficits just by his return. He’s a piece.

I’d say to start the shakeup go with Rose and Hinrich in the backcourt with Deng, Gibson and Noah and pressure and trap and open the floor and just play.

Especially with Rose, as I’ve been writing for some time, get him out of that high screen/roll. Isolate him on top like that bad Cavs offense for LeBron James, and let Rose create. Maybe put him in a screen/roll with Deng, who can pick and pop and catch a pass on a roll. Changing things up also challenges the players.

Maybe even makes them mad enough to say, “I’ll show you.”

Let Salmons come in with Miller and work more in the half court, where they are better, and perhaps can get a run against reserves and get some thrust from the bench, which has been dead and outscored Wednesday 66-32. Coaches like Del Negro fear losing a player, like the sensitive Salmons, but better than losing your job. Hey, what’s to lose now the way things have been going?

This wasn’t a game the Bulls figured to have much chance on a back to back, anyway, arriving late after being delayed by snow in Chicago and with the Hawks coming in 14-6 after three days off and no injuries.

“We tried to stay with them early on, but our turnovers got us,” said Del Negro, who has handled the growing pressure on him gracefully and professionally, a good message to players. “They jumped on us early in the third quarter, and then we ended up playing catch up. We don’t score the ball well enough to play catch up like that. (Jamal) Crawford (with a game high 29 points) came in and gave them a big boost off the bench. We struggled with being able to convert and not putting any pressure on the ball. The Hawks are long, athletic and young, and I’m sure that it helped that they’ve been off since Saturday.”

Still, you’ve got to compete better.

Rose came out fast, as he’s promised, scoring six of the Bulls first eight points and taking four of the team’s first six shots. Look, Rose is doing fine and is a heck of a player.

He doesn’t want to score so much. He really is a point guard and I’m confident will be a great one. But, c’mon, the defense isn’t guarding anyone else. Great players like Jordan and Kobe and LeBron generally want to be “the man.” I don’t think Rose cares. I think he’d love to play with someone better and just get him the ball. But he has to score, so he tried and came out aggressive. You have to love that.

Remember, also, Rose is being asked to run the team. No, Derrick, be the scorer. No, pass. No, shoot. It wasn’t until his third season in the NBA Isiah Thomas played for a team with a winning record. It was the fourth season for Michael Jordan. The best needed help. So does Rose. He doesn’t have it yet.

The Bulls led much of the first quarter and trailed 22-21 after one as they were defending. Deng, who is playing well this season, had good recognition with Rose on one play when Crawford took Deng on a switch and Deng ran right to the post and was fouled. But Noah got two cheap calls, one on a seemingly obvious flop and a second on incidental contact. You don’t get any respect when you are losing.

Hinrich came in with 3:39 left in the first, but his shots weren’t even close. Still, he did try.

The Hawks began to space it out in the second quarter as Crawford got going. Miller had a casual inbounds pass under his own basket picked off by Zaza Pachulia, Salmons got blocked from behind on a fast break by little Jeff Teague, Al Horford ran out after a Noah miss and the Bulls trotted back in transition and Rose, as he’ll sometimes do, threw back for a three-point shot on the break when he should have finished and drawn contact.

It was 56-42 Atlanta at halftime, and then it really began to get ugly as the Bulls seemed to give in, if not exactly quit.

Losing becomes a mentality, and that’s probably the biggest opponent for the team now.

Josh Smith ran out and Salmons offered up a soft foul as Smith scored and got the three-point play chance. Taj Gibson continued to play strong and whenever he had the chance finished strong with dunks. James Johnson had 17 points, all in the fourth quarter, off the bench. He did get to the line, but doesn’t attack the basket aggressively and put up too many shots from below his belt.

It got really ugly later in the third when Maurice Evans blocked consecutive shots by Hinrich and Deng, leading to a fast break in which Joe Johnson (another future free agent whose team blew out the Bulls) lobbed to Josh Smith for a ferocious slam dunk and 30-point lead with 3:35 left in the third.

That was 22-6 Atlanta on fast break points, by the way, against a Bulls team that needs to run to score and which says it committed to defense this season. Instead, they spent a lot of time admiring their jump shots.

That was 20-4 Atlanta to open the third quarter as fast as you can say Bryce Drew to Dalibor Bagaric.

Turn out the lights, Dandy Don, the party’s over.

“They’re a very good team, and we know that,” said Del Negro. “Joakim got into foul trouble early, which hurt us. These games are frustrating, but you have to battle through it, and find ways to get back in the game.”

The Bulls and Del Negro need to start finding those ways fast.

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