Bulls lose to 1-19 New Jersey Nets


Dec 9

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You hate it when it comes to this, but it sounds like the Vinny Del Negro coach watch began Tuesday night after the Bulls lost 103-101 to the New Jersey Nets, who came into the United Center 1-19.

It was the Bulls eighth loss in their last nine games, dropping them to 7-12 on the season and falling into the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference.

“I don’t worry about that,” Del Negro said after the game in responding to a question about whether he was worried about his job in the wake of consecutive bad home losses. “I just go to work everyday and do my best to develop these guys. Those are questions for Gar (Forman) and Pax (John Paxson) and Jerry (Reinsdorf). We’re fighting with what we have. Those decisions are not up to me.”

So what else could he say?

It was a painful loss, though the unfortunate part is it was one of the best games, at least down the stretch, the Bulls have played in weeks, at least a sign the team has not quit. The Bulls came back from 10 behind early in the fourth quarter and went ahead with 19.5 seconds left on a Derrick Rose runner as Rose capped off a terrific 11-point quarter and finished the game with 27 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for his most impressive game of the season.

But Devin Harris came right back with the same play, going hard right with a floater to give the Nets back the lead at 101-100 with 14.9 seconds remaining.

It was there, though, coming out of a timeout the Bulls made a fatal decision that effectively ended their chances.

Rose had been carving up the Nets with jumpers, tear drops and hard drives, finding Luol Deng, who had 27 points and nine rebounds, and John Salmons for big threes in the fourth quarter comeback. Salmons also made a big hustle play, coming out of a huge scramble with a half dozen players on the floor with the Bulls down three and a minute left and getting the ball to Deng, who was fouled and made a pair of free throws before Rose’s runner gave the Bulls what would be their last lead before Harris’ matching drive.

Then Salmons made the questionable decision of the stretch run.

Obviously, the Bulls were looking for Rose, who got tied up inside.

“When you’re playing against a great player like Derrick Rose, you have to take the ball out of his hands,” said Nets coach Kiki Vandeweghe. “We were able to do that.”

Joakim Noah got the ball to Salmons on a handoff and Salmons paused at the top of the key. But instead of waiting for Rose to free himself with just under 10 seconds left—still plenty of time—Salmons stepped back to shoot a three, which hit the front rim.

“The play was designed for Derrick to come and get the ball,” said Del Negro. “They overplayed and we did not set very good screens. Derrick was unable to get open and we went to John Salmons on the high screen roll. He did not attack on that and pulled back for the jumper. We have to look at the film.”

The Bulls had to foul, and Rafer Alston made two shots for a 103-100 lead with 6.3 seconds left. The Bulls were out of timeouts and as Rose tried to get the ball into the front court, he was fouled. He made one and missed the second on purpose. Noah got a hand on it and tipped it toward Salmons, who couldn’t gather the ball in as the game ended.

“They fought,” said Del Negro. “We had good performances from a few guys. We gave them too many points in the first half, especially. Our turnovers hurt us. The Nets are finally getting healthy. They will start winning some games. We battled at times and just missed too many free throws. You have to keep fighting. We will have another opportunity tomorrow night.

“You keep playing,” Del Negro said of where the Bulls go from here, it obviously being Atlanta though their plane got off late with the snow in Chicago . “There are a lot of games left. Keep fighting and keep scrapping and find a way to keep yourself in games. We want the guys to continue to learn and get better every game. There are no easy answers. Taj (Gibson) played well and did some good things out there. We were not able to get over the hump tonight.”

And that hump will grow into a mountain if the Bulls are not careful.

This is supposedly the easy part of the schedule with home games, but they now have lost consecutive games to teams with losing records at home. And now three of the next four games are against teams with some of the best records in the league, the Hawks, Celtics and Lakers.

“Every loss hurts,” said Noah, who had seven points and nine rebounds, five offensive. “I think we’re competing well in spurts, but we’re not going 100 percent for 48 minutes right now. We’ve just got to play with a lot of energy and take care of the things we can control. We’re just not playing well as a team right now. It never feels good to lose, especially to the team with the worst record in the NBA. But we’re playing a really good opponent tomorrow so we’ve got to get over it and be ready to go. I don’t think it’s anyone in particular. I think it’s more of us as a unit. We’re just not putting things together right now.”

It’s too bad for the Bulls it had to come to that after they rebounded well from the inexcusably indifferent effort at home Saturday against Toronto after being mocked in a loss in Cleveland Friday and Del Negro benching all the regulars in the fourth quarter.

Rose looked like the wunderkind of last season, Deng was aggressive with a big fourth quarter with 11 points including a powerful dunk on a pass from Rose and Gibson came off the bench for a career high 20 points and some strong finishes dunking the ball as well.

Actually, I thought it was a good move by Del Negro to shake things up a bit by starting Brad Miller, who remained ineffective with four points and three rebounds. It helped keep Gibson out of early foul trouble, which has been a problem for him, and gave the bench, which has been poor, a boost. Other than Gibson, Jannero Pargo and James Johnson combined to shoot one of 13 and Del Negro went with the starters plus Gibson the fourth quarter but for six seconds.

With Tyrus Thomas and Kirk Hinrich out, the Bulls thin roster remains dangerously depleted, and on that level it would seem unfair to blame Del Negro as he basically used six players Tuesday. Plus, the team did fight back hard down the stretch and get over 100 points for the first time since Nov. 17 and just the second time all season.

Plus, this wasn’t the 0-18 record breaking Nets team. Well, it was. But All Star guard Harris was back from injury along with Courtney Lee. And center Brook Lopez had 25 points and 10 rebounds in basically outplaying Noah. In fact, man for man, at least among the starters, it would be hard to make the case the Bulls had the better talent as Harris and Lee offset Rose and Salmons. Of course, that may be ever scarier.

Overall, the Bulls played a better game, outshooting the Nets at 46.6 percent to 45.2, outrebounding the Nets 43-39 and making more threes, a rarity for this Bulls team. Yet, the Bulls buried themselves with poor free throw shooting again as Rose and Gibson were the main culprits in the team’s 15 for 23 while the Nets made 24 of 28.

“Guys are fighting and playing hard,” said Gibson, who was terrific and one of three Bulls with at least 20 points. “The ball just didn’t bounce our way tonight.”

The Bulls actually got off to a good start for a change with a 20-12 lead as Noah was slicing inside and active. But rookie Chris Douglas-Roberts, Rose’s college teammate, got loose for scores and the Bulls could not contain the bigger Lopez inside as the Nets went ahead 26-24 after one quarter.

Lopez was killing the Bulls on what has become a soft defensive philosophy after the defense was so sharp to begin the season. The Bulls big man chases over the pick in a screen/roll situation, which is the common NBA play. The big man stays and there is supposed to be help from the weak side, either Gibson or Deng. But with Lopez diving at the basket those two were too small to contain him even when they got there in time and the Nets were just picking apart the Bulls. The big man staying with the screen for the Bulls hasn’t also been aggressively pushing the ball handler out and the ball handler has had an easy look inside for his man to roll.

Also, I liked the way the Nets mostly pitched the ball up to Harris near halfcourt on the wing instead of the way the Bulls tend to walk the ball upcourt. With the team they have, the Bulls have to quicken the pace and run to score, though the Nets did it better, mostly,and had a 20-10 edge on fast break points. The Bulls still spend too much time setting screens for Rose when he should be getting the ball more on outlets on the wing and attacking.

Gibson was huge in the second quarter with 10 points to keep the Bulls from falling out of it as Alston came off the bench and was torching Jannero Pargo, but the score was tied 54-54 at halftime.

The Bulls did make an adjustment at halftime to change up that screen roll blitz and stay with Lopez more. But the Nets ran repeated isolations to take advantage of rookie James Johnson, who isn’t a good defender. In reacting to that, Lopez got loose again and the Nets seemed to take control of the game with an 80-70 lead after three quarters.

But the Nets were forced into missing their first eight shots of the fourth quarter as the Bulls finally took on an air of desperation and would tie the game at 82 with 7:31 left after back to back threes from Salmons and Deng. It was a thing of beauty to watch Rose blowing through the defense to find shooters or slashers with Gibson coming down the lane for a ferocious dunk on a pass from Rose.

The Bulls were exciting again.

But not perfect.

After Rose drove the Bulls back again from four down with a teardrop to tie it at 88 with 4:48 left, Rose, inexplicably, left Harris open to help inside and Harris bottomed out a three for a 91-88 lead as the Bulls coaches exploded after reiterating not to leave Harris.

Deng went into the post and scored and Gibson tied up Douglas-Roberts and won the tip. Rose came up big again with a 17 footer for a 94-93 lead with 2:55 left, the Bulls first lead since late in the first quarter. Yikes! Yes, against the Nets!

Harris quickly took the lead back on a drive and Douglas-Roberts hit a jumper after a long miss by Gibson as the Nets went back up 97-94 with 2:11 left. After a Deng turnover, Lee scored for a five-point Nets lead with 1:52 left and it seemed over.

But the Bulls came back again in a game with nine lead changes and six ties. Gibson rebounded a Rose miss and finally made both, Noah blocked a Lopez layup attempt and Deng was fouled with 52.8 seconds left and made both to bring the Bulls within 99-98. Noah, now flying all over the place, blocked Douglas-Roberts and Harris missed a three. Rose hit that floater and with 19.5 seconds left the Bulls were leading. But there was too much time left.

And Wednesday it’s the second game of four in five nights, and a team on the edge. We’ll see which direction they go.

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