Raptors demolish the staggering Bulls


Dec 6

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The last time I remember the Bulls losing like this at home–110-78 to Toronto in a game that wasn’t that close–was also on a Saturday night, just about two years ago when the Houston Rockets dominated an indifferent Bulls team. Two days later coach Scott Skiles was fired.

I don’t expect Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro to be fired, especially with two of the team’s top six players and two of their three most effective defenders, Tyrus Thomas and Kirk Hinrich, still out with injuries. And that with top guard Derrick Rose just getting over an ankle injury that slowed him the first month of the season.

Still, in the age of Obama, what the Bulls need is some change, if not in personnel, certainly attitude and commitment.

“It doesn’t feel good,” Del Negro said after arguably the Bulls’ worst game in two years. “I love the challenge. I love the competition. It makes me sick to perform like that. But are you going to give up or go and fight? I’m a fighter. I’m going to battle and do whatever I can to help and the guys have to do the same.”

And I don’t expect a trade anytime soon. There were rumors last week of a deal involving Thomas and the Knicks’ Al Harrington. But everyone around the Bulls seems to think that’s more speculation than reality and with Thomas out another two weeks with his broken left arm it hardly seems anything is likely to occur.

Plus, if the Bulls are to improve, it has to come with more defensive effort, energy and commitment, which you wouldn’t get from an individual scorer like a Harrington, the classic big scorer on a bad team who gets his numbers and in the last five years about 50 losses a season.

Though the Bulls rank among the league’s poorest offensive teams, to paraphrase former president Bill Clinton, “It’s the defense, stupid.”

That’s right. The Raptors led 37-16 after the first quarter playing their fourth game in five nights and third in four nights on the road. And after the Bulls had basically given in against the Cavs Friday in Cleveland and rested the starters the entire fourth quarter to be ready for Toronto.

“It wasn’t really energy was our problem,” insisted Luol Deng, who fingered defensive indifference and incompetence as the villain. “We did not pay attention to detail. They got whatever they wanted.

“Defensively (was the problem more than offense). Whenever we don’t play together and don’t share the ball, we don’t help eachother on defense,” said Deng. “When our energy is up, when we help eachother on defense, we move the ball, we get stops and run. If we don’t do that it affects everyone’s game. Until we commit defensively, I don’t think our offense will come around.”

That said, you’d think the Bulls need to make some change at least to get someone’s attention.

You’d say bench someone. But without Hinrich and Thomas, the bench is a hodge podge of rookies and aching and aging veterans with Del Negro saying both Jannero Pargo and Lindsey Hunter now have injuries.

“Pargo’s got a hip (problem) out there (and is) limping,” said Del Negro. “I’ve got Lindsey in a bucket of ice in there trying to heal an ankle. Something is wrong with his foot. We’ve got some rookies trying to find their way. We don’t have the bodies, especially when Joakim (Noah) gets thrown out (with a second technical in the third quarter). Aaron Gray is just coming back and is limited. There’s not a lot there to get going. That’s why the starters have such a responsibility to keep us in it. And then we have to get something off the bench to give us some rest without us dropping. With our guys out now it is difficult.”

I’d like to see some changes in the offense as well, fewer pick and rolls on top, more isolations for Rose and Rose to attack and draw contact more, which he tends to try to avoid. I’ve also noticed him limping some, but he’s more like Andres Nocioni and wouldn’t admit he was hurt when things are going badly even if he had a knife sticking out his chest.

But it’s not all the scheme. You see Bulls guys take a screen but then pull up instead of finishing and stretching it out to space the court better and get someone diving to the basket.

Toronto actually did that beautifully several times and got dunks and easy layups.

Though the Raptors have been on a pace to have maybe the worst defense in the history of the NBA—they’d given up more than 100 points the last 12 straight and ranked 29th in points allowed and three pointers yielded and 26th in opponents shooting—they are a talented offensive team.

They were led by possible free agent to be Chris Bosh, who finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds in just 22 minutes and crushed the Bulls in the first quarter with 13 points (the Bulls high scorers for the game were John Salmons and Pargo with 13) and six rebounds.

Bosh drove and peeled off screens and dove at the rim. He introduced himself in the opening seconds with an offensive rebound for a score and a block on Rose. He went to the line and made all five free throws. Of his six rebounds, five were on the offensive boards.

“He did what he was supposed to do, attack play hard, play defense,” said Rose. “That’s why he’s an All Star.”

And if the Bulls were trying to make a good impression on Bosh as perhaps a place to land next summer as a free agent they didn’t do a very good job in laying down as they did and submitting to a beating from a team now 9-13 and regarded as one of the league’s biggest underachievers.

And this came after fellow possible free agent to be LeBron James practically was openly mocking the Bulls with a series of dance routines while the Cavs were hammering the Bulls into giving up after three quarters Friday in Cleveland.

The Bulls fell to 7-11, but, more significantly, the Saturday loss was their seventh in the last eighth and the fifth time in the last eight they trailed in the game by at least 24 points. But those previously were on the road.

The Bulls were behind as much as 36 points Saturday at home in just their third back to back set of the season, among the fewest at this point in the league. The Bulls never got within less than 20 after the first quarter. The Bulls will end the season with the most back to backs and now are 1-5 in those games.

I don’t think there are any great solutions at this point. Trades are difficult, and almost impossible when your team is losing and your players’ values, thus, are lowered. Shaking up the starting lineup seems questionable. I might give Brad Miller a shot over Taj Gibson given that Gibson, though continuing to play hard, is getting in foul trouble against the top line starters and is a bit small and having taller players rebound over him. But he’d hardly be to blamed as he’s been one of the bright spots in this dim start to the season.

Hinrich should return this week and Thomas was shooting jumpers pregame and could start practicing in a week or two.

“We have to commit on defense,” agreed Salmons. “At this point it’s everything (that’s wrong). We’ve got to look at all the technical things. We’re a good team. We’ve got good players on our team. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it every night. For whatever reason we’re not playing consistent basketball. Injuries are not really an excuse. We’ve just got to come out with more energy. We’ve got to try to take the game instead of thinking we’ll throw the ball up and win. We’ve got to play with more hunger and effort to win.”

Noah generally does, and this all seems to be getting to him.

He didn’t seem all that thrilled when the Bulls packed it in after three quarters Friday, and then he verbally challenged James’ antics. Saturday, he had nine points and seven rebounds in just under 19 minutes before he was ejected with 7:19 left in the third quarter when he punched the basketball into the courtside photographers after another humiliating sequence when the Raptors got five offensive rebounds on one possession until Jose Calderon finished it with a three pointer for a 77-46 lead.

Noah already had one technical for arguing after he’d gotten his second foul in the first four minutes and had to leave the game.

“He’s got to control his emotions a little bit,” said Del Negro. “We’ve talked about it. I wasn’t sure the first technical was warranted. Then the second he was frustrated, but he has to understand how important he is to be out on the court for us. It’s a lesson to be learned and hopefully one that Joakim sees.”

When Noah left the Raptors were leading 13-8, and by the time he returned the Bulls were behind 44-19 as the Raptors ran an offensive clinic, throwing lobs behind confused Bulls defenders acting as spectators, driving the ball for 14 inside points in the first quarter, hitting all 11 free throws while the Bulls mostly circled around shooting bad jumpers, hitting 29 percent in the first quarter and 39 percent for the game.

“You would expect that,” Del Negro said of a better start after the regulars rested the fourth quarter Friday. “It didn’t happen that way. The starters have a responsibility to get us off to a good start. They’re playing heavy minutes, I know, because of our health situation, but I was very disappointed in the approach and in the first quarter. You’re going to miss shots. If you are you have to find ways to grind it out and we didn’t have that.”

Ground down, actually.

It was a sad spectacle to watch with Bulls players marching back in timeouts like they were going to a funeral, sitting on the bench with stunned and disinterested looks, acting like the game was some sort of punishment, a duty rather than a privilege.

Everything pointed to a game in which the players didn’t much care and gave up.

They were pounded on the boards 53-32 by a team that ranks in the lower third in the league in rebounding. The saw a team in the bottom half of the NBA in assists whip the ball around for 27 assists on 40 baskets. They saw a lazy team last in the league in steals get eight. The Raptors exceeded by 11 points the fewest they’ve given up all season. This was a Raptors team that had given up 146 points to Atlanta Wednesday and lost to Charlotte by 35 points 10 days ago. They’d lost nine of the last 12. No one was sure if Customs would let them back in the country.

“The confidence is low,” conceded Rose. “We’ve got all day tomorrow (off Sunday). Everyone has to come back focused. We don’t have the worst record in the league, but somehow we have to get over .500. We’ve got to defend. We feel bad. It feels like a Monday and you have to go back to school.”

School is out. This is the NBA and it’s a lot harder. So far this season the Bulls are failing the test.

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