Ailing Bulls can't get well against Atlanta


Mar 2

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Now how did the lyrics to that old Broadway tune go? This could be the start of something bad?

I don’t think that’s it, exactly, but the Bulls began their “Uh oh” stretch Monday with a 116-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks as Joakim Noah sat out again with plantar fasciitis and could be out a week or longer, Luol Deng missed his first game of the season with a knee injury and hopes to play Thursday against Memphis and Derrick Rose for the second consecutive game had to leave after being hit in the knee.

James Johnson started and Acie Law and Joe Alexander finished, and over the next three weeks the only team the Bulls will face with a below .500 record is Miami, and that game in the second of a back to back on the road.

This could turn very ugly for the Bulls, who’ve now lost three of five to fall to 31-29 and were absolutely hammered by the Hawks, who held a rollicking 63-37 rebounding advantage, including 22 offensive rebounds.

So here was one of the most positive things I heard after the game in talking to Rose, who still had 24 points in 31 minutes. He said there’s no problem going home for treatment.

“I’ve got a lot of ice bags from the previous injuries I had,” Rose said.

Uh oh.

“I’m sure Joakim will be out for another week, at least and then it is day to day,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “I expect Luol to be able to play on Thursday. His knee was really stiff and swelled up a little more. With a couple of days in between, the first time we’ve had that for a while, we’ll see if we can get the swelling out of there and be ready to play on Thursday. It’s not impossible (to win without them), but it’s very difficult. Without Joakim and Luol and Derrick going down for that stretch, it really took the energy out of us. When we missed, they would get out in transition. Before you know it, it went from five to nine to 12. I thought it was time to get some of these guys, especially Derrick, out of the game.”To fight another night?

One hopes, though this seems about as bad as it can can get short of Rose being lost. Noah’s 27 minutes against Portland Friday when he probably accounted for the overtime win with his defense on LaMarcus Aldridge apparently is the last time we may see him until April. Noah stammered on again about when he’d play. He obviously is getting as tired being asked about it as everyone is asking him.

He promised he’d return, albeit not 100 percent, when it mattered. We assume that meant playoffs, which is hardly a guarantee anymore given the schedule and the way, even though the Bulls got within 77-72 early in the fourth quarter, the Hawks simply turned it on when they felt like it and blew away the Bulls.

The Hawks pretty much seemed to have it on half speed most of the game as they never trailed, though Brad Miller, who did all he could with 15 points and seven rebounds, won the opening tip from Josh Smith, who dominated with 17 points and 18 rebounds.

“Sixty three to 37,” Miller muttered about the rebounding margin. “Seldom does a team win a game giving up that big a difference. If they do, I’d like to know about it.”

Asked about trying to deal with Smith who was dunking lobs and tipping everything back to teammates, Miller sighed: “I did out quick him on the jump ball.”

Taj Gibson fought valiantly, getting 11 points and 13 rebounds. But the Bulls trailed by 11 after one, by 16 at halftime and in double digits most of the third quarter before a little run to close the third.

Rose had a two handed tomahawk dunk to give the early departing crowd something to recall and added a jumper and Flip Murray had a pair. When Jannero Pargo opened the fourth with a jumper the Bulls were within five.

OK, that was enough for the Hawks, who would score 41 fourth quarter points, the most by a Bulls opponent this season.

They scored on eight of their next nine possessions on a variety of short jumpers and run outs. On the one possession they didn’t score, they got two offensive rebounds and stole the outlet pass after the Bulls got the ball and missed again.

“They’re very tough,” said Rose as the Hawks went to 38-21. “They switch almost everything (on defense). They rebound well and you can’t turn the ball over or it will be a highlight on the other end.”

That run gave the Hawks a 91-79 lead with 6:41 left. The Bulls came out of a timeout with the long armed Hawks defenders thwarting a play and Miller ending up missing a three. Then Atlanta scored on four of their next five possessions to go up 100-81 on a Jamal Crawford drive with about four minutes left. Del Negro then threw in the towel, hoisted the white flag and called for anyone’s uncle to help.

“I am feeling my shot more now,” said Crawford, who led the Hawks with 21. “I had missed some games and was not getting into the flow. My teammates have kept encouraging me to keep shooting and now I’m getting my timing back. We’re playing good ball and looking to make a run to move up in the playoffs.”

Yes, former Bull Crawford is headed to the playoffs for the first time in his 10th season in the NBA and the Bulls are looking for help.

They’ll probably sign forward Chris Richard, who was previously with them and went back to the D-league after the trades for Murray and Hakim Warrick, who both scored in double figures.

But it was another rough game for Kirk Hinrich, who had been shooting so much better. He was one of six in the loss to the Pacers Saturday and one of nine Monday. He was playing physically, however, apparently so much so that the usually detached Marvin Williams got a double technical with Hinrich late in the second quarter and when the teams were walking off at halftime Williams gave Hinrich a sucker shot with an elbow that apparently the refs missed.

Yes, the Hawks were kicking sand in the Bulls faces as well.

“It is a long season and we go through the peaks and valleys,” said Del Negro. “Kirk brings a lot of intangibles to the game. We would like him to score more, but he did not shoot the ball well tonight. But he’s been playing well. We know he is always going to play hard and we have some guys out. We just need to find a way to get guys healthy.”

There’s obviously no pill for that, and apparently no shot as the Bulls players have tried those.

The team would have needed more than that had Rose not been able to return. They just would have been shot, period.

Rose had his left knee hit by Earl Watson in Saturday’s loss, and then his right knee about four minutes into the game when Miller threw an outlet pass and Mike Bibby stepped in to try to intercept and knocked knees with Rose.

You know that crazy elbow thing you can get. This is like that, but way worse, particularly for a guy whose strength is his speed and explosiveness.

“Today was worse,” said Rose. “Indiana was the side of my knee. It didn’t hit the kneecap. This time was inside of my kneecap, so it was worse. My knee loosened up a little bit. I was just trying to get us close and let my teammates handle the rest.

“Right when happened I said, ‘Not again, not again.’ I don’t know what to say about it,” said Rose, shaking his head. “I rarely get injured, knock on wood (Rose actually stopped his comments to reporters to find wood in the locker room and knock on it). I don’t know what’s going on.”

Rose admitted given the pounding he is taking as teams trap, blitz and collapse on him everywhere on the court, run him through endless hard screens and beat him up constantly, he thought about not returning to what, clearly, was a lost cause with Noah and Deng out. But Rose’s brother, Reggie, came into the trainer’s room as Rose was being treated and challenged him.

“At first I thought about sitting out,” Rose admitted. “My brother came back there and was talking about great players play through when they’re hurt. I didn’t want to hear his mouth, so that’s what made me go out there and try to play.”

The young man needs help, so I headed over to the Hawks locker room after the game to find him some. It’s generally believed the Bulls have the best chance in free agency of luring the Hawks Joe Johnson compared with the likes of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Though I did see where James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer he filed the papers to change his number to six from 23. Setting the stage for a move to Chicago? Perhaps, but I couldn’t imagine the Bulls giving anyone Erwin Mueller’s old number.

Johnson had 14 points and nine rebounds on just five of 15 shooting as he was a bit passive after winning Sunday’s overtime game over Milwaukee with clutch shooting.

A couple of Bulls had filed into the Hawks locker room to see old friends, which is not uncommon around the NBA. Miller was waiting for former teammate Mike Bibby and reminiscing about their high/low game with the Kings and how Bibby anticipated those spinning bounce passes that sometimes confuse Bulls teammates. Pargo went in to see Johnson, so maybe the Bulls should keep Pargo. They seem good friends.

Pargo had six points on three of six shooting and despite his diminutive size is one of the tougher Bulls competitors. He’s said to regularly win the informal contests the players have, and last week in the locker room I saw him do a running somersault and stick the landing like an Olympian, drawing cheers from his teammates.

Johnson seemed happy to see him and yelled at Pargo that Pargo fouled him every time he had the ball. Pargo laughed and didn’t disagree.

Free agents get asked this stuff all the time, and it hardly matters what they say as things will and can change any time until they sign somewhere. Still, I asked. It’s what we do. So I wondered if Johnson thought at all as he traveled around what it would be like playing for that team. I didn’t mention Chicago, but, well, it seemed obvious. He smiled.

“Not today,” Johnson said. “I just come out and work hard. We’ve got something special going and that’s all I’m thinking about.”

It’s hard to blame him as the Hawks are good. Smith is a phenomenal athlete and Al Horford is a grinder at center and tough. Crawford gives them strong relief for Bibby as Johnson can also play the point. The bench isn’t great, but the top six is impressive.

The issue with Johnson is the Hawks’ woeful financial situation and muddled ownership and whether they’d pay him the maximum salary it would take to sign him. Yes, he’ll be 29 this summer, but that’s the cost of an All Star in this market.

The Bulls could use any sort of help about now.

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