Rose's 34 not enough as Bulls lose to Mavs


Mar 7

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Sometimes your best isn’t good enough. Sometimes your best won’t do. And so it was Saturday as the Bulls lost 122-116 to the Dallas Mavericks to fall back to .500.

The Bulls shot 52 percent and pushed the ball, which they need to do to score. They had the game’s high scorer. They outrebounded the Mavs, who, by the way, are looking like a legitimate championship contender. They scored more points in the paint, shot threes about as well as they have all season at 44 percent at seven of 16 and outscored the Mavs off the bench 35-23 with six players in double figures to five for the Mavs.

Yes, the Bulls gave up a lot of points. But the Mavs played fast and without Joakim Noah, sorry, and, yes, Tyrus Thomas, too, it’s difficult to play great defense when you hardly have anyone to protect the basket and block shots.

So the Bulls did what they could and what they should, and much better than they did in their three previous consecutive losses.

“I guess we gave our all,” said Derrick Rose. “They were too good a team.”

Rose, by the way, was spectacular with that game high 34 points on 15 of 22 shooting, eight assists and just two turnovers, both in the last 25 seconds of the first half when the Bulls were trying to steal a quick basket in a frenetic conclusion.

He was almost perfect and it wasn’t good enough.

Sometimes you’re flying high like a pigeon. And sometimes you’re famous but just the statue.

Brad Miller and Kirk Hinrich combined to shoot 13 for 20, Taj Gibson had another double/double, Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick were both back in double figures and James Johnson in four second quarter minutes made several terrific plays.

“They’re tough,” Rose reiterated. “They have one best players in the league (Dirk Nowitzki with 27 points) with very good other players surrounding them (Caron Butler and surprising rookie Rodrique Beaubois each with 24) and a great point guard (Jason Kidd with 15 assists and 11 rebounds).”

Though it doesn’t feel any better or help any to get beat by a better team. Perhaps you could point to the Mavs on the second of a back to back, though it was their 11th consecutive win, and without Erick Dampier, Brendan Haywood and Jason Terry.

But the Bulls still fell to 31-31 and in increasing danger of missing the playoffs.

They are just a half game up on Charlotte for eighth place now and the Bulls have the toughest schedule of all the bottom playoff contenders in the East. The Bulls finish with 15 of their last 20 games against teams with winning records compared with Charlotte with 10 against winning teams.

Milwaukee and Miami won again, and the Bucks got the Cavs with LeBron James sitting out for the first time this season to rest. I’d say there’s another reason he’s no fan of Chicago, helping the Bucks make the playoffs. But it looks like it may be just one of those seasons for the Bulls as the Bucks also saw the Heat without Dwyane Wade while the Bulls saw players like Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman and Danny Granger come back from injuries to play against them.

Yes, the Bulls are .500 and a year ago at this point they were 28-34. And perhaps Noah does come back for the last three weeks and makes it a race. It’s difficult to see how they could otherwise, though the way the Bulls played Saturday is the way they have to play the rest of the way to have success.

They’ve improved drastically on defense this season, but it’s not the same defensive team without Noah, and even the inconsistent and moody Thomas. Gibson does what he can, but he doesn’t have the size. Miller isn’t a force at the basket as well as he’s played overall, and Warrick is still adjusting to the Bulls schemes.

It’s basically where they broke down Saturday, though Dallas was really good and made shots.

“We scored 116 points, which is plenty,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.  “Their penetration really hurt us.  We missed some of our rotations and gave them some easy baskets in the lane.  On the one play when Shawn Marion slipped to the basket, we tried to double team Dirk.  Our weak side defense is not very good, but Shawn is one of the best in the league at slipping things.”

Yes, the Bulls slipped in some areas, but it’s difficult to see them having done much more.

They have two key elements to their defense. One is to blitz all pick and roll, meaning have the screener’s man push the dribbler with the ball to the side. When the screener’s man, say Warrick, does that, the player setting the screen, Marion in that case, slides in and the weak side has to come across. With so many new lineups and without basket protection from a big guy, that’s a tough assignment and Dallas did beat it numerous times. But the Mavs are a smart team with Kidd. When that fails they have options, which have the screener receiving the ball, Marion, pitch out to the deep corner three, where the ball then rotates back up toward the top to shooters. That’s an awful lot of ground to cover, and the Bulls are basically playing seven or eight players with so many new players and players brought in for expiring deals.

The Mavs are basically a veteran team, and they know their roles.

Kidd is having a rebirth and Nowitzki is a matchup nightmare. Miller cannot get outside to him, and when the Bulls went with Warrick as some teams like to go with a smaller player (the Suns used to use Marion with good results), Nowitzki is now much better in posting up and taking his shot, which you can’t get to. When the Bulls sent a double, Nowitzki passed back to Kidd, who is adept at finding cutters.

“I think we’re loaded,” said Kidd. “We have guys who know how to put the ball in the basket and we all enjoy sharing the ball and being part of a play that’s successful. Tonight, I didn’t have to score. My guys were knocking down shots. We got a lot of points in the paint and we made shots down the stretch when we had to.”

The other anchor of the Bulls defense is to create a so called shell around the lane to thwart penetration. But in doing that the perimeter guys tend to fall back when their man passes the ball. But the Mavs move the ball so quickly, it ended up in a lot of open jump shots before the Bulls could recover and with Bulls players scrambling back a lot of lanes opened as the Mavs move the ball impressively and had 31 assists on 49 baskets.

And then there’s an X-factor, which Saturday was the somewhat unexpected—though it shouldn’t have been as he set or tied career highs in his previous two games—Beaubois. He set another career high with a stunning 18 points in the third quarter as he was darting around and throwing in jumpers from everywhere against the Bulls best perimeter defender, Hinrich.

“Both Butler and Beaubois were the difference in the game,” said Del Negro.  “They hurt us.”

Still, the Bulls had chances.

That Beaubois run seemed to stun the Bulls, though Rose insisted they were very aware of him and his recent high scoring games. He’s a rookie from Guadeloupe. I admit I didn’t know where that was. It’s in the Caribbean and a territory of France. Columbus was said to find that, too, though the Bulls could have used his help in finding Beaubois in the third.

The Bulls finished the third quarter missing five of their last six shots, mostly long, lonely jumpers, to fall behind 94-80, their largest deficit.

The Bulls trailed 30-26 after the first quarter as the Mavs would have some success with a 2-3 zone they came in and out of basically all game, though Rose’s shooting kept taking them out of the zone. Johnson had that nice second quarter run with a three, a block of a J.J. Berea drive which he kept in and passed ahead to Rose for a score and drive and foul of his own. Johnson also had a sweet inside bounce pass to a cutting Rose, who was fouled. But that zone bothered the Bulls some late in the second and they also had a bit of a late quarter meltdown, which has been something of a bad habit, as the Mavs got several runouts and an 8-2 run to go into halftime leading 66-55.

That Beaubois of a third quarter then looked like the end.

But unlike some of the recent games, they didn’t give in as Rose was brilliant in the fourth with 13 points in hitting six of seven shots and Jannero Pargo got it going with a trio of three pointers.

“They went small, so I thought I’d get JP in there,” said Del Negro.  “He has the ability to hit some shots in a row, he’s one of our best shooters.”

Dallas did what it could with its big men out, which was force the pace as they had more offensive weapons than the Bulls. You’d say perhaps then slow the pace and make them play halfcourt. But the Bulls are weakest when they do that. So the Bulls pushed in the fourth quarter and made it a game.

Pargo hit a pair of threes and a short jumper around a beautiful crossover by Rose spinning Nowitzki around as Rose banked one in. That got the Bulls within 98-94 with eight minutes left and Dallas into a timeout. Game on.

But the Bulls never could get closer.

“We just had trouble stopping them all night,” said Hinrich. “We did not play good team defense and we lost because of it. They are 43-21 for a reason. They play really well together and we did not have an answer for them.”

The Mavs rode Nowitzki in the fourth, and not many have an answer. He ranks second in the NBA in fourth quarter scoring and had 13 in the fourth, so it’s not like a lot of teams have him figured out.

He came out of that timeout with a jumper to make it 100-94. Miller then lost the ball and Butler, who dominated his matchup with Deng, hit a three. Bulls timeout with the Mavs up nine.

“We got it to four. They’re a good team and started making plays,” said Deng. “In our offense, it’s like that. Some nights you get the ball, some nights…It looks bad (six points), but I missed six shots. Some nights it’s yours. Some nights it’s not. Like I said, they are a good team. We just couldn’t get a stop. If you want to win games in the fourth quarter, you’ve got to lock down. The fourth quarter is not about offense. It’s about getting stops.”

The Mavs shot 55 percent in the fourth. But the Bulls shot 68.2 percent. Yes, and still lost.

The Mavs led 108-98 with 5:18 and the Bulls wouldn’t back down.

Miller slipped a screen, drove and dunked, a rare sight, and Miler followed that with a three on a Rose penetration and drop off pass. Though Nowitzki hit a 16 footer inbetween.

And it wasn’t like the Bulls weren’t into this game. The bench, especially the likes of Noah, Johnson and Acie Law, was exploding and fired up with the great plays.

But Butler then hit a three as the ball swung around four times and left Bulls defenders chasing. Deng then scored on a hard inside cut as Rose drove, drew the defense and handed off.

Nowitzki hit another jumper, and then Rose came up with the spectacular drive of the game splitting a double on top and beating Marion at the basket with Butler coming from the side.

But the Bulls just could not stop the versatile Mavs.

The Bulls gave Gibson a look on Nowitzki and as Nowitzki ran baseline Pargo gave him an elbow that nearly knocked him over. The Bulls weren’t being passive. But when Deng came to double, Marion took off for the basket and with three guards on the floor to come from the weakside, Marion had no problem scoring on a layup.

The teams then traded missed jumpers and Rose delivered a pretty teardrop to bring the Bulls within 117-111 with two minutes left.

The Mavs went back to Nowitzki. Kidd screened Gibson coming across and Rose went to help and fouled Nowitzki, who made both. Rose answered with a pull up from 17 feet. Nowitzki then missed a 15 footer. But Hinrich was trying to play Butler with the Bulls going small and Butler got inside for the offensive rebound and put it back for a 121-113 lead.

The Bulls last gasp was when Pargo hit a three in transition to get within 121-116 with 46 seconds left. Beaubois missed a three from the left corner, but it flew out way over Gibson’s head and right to Nowitzki near the free throw line. The Bulls had to foul and that was the end.

I suppose you can second guess any loss. But down 14 the Bulls in the fourth quarter shot better, including 50 percent on threes, got more rebounds, the same number of assists and scored 36 points. It just wasn’t enough.

“It’s the NBA. We’ve still got a college season left,” said Deng of the 20 games remaining. “It’s not time to get down. We’ve had losing streaks before. We’ll figure it out. We’ll come back.”

They better quickly because the bracketologists have them on that first out list for now.

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