Bulls need to rebound after loss to Magic


Dec 2

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It was a bad night for the Bulls Wednesday against the Orlando Magic in the United Center. So how bad was it?

It was so bad that it was Joakim Noah bobblehead night. And Noah’s bobblehead got the same number of rebounds that Noah got. Zero.

“They beat us in every facet of the game,” offered a restrained coach Tom Thibodeau of the Magic’s 107-78 destruction of the Bulls, which included a Bulls franchise-low 21 rebounds from the second leading rebounding team in the NBA (before Wednesday).  “Our lack of rebounding was giving them second shots, a lot came from their dribble penetration.  We were not good in the low post defense, pick and roll defense, and rebounding.”

It was supposed to be a celebration that turned into a humiliation.

Carlos Boozer, the much anticipated big free agent acquisition from the great Summer of Free Agency, finally made his debut after breaking his hand in training camp. And you’d hardly have noticed with an invisible five points and two rebounds in 22 minutes.

“I had high expectations for this game,” Boozer gloomily conceded afterward. “The reality, unfortunately, is I’ve got work to do to work my way back in and that’s what I plan on doing.

“As far as the injury, it (feels) great,” said Boozer. “It took me five, six minutes to get the speed of the game. I’m in a down mood now because we got beat so bad. We’re going to play a lot better than that; I’m going to play a lot better than that.

“We’re a lot better team than we showed tonight,” said Boozer. “I’m a much better player than I showed tonight. It’s a first step. It takes time. Hopefully, not too much longer. I feel it’s going to get better. Because it can’t get much worse.”

No one is blaming Boozer. Actually, I didn’t even think he should have played after just two practices since being declared medically ready. I’m sure he’s healed, but not only does he need time to adjust to the team, the team needs time to adjust to him.

Maybe he should have come off the bench to start and worked in at increments. Though you generally don’t bring in a star and start him on the bench.

So it figured to be shaky, and it was. The Bulls never imagined it could be that uncertain, but you could see Boozer and Derrick Rose hesitant when and if to run screen/roll, and if so where. You saw Luol Deng unsure where he was getting the ball, and it was a difficult matchup on defense for Boozer with the quicker Rashard Lewis, who kept losing Boozer, thus causing switches and players rotating out of position.

The result was the usually unaggressive Vince Carter, who had 22 points to go along with a game high 24 from Jameer Nelson, getting two tipins for scores in the first quarter. Carter, notorious for avoiding contact, had four offensive rebounds. The entire Bulls starting lineup combined for one offensive rebound. The Magic pummeled the Bulls 27-10 in second chance points, usually a specialty of this Bulls team.

And Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he wasn’t the least bit surprised, though Van Gundy did say he was surprised how well his team played, the best all season, he said, and especially Carter, whom he said hasn’t played close to like he did Wednesday. Being trailed by Keith Bogans probably helped some.

No offense to Bogans, who works hard. But he was brought in to be a deep backup used for emergencies. It is time to get Ronnie Brewer in with that starting group and see if they can do a bit better with those first and third quarter starts.

“Carlos is a great player and he is going to help them a lot,” said Van Gundy. “But it’s actually to their disadvantage when he first comes back because they’ve developed a good rhythm without him. I’ve been in his situation before and I would have done exactly what Tom did. You do not bring a guy like that off the bench. You’ve got a season; you’re getting ready for the playoffs. You need every game with the rotation you are going to play. You know Carlos Boozer is going to be a starter. You’ve got to start the process sometime. I’m sure Tom knew going in it’s sort of like starting over for them. It probably was to our advantage tonight it was his first game back.

“It’s not going to take him that long to get involved and for him to be comfortable and them to be comfortable with him,” Van Gundy went on with also saying he was somewhat grateful the league and ESPN even allowed other games to get attention with the upcoming LeBron-returns-extravaganza Thursday. “But you’ve got to do it. If you bring him of the bench, yeah, your starters will play better because they’ve been playing together. But it’s not the rotation you are going to be playing this year. You still have to adjust to playing with those guys in the starting lineup. You’ve got to get the process going. You know it’s not going to be the greatest thing for you in the beginning, but you’ve got to do it.”

Which I can understand.

But this game, the fewest points the Bulls have scored all season by 10, never within 15 after the middle of the second quarter, was more than the problems of adjusting to Boozer and Boozer not able to produce much.

Noah, the league’s second leading rebounder, got pushed around and distracted by Dwight Howard, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“I tried to do a good job hitting their guys and being very physical down in the paint,” said Howard. “We did a good job boxing out and everyone hitting someone. Noah had been playing great and we tried to do a good job on him.”

Noah seemed so distracted by trying to stop Howard that Noah failed to give almost any help for the guards off the pick and roll, and Rose was losing Nelson on screens as Nelson added nine assists to his 24 points and the four rebounds of the 5-10 (or whatever) Nelson matched the Bulls high by Deng and Taj Gibson.

“That’s my job, to rebound the basketball, and I wasn’t able to do that,” said Noah. “I’ve got to do a better job of it. I’ll come in tomorrow (to practice), work hard and get ready for the next one (in Boston Friday). There are no excuses in this league. He’s (Howard) obviously one of the best for a reason. It’s frustrating to lose the way we lost. We feel we’re a better team than we showed. There are a lot of things to clean up. It shows we have a long way to go.”

The Bulls now are 9-7 and a half game up in the Central on the league’s best defensive rebounding team, the Pacers. The Magic is 14-4, so we will hold off on those Bulls championship predictions a bit longer.

Nelson continually got inside and it looked like one of those chariot scenes from the gladiator movies with the races through the squares and people scattering all over the place.

Boozer was losing Lewis and yelling for help. But Noah didn’t want to leave Howard, so Bogans would rotate and Carter would slash inside to the boards. Yes, that Vince Carter! Quentin Richardson would flair out for a three as Deng tried to rotate back, and Richardson would get an open three. Or Lewis. Or Nelson coming back on the weak side for the ball rotation. Each made three. The Bulls combined for four three pointers.

Not that we shouldn’t have seen all this coming. The Bulls now have two 6-9 forwards from Duke, so when announcer Tommy Edwards introduced, “The 6-9 forward from Duke…,” Luol Deng ran out. And Edwards mentioned Boozer. Then in introducing Deng, Boozer ran out. Right, if they can’t get the intros right, how are they going to get the coverages right?

I didn’t disagree with the Bulls plan on Howard, which was not to double team or help Noah much. I think the Bulls get in too much trouble, anyway, when they double because they are not the greatest athletes and their rotations suffer. Plus, the Magic get going when their three point shooters begin to hit, so the Bulls elected to stay home with Howard. And Howard did have just 13 points.

The first quarter, actually, was respectable as Rose scored nine points on four of five shooting and the Bulls trailed 28-22 and shot 55.6 percent.

But it was the old, perimeter Bulls as the vast majority of the Bulls shots were jumpers, including by Rose who didn’t go to the basket once in that first quarter. He finished the game with 15 points, mostly on jumpers.

It was last season that Howard violently took down Rose twice, which may have sent a message that carried over. Though Rose also seemed to be trying to feel out Boozer’s tendencies.

Howard, for his part, again insisted he never intended to hurt Rose despite what some have suggested.

“I think people made it seem like I was trying to hurt Derrick,” said Howard. “Me and Derrick are real cool. It’s just like I told him: Sometimes he comes down the lane and you are at a disadvantage because your body is going one way and all it takes is a little bump. I tried to protect him. He comes down the lane and takes that little jump shot (or floater), and in that way guys can’t block those. It’s going to make him tougher, the pump fake and going around. Just protect yourself. I never would do anything to try to hurt him.”

Well, his pride wasn’t feeling so good Wednesday.

“I knew it wouldn’t be anything pretty,” Rose said of Boozer’s first game. “When we get our connections going, I think we should be all right.”

Rose seemed, perhaps, to be deferring to Boozer in staying away from driving and attacking the basket. With Boozer setting up in the post, it did appear Rose was trying to get a feel for what Boozer could or would do or where he would be. After all, once the season begins teams rarely scrimmage or during practice are in live game situations. So it’s unlikely since just starting practice this week Boozer even got much live game type action before going into a game against one of the league’s best teams. And going through drills is a lot different than seeing what someone will do when the defense is paying attention. And the Magic’s was on Wednesday.

Carter was unusually engaged as coming in there had been talk in Orlando that perhaps J.J. Redick, who was out with the flu, should replace Carter as a starter. But Carter was attacking the basket, which he hardly does anymore, and carrying on a conversation with courtside fans and responding to their taunts.

They didn’t have much to say as the game progressed, and the hope turned to boos for the Bulls, though I preferred to believe it was more calls for “Booz.”

Boozer only attempted five shots, hardly a good sample, and Noah did get into foul trouble with three by the middle of the second quarter. The Bulls opened that second quarter with defensive three second technicals on consecutive possessions as the madness and confusion continued. This was the team that just finished the Western Conference road trip 4-3? Kyle Korver shot an air ball, Brewer missed a open layup, Boozer front rimmed a postup jumper, Boozer posted up on Brandon Bass and Nelson slapped Boozer’s hand and the ball.

At least Boozer didn’t encounter any carryover from the injury and seemed to come out of the game with his hand sturdy, if not quite strong yet.

Kurt Thomas made a rare appearance for a couple of minutes and James Johnson got in and filled up the box score with his usual array of impressive athletic moves and head scratching decisions with the ball that usually end up with it going the other way. He was three of five in 15 minutes with two blocks and four turnovers.

Noah led the Bulls with 16 points as Howard didn’t care to follow Noah outside and Noah had his elbow jumper going. So Noah did have another double double: In points and shot attempts.

Orlando led by 24 at halftime and pretty much lost interest after that as they settled into their jump shooting contests. The Bulls made a little run to open the fourth with Gibson, now coming off the bench, converting three baskets (he was a solid five of eight for 10 points) and Johnson with a pair of blocks, but then hanging on the rim on a dunk attempt for offensive interference and a couple of unforced turnovers. Korver teamed with Brewer on an out of bounds pass, and the fans came, they saw and they left with about six minutes remaining.

“We have to fight a lot harder,” said Thibodeau. “They were into us. (Boozer’s) first game. Some good and some not so good.  I liked his energy.  He can only get better.  As his conditioning and timing come around, he will get better.  He’s got great hands, he set great screens, he is a very good pick and roll player.  Once he gets going, that gets us another weapon where we can attack inside.”

The Bulls hope sooner than later.

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