Bulls defeat Wizards without Rose


Jan 12

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Just imagine you didn’t know anyone in the NBA and you watched the Bulls Wednesday defeat the Washington Wizards 78-64. You’d never heard of the point guards playing against one another, John Wall and John Lucas III.

Lucas, leading the Bulls, had 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists with two turnovers, while Wall for the losers was without a field goal the last 19 minutes and had 11 points and eight assists with four turnovers.

Who do you think was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft and who was the seven year journeyman who’d played in China, Spain, Italy and the D-League and waived by NBA teams several times?

It was that kind of night in the United Center with Derrick Rose out with a sprained toe along with Richard Hamilton and C.J. Watson. The Bulls were so desperate for guard help as Lucas played almost 46 minutes they signed Mike James from the D-league and he had to spend 10 hours on airplanes to get there in time for the game.

Plus, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, combining for a total of eight points and 10 rebounds, were ineffective again and benched the entire four quarter as the Bulls turned a two-point lead early in the fourth quarter into a rout in wearing down a disinterested Wizards team despite it being the Bulls’ third game in three nights.

“The defense was, I thought, pretty good, the rebounding was terrific,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I thought that was the difference in the game. There is a lot of fight in our team.”

Luol Deng

The Bulls dominated Washington on the boards 62-46 with Luol Deng getting 15 rebounds to go with his 12 points and Omer Asik 14 rebounds to accompany his five blocks and spectacular interior defensive presence.

Taj Gibson teamed with Asik, as they’ve been doing lately, to play the fourth quarter for Noah and Boozer and carry the Bulls with their defensive presence and hustle.

“Our second unit, the whole bench mob thing. There’s definitely a sense of pride in that,” said Kyle Korver, who was also big with 14 points, six rebounds and four assists and two tough takedowns of Wizards players trying to run out for fast breaks. “We feel when we come into the game we can change the game and we really believe that. And I feel most nights we do.

“Obviously, we like it better when Derrick plays (the Bulls hope to have Rose back for Friday’s game in Boston). But we feel we have a lot of confidence,” said Korver. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can step in and play. We’ve got a pretty rugged group. Taj and Omer, who I don’t think get enough credit for how good defensively they are. They are so good on the defensive end together. You’ve got Omer, who is always in the right spot. You’ve got Taj, who can switch onto any position. That’s such a weapon for us. We may not have as many flashy scorers, but we usually execute really well and it’s pretty fun basketball with the second unit. Nights like tonight you’ve got to step up and we feel we can do it.”

It was what they like to call around the NBA one of those grind-it-out games, which basically means two teams playing poorly. With the 1-9 Wizards you are generally guaranteed of one team playing poorly. They were led by Jordan Crawford with 14 points, and he almost passed once. But he didn’t, much like the rest of the indifferent Wizards.

The Bulls basically without anyone to penetrate and create with Rose out and Boozer ineffective relied on physical team play and relentless effort.

Perhaps the best example was late in the fourth quarter with the Bulls hanging onto a 69-64 lead with about five minutes left.

As feckless as the Wizards have been, they start five first round draft picks, four in the top 18, with another lottery draft pick coming off the bench in rookie Jan Vesely. So, in theory, they are capable, and the Bulls were playing only one player, Deng, picked higher than Gibson at No. 26 with three second rounders and undrafted Lucas.

So with five minutes remaining Korver ran Wall around screens until getting open for an 18 footer, Trevor Booker missed inside trying to get around Asik, Lucas drove down the middle for a layup and 73-64 lead with the Wizards so occupied with trying to curtail Korver, and then Nick Young quick shot an 18 footer and missed.

Then you have to see this sequence from the official running transcript:

3:25 64-73 Kyle Korver misses 6-foot jumper
3:23 64-73 Kyle Korver offensive rebound
3:02 64-73 Luol Deng misses jumper
3:01 64-73 Omer Asik offensive rebound
2:40 64-73 John Lucas misses 20-foot jumper
2:38 64-73 Luol Deng offensive rebound
2:20 64-73 Kyle Korver misses 24-foot three point jumper
2:19 64-73 Omer Asik rebound
2:18 64-73 Omer Asik misses tip shot
2:16 64-73 Kyle Korver offensive rebound

Timeout Wizards.

The United Center crowd was exploding in appreciation of the brilliant, never-give-up effort.

Kyle Korver

Then with just over two minutes remaining out of the timeout Korver passed to Asik for a dunk. Korver then stepped in and drew an offensive foul on Wall, who was guarding Korver most of the fourth quarter. Deng then posted up and when trapped passed to Lucas on top of the floor for a long three to make it 78-64 with 1:35 left and Brian Scalabrine human victory cigar time.

“Everybody was on the board banging,” said Thibodeau. “Korver with big shots, Omer and Taj, they shut the lane down. It’s hard to get anything inside on them. We know pretty much we can have a lockdown defense with those two guys on the floor. I felt we could win it with our defense.”

Which meant no Noah. That’s scary.

It was encouraging for the now 10-2 Bulls with arguably the most difficult early schedule in a season of difficult schedules (eight of 12 on the road) to win like that.

Yet, lurking just beneath the surface is the Rose injury as he missed just his seventh game as a Bull. It’s a sore toe and not turf toe and the Bulls seemed hopeful (see earlier blog post pregame) Rose would be able to play Friday. Thibodeau also said Hamilton and Watson were close to a return, probably Watson more so the way Lucas played.

Though of greater potential significance was the continued curiously feeble play of Noah with his fourth game in the last five with four points or fewer and just four rebounds, his second four-rebound game in the last four.

“We’re winning now,” noted Noah. “I’d like to do more to impact the game, but I’m not right now. I have to work harder.”

Boozer, who also had four points after seven against Minnesota Tuesday (though he had at least 20 in two of the previous three before that), didn’t want to get into the issue.

“It’s his (Thibodeau’s) decision,” said Boozer. “I’ll ride with it. As long as we keep winning everyone is happy. It’s up to him (whether I play in the fourth quarter). Me and Jo, we’ll just ride with his decision.”

I actually think it’s less an issue with Boozer, who is relatively close to what is realistic at 13.3 points and 7.9 rebounds, than Noah. At least what I expect from Boozer. Noah continues to drop balls, tries to gather himself before jumping, is out of position on defense and not reacting. That famous energy seems limited to rushing back and forth between interior players rather than running the court and showing big on defense.

As a result, Thibodeau has effectively benched both, though he would never do so openly and merely doesn’t play them to close games rather than explaining a new starting lineup.

“We’re in the midst of a lot of games in a short amount of time,” Thibodeau said. “You just have to go with the guys who have some energy. (But) we need those guys. Normally Jo (who suffered a sprained thumb early in Wednesday’s game) has great hands. It will come around for him. Carlos and Jo are a huge part of this team. On most nights they carry us. They, of course, along with Derrick. You need everyone the way the season unfolding and we’re seeing it.”

And in trying to find a positive with his players, as he always does, Thibodeau said perhaps it’s a good thing Boozer and Noah are getting some rest by sitting out late.

“In some ways it’s good,” said Thibodeau. “Their minutes are not piling up.”

I’m not sure that’s what the Bulls had in mind. Imagine how rested they might be for the playoffs. Psst, don’t tell other teams this strategy.

But Wednesday’s game was a coming out party for Lucas, whose presence even on the team was an issue of some debate over the last two seasons. There were questions whether he could fill the backup role if needed rather than be just the practice player he’s been. Perhaps the team should go for a tested veteran? But Thibodeau, who coached Lucas in Houston and in summer leagues, insisted Lucas could step in. He was proven correct at least for one night.

The Bulls are woefully short of players who can break down the defense and penetrate into the lane to open up shots for others. Actually, it’s Rose and that’s about it.

So it was a concern and a surprise when Rose wasn’t available after saying following Tuesday’s game in Minnesota he’d play. But he had some swelling and the Bulls didn’t want to take a chance.

The Bulls began hesitantly, but Lucas didn’t. That’s one facet of his makeup. He’s not afraid of the moment and went right to shooting.

“He is not going to leave any bullets in the gun,” Thibodeau said. “I give him a lot of credit.”

Lucas would take a staggering 28 shots, making 11 and taking only a brief break when Ronnie Brewer replaced him at point for two minutes in the third quarter. But his points, rebounds and assists were all career highs. He sat winded after the game in the corner of the locker room, next to Rose’s locker, that is usually empty so reporters can crowd around Rose. You never want to be next to the star in the locker room because you cannot dress without reporters stepping on your toes. But Lucas is such a likeable guy he’s generally upbeat about anything. But this time he was the star.

He said when he arrived for the rare pregame shootaround at the United Center he was first told he’d start.

“He (Rose) said, ‘You ready to play 48?’” Lucas recalled.

Lucas said Rose took him aside and said, “This is what you’ve been waiting for. Go out there and play your game. You been doing it your whole life. You’re built for it.”

Lucas said he was thrilled.

“When you have someone come at you like that, the MVP, that gives you confidence,” Lucas said. “If they have it in you why wouldn’t you. And I’m a confident person. Just go out and play, get everyone involved and get a win.

“Thibs was like when you see an opening, you’ve got to take (the shot),” said Lucas, who said he went to Thibodeau at one point and wondered if he was shooting too much and Thibodeau said to keep shooting. “They kept going under (the screen). I kept getting around the four and five and getting to the hole. I’m a scoring PG. But I also can pass the ball. When I have an opening for the shot that’s what I did. I’ve been preparing for this entire life. If this opportunity came I was going to take it and run with it.”

It began slowly with the Bulls ahead 17-15 after one quarter and then 45-37 at halftime in what was looking like a snoozer with the Wizards seemingly satisfied after winning Tuesday that they wouldn’t go 0-66. Andray Blatche was benched for that game, so he came up with a shoulder injury Wednesday and didn’t play. Wall made the highlight play of the game, a flying dunk over Lucas, but Wall is really a myth, a fast runner who seems to have little understanding of basketball.

The rest of his teammates seem to be practicing for summer league games with one on one play. The Wizards also don’t react well to being defended, which the Bulls do so well and shrank from their shots. The Bulls now are yielding 67.5 per game at home, a league record for fewest point average to start the season.

The Wizards got a little run going in the third quarter thanks to awful Bulls shooting, four of 14 combined from Lucas and Deng as the Wizards tied it at 51 and trailed just 57-53 going into the fourth quarter.

But the Bulls continued to hammer away at the boards with eight third quarter offensive rebounds to none for Washington. The Bulls then grabbed the rest of the game as the Wizards effectively gave up with 11 fourth quarter points on three of 17 shooting while the Bulls grabbed an astounding 17 rebounds in the fourth quarter, seven by Asik.

“Tonight was all about finding a way somehow,” said Deng. “We did not have time to think about fatigue, even though we were tired out there. At the end of the day it was a win.”

A day that ended for the Bulls surprisingly much better than it started. And especially for John Lucas. Now we’ll see where it takes Noah and Boozer.

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