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Bulls prepare for Clippersmania
by Sam Smith
Posted on Dec 11
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It’s not really a mob because they’re from Los Angeles, where, to quote the great philosopher Neil Diamond, the sun shines most the time and the feeling is lay back.
So call the Los Angeles Clippers’ reserves, who rank among the most substantial in the NBA, the Bench Coterie.
They’re in the United Center with former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro Tuesday for a national ESPN game with an 8:30 p.m. starting time. And somewhere after 9:00 p.m. when they go to work the Bulls better be careful.
Because when the Bulls suffered by far their worst loss of the season, it was to the Clippers with most of the damage done by the Clippers’ bench.
In that 101-80 destruction not only did the Clippers reserves outscore the Bulls 53-25, but the Clippers broke open the game in the second quarter with the reserves playing. In that dominating second quarter, the Clippers reserves outscored the Bulls’ 33-8, scoring all but two of the Clippers points. That left the Bulls trailing by 13 at halftime, and then down by 20 a few minutes into the second half.
It was the only time this season you got the sense the Bulls players felt they were overmatched, and one of the rare times under coach Tom Thibodeau you didn’t see that competitive attitude.
There’s been much talk about the Bulls bench the last two years, the fan favorite Bench Mob, and the effect this season after the turnover in bench personnel. And though there have been some good performances from Nate Robinson, and now Marco Belinelli, though as a starter with Richard Hamilton out, the Bulls bench is more a work in progress.
For the Clippers, fourth in the Western Conference at 14-6, the bench has been one of its major strengths even with All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the latter Western Conference player of the week, among the starters.
“We’re coming in hungry,” Ronny Turiaf, who turned down the Bulls to go to the Clippers, told L.A. reporters. “We have a supreme confidence as a group. We believe we’re game changers. Defense is the base of everything for us. We pride ourselves in it and creating our offense from a defensive mindset.”
They did that to the Bulls last month with 26 fast break points and 20 points on turnovers.
The Clippers’ reserves, according to the Hoopsstats.com web site, are third in the league in scoring among reserve groups, first in steals and in the top 10 in basically every major category, including rebounds, assists, field goal and free throw shooting. The Bulls’ group, which has changed with reserves starting games and the starters playing big minutes, ranks in the bottom third in most categories. It helps for the Clippers, also, that two of the team’s four top scorers, Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe, come off the bench. And this is with Chauncey Billups out again and Grant Hill not back yet.
Crawford is a former Sixth Man of the Year who could start for most teams. Bledsoe is one of the fastest coming point guards and a player several teams have tried to wrest away from the Clippers. But given Paul’s status as a potential free agent, the Clippers aren’t letting Bledsoe get away until they know for certain about Paul. Plus, they’d like to keep Bledsoe anyway as when he and Crawford come in they tend to roll over competing reserves.
The Bulls get a break with Kirk Hinrich’s first half injury Saturday against the Knicks just a sprain. He was back practicing Monday and will play Tuesday. And Taj Gibson, ejected in that game, says no more talking to officials, a tough one to manage.
Meanwhile, Belinelli is averaging 20.3 points the last three games and eight for 20 on threes, giving the Bulls poor three point shooting a life.
But that takes away a reserve from the Bulls. So Thibodeau again could be forced to lean on his starters longer.
Who have been doing awfully well of late with a three-game winning streak, two on the road. The defense has been coming together as the Bulls now rank second in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage and three point shooting. The Bulls have to as they are 24th in the league in scoring. The Bulls also are second in rebounding differential with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer regularly accumulating double/doubles.
But they didn’t have a very good time in November against the Clippers’ front line super athletes, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Noah had his poorest game of the season shooting zero for six with seven rebounds. Griffin had 26 points and 10 rebounds in that game, but most late after the Bulls had pretty much called for cabs. Jordan had seven blocks. The Bulls generally assign Boozer to the lesser scorer on the front line, which means Noah likely defending Griffin, and Noah did a decent job at that. But beyond Noah, the Bulls don’t really have the size to combat Jordan, who does play better at home.
What makes the Clippers’ bench so formidable, obviously, is the two starting level players. But there’s also the aggressive Matt Barnes, who can be a bit hyperactive at times. He got into a pushing thing the other night against John Lucas and got Lucas kicked out. He is a pest. Lamar Odom finally is getting into condition after his semi retirement with Dallas last season and having to wear a girdle to training camp he was so overweight. Or it seemed like it, anyway.
Yes, Vinny’s got himself a darned good team.
And, yes, I did reference Neil Diamond. Isn’t he trending on Twitter?