Bulls say good riddance to 2012 with loss to Bobcats


Dec 31

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Perhaps it was appropriate the Bulls closed the 2012 calendar year with a 91-81 loss to arguably one of the worst teams in the history of the NBA, the Charlotte Bobcats, who set a record for poorest ever winning percentage last season and were working on an 18-game losing streak coming into Monday’s New Year’s Eve game.

“We just have to work our way out of it,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I have to figure this out. I have to get us ready.”

That will have to be quickly in what has been the Bulls’ worst stretch since Thibodeau became coach in 2010. It was the team’s worst loss under Thibodeau given the quality of the opponent. The Bulls had bigger losses, like by 29 at home to Orlando in December 2010. But Orlando was a top team then with Dwight Howard.

Instead, this is a worrisome period for the team after losses to Atlanta and Houston by an average of 20 points and hanging on Saturday to defeat a Washington team that came in to the United Center 4-23.

Luol Deng“We’re not playing as well as we can,” understated Luol Deng, who led the Bulls Monday with 20 points and 12 rebounds. “We’re not going to make excuses. We’ve just got to find a way out of it.”

That’s looking problematic with the reserves who looked so good against Washington Saturday looking not so good Monday, shooting nine for 33 overall and zero for 12 in the fourth quarter after the Bulls had tied the game after three. Perhaps they do have a ways to go still.

“We’ve got to get ourselves out of this funk,” said Taj Gibson, who did have six offensive rebounds “We’re in a funk right now. We’ve been up and down this season. We have to push ourselves through it. Tonight, we let down a lot on defense and we just have to find our way out of it. But there is no excuses. There’s a lot of games and every game is different. We just have to find ways to inspire your teammates and help out on different occasions. No matter what the occasion is, if a team has a slow start, they have to learn how to pick it up. No one is going to feel sorry for us. We have to get ourselves out of it.”

It didn’t look much better among the starters with Nate Robinson, starting for the injured Kirk Hinrich who was held out and hopes to play Wednesday, shooting two of 11. Carlos Boozer had 19 points and 14 rebounds. But it was a rare, emotionless and enervating game for Joakim Noah, who played 30 minutes and had two points on two shots with four rebounds.

“Jo wasn’t feeling well today,” Thibodeau said. “He gave us what he had.”

Which wasn’t much, though he was hardly alone as the Bulls were outrebounded again, but this time by a team loaded with undersized guards and ranked 18th n rebounding. The Bobcats also give up the most points per game in the NBA, 104.5, and are fourth worst in field goal defense. Yet, the Bulls shot 35 percent and were held to the second fewest points this season of any Charlotte opponent. The Bobcats went to 8-23 while the Bulls are 16-13.

“Tough times never last; tough people do,” said Robinson in showing he’s been reading motivational messages of late. “We’ll be all right.”

The Bulls didn’t do much of anything right Monday, and they’re probably going to be happier to see 2012 go as much as any NBA franchise.

That’s because in some respects the year 2012 was one of the worst in Bulls franchise history. After compiling the best regular season record in the NBA for the second consecutive season under Thibodeau, the Bulls lost Derrick Rose to a serious knee injury and became just the fifth No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

By most any measure, Rose’s injury was the most significant in the history of the franchise as Rose was just the second Bulls player ever to win a league MVP award after Michael Jordan. Jordan had a broken foot in 1985, but returned after three and a half months. Rose going down in the first game of the playoffs was devastating not only for losing Rose until later this season at the soonest, but eliminating the Bulls chances to avenge their 2011 conference finals loss to Miami. Rose’s timetable is much longer, estimated at eight to 10 months and he isn’t likely to return before late February or early March.

Rose’s injury and the first round playoff defeat left 2012 as a year to forget for the Bulls. The Bulls would play just five games with the regular starters all season and yet still lead the league in wins.

There were some wonderful moments and achievements, like Thibodeau becoming the fastest coach to win 100 games, though he broke Avery Johnson’s record. Thibodeau received a much deserved contract extension, but the Bulls popular Bench Mob was broken up and the Bulls lost developing center Omer Asik in free agency to Houston. There were some terrific moments for those reserves, like John Lucas III going for 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists after first playing for Rose, who missed 27 games with various ailments before his catastrophic injury. Also, the Bulls had a thrilling overtime win over Miami, against whom the Bulls were 2-2, when C.J. Watson hit an unlikely three to tie the game to end regulation.

Richard HamiltonRose and Luol Deng were All-Stars. Deng made the all-defensive team and the Bulls coaching staff led by Thibodeau coached the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

The season began late, Christmas Day 2011, after the league lockout. The Bulls had a memorable win down the stretch opening against the Lakers as Rose and Deng combined to pull the game out. And then the Bulls started the New Year 2012 with a 40-point victory at home against Memphis. The Bulls would soon go into Atlanta with Rose’s 17 points in the fourth quarter rallying the Bulls from a 19-point deficit. It seemed all things would be possible in 2012. The Bulls set an all time NBA record holding their first five home game opponents to 66.8 per game.

The Bulls never flinched with the compacted schedule, winning their back to back to back set and going 8-1 with an early nine game stretch in 12 days. Noah would have the Bulls first triple double for a center since Artis Gilmore. And John Lucas III helped beat Miami by scoring 24 points as the Bulls dominated Miami in rebounding, it being clear they could not play that small lineup that beat Oklahoma City against the Bulls.

But it all came crashing down with Rose’s injury in the first playoff game, and the Bulls would then head for the end of 2012 with a half dozen new players and without their best player, biggest scorer and only true finisher.

The Bulls would have to do it with grit and grind, and they were hanging in until lately.

Tired? Overworked? Not talented enough? Too shorthanded? These are all questions facing the Bulls now. And while you can turn the pages of a calendar to a new year, the Bulls pretty much have to figure it out with the group they have. There’s not much opportunity for trades and being into the luxury tax now there aren’t many options for additions.

The Bulls have been one of the league’s best defensive teams and with just enough offense to remain in playoff contention. But the play of the last week or so with 2012 coming to an end calls for some reexamination of where the team is and what they can change. It will be better to get 2012 in the rear view mirror, though the Bulls hope that light ahead in 2013 is a welcoming porch instead of a dead end.

“It’s been since the third quarter of the Knicks game,” said Thibodeau of the 110-106 win in New York right before Christmas. “We put ourselves in a hole right off the bat (Monday). The defense, rebounding and low turnovers have to be there every night. Right now we are not getting that done. We have to figure out a way to get that corrected. Some nights you’re going to shoot better than others. But the defense and rebounding is not where it needs to be. You need a multiple effort mentality. And you can’t get discouraged.

Hard to be happy after that one, though.

Thibodeau had been talking Saturday after the Washington game about the team’s penchant to tip rebounded balls and often lose them. Thibodeau emphasized grabbing the ball, which the Bulls seemed to be getting lazy about. Noah said the team added new drills as a result.

But the Bulls came out Monday and couldn’t even get the tips, being outrebounded by a rather small Charlotte team 16-11 in the first quarter. Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap often uses small, three and four guard lineups as Gerald Henderson can play guard. And the Bulls still were being outrebounded. The Bulls talk of energy as a skill, like shooting and passing. But they’ve generally lacked it of late.

The Bobcats got out to a 16-7 lead to start in a game the Bulls never would lead. Rookie Jeff Taylor, whom the Bulls did have a serious draft night debate about before they selected Marquis Teague, and long ago Bulls reject Hakim Warrick started. Charlotte’s top rookie, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t play with an injury, and the Bobcats were bringing in journeymen and D-League players like Jeff Adrien, Brendan Haywood and Ramon Sessions. Yet, the Bobcats shot better than 50 percent in each of the first two quarters, leading 28-18 after one and 47-43 at halftime.

The Bulls did have a stronger second quarter with an all reserves lineup with Belinelli, Teague, Gibson and Jimmy Butler slowing Charlotte somewhat. The Bobcats do have some good scorers with former Bull Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions and Kemba Walker. But they are all small guards, and the Bulls really did little to take advantage of the size mismatches with few postups or trying to draw defenders and moving the ball. The Bulls couldn’t push the ball, getting just one first break score in the first half, again putting them in the halfcourt to manufacture scores, which is much more difficult.

The Bulls usually do manage it with movement, but there were constant periods with players standing around on offense and being beaten back easily on defense. Noah did seem ill with a rare lack of effort and basic inability to really get off the floor. Teague still is learning, and is passing up way too many shots, moving the ball into tougher defense as he looks more to pass.

Carlos BoozerThe Bobcats play a lot of isolation with their scoring guards, having just 14 assists. But the Bulls help was always a step or two slow. Sessions and Henderson had success going one-on-one. With the Bulls trailing by just five at halftime as badly and disinterested as they looked, they had to figure it was a game to get against a team with 18 straight losses.

The Bulls often come out better after halftime, but they had nothing again as Charlotte scored the first six points of the third quarter to take an 11-point lead. The starters played the entire third quarter, their defense better as they held Charlotte to seven of 22 shooting. The Bobcats also were doing the Bulls a favor missing 17 free throws.

The Bulls finally turned some misses into fast breaks, getting the rare easy scores that are vital for them without Rose. And then with a Robinson three with about four minutes left and Hamilton and Deng with a couple of scores despite the Bobcats getting multiple tips and offensive rebounds, the Bulls got to a tie at 63 after three quarters in a game the Bobcats seemed to be dominating. Play one quarter and escape with a win, it seemed.

But again the Bulls opened a quarter flat as three reserves with Noah and Deng were overwhelmed to start the fourth. The Bulls failed to score on their first eight possessions, getting the ball blocked or stripped several times. The Bobcats got their lead back to 75-65 four minutes into the fourth, and Thibodeau went back to Boozer for scoring and Gibson.

But nothing was going as the Bulls went on to shoot 23 percent in the fourth quarter and now have home losses to the Bobcats and Hornets, the two teams to play in Charlotte and who have a combined record of 15-46. The Bulls would finish Monday with 24 more shots that the Bobcats from offensive rebound and steals. And unable to do much.

“You can deal with the shots,” said Thibodeau. “Some nights you’re going to shoot better than others. But the defense and rebounding is not where it needs to be.”

Out of apparent desperation, the Bulls started fouling Bismack Biyombo away from the ball late in the fourth quarter, something I can’t recall a Bulls coach ever doing. The Bobcats took out Biyombo and then the Bulls fouled D-league callup Adrien who made three of four.

There continued to be a shocking lack of reaction to the ball, an inability to hang onto the ball that made the Bobcats look like Chicago Bears’ cornerbacks knocking the ball away. Boos rained down periodically, and fans began clearing out with more than three minutes left and the Bobcats with 80 points. It seemed clear the Bulls could transfer to an empty guy and still not get to 80.

“When you go through an entire month without a win, it really eats at you,” said Dunlap. “It is especially hard for our young guys who need to build confidence. We were close in a lot of games, but just didn’t win. I’m happy that we came in here and were able to do it.”

The Bobcats, Michael Jordan’s team, went a month without beating anyone. Except Jordan’s former team. Perhaps the Bulls owe him that for all he’s done for them.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?

Like the song/poem goes, let’s not forget old friends and remember our good memories.

But for now, the Bulls will just be satisfied to see 2012 gone. They could use some better times.

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