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Bulls go to Denver and leave as an omelette
by Sam Smith
Posted on Feb 8
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It’s beginning to look more and more like the Bulls will get their shot at Miami in the second round of the playoffs, assuming, of course, they can get past the Brooklyn Nets in the first round.
No, I don’t have much interest in discussing Thursday’s Bulls 128-96 loss in Denver, the most ignominious defeat of the Tom Thibodeau Bulls coaching era as the Nuggets shot almost 60 percent with 14 dunks and 15 layups in as much as a surrender as this Bulls team has shown in three years.
“They came out and started the third quarter and just smoked us,” said Thibodeau of the Nuggets racing from a 63-58 halftime lead as they lured the Bulls into a fast game with a 21-6 third quarter start that effectively ended it. “They got a big cushion and that was the game. Until we change (defense with 239 points allowed the last two games), it’s not going to be good. We are not containing the ball, not keeping it out of the paint, not getting shots, not rebounding the balls. It is very difficult to win with that.”
Denver, 32-18, got his best game as as a Nugget from DePaul’s Wilson Chandler with 24 points and five threes. But it was pogo stick power forward Kenneth Faried who dominated the Bulls like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan did in two Clippers wins over the Bulls. The Bulls are efficient (usually), intelligent and relentless. But they tend to shrink against high flying, athletic teams, which leaves them at a disadvantage against Miami, perhaps the only athletic team in the Eastern Conference. Faried, called “the Manimal,” did seem to scare the Bulls. He constantly dunked over retreating Bulls players to the point the Bulls uncharacteristically stopped running in transition defense, having safe spots to watch the Nuggets fast break dunks in a 23-6 edge in fast breaks.
“First half, he just kicked our [butt],” said Thibodeau of Faried. It would be nice (to challenge somebody at the rim).”
“Just embarrassing the way we played,” added Joakim Noah, who returned after missing three games with plantar fasciitis. But Noah didn’t seem to be moving that well and had just two points and five rebounds.
“I don’t think coach is the only one that’s hot right now,” said Noah. “Everybody is hot.”
That was good. Because pretty much no one was hot in the game, though Carlos Boozer had a good start even as the Bulls trailed 33-25 after one quarter. Daequan Cook playing for the injured Marco Belinelli led the Bulls with 19 points, though 11 in the fourth quarter after Thibodeau had surrendered. Nate Robinson was the other starter to play well with 14 points and three of three three pointers. Marquis Teague coming mostly late had 10 points on five of eight shooting.
But this was little contest almost from the beginning as the Nuggets, who play a wide open, three-point shooting transition game, lured the Bulls into their dizzying style early. The Bulls did a nice job keeping up in the second quarter between the three-point shooting from Robinson and Cook to cut a 13-point first quarter deficit to five at halftime. But that’s the pyrite of hoops in the Rockies. You think you’ve found something special, some hoops gold and are emboldened by keeping up with them. And it feels good, back to the playground where you felt you could make anything happen.
But this is not the Bulls. They play half court, play deliberately so they can set their defense. Shoot late in the shot clock so the floor is balanced, that enough players get back when the ball is shot, wear opponents down with ball movement so that when the ball changes sides so much opponents don’t really feel like running any more.
But then you run against the Nuggets and make a few threes and fast breaks. And it’s like the sirens’ call. You feel enlivened and enchanted, and the next thing you know your game is a wreck on the shores of their fast breaks.
“People don’t respect us as much because we are not on TV as much,” said Faried, whose flowing dreadlocks are much less the attention grabber than his ferocious dunks. “I guess we’re not as big of a broadcast team like the Clippers and the Lakers and the Knicks. I think we made a statement tonight on TNT and showed everybody like, ‘Hey, notice us. Pay attention. We are out here.’”
If the game was bad enough, it was on the TNT national exclusive night, the NBA version of Monday Night Football when everyone else is watching, and the Bulls’ play belied all the encouraging talk of a team that could seriously compete. Even Nuggets coach George Karl had to be wondering about his credibility when he called the Bulls before the game, “A team that’s very, very efficient, very, very disciplined and they hang around. You’re not going to beat this team by a big number.”
The Bulls fell for it. Though with Kirk Hinrich still out with his elbow infection, Belinelli out with a sprained ankle and Noah clearly not ready to play after a week off with his foot problems, the Bulls could only push this small ball, reserve ball so far.
The Nuggets want to tease you for a half, keep you in their game as long as you fall for their act of also not defending. Then you get a gasp of that light mile high air and after halftime they keep coming and you are going. It’s happened to the Bulls numerous times in Denver over the years.
Denver has now won 12 of its last 13 home games against Chicago, including six straight. Denver’s 32-point victory, its largest margin win of the season, is their second largest ever over Chicago (won by 33 on Nov. 20, 1979 in Chicago) and their largest home win ever over the Bulls. The previous was a 25-point win on Feb. 9, 1990, and yes, against Michael Jordan’s Bulls on the way to first title.
I was at that one, and this one was much uglier.
Though what it also suggests is the way the conference standings are falling into place. That’s what starts to happen around All-Star break as unless something drastic changes, it seems with the Bucks eighth and the 76ers with injuries and sinking in ninth the East playoff teams are set. Also, the top three teams seem to be separating themselves along with the bottom three, though Boston has been the hottest team since Rajon Rondo was hurt and could move up.
But it would seem Miami should hang onto the top spot with the Knicks and Indiana playing the best after them and starting to pull away from the Bulls and Nets, who are tied for fourth/fifth at 29-20. The Hawks at 27-21 have been sinking along with the Bucks, though Boston at 26-23 could pull itself farther up.
Yes, the Bulls as we are constantly reminded have Derrick Rose warming up to return. But there is no date yet and his return still seems perhaps a month away, and then if it occurs on limited minutes.
The post All-Star race is generally about positioning for the playoffs, though given the health situation and the way the other teams are playing, the Bulls for now appear to have the best shot at an opening round series with the Nets and the winner getting Miami.
Hey, you have to play them sometime if you want to get to the Finals.
Which isn’t something anyone among the Bulls would be thinking about after Thursday’s Denver domination with a game in Utah Friday. The elevation does drop about 1,000 feet, though more importantly for the Bulls they’ll face Al Jefferson, who really can’t jump over Faried’s hair.
The Bulls came out to lead 8-3 with Boozer taking advantage of Nuggets center Kosta Koufos not much coming outside. But the Nuggets ran off a 16-2 spurt with Andre Iguodala and Chandler making shots and Faried putting back everything and taking lobs around admiring Bulls. Thibodeau may not have gone over boxing out, either, pregame. Though Faried was just faster and springier than everyone and it seemed unfair the NBA was letting him use a trampoline, or so it seemed.
The Nuggets led 33-25 after the first quarter, dominated the boards 46-34 as the Bulls tried small lineups to stay with them, which just played into the Nuggets’ plans. The Bulls did score in their last six possessions of the half to get within 63-58. So it seemed OK the Nuggets shooters were getting wide open looks constantly since the Bulls were matching them.
Altitude, my tuchus.
But the Nuggets knew: “Gotcha!”
A 25-8 to start the third quarter, dunk you very much, and it was over as I think I saw JaVale McGee eat one of the Bulls jump shots as it floated toward the rim.
“We didn’t play well defensively,” agreed Noah of the Nuggets 64 inside points. “We didn’t play well offensively.”
But other than that how’d you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
“They beat us down the court every time,” said Noah. “It was just an embarrassing loss. I’m holding up (physically with his foot). Right now it’s just embarrassing the way we played. We’ve just got to come back ready to go tomorrow.”