Jan 3, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Pau Gasol (16) is defended by Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger (7) during the second quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki/Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor
The Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics have learned this month that they have a long way to go to be true contenders in the Eastern Conference, but both have diagnosed what they need to do to get there.
For the Celtics it's a return to their defensive principles that can start with Friday night's visit from Chicago, while for the Bulls it's harnessing the effectiveness and conditioning of Derrick Rose.
Boston (22-21) has lost eight of 12 while looking nothing like the defensive stalwart it was in the season's first few months. Only Golden State and San Antonio allowed fewer points per 100 possessions than the Celtics (97.4) before Dec. 30, but since then half the league has been better than the 104.3 per 100 allowed by Brad Stevens' club.
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It allowed at least 115 points in each stop on a 1-2 road trip – one of which went to overtime – and Toronto's 55.4 shooting percentage in Wednesday's 115-109 loss was the second-best by a Celtics opponent this season.
“We know we can score. It's been good to see the ball go in the hole for a lot of guys on this road trip,” forward Jae Crowder told the team's official website. “But we've got to get back to our defense.”
At 19-3 when holding opponents under 100, there's plenty of incentive. The same could be said for the Bulls (24-17), who are 18-2 when keeping teams from triple digits.
They've only done that once while losing five of seven, yielding 109.3 points per 100 possessions, and they'd gone nearly six years without giving up more points at home than they did in Wednesday's 125-94 loss to Golden State.
''It's embarrassing,'' Rose said. ''We stopped communicating while we were out there. You could easily tell there was no communication on both sides of the ball. The only thing we can do from it is learn.
“We've got a back-to-back coming up (the Bulls visit Cleveland on Saturday) and a chance to redeem ourselves.”
Rose had 29 points in 30 minutes against the Warriors, bumping his average to 22.3 in three since missing a game with left knee tendinitis.
Last season he was still one of the league's most effective guards when taking the ball toward the basket, as Rose was 10th in team points produced per drive at 1.27. He's dropped to a pedestrian 1.15 this season, but helped account for 21 Bulls points on 10 drives against Golden State.
“Derrick was great, was really good coming out, was attacking, was carrying us on offense,” coach Fred Hoiberg told the team's official website. “If he keeps playing like that and attacking like that we've got a chance to have a good rest of the year.”
No team allows fewer points per drive (1.07) than the Celtics, and the disparity in Rose's drives was evident in two earlier meetings. Rose's eight drives produced five Chicago points in a 105-100 loss at TD Garden on Dec. 9, but his 10 drives led to 16 points in a 101-92 home win Jan. 7 – though that one came with Avery Bradley sitting due to a hip injury.
The Bulls were more successful in the meeting where Jimmy Butler served as a distributor. He had 36 points but no assists in Boston, then recorded 19 points with 10 assists in Chicago. Pau Gasol has averaged 19.4 points and 15 boards as the Bulls have won four of five in the series.
Bradley, who was shooting 43.1 percent from 3-point range through 22 games, is at 23.8 percent from beyond the arc in his last 16.