Jimmy Buckets goes up and under. Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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After falling to the now 6-2 Atlanta Hawks in Phillips Arena last night, 115-107, in a frustrating contest, it’s clear that the Bulls are now firmly ensconced in the throes of mediocrity with a 4-4 record.
But all hope is not lost.
The Hawks are a good, smart team, whose two strongest players suit up in the front court; an arena in which we only have two league average-level defenders at present.
That being said, the Bulls totally could’ve won this game.
Hoiberg with some serious Resting Trestman-Face vibes. Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
1. The Bulls don’t have time to mess around
On the first night of a back-to-back, Fred Hoiberg played his war horses way too many minutes for a lost game.
Now, granted, they wanted to win and had a decent shot to do it, at one point getting to a mere two-point differential with just under five minutes to spare. Jimmy Butler played 39 minutes (and averaged a point a minute!), Taj Gibson played 36, and Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo played 33 apiece.
Three of those four guys are 30 are older, it’s only November, and to top it all off, they lost the darn game. A night when Butler plays more than 32 minutes or the others play more than 30 need to yield a win, otherwise it feels like a severe waste of … time. (See what I did there?)
Hoiberg played Wade, Butler and Gibson until the game clock buzzed, even though the game was more or less out of reach by the time the Hawks got to a 111-103 advantage with under a minute to play.
Again, they have a quick turnaround, too, against Dwyane Wade’s old team, that the man they call Flash desperately wants to win.
Bobby Portis is a mess. Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
2. Bobby Portis is pretty bad
And he’s replaced Cristiano Felicio in the rotation.
Felicio is an inconsistent defender, but he’s also significantly better on that end than Portis. I also like his offensive game more than Portis’s right now. Hoiberg put a Portis-Lopez big man lineup in for some of the fourth quarter, and it sort of worked a bit in that Paul Millsap had to respect Portis’s shooting. But he was little more than a decoy.
In 13 minutes, Portis notched a donut on the night in points, had just two rebounds, two dimes and one steal. On the defensive end, he really had trouble contesting Paul Millsap late, at one point in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Portis locked his legs into a far-too-wide stance, so that a 6’10.5″ guy could barely guard a 6’8″ (maybe) guy — Millsap made an easy alley-oop to Dwight Howard for a demonstrative slam. Portis was mercifully pulled during the next timeout.
His miserable defense wholly abetted part of a convincing 15-2 scoring run for Atlanta up till the final minute of the game, by which point the margin was 111-101 until a made McDermott corner two (he was wide open and totally could have gone for the trey, but he’s Doug McDermott, so he didn’t think to do that).
Anyway, I’m not quite sure why you’d want Bobby Portis playing over Cristiano Felicio ever, and I don’t know why either would be playing for Taj Gibson in a one-possession game with five minutes left on the clock.
If you’re going to play Taj Gibson 36 minutes, that number should include the last 7-8 minutes of the game.
By the time Portis was yanked, the Hawks’ run had begun in earnest.
After Rondo’s lazy defending and total lack of offensive game bothered him, Hoiberg brought in Isaiah Canaan, and swapped Doug McDermott out for Robin Lopez while he was at it, with 2:21 left to go, and the Bulls down a very surmountable 101-109 to Atlanta.
This created a bizarre small-ball, crunch-time lineup of those three, plus their two All-Stars (Old Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler, more on them in a second).
Again, they were playing against Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroeder. This effectively forced Jimmy Butler into being a small-ball four so he could guard Millsap, Atlanta’s best player. Howard might be shorter than his listed 6’11” height (he’s probably closer to 6’9″), but he’s still probably the broadest-shouldered beast in the NBA. The 7′ Robin Lopez’s rim protection only got 29 minutes of burn, and the significantly slighter Taj had to guard Howard.
I appreciate Hoiberg’s desperate need for scoring (McDermott and Canaan), but he made his entire back court minus defenders in the closing moments of a winnable game. And, slotting Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson up a position against two bigger players is a pretty taxing formula anyway.
I would have been far more amenable to that lineup minus McDermott, plus Lopez, but even that makes me a bit uneasy, since Canaan, despite his best efforts, isn’t much of a defender.
Buckets v. Baze. Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
4. Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler are really, really good at basketball
This is a bummer, in a way, because the Bulls’ margin for error with their lineups is razor-thin beyond their best three players (Butler, Wade and Gibson).
Wade when motivated is still a crafty defender (he had a great pick off former Bull Thabo Sefolosha at the 53-second mark of the fourth quarter last night), and Butler and Gibson remain great two-way players.
Wade and Butler in particular went off last night, combining for 64 of the Bulls’ 107 points (39 for Butler on 13-of-24 shooting, including 4-of-9 from downtown; plus 25 for Wade on 10-of-17 shooting, including 2-of-5 from deep) and it just reminded me that this team, if they had the right pieces in place (and they don’t, unless Denzel Valentine and Michael Carter-Williams turn out to be way better this year than they’ve looked so far), could actually make some noise in the postseason.
(Trading Rondo and McDermott should be on the table.)