Thursday, January 26, 2012

Loss to Pacers Illustrates Difficulties for Injury-Ridden Bulls

Last night's loss against Indiana was a tough one. First, we played a tough playoff series against them last year that catapulted the Pacers to the top of the Bulls rivalry list. That series was rough, dirty, and words were exchanged between the teams numerous times. Players like Jeff Foster and Tyler Hansbrough in turn catapulted themselves to the top of Bulls fans' hate list. So losing to that team last night stunk. Secondly, the loss gave a legitimate intra-division rival momentum and confidence going forward, knowing that they could take down the best team in the NBA. Third, the way the Pacers celebrated last night after the REGULAR SEASON win was as if they had all won the lottery, personally won the War on Terror, cured cancer, fixed the US and global economic depression, AND won multiple NBA titles. All in one night. I'm just glad that someone else noticed. The Pacers are like that annoying kid on the playground that steps up to challenge the big guy, gives him a fight, and talks trash and plays dirty the entire time. There's nothing technically wrong about the kid, but if you're on the side of the big guy (the Bulls), man does it royally piss you off. And most importantly, the loss illustrated the difficulties the Bulls are going to have going forward with the injuries they have.

Brewer was outstanding last night
We all know that D Rose isn't healthy. He's probably playing at somewhere in the neighborhood of 75% right now. When you compound that with the fact that Luol Deng tore a ligament in his wrist/hand and is "week to week" (meaning that he's really seriously injured but the Bulls don't want to concede this just yet), and the fact that super-sub Taj Gibson isn't healthy still, you have a recipe for a tough road to the playoffs. Look at the rotations from last night. For starters, Ronnie Brewer had to step up and try to fill Deng's shoes, something he did admirably. But can we really expect 20 points and 10 rebounds from Brewer every night? To be sure, I love Brewer's game - he's a defensive stalwart who has put in considerable practice time on his offensive game. But for him to put in 42 minutes and put up big numbers every night could be somewhat of a stretch. This is a guy that even as a starter in Utah never averaged even 14 points a game or 4 rebounds a game. Again, I love the way he plays and his mentality/effort and think that he can be enough of a buffer that we should DEFINITELY not rush Deng back. But I would something more along the lines of 12-13 ppg and 5 rpg as he starts in place of Deng.

Thibs, like the rest of the team, has to adjust
At the same time, D Rose is back in the lineup and playing, even though I don't think he should be. The situation with Derrick illustrates the only problem I have with Tom Thibodeau - his rotations and minutes. There was absolutely no need to have D Rose play against New Jersey this past Monday. And even more than that - he put in nearly 40 minutes of playing time!! I've said before that CJ Watson can fill in for D Rose until Derrick has fully healed. I'd rather have the reigning MVP at 100% for the home stretch of the season and playoffs than D Rose at 75% from this point forward, not to mention any risk he has of worsening the injury. But Thibs won't have it. He runs players out there with no concept of rest. For instance, last night and in particular the Monday game against New Jersey - why did he not get Jimmy Butler any minutes? Rip Hamilton had a great game against the Nets, sure, but he did it in 42 minutes. Is that completely necessary in a blow out? And the starters were in the game until the end!!! Thibs has to realize that now, with the one of the Bulls' greatest weapons (our depth) being decimated, he needs to adjust to protect what little left of it we have. There will be no more "bench mob" if he keeps running players out there until they ultimately get injured. I do understand that he's trying to win games, but we can cruise to a playoff spot without his heavy minutes and rotations (seriously, Cleveland and Milwaukee are fighting it out for the 8th playoff spot right now. CLEVELAND AND MILWAUKEE!!!!). I hope he comes to his senses, because we can ill afford another injury, for key players to wear down, or for D Rose's injury to get worse.

Rose's injury means everyone has to step up
What all this means too is that the healthy players have to step it up. The Bulls got a pretty solid effort from every starter last night, but the bench was practically non-existent. This doesn't mean that Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah need to be more consistent, because they do, and they seem to be moving in that direction. This means that bench players like Kyle Korver, CJ Watson, and Omer Asik need to do more on a consistent basis. If the bench steps up last night, the Bulls win. It's that simple, and it's a formula the Bulls follow to success nearly every night. As for Asik, his improvement alone this season has been outstanding so I'll give him a pass for his occasional bonehead turnovers and decisions (like passing to CJ for a backcourt violation yesterday instead of holding the ball for a possession that could have been huge). And I do like CJ Watson, even if I feel that when he gets onto the court he tries too hard to make up for lost time, pressing shots and not facilitating the offense enough. But for Korver, he is simply not contributing ANYTHING right now. The old Thibs adage that even when he's not making shots the defense has to account for him doesn't fly for me right now, because HE NEVER MAKES SHOTS!! I'm sure the stats will disagree with me, but it just seems that his shots aren't falling right now. He's an outstanding shooter career-wise, so I hope that it's just a slump he's in and he gets it together soon, because he's certainly not on the court for his defense. And on top of all these guys, we need Taj back soon. He's a key leader in the bench mob, and a great defender/rebounder. If he gets back to the bench soon that will be clutch for the Bulls.

All told, the Bulls are going to make the playoffs. We probably know how this is going to pan out. The Bulls will continue to play the game of "week to week" with Luol Deng, but we'll see how differently he plays or how much he favors that wrist. One or both of the Noah/Boozer duo will get hurt, but hopefully not at an inopportune moment (if there such a thing). D Rose is going to grin and bear the pain the rest of the season, as some superstars tend to do (see, Kobe Bryant). He might get nights off here and there, and at the very least he should. But we'll notice, as we have already, how different his game will be. There haven't been many of the Derrick Rose Highlights that defined last season's Bulls. It'll be a tough grind for him, but I don't think he'll care about any of the sick alley-oops, steals, reverse jams, etc. The only highlights D Rose wants to see are those shown of him accepting the NBA Finals MVP at a rally in Grant Park in June, and really, those are the only ones that matter. Let's hope that come playoff time, the health of the Bulls roster lets it happen.