The Bulls truly need every win they can get as they scrap for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They delivered a comfortable 118-102 victory against a Brooklyn Nets team lacking in talent. Let’s dive into the BULLets.
- The Bulls went up huge early on, at one point doubling Brooklyn’s score with a 47-23 margin. They entered the half up 18, with great contributions coming from up and down the roster.
- Unfortunately, the Nets came out firing to make the game close again in the third quarter. Bojan Bogdanovic finished with a scorching 26 points and five assists after somehow dropping 44 on Philadelphia on Tuesday.
- Ultimately, the Bulls had built a big enough cushion to put the Nets away without too much anxiety. Doug McDermott continued shooting lights out, pouring in 25 points on 8/16 shooting and 5/8 from deep. Over his last five games, Doug is hitting 58.3% of his threes and averaging 17.6 points. He’s up to 42.9% from deep on the season, good for sixth in the NBA. McDermott has only shot below 40% on threes in one month this season, 37.3% in December. He is an elite shooter.
- The Bulls bench contributed in a big way in this one. Bobby Portis snatched 14 rebounds to go along with 12 points and was +22 in 28 minutes. Cristiano Felicio was +20 in 21 minutes, tallying six points, 10 boards, two blocks, and a steal. With Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah out, the production of these two is critical for the Bulls. I’m skeptical of Felicio’s ability to stick in a legit rotation, but Portis continues to show signs of improvement. This was a ridiculously exciting play:
- Jimmy Butler appears to be almost all the way back from his knee issues, leading the team with 22 points and seven assists. He hit 7/12 field goals and all eight of his free throws in 32 minutes. Derrick Rose looked good too, adding 12 points, five assists, and three rebounds in 29 minutes.
- The injuries never stop. E’Twaun Moore played just two minutes after suffering a hamstring injury. On the bright side, Aaron Brooks added a crucial 12 points on 5/7 shots in just 16 minutes. A great performance, but the Bulls are much worse off if Brooks has to take Moore’s minutes for an extended period.
- While Justin Holliday hasn’t played particularly well, he’s shown enough that Tony Snell is completely out of the rotation. Over his last five games, Holliday is averaging 9.8 points on 46.7% shooting overall and 50% from three in 23.8 minutes per game. His career shooting numbers are putrid, so it would be quite the development for these results to stick. The Bulls will continue seeing what they have with the lanky wing.
- Brook Lopez is pretty clearly the best player on the Nets, but he was a complete no-show on Thursday night. He had nine points and just three rebounds in 31 minutes. To be fair, Lopez was +9, as Brooklyn’s YMCA-caliber bench got annihilated.
- I’m a big fan of Thaddeus Young. He’s had an interesting career; as a young player, he was expected to evolve into a ball-dominant star that he was never suited to be. After Doug Collins left Philly, Young finally started shooting threes, taking 3.7 a night his last year there as he seemingly transitioned into being a stretch four. However, this season Thaddeus has once again eschewed the three point shot, and it’s hard to blame him. He’s averaging 15.1 points this year and a career high 9.1 rebounds. His herky-jerky game is perfectly suited for confusing defenders inside the arc. There are a ton of ways to be a good NBA player, and Thaddeus has found his own. He had 16 points, 14 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks against the Bulls.
- Coming up: the Bulls host Utah on Saturday night.
I wrote about the last time the Bulls and Heat squared off against each other, and it’s unfortunate that the Bulls have not trended in a better direction since then. In fact, they remain solidly at .500, losing last night in Chicago, 118-96 to drop to 32-32. This marks their second loss in a row after having won two in a row. Granted, Thursday’s loss in San Antonio is about as tough of a matchup as a team will get, but returning to the United Center last night should have proven to be an opportunity to keep the winning going. And they looked fairly well positioned to do so through the first half, even with a somewhat weak second quarter, but the second half was all Miami. With just 18 regular season games left, the odds of an eighth seed are looking ever out of their favor, but let’s take a look at what led to this loss:
- Fatigue. Sure, it’s an easy thing to point to so late in the season on a team that’s not very deep to begin with, but after traveling back from San Antonio the night before, it’s no wonder. Back to backs are especially tough in the NBA because of the travel involved, and it certainly seemed to be affecting the Bulls last night. Their scoring dropped off quarter by quarter during the course of the game, and by the fourth, they could only muster 15 points. By then, the Heat had trended the opposite direction, increasing their scoring as the game progressed.
- They were down four players. Cameron Bairstow and Joakim Noah were both inactive, and Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler didn’t dress. Bairstow and Noah may not have a massive impact on a game like this, but they would have at least helped keep the starters fresh. The real loss is Rose and Butler, and by now, I have some concern about what’s happening with Butler’s knee. The Bulls’ medical staff being what it is, I fear that this could develop into a much more serious problem. With the season being so close to its end, the best long term decision for Butler might be to shut him down, but I’m digressing.
- The absence of Rose and Butler mean that Fred Hoiberg had to rely on E’Twaun Moore and newly acquired Justin Holiday. The University of Washington product played rather well last night though, leading the team in minutes played and adding 14 points on 6/15 shooting from the field. Holiday is playing in just his second full season in the NBA, and after having bounced around quite a bit, perhaps he can find his niche in Chicago. I’m a fan of Moore’s as well, and he played pretty decently (six points and five assists), but a guard duo of Holiday and Moore just isn’t going to lead the Bulls to a victory, even against the Heat at this point. Holiday did provide some reallly nice moments, like this one:
- Pau Gasol nearly had a triple double. He led the team in scoring with 17, pulled down 12 rebounds, and had nine assists. I joked on Twitter a while ago about Gasol and the idea that he thinks he can be a part of the Bulls’ long-term future, but he’s having a rather impressive season and his devotion to Chicago is admirable. The Bulls are certainly heading into a rebuilding phase in the coming years, and though Gasol isn’t likely to be a part of the next truly successful Bulls team by the time they come around, he’s at least giving us something good to watch, for the most part, in the time being. His defense was a little suspect, and he led the team in turnovers with six, but he’s a vital piece of any chance at success this season.
- The Heat are a changing team too. The days of the Big Three feel like a distant memory, and Miami is still in the process of figuring out where to go from there. Dwyane Wade is a shell of his former self, and a Chris Bosh return remains unclear, but they have players like Hassan Whiteside who might be reason enough to muster some excitement. Whiteside has turned into a fun player to watch, especially the way he can dominate the boards like he did last night. He was on nearly every defensive play, and 13 of his 16 total rebounds last night game on the defensive side of the court. The problem for Miami is that their roster outside of Whiteside gets pretty old. Wade and Bosh, of course, but even their recent acquisition in Joe Johnson has a lot of mileage on him already. Though Johnson’s arrival in Miami has corresponded with wins, he’s not a long term piece of their future either.
- Coming up: the Bulls will get two days of rest over the weekend before heading to Toronto on Monday night.