NBA Today: No Bull
The Chicago Bulls haven’t exactly roared back after last season’s disaster. And with three straight losses pushing them into a tie for ninth place in the Eastern Conference, there’s a chance they could be on the outside looking in come playoff time for the second straight season. The good news is that a club far more pathetic is coming to the Windy City Tuesday when Sacramento pays a visit. Nothing like having a team that’s 2-16 on the road (with 11 straight road losses) stop by to help you get back on the winning track and avoid a season-worst fourth straight loss. Then again, the Bulls have somehow dropped seven of their past nine home games against the Kings. To make matters worse, Chicago got off to a 10-3 start at home this season, but has dropped its past two at the United Center.
This is game two of a five-game homestand – a stretch that was supposed to help get this team on the road back to .500, especially since the first four games were all against very weak competition. But the Bulls dropped the opener on Saturday by 10 points to the suddenly revitalized Timberwolves. What’s up with that? Make that six losses in the past seven games for the Bulls, who aren’t running past anyone these days.
Sure, injuries have been a factor. Luol Deng, Drew Gooden and Kirk Hinrich are all MIA currently. Deng is nursing an ankle injury that’s forced him out the past five games and may cause him to miss a few more. This latest woe isn’t exactly helping him to put an end to last season’s misery. In fact, this is about the worst we’ve seen of Deng since his rookie season. On the plus side, he’s never shot better from the line; on the down side, he’s not getting there often enough. Deng did appear to be heading in the right direction before this latest injury. In our pre-season rankings, we had him at No. 30 with a bullet, expecting him to be a value pick. Boy, were we wrong; at this point, you wish he was a top 30 (or even a top 75) forward.
Gooden has also been sidelined by an ankle injury, missing the past eight games. We recommended Joakim Noah as a decent short-term pickup in Gooden’s absence, but word is that Gooden will be back Tuesday, so Noah’s PT will likely decline. Tyrus Thomas’s status is also very much affected by whether Gooden is good to go or not. Gooden’s numbers were down in December, and he has not been able to duplicate the totals he put up for the Bulls after the trade from Cleveland last season. A few of his owners in more shallow leagues have cut him free, so if you need rebounding help, Gooden could be your man.
Speaking of Thomas, he’s been an incredibly popular waiver wire pick since moving back into the starting lineup. Saturday, he rewarded his owners with 15 points, eight boards and an absolutely ridiculous and career-high eight blocks. Thomas looked like fantasy anathema in November, but bounced back in December and has carried that on so far in the New Year. Now, the question is how much PT will he get when Gooden returns? You’d hate to see the plug pulled on Thomas just as he’s starting to roll, but that may very well happen tonight.
The Bulls were middling defensively last season, but this year, they’ve been among the worst in the association. And it’s even worse lately, with an average of 106 PPG allowed over the last seven games. That’s almost Golden State bad.
The Bulls were the worst-shooting team in the NBA last season at 43.5 per cent. They’ve shown some improvement this year (over 44 per cent), but remain near the bottom of the association. And judging by Saturday, the team is headed in the wrong direction; against the T-Wolves, Chicago was just 35-of-89 (39.3 per cent) from the field. That ain’t gunna get it done, especially considering Minnesota is one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA.
Another problem the Bulls are having this year is that they are consistently losing the battle of the boards. Saturday, for instance, they were outrebounded by 10 by a Minnesota team that’s actually been pretty solid on the glass this season. Chicago isn’t surrendering any more rebounds than it did last year; it’s simply not pulling down as many of its own as it did in 2007-08. The injury to Gooden has really hurt in this regard.
Did you even know that Lindsey “Hey, I didn’t know diet pills were drugs” Hunter was still in the NBA? With Hinrich out, he’s been asked to play a few minutes every now and then to back up star rookie Derrick Rose. On Friday, he poured in 13 points in 21 minutes, showing that even oldtimers can pop the rock every now and then. On Saturday, however, Hunter managed just two points in nine minutes. Either way, with Captain Kirk nearing a return, Hunter’s limited use will cease to exist.
Speaking of Rose, he looked pretty awful on Friday, held to a season-low three points, but on Saturday, showed why he’s among this season’s most exciting rookies, rebounding from that effort to post 22 points. After a huge November, Rose’s numbers slipped a bit in December, yet he still took home Rookie of the Month honours. Rookie Wall? Whatever, dude. The kid is averaging 17.1 PPG, 5.9 APG and 3.6 RPG. Can you say ROY for Rose?
Ben Gordon, the team’s top scorer, is coming off one of those ugly shooting nights (7-for-21) on Saturday, but his owners have little to complain about considering how he’s gotten better and better as the season has progressed. Gordon averaged 21.6 PPG in December, and he’s definitely turned things around after faltering in 2006-07. While the return of Hinrich is bound to have an effect on the number of minutes Gordon is playing, I expect him to remain a solid fantasy asset in the second half.