Thursday, January 31, 2008
The Bulls managed to pull off a win against the surging Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night, using a strong 2nd half to propel them to a 96-85 victory. The 'Wolves have been a league-wide joke for most of the season, but they've pulled off some upsets as of late, mainly due to the outstanding play of Al Jefferson.
Coming into Tuesday night, Minnesota had won 3 of their last 4 games, a streak highlighted by upsets of the Suns, Warriors, and Nets. Their one loss came Friday; a heartbreaking one-point defeat at the hands of the Celtics. Meanwhile, the Bulls were headed in the opposite direction, having lost 3 of their last 4 while shooting a dismal 39% from the field.
While Minnesota's recent successes hardly make them a top contender, a win is a win, especially when the Bulls are as beat up as they are. Not only was Chicago without Luol Deng and Ben Gordon for the 4th straight game, they also played without the services of Chris Duhon (sprained knee) and Joe Smith (flu). To fully understand the situation, take a peek at these game facts: Joakim Noah started, Adrian Griffin played almost 25 minutes and Viktor Khryapa appeared from the far side of the pine to put up 11 points.
Keeping in mind that the 'Wolves are an inconsistent bunch with a 9-36 record, what does this win tell us about the Bulls? Not a whole lot. (Especially since they would go on to lose to the TimberPups the next night)
Sometimes it's hard to tell whether the absence of Gordon and Deng is all that important; with everyone healthy, the team is still no more consistent in its successes or failures.
I'd love to give some "expert analysis" on the Bulls' woes, but every theory I have tends to play out for one week, but not the next. In Monday's game, the team might shoot the lights out but get torched on defense then by Wednesday they're shutting down the opposing team but can't hit the broadside of a barn on offense.
I feel sorry for the beat writers covering this team day in and day out. The squad has no real identity and the players don't posses any real sense of accountability. No one guy has established himself as the unequivocal team leader and therefore, no one is entirely to blame when he underperforms. Which brings me to my current theory (who knows how long this one will last).
The Bulls' "team first," "share the wealth" philosophy looks great on paper but is preventing the team from succeeding. Last year, on any given night, Deng, Gordon, Hinrich or Noc could blow up. Opposing coaches were pulling out their hair trying to figure out how to stop a team with 3 or 4 legitimate lights-out shooters. The sharing of the spotlight made the team hard to prep for and hard to defend.
This year that philosophy clearly isn't working. For whatever reason--maybe the pressure of contract and/or trade talks--the presence of other scorers isn't causing anyone to assert himself, but rather causing all of them to hover in mediocrity together. Look at the last four games. With Deng and Gordon sitting out, Hinrich has more than doubled his scoring average. With the weight of the team on his shoulders and neither of the other big three scorers available, he's stepped up to become the leader that they need. The truth is, while a Kobe Bryant-type dictatorship clearly isn't successful, neither is a team full of also-rans.
While the Bulls' 18-27 record is pitiful, to be sure, thankfully, they've got company. Chicago is currently in 10th place in the East, but just a half game out of the last playoff spot due to the equally spotty play of their conference counterparts. If they can string together a bunch of wins--with or without Deng and Gordon--they'll have a shot at the playoffs. How they'll fare against teams like the Celtics and the Pistons, however, is another story entirely...