Faced with the challenge of the Detroit Pistons’ menacing inside game, led by Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, the Bulls were going to need their guards to tip the scales in the team’s favor Saturday. And the lightweight backcourt play didn’t deliver.
The play of the guards, though, was only one of a myriad of issues that plagued the Bulls in a 92-75 defeat. It was the Bulls’ season low in points this season and the lowest since they scored 72 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in February.
In addition to the issues the guards had on offense, protecting the 3-point line was another problem as the Pistons went 12-of-19 (63.2 percent) from long range.
Teague seems to have been scared straight after the ultimate motivation tactic earlier in the week, when he was sent down the NBA Development League for about an hour and then recalled. He still doesn’t look like a former first-round draft pick, but he was good enough against the Pistons to shoot 4-of-8 from the field, score 10 points and dish out three assists.
Starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, on the other hand, had three points on 1-of-7 shooting, along with four assists, but his 36 minutes were more than double what Teague played.
Asked about his guard play, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t exonerate the group, instead choosing to spread around the blame.
“It was choppy because we changed the starting lineup and it also changed the second unit,” Thibodeau said about going with Taj Gibson because Luol Deng was out with a sore Achilles tendon. “I thought we were just starting to get a good rhythm, but that changed.
“That being said, the responsibility of getting back, making multiple efforts to get in and get out and cover the line and rebound.
“I thought rebounding hurt us, I thought not covering the line hurt us and I thought our defensive transition hurt us.”
With Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Mike James out of action because of injuries, guard play will continue to be a wait-and-see endeavor. Butler might return from his toe injury as early as next week after missing the past nine games.
But even when Butler does come back, the point guard spot might remain an issue. While Teague and Hinrich took turns there Thursday against the Heat, both ball handlers were on the floor at the same time during the second quarter Saturday.
It was shades of Thibodeau’s early-season strategy to pair Rose and Hinrich in the backcourt. And even with Teague handling the Rose role, the Bulls were getting satisfactory results. Teague played the entire second quarter, with Hinrich joining him on the court for the final 5 minutes, 33 seconds.
The Bulls even managed to jump out to a seven-point lead with the Hinrich-Teague duo, their largest of the game. The fun stopped there, though.
While things fell apart for the Bulls in the third quarter, the Pistons’ run to take over the game actually started when they scored nine of the last 11 points before halftime in a 2:57 stretch.
The third-quarter issues weren’t just a guard problem, however Hinrich did play all but 35 seconds in the period, going 0-of-5 from the field, including four missed 3-pointers, with four turnovers.
With everything else the Bulls were up against, they didn’t stand a chance at recovering.
“I just think we got a little stagnant after playing in a rough first half; it was kind of lackadaisical,” Gibson said. “But I felt like the looks were there. We just couldn’t make shots early. They got out on the wing. It came down to our defensive transition. I feel like we didn’t contain the 3-point line to well. They got a lot of open 3s and that’s what helped them get back in the game.”
"We sucked," Noah said. "And we'll do better the next game."
Aside from Taj Gibson, the Bulls' starting five stunk. Carlos Boozer, Kirk Hinrich, Tony Snell and Noah combined to go just 9-for-45 from the field. It appears as if the injuries that have come to define the Bulls' season to date are just too much to overcome right now. Playing without Derrick Rose (knee) and Jimmy Butler (turf toe) was tough enough, but losing Luol Deng to an Achilles injury appears to be the final straw for the Bulls.
They played the Pistons even in the first half, then played with no passion or fire in the last 24 minutes. Their defense wasn't tight and they didn't run the kind of solid sets that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau always barks about.
"There's a different story every night," Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy said of his team's struggling offense. "But tonight I just thought we had some good looks that we missed. We took care of the basketball. We didn't have too many turnovers. And the difference was the 3 pointers. They made theirs; we missed ours. We had some great looks and we'll take those every time. Next time hopefully they go down."
The Bulls had plenty of looks. They just don't have enough consistent talent on the floor to make them game after game.
For all the bluster from Noah and his teammates regarding the fact that a win over the Miami Heat on Thursday night was a turning point in their season, the Bulls regressed again on Saturday and couldn't fight through their own mistakes.
For as much mental toughness as the Bulls have shown over the past three seasons under Thibodeau, the injuries this season are finally breaking this team mentally.
Their veteran coach can talk all he wants about the Bulls having "more than enough" to win, as he said again after Saturday's loss. But the reality for the Bulls is that the players know better. They know unless they play a perfect game on most nights they aren't going to have a very good chance to win.
Energy and effort can only take a team so far in the NBA, as the Bulls have learned at various points over the past two seasons. Talent almost always wins out in this league, and the Bulls are finding that out the hard way this season. There are going to be some nights when they just don't have enough to win.
"We got a lot of guys out, a lot of guys hurt," Gibson said. "And it's real frustrating, because you never really get a chance to get a rhythm because there's always one guy banged up from the night before so it's tough but we just got to keep pushing."
CHICAGO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Detroit Pistons earned a 92-75 win over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night at the United Center.
How it happened: Brandon Jennings had a big night for the Pistons in scoring 33 points and dishing out five assists. Taj Gibson, starting at the small forward spot in place of Luol Deng, scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but it wasn't enough for a Bulls squad that had a hard time scoring all night.
What it means: Expect more nights like this for the Bulls. Without Derrick Rose (knee), Jimmy Butler (toe) and Deng (Achilles, calf), Tom Thibodeau's team is going to have problems putting points on the board. There just aren't a lot of options for the Bulls, especially when Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich play as poorly as they did. With all the injuries the Bulls have sustained this season, Thibodeau's group must play solid defense and run crisp offensive sets in order to win games this year. They didn't do either of those things during large chunks of Saturday's contest.
Hits: Mike Dunleavy had a nice game off the bench, going off for 16 points and pulling down six rebounds.
Misses: Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Tony Snell and Hinrich combined to go 9-for-45 from the field.
Stats of the night: Detroit's win breaks a streak of 14 straight victories by the Bulls over the Pistons at the United Center. The Pistons outscored the Bulls 24-9 in the third quarter. The game was tied 47-47 at halftime.
What's next: The Bulls take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night at the United Center.
"I tried to go. We didn't make a decision til early in shootaround," Deng said after the game. "Last game [against Miami] I wasn't sure for the game. I was able [to play], I felt better throughout the day. I tweaked it a little bit in the second quarter last game and it just kind of flared up on me the next day. A lot of swelling and I've still got a lot of swelling in it."
Deng said he received an MRI but the results came back clean.
"Mostly I just got to ice it as much as I can, elevate it, just try to get the swelling down," Deng said. "But [we had] an MRI and everything was fine."
Deng said he has never had an Achilles injury before and that he is hopeful he can be back when the Bulls start a stretch of four games in five nights on Tuesday.
"I want to get back as soon as I can," Deng said. "We're going to treat it these next two days. My mindset is to be ready for the next game. If I feel like I can run out there I'll play. I don't know about the minutes, I don't know how much I'll play, but where it's good enough and comfortable enough to be effective out there."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who said before the game he thought Deng's injury was in his left calf, said Deng would remain day to day and isn't sure how long this latest injury will linger.
"I don't know other than what [athletic trainer] Fred [Tedeschi] tells me. He was unsure this morning, he had tightness, they wanted to work on him and he just said it could be better in a couple days," Thibodeau said.
In the wake of another Derrick Rose season-ending knee injury, the Bulls have been trying to dial in a system that works to their benefit, and they connected on one in a 107-87 victory against the Heat on Thursday.
The Bulls have done plenty of regular season damage against the Heat by scoring inside and owning the rebound battle. That’s typically the way to have success against the Heat, in the regular season anyway.
“For us, our guys up front, that’s one of our strengths,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after practice Friday. “The fact that we have Joakim (Noah) and Taj (Gibson), they can play smalls, and Carlos (Boozer) was terrific throughout the whole (Heat) game. He was so aggressive that it really got us going.”
Despite the inside focus, the Bulls are also going to have to rely on the offensive resurgence from Luol Deng, who has scored at least 20 points in six consecutive games, and the continued growth of Tony Snell, at least until Jimmy Butler can return to the court.
Butler did not practice with the team Friday at the Berto Center, but coach Tom Thibodeau said the starting guard did do some running, and Butler continued his pattern of going through shooting drills after practice.
With Butler now running again, Thibodeau backed off the week-to-week status he had been giving his defensive stalwart and long-range shooting threat.
“I don’t know if it’ll be a full week, but he’s got to practice,” Thibodeau said. “I don’t know if he’ll practice yet.”
The upcoming schedule would suggest that if Butler doesn’t return to practice by Monday and return Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, the two sets of back-to-back games next week make it likely that the Bulls don’t practice again until Dec. 15.
If Butler has to wait until Dec. 15 for his return to practice, he could then make his return Dec. 16 against Orlando. That would still allow the Texas native to play Dec. 18 at Houston and Dec. 19 at Oklahoma City.
"Look at the East," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said recently. "The East is really an up-and-down kind of side. You get two straight wins and you'll be in fourth or third place. We just really got to get a groove going. It was a good testament to being home, but we just got to get some wins at home."
That is the feeling throughout the Bulls' locker room. Despite all the losing, they are convinced things are going to turn around.
"I think right now a lot of things are not going our way," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "I think we got to stick with it and keep fighting and just keep working hard and it's not going to turn around by itself, we got to make it happen. I think we're losing a lot of close games right now and it's something we got to learn from. It's something that as a group we got to get better with. And individually, I got to get better at making better plays at the end of the game."
New Orleans Pelicans, a role he was used to seeing Derrick Rose fill for Chicago before his latest injury. Deng had seven turnovers on Monday but is hopeful things will turn around once he adjusts to the fact that he is the man Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will turn to now late in games.
"It's something that I got to really get better on," Deng said. "I think so far right now I haven't done well with. It's a new experience but I got to keep working on it and working on my game. And every time I'm in a situation like that try to be smarter and make smart plays."
Deng has hit a few shots late in the fourth quarter to win games for the Bulls in the past, but the burden of being a "closer" usually fell on Rose in years past, or Nate Robinson last season. Now, it's up to Deng to find the answer late in games.
"I work on my game every day," he said. "I think the situation -- it happened. I can't control that. I think either way whether I'm in that situation or not, I work on my game every day whether it's the last shot or the first shot or a shot in the second quarter, I try to make every shot I take. It's definitely a different situation that I haven't been in, but at the same time there's times in the past where, not as often as right now, but there's times in the past when I've been in those situations."
Butler still recovering: Don't expect to see Jimmy Butler in the next few days. Thibodeau said before Thursday's game against the Miami Heat that Butler still hadn't practiced and remains "week to week."
The last word: Gibson on the Bulls' mindset: "In this league when you start feeling bad for yourself the wolves come. The wolves are not going to feel sorry for you. Every team's going to come in smelling blood and feel they need to get a win. Luckily for us, we got guys that understand that when [your] backs are against the wall you got to dig your way out of the hole. You can't make excuses or [say,] "We're tired." You just got to keep playing. It's a long season. I'm real optimistic. Just got to get guys back healthy and give it our best shot."
Kobe Bryant has announced that he will make his season debut on Sunday against the Raptors. Is it too soon? Can he return to his Black Mamba form? How will his comeback impact the Lakers in the playoff chase? Let's explore the possibilities.
1. Your take on the timetable for Kobe's return?
A. Kobe knows best.
B. Kobe needs to take it slow.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: A and B. Kobe knows best, and he is taking it slow. You'll notice that we're closer to the back end of the six-to-nine-month timetable that was initially given for Kobe's return ... about eight months ago. There was a time in Kobe's career when you'd always bet the under on Kobe injury comebacks, but the fact that he didn't rush into a uniform on opening night shows that he's giving this serious injury at this stage of his career the proper respect. To hear him talk with so much detail about the biomechanics of his rehabilitation process shows how in tune he is with his body.
Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: B. Kobe needs to take it slow. Most players return from severe injuries at the first moment they can make a reasonable case there won't be a setback, but that doesn't mean the healing process is anywhere close to being over. Bryant has a new two-year extension, and maximizing those two seasons will require a strong bill of health. Why risk that between now and April?
CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah is beloved in Chicago because of his attitude. He plays hard on the court and speaks his mind off it.
"Always," he said. "Always. No question. I think the people in this city, there's something about when Miami comes to town. You wake up in the morning, you just feel it. You feel ... people in this city, they don't like [the] Miami Heat. We don't like the Miami Heat. It always feels good to beat them."
Why does Noah dislike the Heat so much?
"A lot of battles," he said. "A lot of scars. A lot of tough losses. A lot of seasons ending because of them."
Then Noah acknowledged something that everyone around him has known for weeks -- he has been struggling to deal with the fact that Derrick Rose it out again after season-ending knee surgery. Noah has been in a funk since Rose went down Nov. 22 with a torn medial meniscus in his right knee, but in Thursday's game he racked up 17 points and 15 rebounds.
"Our team needed [this win]," Noah said. "We've been through a lot the last couple weeks. Even for me, I think it's really hard to play without Derrick. I want to win with Derrick Rose. What Derrick represents to this city, there's not a lot of players who have that. He brings a lot of hope to the city, and I feed off that. I feel really privileged to be able to play in that position, so him going down was really hard for me, hard for us, but we have to move on and it's not easy."
His nearly seven minutes of action against the Miami Heat that night yielded exactly no points, one turnover and two personal fouls.
“It was pretty tough,” Snell said of the Oct. 29 contest, the same night the Heat received their championship rings. “I didn’t know what to expect. I was a little nervous out there and got all of my nerves out that day. It helped me to be prepared today. I just felt a little more comfortable and relaxed than I did before.”
It’s essentially another world for Snell now, as the 20th overall pick in the most recent NBA draft is in the starting lineup following an injury to Jimmy Butler.
Using the mindset of focusing on defense first while letting the offense come naturally, Snell was in a flow in Thursday’s 107-87 victory over the Heat. He scored eight points -- hardly the 18 he had against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday or his 3-of-3 shooting from 3-point range against the Detroit Pistons on Nov. 27 -- but his defense made a difference.
Snell helped the Bulls hold the Heat to 41.6 percent shooting from the field and 27.3 percent (6-of-22) from 3-point range. He has been in the NBA for barely over a month and his growth has been significant.
How it happened: Carlos Boozer finished with 27 points and nine rebounds to lead the Bulls. Taj Gibson had another big game off the bench, going off for 19 points and six rebounds. LeBron James led the Heat with 21 points and five rebounds but the Bulls stuck it to Miami early and never let up.
What it means: When fans hear teams, especially the Bulls, say that every game is just one in an 82-game season, they shouldn't believe them. This was the most energy the Bulls have played with since Derrick Rose went down. It wasn't hard for Joakim Noah and his teammates to get up for a game against their hated rival. The key for Tom Thibodeau will be to try and find a way to get his team to continue playing this way. They have not been consistent since Rose went down, but maybe this game will help them get out of their funk.
Hits: Noah played his best game in several weeks. He was active on both ends of the floor, scoring 17 points and pulling down 15 rebounds.
Misses: The Heat got outworked most of the night -- second-chance points: 24-6 Bulls.
Stat of the night: The Bulls outrebounded the Heat 49-27.
What's next: The Bulls face the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night.