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Sunday, April 20, 2014
Bulls' chief flaw reappears in Game 1 loss

By Nick Friedell

CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler didn't have an answer to the question the Chicago Bulls needed to figure out most late in Sunday night's loss the Washington Wizards.

The young swingman sat patiently in front of his locker trying to figure what had happened to his team's offense in the final 12 minutes of Game 1. Was it the ball movement, or lack thereof, that caused the Bulls to score just 18 points in the final frame? Was it a lack of confidence?

Bulls
From left, Augustin, Hinrich, Butler, Gibson and Noah each scored between 10 and 16 points, but the Bulls still lack a pure scorer to generate consistent offense.
"I don't know," Butler said. "It's a good question."

The Bulls' defensive woes will keep coach Tom Thibodeau up at night, but it's the offense that could prove to be a bigger issue as this series rolls along. The Bulls had nowhere to turn late in the game and no answers for a Wizards squad that tightened things up on the defensive end.

"A little bit of both probably," Butler continued. "But we missed some shots and we'll fix it. It's not like we can't score in the fourth quarter -- we didn't tonight. [It's] easily correctable. Turn it around easily."

The problem for Butler and his teammates is that it's easier said than done. Sunday's game was close to a worst-case scenario for a Bulls team that has hidden its weaknesses very well since Jan. 1, the biggest weakness being that they can't always find easy ways to score. It has been an issue for the Bulls all season -- and it appeared at the worst possible time again on Sunday as the Bulls went through long droughts during which they couldn't buy a basket.

"We just couldn't hit any shots," Bulls guard D.J. Augustin said. "I felt like we were trying to get open, but they did a good job of denying us and taking us out of our offense. So we have to make some adjustments next game, and I think we'll do that … we just have to come up with some counters for our plays because we know they're trying to take us out of everything."

Yet another problem that's easier to talk about than it is to fix. The Bulls' core rotation of seven players all scored in double figures, but once Kirk Hinrich fell out of a rhythm in the second half, and Augustin continued to struggle from the floor (he was just 3-for-15 from the field), the Bulls had no answer. Guys passed up some open looks or they missed other ones when they had an opening.

The Wizards did a solid job of scouting Augustin by pressuring him nearly every time he got the ball and not allowing him space to create. Augustin's woes were a microcosm for the Bulls down the stretch. He has carried them so many times in the fourth quarter of games that they weren't sure where to turn when they knew he didn't have the answer.

Thibodeau decided to keep veteran sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy on the bench for most of the fourth quarter, and Carlos Boozer, as usual, didn't see the floor late after being a nonfactor in the second half. Thibodeau's options are limited -- which means they can't afford for Augustin to suffer through another poor shooting performance and expect to win.

"We just didn't take care of the ball at times," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "We got good looks. They just didn't drop. It's going to happen in the game -- it's playoffs. There's going to be times where you can't score, but that means two different teams is going at it on defense. We can deal with going through that drought, but we've got to give them the same kind of drought."

The Bulls' defense has been too solid all season to think it won't bounce back in Game 2. The bigger quandary for Thibodeau is the other end of the floor. If Augustin can't get things going, the Bulls don't have many other options. They don't have guys like Derrick Rose, or even Nate Robinson from a season ago, who can create their own shots. And they certainly don't have the type of offense that is going to create points with ease.

They have hard-playing pros like Hinrich, Gibson, Butler and Noah who will keep their team in games -- but Augustin is the one guy who can create and open up the floor for his teammates. When he doesn't do that -- and he's not given space to operate -- the Bulls' biggest playoff flaw over the past few seasons will come back to haunt them: They need more guys who can score on their own. The seasons may change, but for this organization, the dominant problem remains the same.