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Bulls remain mysterious despite big win

12/12/2009

By Matt McHale

After the Bulls wrapped up their 96-91 overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors, Chicago rookie Taj Gibson gave an energetic postgame interview and then went bounding down the tunnel leading to his team's locker room.

To understand what put the extra spring in Gibson's already springy step, you first have to understand what he and his teammates have been through these past few weeks. Going into their game against the Warriors, the Bulls had dropped nine of their last 10 games. Seven of those losses were of the double-digit variety. They lost on the road. They lost at home. They scored only 78 points in a blowout loss to the Toronto Raptors, who currently rank 30th in Defensive Efficiency (112.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). They followed that up with a two-point loss to a New Jersey Nets squad that showed up at the United Center with a 1-19 record. From there it was on to Atlanta, where they appeared to all but give up before losing by a whopping 35 points.

Bad times all around.

Of course, winning is a wonderful tonic for a basketball player's soul, so it's easy to forgive Gibson for being a little juiced up over what probably should have been a routine victory. After all, his team snapped out of a long and ugly slump, and he was a key contributor off the bench with nine points (on 4-for-7 shooting) and 11 rebounds (including a game-high six offensive boards).

But there were still plenty of reasons for concern. Take, for instance, the fact that Golden State currently ranks 29th in Defensive Efficiency (108.9 points allowed per 100 possessions), and yet the Bulls still failed to score 100 points even with the benefit of an overtime session. Their 3-point shooting continued to flatline (the Bulls hit only one of their 13 long-range attempts). They earned a mere 11 free throws despite playing at home in what basically amounted to a must-win game. And it's always bad news when a team starts having must-wins only 20 games into a season.

Derrick Rose -- Chicago's best individual talent and the presumed future of the franchise -- attempted 22 field goals versus only two foul shots, and his one trip to the line came at the end of overtime when the Warriors were forced to foul. It's worth asking how Rose, whose young body is bursting with speed and strength, could possibly play so many minutes (43) and spend so much time controlling the ball without earning at least a few free throws.

The biggest reason is that he's fallen in love with his new pet shot, a running, one-handed floater. The good news is, he can get that shot almost any time he wants it. The bad news is, it allows him to avoid contact and therefore lets his defenders off the hook. It's like competing in a road race against someone who refuses to shift gears. Rose is basically handicapping himself. And, by extension, his team.

During the postgame press conference, somebody asked Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro about Rose's steady diet of floating jumpers and his associated dearth of free throws. Del Negro dismissed this concern as a function of Rose's youth and inexperience, assuring everyone that, given time, he will learn what it takes to draw fouls.

Of course, I couldn't help but wonder what more Rose needs to learn beyond this: drive as hard as you can and force the officials to make the call.

It's just another one of the many mysteries surrounding this enigmatic Bulls team, such as: Why did certain players forget how to shoot the basketball (particularly John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich), why can't the team deny penetration and protect the paint, when will they start protecting their defensive backboards, and why does Brad Miller have a Scrappy Doo tat on his right arm?

Vinny and the Bulls don't have much time to solve these riddles. The Boston Celtics visit the United Center on Saturday night and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers will be in town on Tuesday. The solid effort they gave against the Warriors was an improvement over their listless performances against the Raptors, Nets and Hawks, but it probably won't be enough against the Celtics and Lakers.

So was this win the sign of a turnaround, or just a respite from misery?