John Hollinger on the Bulls' defensive problems


John Hollinger (Insider) points out that the Bulls and Lakers lost in no small part because they have not brought their best defense of the season to the playoffs with them. And that is particularly dire for the offensively challenged Bulls, whom Hollinger is already picking as big underdogs should they make it to the conference finals.

The short-term trend from Monday night was a fluke -- the Hawks aren't going to shoot that well from outside all series. But the long-term trend of the Bulls' unimpressive defensive numbers against two bad offensive teams? That's an issue.

I've expressed two back-of-the-mind fears about Chicago all season, so this won't be new to Bulls fans. The first is that the Bulls might be regular-season overachievers who went full blast for 82 games and now are incapable of turning the dial up any further. In particular, their push through the final two weeks of the regular season can be criticized in hindsight -- the Spurs are out of the picture and the Bulls finished four games ahead of every other team. Now, the crazed intensity they brought to nearly every game has been matched -- or at times exceeded -- by their postseason opponents.

The second fear is that Chicago's bench advantage would vanish into the ether in the playoffs, because it'd rarely be matched up against opposing second units for long. Johnson and Teague, for instance, both played 45 minutes Monday, and the Hawks basically used a six-man rotation after halftime. We don't have enough data after six games to make strong statements about this, but it's worth noting that Korver was the only Chicago sub with a "+" next to his name in the Game 1 box score.

I still doubt any of these factors costs the Bulls the series against Atlanta -- even if Chicago can't beat them, the Hawks are perfectly capable of beating themselves -- but it's an awful omen for a conference finals series against Miami or Boston. At this point, whoever advances from the Celtics-Heat contest is very much the favorite in the East.

Here's a thought: A lot of the Hawks' damage came from the perimeter, where ball-handlers and jump-shooters operated comfortably, with few misses or turnovers.

Meanwhile, Hoopdata's Jeff Fogle has dramatic numbers showing that since injuring his ankle in the first quarter of Game 4 against the Pacers, Derrick Rose has essentially stopped drawing fouls -- which he normally does with daring athletic raids into the paint.

I wonder if a hobbled Rose -- even before his most recent ankle tweak -- may be the story at both ends. If he's simply not as explosively mobile, it would reduce his ability to hound ball-handlers, to close out shooters and to get to the line, and we're seeing evidence that all three of those things have been reduced.