Commentary

Bulls' bigs continue to disappoint

The Boozer-Noah frontcourt is a reason to doubt Chicago

Updated: January 12, 2012, 10:17 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Tom Thibodeau said this is a "next man up" kind of league, or as John Lucas XXVIII looks at it, it's a "I got the next shot up" kind of league.

The diminutive backup guard didn't quite "Wally Pipp" Derrick Rose with his breakout scoring performance, but the Bulls definitely "Scalabrined" the Wizards with a 78-64 win Wednesday.

Lucas scored 25 points on 28 shots in the first start of his NBA career. Those summer league scouting reports aren't wrong. He's a high-volume scorer.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose missed Wednesday's game, but Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah did little to compensate for his absence.

"He's not going to leave any bullets in the gun," Thibodeau said with a smile. "I give him a lot of credit. He stayed ready. That was a tough game."

How bad is Washington? Well, as the old NBA adage goes, if Lucas starts against you and Brian Scalabrine finishes, things went either really right or really wrong.

According to bemused Wizards reporters in the media room, the 64 points were a franchise low. Washington is 1-9, shot 31 percent and was outrebounded 62-46. So it's tough to garner much from the Bulls' performance, except to say they stuck to the system that has them 10-2: Have a point guard dominate the scoring, play good defense and stash Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer on the bench in crunch time.

The first two things are good, but the third is troubling.

Rose was a late scratch with turf toe. He hurt it Tuesday night in Minneapolis and thought it was a recurrence of a turf toe injury. He is, as they say, day-to-day, but I'd bet he plays Friday in Boston.

With no Rose, no C.J. Watson (elbow) and no Rip Hamilton (groin), Lucas said Thibodeau was encouraging him to shoot, which apparently is like telling Joakim Noah to grow his hair long.

"Thibs was like, 'Yo, when you see an opening, you've got to take it. It will open everything else up for the offense,'" Lucas said.

While I can't imagine Thibodeau using the word "Yo" in his instructions, he liked Lucas' aggressiveness.

After all, before the game, when Thibodeau was asked who Lucas' backup was, he replied, "Lucas."

Actually, D-League call-up Mike James made it to the United Center just before tip and played the last 40 seconds, but Lucas played like he had unlimited rope.

As you might have guessed by the final score, the Bulls without Rose and Watson are basically unwatchable offensively, which probably would be true of any team without its top two point guards, let alone the reigning MVP of the league.

But there was a bigger issue at play Wednesday night, one that's lingering more than Rose's toe injury.

Boozer and Noah finished another game on the bench. They weren't very good when on the floor, either.

The duo combined for eight points and 10 rebounds in a combined 44 minutes. They sat from late in the third quarter, coming out within a minute of each other and the game tied at 51, through the entire fourth quarter.

This is the second game in a row and the fourth time in 12 games that those two have sat for the entire fourth quarter, although Noah did play four vital seconds in the Atlanta win.

This isn't an illusion, and Thibodeau can't say he's simply riding the hot defense of Omer Asik and Taj Gibson and expect us to believe it. Well, he can.

"You're just going with how the matchups are going, how the game is going," Thibodeau said. "Tonight we had a six-point lead, and then, so, you know you can pretty much have lockdown defense with those guys on the floor, and I thought we could win it with our defense.

"The thing is, we're in the midst in a lot of games in a short amount of time, so you just have to go with the guys who have some energy. Carlos and Jo are a huge part of this team, and on a lot of nights, on most nights, they carry us, along with Derrick."

Noah, who is averaging 7.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, at least can say he was hurting in this game. He banged up his left thumb in the second quarter but said X-rays were negative. His pride, however, is day-to-day with mild bruising.

"It's humbling, it's humbling, but at the same time, we're winning," Noah said. "You've got to look at yourself in the mirror and say, 'What can I do to help this team win?' I just want to be more effective in helping the team win. And right now, I'm not doing that."

Noah admitted he needs to earn Thibodeau's confidence right now, and that "of course" he's confident he and Boozer can play well together, something we've seen happen only in fits and spurts. For the Bulls to contend late in the playoffs (and really, what else matters with this team?), those two need to get it together, the sooner, the better.

"We don't have a choice," Noah said. "We've got to find a way to be more effective when we're on the court together."

Boozer, averaging 13.3 points despite shooting 50.7 percent, was more circumspect about his dearth of minutes in the fourth.

"That's just Thibs' decision. We just ride with it and keep going," he said. "As long as we keep winning, everybody is happy."

When pressed about Thibs' penchant for riding the hot defensive hand, Boozer said, "Next question. What can I say about that?"

Indeed.

While Luol Deng's 5-for-21 night was mostly forgotten with all the storylines, he did wrap up the feeling in the locker room in succinct fashion.

"To me, we won the game," Deng said. "If we didn't win the game, we could question all that stuff. But when you see the W's keep stacking up, you don't question how you got it. It's just a W."

Deng isn't wrong. The questions about this team will be answered as the season progresses. Some nights, John Lucas III just goes off on the worst team in the league and you get ready for the next game.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.