Commentary

Holding Out For A Hero

Bulls have managed admirably, but strain of missing Rose starting to show

Updated: February 12, 2013, 2:00 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- About an hour before the Chicago Bulls game Monday -- their first home game in two weeks -- a sportswriter decided to make himself useful.

Yes, there's a first time for everything.

As has been his routine the past month or so, Derrick Rose drew a crowd as he warmed up, taking jumpers, working the crossover and driving the lane with a familiar burst. I got a little six-second clip on video and posted it to Twitter.

Judging by the viral reaction it got, let's say somewhere between 100 and 2.6 million retweets, it's clear people would rather see him run the point than Nate Robinson. No offense, Nate.

No, there is still no new news on the date of "The Return," but the Bulls moved one game closer to whenever it is. One ugly, burn-the-game-tape game closer.

The Unpredicta-Bulls reigned once again as the short-handed San Antonio Spurs won 103-89 at the United Center. The Bulls are limping into the All-Star break, having lost four of six.

With one game remaining until the break, the Bulls are 30-21, a pretty impressive record considering their circumstances, but when you look at this first half, game-by-game, you can see an incomplete team. A team that is 15-12 at home and 15-9 on the road.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJoakim Noah had seven points and 15 rebounds in 38 minutes in Monday's loss to the Spurs.

The Bulls are the only team in the NBA with a better road record than home record. Good thing the home fans paying $100 and up for tickets have Cuppy Coffee to root for.

In this loss, the Bulls outrebounded the Spurs, 49-26, with 32 defensive rebounds to the Spurs' two offensive boards, and shot a respectable 47.4 percent. But they also gave up 29 points off 19 turnovers and let the Spurs hit 8-of-16 3-pointers.

Did I mention the Spares -- I mean the Spurs -- were without Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Stephen Jackson? Who needs them when you have Kawhi Leonard (26 points) and Danny Green (18 points, 3-for-5 on 3-pointers)? I guess that's why this team is an NBA-best 41-12.

The Bulls were coming off a nice win at Utah, which came on the heels of a blowout loss in Denver. Maybe Jerry Reinsdorf's other team is just paying homage to the 1983 "Winning Ugly" White Sox. It's all about synergy, right?

Given the way this season has gone, you can pencil the Bulls in for a win at Boston on Wednesday.

"This thing is going to be a fight," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Our road is a tough one. If we are not committed to the grind, it's not going to be good."

The Bulls get a lot of respect for winning without Rose, and other starters, the past few years. But Thibodeau's system and culture still pales in comparison to Gregg Popovich's tenure with San Antonio. "Be like Pop" doesn't have the same panache as the old Michael Jordan Gatorade commercial, but it works. I have a hunch that's the feeling in the team's front office, too.

But while Popovich regularly sits his veterans -- sometimes against their will -- Thibodeau rides his younger, more physically able team like Sergeant Hartman in "Full Metal Jacket." OK, maybe Thibodeau is just a little more mellow.

With that in mind, Thibodeau got a little saucy when a reporter asked him about monitoring Joakim Noah's health. Noah (seven points, 15 rebounds) played his third straight game after missing three with plantar fasciitis and logged 38:13, around his season average. Thibodeau knows he gets a hard time for giving his veterans heavy minutes, especially since so many of them seem to suffer nagging injuries.

"I watch what he's doing on the floor, so that gives me a pretty good indication," Thibodeau said. "I don't know if you guys realize this, but I do have a trainer. And we have medical people too."

Zing.

There wasn't much to enjoy about this game and the players were terse with the media, offering up cliches and dishing out credit to the Spurs.

Robinson started again for an injured Kirk Hinrich, scoring a game-high 20 points and adding seven assists in 39 minutes. He scored 11 in the third quarter, willing the Bulls back into the game with his eccentric but effective game. But his plus-minus was -22 and there was little flow offensively.

Thibodeau wouldn't stand for someone (me) implying that the Bulls are missing Hinrich's steady approach to running the offense (yes, I know his shortcomings, too), but he did refer to guys looking for "bailouts" and "short cuts" on both sides of the ball. The Bulls' starters evenly disbursed 14 turnovers and hit 1-of-8 3-pointers.

"We have a lot of random possessions where guys don't know what other guys are doing, leading to people being stuck with the ball, trying to make something out of nothing, going one-on-one," Thibodeau said. "Then you have (four) guys staring at you and that leads to turnovers."

The offensive disconnect helps explain why All-Star Luol Deng's scoring is down, for example, Thiboudeau said. Deng had 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting, adding 11 rebounds.

"He's not getting any easy baskets right now," Thibodeau said. "So part of that is the discipline to run the floor hard every time, to get five guys to do that. if you have two guys run hard and three are jogging, you're not going to get easy baskets."

So what else are the Bulls doing wrong right now?

"We can't skip steps," Thibodeau said. "If you skip steps that leads to shortcuts, that leads to losing basketball."

Someone get this guy a Public Service Announcement: "This is your brain on skipping steps. Any questions?"

Chicago can still be very good when Rose comes back, but for now, they're pretty easy to figure out. When you think they're going to win, they struggle. When you think they're going to lose, they surprise you.

The only thing I know for sure is that a six-second clip of Derrick Rose is the best thing I saw all night.

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.

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