April 20, 2014
The blame part was easy for Derrick Rose.
“If it was up to me, I’d blame [Saturday’s loss] on me,’’ the Bulls point guard said without hesitation.
But there are bigger problems than just Rose coming out of the gate slowly for a team expected to stand toe-to-toe with Miami for Eastern Conference supremacy.
The Bulls appear out of sync with a tweaked up offense which relies on more read-and-react ball movement; the second unit is still trying to find its way, and then there’s the defense.
Suffocating opposing teams has been a way of life for the Bulls defensively since Tom Thibodeau took over as coach four seasons ago. In Thibodeau’s first season, the team was second in the NBA, allowing just 91.3 points per game. They followed that up with 88.2 points per game in the 2011-12 campaign, which was tops in the league.
Even with Rose sidelined all of last year recovering from knee surgery, as well as numerous other injuries hitting the team, the 92.9 points per game allowed was the third best in the Association.
Through the first three games this season? How about 98.3 points per game, including the 107-104 loss to Philadelphia on Saturday in which they choked away a 20-point lead to team that was supposed to be in tanking mode this year.
“Our defense has to get better,’’ center Joakim Noah said, when asked what his biggest concern was of the 1-2 start. “We’re letting teams score way too many points. Our defense is all based on trust, and we’ve got to trust each other defensively.’’
Not only has the trust been missing, but so has the intensity.
This is a team that plays with an edge because they have a coach on the edge.
After grabbing that big lead against the 76ers, it was almost as if they checked out through most of the third quarter, allowing a young team that doesn’t know it’s supposed to be bad to gain confidence.
“We can’t let teams play harder than us,’’ Noah said. “That’s the disappointing thing. There is a lot of basketball left. And when the [expletive] hits the fan, I think we’ll be ready.’’
Memo to Noah: It’s hitting the fan.
“It’s just tough when everybody projected you to be one of the top elite teams, you’re going to get everybody’s best shot,’’ reserve Taj Gibson said. “You’ve got to put teams away. I’m happy this happened to us early on because we’ve got to learn from it and get better.’’
But that getting better starts and ends with Rose.
Through the first three games, Rose is now shooting 15-for-52 from the field (.288 percent) with 17 turnovers to just 13 assists. A rookie like Michael Carter-Williams should not out-play the 2011 MVP – period.
Thibodeau is a big proponent of the plus/minus category to not only judge how an individual is playing, but how the group works with different personnel, and Rose is a minus-21 so far. Back-up Kirk Hinrich is a minus-10, but factor in the minus-19 he had in the opener against Miami, and he’s been the best point guard the Bulls have had this season.
“I know his makeup,’’ Thibodeau said of Rose turning it around. “Derrick’s nature is to work. He’ll be in the gym. He’ll study. The only thing he has to do is play in the game, shake some of that rust off and we have to work as a team in practice. We do that and we’ll be fine.’’
As for Rose, he continued to reiterate that he’s close, and when it comes, look out.
“Call it whatever you want to call it,’’ Rose said. “I’m not playing well right now. For me, it’s continuing to go out there and take the shots that they’re giving me, and I told you, I’m going to have that breakthrough game.’’