Hard for Bulls’ stars to align when they don’t have any
BY JOE COWLEY Staff Reporter March 18, 2014 9:55PM
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 17: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls is fouled by Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at the United Center on March 17, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The Thunder defeated the Bulls 97-85. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 182422951
BULLS AT 76ERS
The facts: 6 p.m., CSN, 1000-AM.
Updated: March 19, 2014 11:04AM
It took all of about 10 minutes Monday night for the Bulls to realize there was no phone booth on the hardwood of the United Center. Certainly no one was throwing on a red cape.
Taj Gibson missed a shot that would have given the Bulls the lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the 9:19 mark of the fourth quarter. Then Jimmy Butler missed on a 25-footer. D.J. Augustin missed a long jumper. And so on and so forth . . .
Kirk Hinrich couldn’t do it, nor could Joakim Noah in an eventual 11-shot miss parade.
‘‘It felt like it was fading away,’’ Gibson said.
More like taken away.
While the Bulls stumbled, MVP candidate Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook put the Thunder on their shoulders en route to a one-sided finish and a 97-85 loss for the Bulls.
It was a reminder of what true star power still means in the NBA and a reminder that with the playoffs approaching, the Bulls just don’t have that power.
‘‘I think honestly, yeah, it’s very helpful to have a guy that you can go to, get the ball to and make things happen,’’ Augustin admitted. ‘‘That guy that can score or draw the double team to get the ball to other guys that are open and have open shots. I think that’s big for teams, but the way we play, I mean, we can use that, but we don’t need it.
‘‘We play together, we play as a team, and I think we’ve been doing a great job trying to play as a team. We don’t have any so-called superstars, but we have a team of guys that work hard and play hard.’’
It has worked at times. The Bulls beat the back-to-back defending champion Miami Heat last week, handcuffing LeBron James when it mattered most. Then, on Thursday, they held James Harden to just eight points — about 16 below his average — in a victory over the Houston Rockets.
So there is a track record of success — in the regular season.
The problem comes in the postseason in a best-of-seven series against a player such as James, Paul George or Dwyane Wade.
‘‘I wouldn’t say we’re at a disadvantage built like we are because we have defenses that we can throw at teams — we can adjust to those things,’’ Augustin said. ‘‘Whether it’s maybe trap the star player or do different things to take them out of their rhythm, I think we’re a team that can go into the playoffs and make teams have to do things differently.’’
But will that be enough?
There’s no doubt Noah has had a breakout year as one of the best all-around centers in the league, but the days when centers ruled the NBA ended years ago.
As TNT analyst Steve Kerr said last year, this is the ‘‘Era of LeBron,’’ where stars such as James set the standard over playing good team basketball.
‘‘I think that’s certainly the trend, but there are always exceptions to the rule,’’ Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy said. ‘‘On one hand, when you have guys like Westbrook and Durant, yeah, it’s great to have them. On the other hand, you know where they’re going [down the stretch].
‘‘From our standpoint, we have a lot of different guys, so you don’t really know where we’re going to go with the ball. There’s that element of surprise. That’s kind of what we’re going for.
‘‘We’ve made enough plays over the course of the season in crunch time where we know we can win games. We certainly think that we can get it done.’’