Four issues: Derrick Rose return among Bulls’ concerns down stretch
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com March 11, 2013 3:32PM
Updated: April 13, 2013 6:28AM
LOS ANGELES — Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was as resolute as ever when asked about the difficulty of playing the Lakers on the road without
Derrick Rose, Richard Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson.
‘‘We’ve got enough,’’ Thibodeau said after the Bulls lost for the fifth time in their last seven games. ‘‘You do the right things you’ll be in position to win. We’ve got to improve.’’
But even if the Bulls have enough players, the question now is whether they have enough time. Except for the worst-case scenario (like losing Rose for the season in the playoffs last year), the Bulls usually get better as they adjust to adversity in the Thibodeau era. In February, they beat the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks on the road with a little more than one-third of the NBA’s salary cap (without Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Hinrich). How many teams can pull off that trick?
But with 18 games to go in the regular season, Thibodeau’s team is treading water at best. The Bulls’ 37-percent shooting against the Lakers (33-of-89) marked their third consecutive game shooting below 40 percent — the first time that’s happened since last February and only the second time in three seasons under Thibodeau.
Even as the Bulls began to struggle a month ago, every day was a day closer to the return of Rose. Now, even that is in doubt, and the Bulls face the prospect that even the best of Rose and Thibodeau might not make this season worth the anguish — like getting to the Eastern Conference finals with a healthy Rose to build momentum for a legitimate 2013-14 shot at the Heat.
This team has issues and is running out of time to solve them:
1) THE ROSE COMEBACK
Once he gets on the court in a real game, hears the crowd, feels the adrenaline and realizes he’ll have to work his way back to being Derrick Rose, he’ll be fine. Michael Jordan shot 28 of 78 (35.9 percent) in his first six games after missing 64 with his broken foot in 1986. He got better after that.
But that appears to be a bigger hurdle than it was thought to be. Most players of his caliber in his situation either are overly anxious about getting back or visibly miserable because it’s taking so long. Rose appears to be neither. Like so many things about Rose, all the frustration must be on the inside.
2) THE OTHER INJURIES
Taj Gibson, Richard Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich all have underrated value to the Bulls. Gibson does the little things that keep offensive possessions alive and solidifies a defense that has allowed 36 offensive rebounds in the last two games; Hamilton is a calming veteran influence whether he’s playing well or not; and Hinrich is a multi-role player on both ends when he’s totally healthy, but a detriment when he’s not.
Gibson figures to be back in the next week or so. But whenever Hamilton and Hinrich return, the biggest challenge will be staying healthy.
3) THE DENG/NOAH FACTOR
Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are doing all they can to keep the Bulls competitive, but are susceptible to the heavy load.
Deng is showing the wear and tear lately. He’s shooting 38 percent in his last 22 games after shooting 45 percent in his first 36 games. His
three-point shooting is vital to the Bulls success — in the past three seasons, they’re 25-5 when Deng hits three or more in a game, including 8-1 when Rose is out. But he’s 2-for-18 (11 percent) in his last six games.
4) EFFORT AND ENERGY
Maybe there’s only so much Thibodeau can do with all the injuries, but the current group doesn’t seem to be responding to him as well as
‘‘Our level of intensity has to go up, espcially on the road,’’ he said after the Lakers game.
The best stretch of the season — a 12-4 run in December and January — was marked by fast starts and tough first-quarter defense. But in the
recent rut, the Bulls are falling behind and not defending well. Opponents are shooting 53 percent in the first quarter in the last six
games. The Lakers hit five of their first six shots against the Bulls; the Jazz hit its first five shots; the Spurs six of eight; the Pacers
six of nine; the Nets seven of nine.
There’s only so much gas in their tank. The Bulls are falling behind, using everything they’ve got to recover and then falling short in the
end. They’re in desperate need of some high octane to rejuvenate their season. They know where to get it, but they are running out of time.