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C.J. Watson’s recent funk puts Bulls behind the 8-ball

C.J. Watswent scoreless 20 minutes Game 3 didn’t see court fourth quarter. | Drew Hallowell~Getty Images

C.J. Watson went scoreless in 20 minutes in Game 3 and didn’t see the court in the fourth quarter. | Drew Hallowell~Getty Images

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Updated: June 6, 2012 8:10AM



PHILADELPHIA — John Lucas III is instant energy.

He’s fearless.

There isn’t a shot he’s afraid to take.

And if this were a pick-up ­basketball game at the local YMCA, Lucas is on my team, first pick, no questions asked.

But carrying the fortunes of the No. 1-seeded team in Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs? No way, no how. Unfortunately, until the Bulls can find time in their day to file the all-points bulletin out on C.J. Watson, JLIII might be the only play they have.

No, it’s not Lucas’ fault that he’s been put in this position, because 12th-man talent isn’t supposed to carry the day. Add a spark for a few minutes? Yes. Finish games off? No.

As there was in Tuesday’s
Game 2 loss, there’s plenty of blame to go around in the latest embarrassment. Luol Deng remains a non-factor, Kyle Korver remains Jekyll & Hyde and the defense was un-Bulls-like at the most inopportune times.

The glaring problem, however? C.J. Watson.

Watson’s stat line read like Blutarsky’s GPA, a whole lot of zeros. In the Game 2 loss back in Chicago, he at least had a pulse. Faint, but a pulse, scoring 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting.

In Game 3?

It might be time to see what Mike James can do.

“C.J. is doing fine,’’ Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau replied when asked if he was disappointed in Watson’s showing so far. “C.J.’s nicked up pretty good, too. He’s giving us everything he’s had.’’

In the fourth quarter, that meant nothing. He was unusable, not playing a single minute.

Asked by reporters about the minutes handed out in that final quarter, Watson’s reply was, “You got to ask our coach.’’

No need. Minutes given are minutes earned in the world of Thibodeau, and C.J., you didn’t pull your weight. How big does the loss of ­Derrick Rose to that season-ending torn ACL feel?

“Everyone has to play up to their strengths,’’ Thibodeau said. “They’re not here by accident. And we have to do it quickly.’’

This wasn’t the same talk ­coming out of Bulls’ camp earlier this week, when the coach and players felt that the silent swagger of ­Watson would be enough to get them out of the first round and likely to Boston.

“He can push the ball in transition,’’ Thibodeau said of Watson before Game 2, when asked of his strengths. “He’s a terrific shooter, a terrific three-point shooter. He has good quickness and he knows how to run this team. He understands the strengths and weaknesses of this team.’’

Too bad “He has good posture sitting on the bench’’ wasn’t used by Thibodeau, because that would be the only description that would ring true.

So Watson is nicked up, Joakim Noah was on crutches and in a walking boot, no Rose, and Lucas III having to be on the court to close the 76ers out?

Thibs, you’re going to need a bigger boat.

“Next man up, next man up,’’ the coach said. “We know we still have enough to win with here. We just have to find a way to win.’’

Which brings the discussion back to James. It’s time to see with the D-Leaguer can do.

Rose isn’t walking through that locker room door, at least not ­without a significant limp. Game 4 on Sunday is crucial in so many ways, and it’s obvious that Watson hasn’t been able to handle the moment.

Why not push the chips on the table and go with a Lucas-James combo? See what it brings.

“I don’t want him to change who [Watson] is. There are some things he does extremely well and I want him to play to those strengths.’’

Those words sound lost.

Kind of like Watson.



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