As the Bulls embark on their final West Coast swing of the season, they seem to have reached a crossroads. At 18-26, this trip comes at a bad time as the Bulls are in desperate need of stringing a few wins together. While you'd think the first three opponents (Wolves, Clippers, Kings) would provide a bit of schedule relief, we have quickly learned this season that for this team, no win is a gimme. So the pressure is on. The good news is having their two long road trips out the way before the All-Star break means plenty of home games down the stretch to make up ground, where the Bulls remain competitive.
Speaking of pressure, this week's Gordon/Vinny spat brings to light a certain issue with this roster, and an issue that reared its ugly head last season. It seems to me, and perhaps you all will agree with me or not, that the Bulls are a team full of fragile personalities. During last Monday's game against the Knicks, they're broadcasters brought up a point: some of the vets were jealous of Derrick Rose early in the season. Jealous that a talented 20-year-old had just stolen the limelight away from them on this team. Now, I don't believe he did it on purpose since he seems to be soft-spoken and humble, and we don't know if what the Knicks' announcers are saying is true, but I wouldn't doubt it. I think last year showed that if some of these guys aren't coddled enough, they feel slighted. While he says all the right things, I think Gordon is a prime suspect, as shown by his little 'blow-up' on Vinny. His timing was interesting, though, with reporters around to witness it, almost to purposefully make Vinny look bad to gain the upper-hand. Two years ago, the Bulls were labeled as gritty and tough, and they're success was attributed to their hustle and defense. Yes, the defense was good, but i don't believe the gritty and tough part. If anything, they had the hot hand at the time and caught a Heat team heading towards a 15-win season the following year. Last season, gritty and tough went out the window. Their fragility showed. 'Oh, PaxDorf didn't give me my money.' 'Skiles was mean'. Well, perhaps it was Skiles who shouldn't have been fired, as shown my the Bucks' much-improved D. But, you can't fire all the players mid-season, so Skiles had to go. Well, the pressure is on again now as the Bulls are making the national news for the wrong reasons and the season is slowly slipping away. It is obvious that this organization needs to shed some of those 'weak' players and get ones who won't back down from the pressure and perhaps, then, we can turn some of these close losses into wins. It's no coincidence that recent Bulls teams with players like PJ Brown and Antonio Davis were more successful. These are tough vets who don't back down. If this road trip doesn't force Paxson's hand, I'm not sure anything will.
On to the game. The Timberwolves enter this game an improved team from the one we saw in Chicago a few weeks ago, and they won that game. They have won 8 of 10, have more than doubled their win total since the calendar turned, and are coming off an impressive win over the Hornets on Friday. They obviously aren't ready to contend in the West, but their team is taking shape. Al Jefferson is a 20/10 machine, Randy Foye seems to be coming into his own after showing signs his first 2 seasons, and Kevin Love is developing into quite a crafty pro. Love doesn't have eye-popping athleticism or over-powering size, but he does have a high basketball IQ and knows how to use his body and footwork to gain position in the paint and to get his shot off. He and Jefferson make for a troublesome high/low post match-up for the Bulls' bigs, especially if Gooden is unable to suit up again. The only hope is that the much improved Tyrus Thomas can neutralize Love, but its more likely Love can be added to the list of bigs that abuse the Bulls' bigs. I'm expecting at least 17/8 out of Love. I have no hope for our bigs against Jefferson except perhaps getting him in foul trouble, but Noah does not possess the offensive game to make that happen. The Bulls saving grace in this game will have to be the fast break, which they actually have been executing well recently. Get out in transition to try and neutralize the Wolves' bigs. The Wolves average only one less turnover than the Bulls, so fast break buckets will be available, but the Bulls must minimize their own mistakes. The Bulls are just about the youngest team in the league, and turnovers kill a young team, so hopefully Vinny has been driving that point into their heads. The Bulls only scored 40 points in the second half against Toronoto, and it was obvious which team played the tighter D in the 4th quarter. Hopefully the Bulls took some notes and will try to force an equally young team into some turnovers of their own. Its important for the Bulls to try and set the tone on this road trip early, because after the first 3 games, the Suns, Rockets, Hornets, and Mavs are lurking.
GAME TIME: 6pm CST