Just when I was feeling pretty good about Chicago's basketball team pulling off the impossible and squeezing into the playoffs in light of Toronto's 113-87 loss to the Jazz on Wednesday -- Playoff teams don't lose home games that badly, I thought -- the Bulls proved they are not, in fact, a playoff team by losing a home game that badly on Thursday, succumbing to the Heat in pitiful fashion, 103-74.
I gave up watching the NCAA Tournament for this?
The only thing preventing me from saying It's all over but the shouting is that terrible effort by the Raptors against Utah. Still, with the Bulls down by 2 1/2 games with just 11 to play, I'd give them about a 1-in-20 chance of sneaking into the postseason at this point. I'm not even going to bother with my usual Hollinger-B-R.com-CoolStandings Playoff Odds chart; they looked so bad that it's almost impossible envision them winning the eight or so games they'll need.
Yes, it was only one game. But to be so amazingly uncompetitive and utterly flat in a game that was so important to their postseason aspiration was a hell of an indictment of the Bulls' chances. There was nothing positive to take out of that game. Not one thing.
The atrociousness of the Bulls' effort was matched only by that of their defense. Apparently nobody on the Bulls bothered to tell Jermaine O'Neal what year it was, as he time-machined his way to 18 first-half points on 7-of-11 shooting, and finished with 24 points in just 25 minutes. Joining him in turning back the clock was Quentin Richardson, who absolutely abused the Bulls in the first quarter, going 4-for-5 while showing an impressive array of post-up moves, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra exposed yet another Chicago 3-guard lineup. Which led to me writing the following between the first and second quarters:
I understand that Luol Deng's injury (and our beloved front office's trades) have left the team woefully short at the 3, but what I don't get is the compulsion to only let a guard slide over to small forward. If it's not working, how about trying one of your 4s there? What difference does it make if you are getting killed on the matchups anyway?
Well, to Vinny Del Negro's credit -- not a phrase I type very often -- he tried to go big to open the second quarter, running with Chris Richard, Taj Gibson, and Hakim Warrick* in the front court. And that didn't work either. At all.
* During Warrick's brief Bulls tenure, he has gone from a guy who I admired from a distance (in box scores) to someone I can't stand seeing on the court. I now understand why he garnered so little interest on the free agent market last off-season; when you watch him regularly, you realize that while there are some things he does well, he's a very limited, one-dimensional player. He also plays with a lack of urgency reminiscent of Tim Thomas, though not quite to those putrid depths. While I can't quite put my finger on it, Warrick just somehow seems to be a drain on the team.
Among the more disturbing lowlights was the Bulls managing to make a Hall-of-Fame case for the Heat's 15-minutes-per-game backup center Joel Anthony. While Anthony is a very good shotblocker -- he came in leading the league in blocks per 48 minutes, with 4.18 -- his five blocks in seven first-half minutes put him into Manute-Bol-defending-me territory. But the Bulls kept shoving shots directly into Anthony's mitts, as if they had no idea that the guy coming off the Heat bench was a good defensive player.
It's reassuring to know that the advanced scouting is as useless as the rest of the organization's non-playing personnel.
Not that I'm giving the players a free pass on this one. In fact, to me the most disappointing aspect of the game's first half -- which ended with the Bulls down 63-33 -- was that the Bulls did not get booed off the floor. Their performance was as godawful as anything I've ever seen from an NBA team. The boos should have been cascading down so powerfully as to form a gale that would've literally forced the Bulls into the locker room. Instead, I could barely hear any. Talk about taking the crowd completely out of the game; the Heat even rendered the United Center faithful unable to express their disgust.
They'll get another chance to voice their displeasure on Saturday, when the Nets come to town. Because with New Jersey riding a one-game winning streak and having a previous UC triumph under its belt, I wouldn't take anything for granted.