With Charlotte beating Miami tonight coupled with this Bulls loss, the Bulls are now on the outside looking in as far as this season's playoff picture.
But looking at the schedule with Noah out, that part wasn't unexpected. The key is just to not be too far out (both record wise and performance wise) when it's time to make a final run. Because right now it's real bad, not just giving up 100 points in 8-straight games, but following giving up 122 to the Mavs on Saturday with 132 to the Jazz.
Who, granted, are are as scary a team as the Bulls will see all season. They have Williams who can break down any initial defender, a deep powerful frontcourt (who can initiate and complete passes to teammates cutting to the rim), and then when the Bulls would collapse on that frontcourt they had numerous shooters ready to capitalize, tonight's major culprit being C.J. Miles, who went 6-7 from three to finish with 26 points. Do you know how many times a Bull has had 6 three-pointers in a game this season? Zero. They've never even had a 5-three effort.
So this one was likely a loss going in, but the Bulls actually hanged tough for a lot of it through some excellent offensive play of their own. Nearly everyone shot efficiently, from Hinrich and Deng to bench production from Warrick and Murray, and Brad Miller had a surprising 20 point night, including a perfect 3-3 from the arc. Derrick Rose supplemented his 25 with 13 assists, though I think this may have been the first time when I was especially dumbfounded with the lack of calls he'd get on drives. Normally I figure it's not completely about 'respect' and Derrick uniquely can finish (or attempt to) while avoiding contact. While some of that still holds true, when you see that opposing star also be a point guard in Deron Williams, and see similar drives called differently, and it's incredibly frustrating.
So while the Bulls looked good, seeing the halftime stat of them shooting over 60% from the field, leading 14-0 on fast break points, yet still losing by two was a bit deflating. You knew they could not hold that up and if they weren't going to win unless they did a better job stopping Utah. They didn't.
The biggest story about any of these unlikely winnable games isn't as much what happens in the contest but possible effects on future games. And unfortunately the injuries keep piling up. Deng sat out the last 8 and a half minutes after straining his calf, and the post-game show indicated that he will get an MRI tomorrow so it's potentially serious. Taj Gibson had one of his worst games of the season, fouling out scoreless in under 13 minutes with 1 rebound and 3 TOs. Vinny said post-game that Taj's injury issues flared up (like Noah, battling plantar fasciitis) in the game as well, and that he even let Taj stay in the 3rd quarter to potentially pick up his fifth foul because he figured the guy couldn't go much longer anyway. Plus Hinrich looked to have hit his hand near the end of the game. Fantastic.
And no let-ups this week either. Thursday in Orlando, then the back-to-back in Miami. I don't see a team that's quitting, they've actually had long periods of good play in the past two games. But their defense is continually getting torched, and if they don't get healthier (and simply better) on that side of the floor this could be the first couple of many embarrassing results.