The Bulls joined the Thunder as the only teams in this chaotically condensed season as the only teams thus far to sweep a back-to-back-to-back set. Sure, the first game was against an awful Pistons team, the second was a struggle toward an 11-point win over the Timberwolves in Minnesota, and the last a difficult to watch but "inspired" test of endurance to not get trapped by the laughing stock
Wizards Generals, but a strong feat to earn their eighth, ninth, and tenth wins.
After a crazy 11 days that featured eight games, the Bulls have pushed themselves to the top of the Eastern Conference for now at 10-2 -- 1.5 games in front of the Heat (8-3), who've lost two in a row on the road to the Warriors and Clippers, and two games in front of the Pacers (7-3) for the division lead.
Most of this three-game stretch wasn't pretty, but their defense continues to be the most valuable asset at the Madhouse on Madison. After allowing only 68 points hosting the Pisspots, the Bulls broke a record allowing the fewest points any team's allowed in the first three home games of the season in the shot clock era (206). Then, followed that up by only giving up 64 in the third game of a back-to-back-to-back, lowering their average points allowed to a ridiculous 67.5 per game through the first four of the year.
They're currently second to the 76ers (91.7) in points allowed per 100 possessions at 95.2, second in margin of victory (10.17), and third in opponents' eFG% (.449), according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Defense is a mix of players' IQ to make reads and know when to commit; their athleticism to man-up, help, and recover; the coaching staff's work ethic, IQ, strategies and tactics. But there's nothing in basketball -- especially in the NBA -- that requires more energy than defense and nothing on which effective defense is most dependent. That the Bulls GM Gar Forman has built this group of personnel for Tom Thibodeau to shut down even a pseudo-NBA team like Washington after traveling to-and-from Minnesota, playing the third game in three nights, is something special.
Add in that the Bulls grabbed 57.4% of all available rebounds in a game where both teams combined for 119 bricks to out-rebound the Generals 62-46 and there's really something special to assembling a team that's bigger than everyone else. The NBA: where size matters.
Hardly a side note, but there's great news from Thibs' mouth after Derrick Rose was forced to sit on Wednesday due an injury sustained in Tuesday's game. What was initially reported as turf toe is not, according to Thibs:
Thibodeau pointed out the sprain is not turf toe, as Rose had suspected late Tuesday.Whether or not Thibs is bluffing is unknown, but this has to be viewed as great news, if true because turf toe flat out sucks. Since getting it around last year's playoffs, Carlos Boozer still can't jump.
"Hopefully, he'll be back in a day," Thibodeau said. "He usually responds very well to treatment."
- Immensely deserved props to John Lucas III on his 25-point performance. Not to take anything away from Lucas or the Bulls D I just fondled, but losing to a team whose third-string point guard plays 46 minutes and took 28 shots because he scored 25 points is about as Wizard-y as it gets. Basketbawful's "gast is still flabbered".
Lost in the shuffle over JL3's quantity of shots and points was his only two turnovers for a rate of 6.5%. For reference, among point guards, the lowest rate in the NBA is Tony Parker at 11.2%.
- yfBB hid a post of mine last week that conflicted with a game preview that had some nuggets I inserted elsewhere. I almost inserted this nugget into his recap of the Bulls Jan. 3 game against the Hawks:
Not to beat a dead horse, but Noah was on the bench for all but the game-winning offense possession of Wednesday's come-from-behind, torture room material win over the Hawks.In a conversation with yfBB, I said, "I'll copy/paste the All-Star stuff into a FanPost and sit on Thibs quotes on 'energy' when the benching happens again, expecting that to be soon." Soon is now, as Thibs had the '$135 million duo' on the bench for the second consecutive fourth quarter. The Generals went on a 14-4 run in the third quarter to get a 51-49 lead with a little over 17 minutes remaining in the game. Noah sat the final 16:41 after JaVale McGee pretty much kicked his arse, Boozer sat the final 15:53, and the Bulls allowed 13 points in those final 17 minutes to win by 14.
"That group got momentum going so we stayed with them," Tom Thibodeau said after the game, later adding: "I felt at that point you couldn't afford to have another lull. They looked like they were fine. And we were picking up our energy."
It's kind of a problem when your eight-figure per year energy guy better serves the team's "momentum" and better prevents "another lull" off the floor, while reserves are "picking up" the "energy". Last season, it was easier to bypass these decisions by Thibs as blips, maybe even situational discipline; but seeing how Thibs has managed his fourth quarter rotations, dating back to the last postseason, coming from behind, when it is uncontroversial to question the limits of the coach's confidence in Noah's stamina and decision-making on defense?
- Wednesday's 64 points by the Generals was the least in franchise history.
- Thibs on the newest Bull, D-League Showcase Superstar Mike James, who played for then-assistant Thibs in Houston: "He’s tough, a hard nosed can who shoot the ball, run a pick and roll. I think he’ll fit in well. [...] Just come in and step up, lead the team, do exactly what we’ve been doing all year. We shouldn’t miss a beat. Just come in and hold the court down until he comes back."
A lot of people will agree with Steve Rosenbloom's sentiments -- "Anybody with a basketball IQ above Jordan Crawford will be an issue for the Rose-less Bulls." -- but don't go too far; this
isisn't the Bears without Jay Cutler. Sure, without Rose, they're not great, but they're more like the Bucks than the Pistons; also, Mr. Rosenbloom, the Nuggets, Sixers, Pacers, and Hawks are in pretty good shape. That said, C.J. Watson can't get healthy soon enough when we're grasping at straws of optimism on Lucas and James.
- And... DUNK PR0N!
And in the 'giving credit where due' category, good lord, John Wall:
Next up for the Bulls is whatever's left of the Celtics (4-5) by Friday. (For that news, CelticsBlog is beyond great.) Unfortunately, it's in Boston and the first of another back-to-back. Fortunately, Saturday's game is at the United Center and against the Raptors (4-7). We'll keep you updated on the status of Richard Hamilton (groin) and Watson (elbow), who are still listed as day-to-day, as news comes along.