Despite the fact that the Bulls were on the second night of a back-to-back, they really shouldn't have had much trouble at home against a New Orleans Hornets team playing without Eric Gordon and No. 1 pick Anthony Davis. However, after playing a nearly flawless game on Friday night in Cleveland, the Bulls proceeded to muck it up in a hideous loss that saw them shoot 33 percent overall and 17.6 percent from three.
But despite playing poorly throughout much of this one, the Bulls were still right in there in the fourth quarter because the Hornets couldn't do enough offensively to pull away. Unfortunately, the Bulls' fourth quarter offense devolved into "Stand Around and Watch Nate Robinson Time," which did not end well. Nate, bless his heart, tried his ass off to make things happen and get the Bulls back in it, but too often he ended up forcing tough shots. Although, not like I can blame him, because nobody else really looked interested in taking the reins from him. Robinson took a whopping 11 shots in the fourth, making fourth of them. The rest of the team combined also took 11 shots. Not the greatest recipe for success.
The Bulls completely deserved this loss, as they came out sloppy, lethargic and uninspired, scoring two points in the first five minutes and turning the ball over like it was their job. The Bulls tallied eight turnovers in the first quarter alone, leading to 10 Hornets points. Meanwhile, when the Bulls actually took care of the ball, not much was happening in the halfcourt. Most of the points early on came in transition or off offensive rebounds, which has been a calling card of this team the past few years.
The Bulls' bench quickly began to turn things around, with Robinson, Taj Gibson and Marco Belinelli all providing a spark. Belinelli, a former Hornet, was especially good, flashing some of the multi-dimensional game we had heard so much about but had rarely seen so far this season. He even had a thunderous dunk in transition! Marco had 13 of the Bulls' 25 bench points in the first half, and it looked like they were going to pull away late in the second quarter.
But some rushed decisions and defensive lapses at the end of the half allowed the Hornets back in it, and the Bulls went into the half trailing 46-44. The Bulls' starters came out in the second half and outside of Luol Deng, played like pure crap. They were victimized over and over again by the Hornets' pick-and-roll game, with Greivis Vasquez, Austin Rivers and Robin Lopez all taking turns burning the Bulls' vaunted defense. Lopez had an especially good third quarter, scoring six points on 3-of-3 shooting and pulling down four boards. For the game, he had 16 points and seven boards on 7-of-10 shooting.
Offensively in the third, Richard Hamilton missed what seemed like a gazillion jumpers and several fast break chances, while Kirk Hinrich followed suit with a bevy of poor decisions on that end. Carlos Boozer was a complete no-show all night, having one of those games that just screamed "AMNESTY ME!" That trio shot a combined 4-of-26 on the night, so it was no surprise that Thibs decided to go with Robinson, Belinelli and Gibson in their stead down the stretch.
It's pretty hard to take many positives from this loss, perhaps outside of Gibson. The starters were mostly horrible and while Belinelli started strong, he didn't score a single point in the second half. The three-point shooting continues to be an issue, and I suspect it will be all season. And even though Deng had 19 points and got to the line 10 times, he too struggled from the field, going 6-of-15.
Even more disheartening was the fact that the Bulls were seemingly outworked by the Hornets. The Hornets made several key hustle plays, including one by Jason Smith late where he pulled down an offensive rebound in between three Bulls and scored to extend the Hornets' lead out to six with a couple of minutes left. Smith was excellent off the bench all night long, scoring 16 points and going 8-of-8 from the line.
We could blame this one on the back-to-back, but I think that's sort of a cop out. The Bulls had no business losing this game, but they did because they came out weak in both halves and couldn't hit the broad side of a barn for most of the game. I guess this is just what life will be like without Derrick Rose. Great one night and garbage the next. Rose bailed the Bulls out against the Hornets last year, but there wasn't anybody to replicate the feat tonight. On to the next one.