Bulls vs. Rockets: Rip Hamilton's return not enough as Bulls endure rare losing streak

I may be picking on him a bit, but Carlos Boozer defense photos are too funny and plentiful. (Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE)

It's a stat we no longer will have to hear for a while: the Bulls have indeed lost two regular season games in a row. It's the first time since February of last year, a span of 86 games. Extremely impressive, especially with the injuries suffered in that time. But it's over, and perhaps another trend, if not a streak, is growing: Outside of the 3-point barrage that burned down Atlanta, the Bulls haven't looked especially good for nearly 2 weeks now.

Rip Hamilton started his first game in nearly a month since injuring his shoulder, playing nearly 20 minutes with mixed results. Hamilton's first stint went quite well with 6 points, but he also immediately went to rotate his shoulder after the first contact play, and his performance faded as the game went on. Rip finished with 3 assists but also 5 turnovers, a dichotomy that affected nearly the whole team tonight. There were times where the ball-movement was really working for what is a star-less offensive team, but it also led to some over-passing and predictable lanes for the Rockets to jump. The Bulls finished with a whopping 19 turnovers on the night.

As for Rip, who didn't return after his initial 2nd half stint though the game was close, he said postgame his arm was 'fatigued'. I suppose that, and showing some rust, was to be expected. You can still see the glimpses of what having him out there as a playmaker does for the offense (seeing Brewer back in a bench rotation suits him better as well). But you also see Rip padded up and not looking himself and realize there's still a long way to go, maybe too long.

Derrick Rose wasn't able to join his starting backcourt mate for the game, and the PG depth was exposed as both CJ Watson and John Lucas played quite poorly. The duo shot a combined 5-16, 0-5 from three generating for only 10 points. They were also eaten up defensively by Goran Dragic (who looked very impressive), and suffered a humiliating-if-common Earl Boykins experience. Boykins led the Rockets on a huge 2nd half run that also starred Chase Budinger's 3 three-pointers, and Thibodeau flipped back and forth on his PGs to no avail. While there haven't been any updates given that he's playing and isn't Derrick Rose, Watson's ankle is likely still not 100%. And while I won't say that he would've helped much or that having 1.5 healthy PGs for this stretch is a big-picture problem, the Bulls could've used Mike James tonight.

In the frontcourt, Thibs went to a cross-match putting Noah on Luis Scola leaving Carlos Boozer on Marcus Camby. Both Bulls were schooled early in both halves of their matchups, often on face-up jumpers. Some of that is them doing what the Bulls defense wants. But the close-outs were not crisp enough, they struggled to contain Dragic when he got in the lane, and several times failed to get back on defense. Both Noah and Boozer had their moments and wound up with decent stat lines in controlling the rebounding battle, but it was not a great night defensively.

Part of some pretty stat lines show a game that the Bulls looked to have completely in control. But some moments of lax play to end the first half led to a long lull in the second, including one 41-14 run by Houston. Some of this could be due to the immediate fatigue of yesterday's game (Rockets played in OT last night), or the overall physical and mental fatigue of playing so long without their star. Both cases are understandable. But it's to the point now where it's definitely showing.

Other notes:

  • Luol Deng had a good night beating up on the smaller Rockets SFs, and got inside more often than he has in the previous several games.
  • Beyond the turnovers, another example of missed opportunity from the Bulls was at the free-throw line, going 8-17.
  • Kind of a fun, free-flowing game throughout, between the lack of fouls (35, and a couple of those were ones given at end of quarters) and Thibodeau running out of timeouts with nearly 3 minutes left.
  • Lucas vs. Boykins was as visually entertaining as you'd expect, though the Bulls got the short end (that hurts to even write) of the matchup.
  • I ragged on SG target of our affection Courtney Lee early, given how Rip looked in his first stint, but while Lee did shoot a woeful 4-14, 2 of those makes were huge late jumpers.
  • Ironically, while the United Center had more empty seats than usual, there was also the rare occurance of spontaneous cheers late in the game. The crowd isn't used to losing, either.
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