I grew up watching the post-Jordan Bulls, and despite how truly abominable those squads were, I honestly think this Bulls team might be less enjoyable to watch. At least there was SOME hope with those teams, with the prospect of young talent and high lottery picks possibly panning out. They mostly didn't, of course, but at least it was something.
There are no such feelings with this Bulls team at this time, as they continue to slog along in collective misery with Derrick Rose out of the lineup. The Bulls faced another struggling squad in the Magic on Monday at the United Center, and once again took part in an excruciating game that resulted in yet another heartbreaking (for some) loss after Luol Deng blew a wide open layup in the final seconds that would have tied the game. But on a positive note, the Bulls broke 80 points on a last-second halfcourt heave by Mike Dunleavy, falling 83-82.
The Bulls actually got off to a good start, jumping out to a 6-0 lead in the first few minutes. But the Magic quickly responded, and they built up an eight-point lead at the break as the Bulls' offense stunk up the joint. The Magic pushed that lead out to 17 in the third quarter on the back of some hot shooting from Arron Afflalo, and it looked like the Bulls were completely dead in the water. The body language was horrible and the Magic were simply winning the battles for most of the loose balls. The Bulls weren't even getting many offensive rebounds, and for the game, they managed to grab only seven despite missing 53 shots.
But much like the Knicks game last week, the Bulls started to fight back and the Magic began to tighten up. The Bulls hung around for much of the fourth quarter, and they finally made a real charge in the final minutes as the Magic couldn't buy a bucket on the offensive end. The Magic's last basket was a Glen Davis jumper with 3:45 to go, and after Afflalo split a pair of free throws with six seconds left, the Bulls had a chance to tie or take the lead.
Out of a timeout, Tom Thibodeau drew up a really brilliant play, getting the ball to Joakim Noah at the elbow and freeing Deng on a back screen. Noah delivered a picture perfect pass to a cutting Deng, only to see him blow the wide open layup, a theme of the night. I couldn't tell you how many layups the Bulls blew, from Deng to D.J. Augustin to Taj Gibson to Marquis Teague. It's one thing when you're missing jumpers, but when you're botching layups, it's just sad.
Deng's miss ruined what was another excellent game for him. He was the Bulls' only consistent threat offensively, scoring 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting and 9-of-12 from the free throw line. The Bulls' work at the charity stripe was one of the only reasons they managed to stay in the game despite shooting just 34.6 percent overall and 5-of-18 from three. The Bulls went 21-of-26 from the line and outscored the Magic by nine points there.
But it should be noted that Deng played 42 minutes in the game, and it's going to be tough watching him kill himself out there for 40+ minutes a night for this garbage team. Tony Snell has almost completely fallen back out of the rotation at this point with Deng and Jimmy Butler back in the lineup, which is unfortunate given the circumstances. But #ThibsBall and everything, right? Speaking of Butler, he was 1-of-11 on the night.
The other notable aspect of the game for the Bulls was the point-guard play. Teague got the start, but he was an absolute disaster in 11 minutes, leading to 37 minutes for Augustin. We had the pleasure of Stacey King hyping up Augustin's game for much of the night, but to D.J.'s credit, he looked a hell of a lot better than Teague out there despite a heap of bricked open jumpers and missed layups. Augustin finished with 14 points and eight assists, and he looked pretty comfortable running pick-and-roll, making some nifty passes that resulted in easy baskets. I have to imagine he gets the call to start against the Rockets on Wednesday if Kirk Hinrich can't go again.
Afflalo led the Magic with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting, although he was really quiet down the stretch and missed a key free throw. Still, anyway we can kidnap him? I'd love to have him at the 2 going forward, but sadly, that probably won't happen.
The Bulls now have the honor of facing the Rockets and Thunder back-to-back on the road on national TV. Get the alcohol ready and fire up the tanks.