I went into last night's game in Denver expecting a loss, but I sure didn't expect the embarrassing effort that essentially turned into a Nuggets Slam Dunk Contest. Sure the Bulls had multiple factors, namely injuries, going against them, but that usually doesn't stop them from at least competing at a respectable level. Outside of a solid second quarter, the Bulls weren't competitive, looking a step (or 10) slow the entire night. The 128 points allowed was the most in the Tom Thibodeau era.
The starting lineup was especially bad, posting a -20 in 15 minutes and getting absolutely run off the floor in the third quarter. The normally energetic Joakim Noah looked like he was stuck in mud on the court, failing to get in any type of rhythm in his first game back from plantar fasciitis. Having jumping jacks Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee opposite him didn't help matters, validating my notion before the game that he probably should have sat, especially with another tough matchup tonight against the Jazz.
The ugly loss was just another in a long line of shoddy performances against the Western Conference this season, which is noticeably superior to the Eastern Conference this season. Just take a look at some of the Bulls' splits against the East and West this season:
|W||L||FG%||Opp. FG%||3PT%||OPP. 3PT%||REB||OPP. REB||TO||PPG||OPP. PPG|
|Bulls vs. East||23||9||45.2%||42.7%||36.1%||34.6%||43.7||40.4||14.1||95.2||90.3|
|Bulls vs. West||6||11||41.4%||44.0%||33.2%||33.0%||43.2||42.8||15.3||90.8||94.5|
Not a pretty sight, and things get even uglier when we look at the Bulls against the teams currently slated to make the playoffs in the West. With the loss to the Nuggets, the Bulls are now 1-8 against West playoff teams, with the lone win being that impressive beat down of the Golden State Warriors a couple of weeks ago. As for the losses, there are the Clippers (2x), Grizzlies (2x), Rockets (2x), Nuggets and Thunder. In those nine games against West powers, the Bulls are scoring just 88.7 points per game while giving up 98.3 points per game. Nearly a 10-point differential.
There are a couple of blowouts that inflate that negative differential, obviously including last night's game. The other two came at the hands of the Clippers and Rockets, and the theme in all three games is that the Bulls were romped in fast break points. Last night, the Bulls were outscored 23-6 in fast break points. In the 101-80 loss to the Clippers in on Nov. 17, it was 26-10. And in the horrific 120-97 Christmas Day loss to the Rockets, Houston racked up a whopping 31 fast break points to just eight for the Bulls. On the season, the Bulls are giving up 2.6 more fast break points per game against West opponents as opposed to East ones.
So it's pretty clear that the Bulls often have some problems with teams that like to push the pace and can throw a bunch of athletes at them. Getting Derrick Rose back should certainly help matters, but he won't fix all of the issues.
Things won't get much easier the next couple of games. The Jazz aren't exactly a run-and-gun team, but they have been excellent at home, sporting a 19-5 record at EnergySolutions Arena. And of course the Spurs on Monday will be a huge bitch. San Antonio is brilliant on both ends of the floor and are winners of 11 in a row.
The Bulls' struggles against the West ultimately aren't THAT big a deal, as they are, after all, in the East. However, one could argue that this shows that perhaps the Bulls aren't quite as good as their record says they are.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com