The Bulls lost a game in Houston last night to the Rockets that they really had no business losing. The Rockets played a sloppy game, turning the ball over 23 times and getting dreadful play from their point guards. The Bulls dominated the offensive boards, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds and turning those into 17 points. The Bulls took 21 more shots than the Rockets. And yet, another dreadful three-point shooting effort and fourth quarter collapse later, the Bulls lost their third straight under Tom Thibodeau for the first time ever.
The team's recent struggles has Thibodeau thinking about some changes to the lineup, according to ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell:
Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after Wednesday's loss that he is thinking about making changes to his starting lineup. The Bulls dropped a 93-89 decision to the Houston Rockets, marking the first time in Thibodeau's two-plus seasons that his team lost three consecutive games.
"We'll see," Thibodeau said when asked about lineup changes. "I'm looking at a lot of things."
Friedell posits that we may see a change in the backcourt, where current starters Kirk Hinrich and Richard Hamilton have struggled for much of the year. Hinrich was god-awful again last night, scoring just four points and turning the ball over four times in 23 minutes. He did have six assists, but his ineptness shooting the ball this season has truly been remarkable. Kirk is currently shooting 30.5 percent from the field and has not hit a three-pointer since Nov. 8. According to Synergy, Hinrich is putting up 0.55 points per play, good for 304th in the NBA. And he has STILL yet to make a basket in the fourth quarter.
The Hinrich signing, as many of us feared, has been nothing short of a disaster. It's honestly looking like one of the worst of the offseason, made all the more worse by the fact that the signing hard-capped the roster. One has to imagine things getting a little better, because this is some historically bad stuff right now. But how much better can it really get?
Meanwhile, Hamilton went 2-of-10 last night and has been repeatedly benched for poor defensive play. He's often lazy on that end and loses his man far too often. As Matt said in his recap, the inability of Hamilton and Carlos Boozer to get back in transition gave a pedestrian Houston offense way too many easy baskets.
If Thibs were to replace Hinrich and Hamilton in the starting lineup, the natural replacements would seem to be Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler, who finished last night's game. Taj Gibson has also been closing most of the games, but I still doubt we ever see Boozer coming off the bench. It probably would be a decent idea, because Boozer could slay bums and give the second unit some needed scoring punch, but again, I don't think that move will happen unless things start getting really bad.
Last night's closing lineup of Robinson/Butler/Deng/Gibson/Noah did show some nice things early in the fourth quarter, and it was actually Robinson and Butler doing much of the damage. Those two combined for 14 of the Bulls' first 16 points in the quarter, giving Chicago a five-point lead with just under five minutes left.
But after that, Robinson began to feel invincible as he often does and pretty much shot the Bulls out of the game. His woefully ill-advised PUJIT began the Bulls' collapse, and he proceeded to go 1-of-6 after that shot to go along with a bad turnover.
Robinson took a whopping 14 shots in the fourth quarter and 22 for the game...in 26 minutes of action. I know he's one of the only shot creators on the roster, but if the Bulls' best offense down the stretch are contested Robinson jumpers (he was 2-of-8 on shots outside the paint in the fourth), the Bulls are in deep shit. Luol Deng struggled in the fourth quarter and Joakim Noah barely touched the ball after starting the game strong. Perhaps Noah was tired after playing every single minute in the first half. And fittingly, it was Noah getting stuffed by Omer Asik at the end that essentially wrapped the game up (at about the same time, Kyle Korver was burying a game-winning three for Atlanta).
What's interesting about this talk of starting lineup changes is the fact that the Bulls' starting group has actually done quite well despite what seems like three-fifths of it struggling. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Bulls' current starting group is a plus-6.8 points per 100 possessions. So it's not like these guys are doing that bad as a unit.
There's no data for a possible Robinson/Butler/Deng/Boozer/Noah starting lineup, but last night's closing lineup is actually a minus-13.4 points per 100 possessions on the season. The sample size is pretty small (27 minutes), and last night definitely slants it toward the negative, but nevertheless, it's not like that group has proven themselves worthy of starting. And as I brought up the other day, it's not like the Bulls have been all that good with Robinson or Butler on the floor this year (although I'm all for Jimmy getting solid burn).
It might be worth changing lineups just to shake things up and try something different. It's not like things are looking promising right now, so perhaps some tinkering will wake these guys up and get them to play better. Then again, this team may just not be that good and no matter what Thibs does, it will be an epic struggle.
And for what it's worth, here's K.C. Johnson's take:
Wasn't in Houston but I'd be surprised if Thibodeau changes starters. Not his style. He's about detail, consistency and preparation. #Bulls— K.C Johnson (@KCJHoop) November 22, 2012