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Minutes Watch: More Niko and Less Pau, Please

Pau was pretty good, not great last night, despite his stats, and he was clearly gassed in the overtimes. Nikola Mirotic should have gotten more run.

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Pau Gasol played a really up and down game last night. His stats looked really good as he put up 29 points on 25 shots and grabbed 14 rebounds, but he also did that in 50+ minutes of playing time. Pau was also a huge reason why the Bulls surrendered easy basket after easy basket to the Mavericks.

Look, Dallas is great on offense and might finish the season as one of the league's absolute best offenses ever, but the Bulls could have done better defending them last night and Pau's slow feet were a big reason why they couldn't do it. The Mavericks' speedy guards put the Bulls perimeter defenders in pick and rolls with the Dallas big men all night and as they used the screens to gain a step on Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Derrick Rose, Aaron Brooks, and Mike Dunleavy alike, the Bulls needed their big men rotating over to provide help. When Nikola Mirotic was in the game, the Bulls often got that help defensive rotation. When Pau was in the game, those rotations were either too slow or simply non-existent. This isn't totally Pau's fault. He's 34 years old and has never been an especially quick player. As he's aged his ability to move laterally with any sort of speed has largely evaporated. Mirotic, on the other hand, is young, springy, and eager to make things happen defensively.

Chicago really could have used Mirotic's skills, on both ends, to close out the game, while simultaneously saving Pau's legs for tonight's game against the Hornets. In fact, any sort of lineup creativity from Thibs in the overtimes would have been welcome. While Dallas's Rick Carlisle used 9 different players over the course of the 10 minutes of double overtime, Thibodeau used his starting lineup for the duration of both overtimes. Again, the Bulls were on the front of a back to back where they have to travel. This is the absolute worst possible move to make. Count on the Bulls starters being absolutely gassed tonight in Charlotte. Our boys might win anyway, because Charlotte has been that bad this season, but Thibs continues to show his inability to see beyond the game he's in when it comes to minutes management.

The reason Pau in particular shouldn't have been playing all those minutes is his age and the Bulls having a more than capable replacement for him who is young and had only played 25 minutes on the night. Re-watching the plays from the 2 overtimes, Pau was responsible for 8 of the Bulls 21 points in those frames, but 6 of those points came on catch and shoot mid-range jumpers. Those are shots Mirotic is more than capable of hitting. Pau only made one shot out of the post and was thwarted multiple times by Tyson Chandler who basically manhandled him for most of the night whenever Pau would attempt to post up.

In any event, Pau's final line of 29 and 14 looks nice, but when you scale it to per-36 minute numbers it's looks like 20.8 points on 53.3% True Shooting and 10 rebounds. A solid night, but not as great as it might otherwise look. Pau also had 5 turnovers, though he was only credited with 3, as his two consecutive dropped passes out of bounds in the second overtime were inexplicably credited to Rose as "bad pass turnovers." Compare Pau's numbers to Mirotic's 15 points in 25.5 minutes of playing time on 65.1% True Shooting and, to my eyes, superior defense and it's kind of mind-boggling that Thibodeau didn't give Pau a rest and give Niko some run to close the game

Thibodeau could mitigate some of the damage done by last night by flipping Pau and Mirotic's minutes tonight and giving Tony Snell additional run to take some pressure off Mike Dunleavy Jr. who is also old and played almost as many minutes as Pau (49). But I really doubt he will do either of those things, because, for some reason, he still thinks he needs to go all-out to win every game in the regular season.

I'd be remiss if I didn't close by noting that none of this happens if Kirk Hinrich doesn't make one of the dumbest plays you'll ever see at the end of regulation. Damn it all.