A returning Joakim Noah did little to solve the defensive issues this team has had lately, which came to a head Saturday in Atlanta and continued in a pretty bad 114-100 loss to the Wizards.
The Wiz were without starter Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal, plus reserves Alan Anderson and Kris Humphries. This had them playing even more small-ball than they have been for much of the season, and it spread out and killed the Bulls all night. It was made much worse by forcing a ton of Bulls turnovers, as the had 15 for the game and it helped generate 20 fast-break points. But the Wiz were running all the time, even on makes. John Wall had a pretty awful game from midrange, but he did a good job pushing the pace whenever he could and running some solid pick-and-roll, usually with the returning Nene, to get points in the halfcourt. That was what little structure the Wizards needed, as even haphazard drive-and-kick seemed to generate open looks. The Wizards hoisted 24 threes and the Bulls were seemingly lucky that Washington only hit 9 of them, given their open-ness.
Maybe poor shooting should've been expected, as the Wizards are a below-.500 team missing several key players. But they got great first halves from Ramon Sessions and Gary Neal to help spearhead a 62-48 halftime lead and a 52% shooting mark. Another big-time bench performance, even less expected, was from Drew Gooden. He didn't shoot well but somehow got 7 offensive boards (12 overall) in under 27 minutes. When you can't secure the defensive glass against a team playing an extreme version of small-ball, that's a significant issue.
The Bulls porous defense was the story from the beginning, as the Wizards never trailed in this game. Though the Bulls made a couple runs in the second half, at best getting it to 4 with an Aaron Brooks spasm to start the fourth quarter, the Wizards always answered, and it was usually due to a combination of turnovers and ineffective transition and help defense. This was one of those games where the Bulls looked just plain slow, and trying to come back with a McDermott/Mirotic/Gasol lineup was just digging the team a bigger hole. McDermott was a very efficient 9 points on 4 FGAs, but this was a game where he was especially targeted. But he certainly wasn't alone, and though the Bulls tried to impose their physical advantages with post-ups and that generated a lot of close looks (and FTs) in the third quarter especially, their defense wouldn't allow them to fully come back.
Maybe only Derrick Rose did a halfway decent job defensively when trying to stymie John Wall coming at him or even stepping in to take a couple charges. He also had maybe his best offensive game of the season scoring 23 points on 8-13 shooting, hitting 2 of 3 threes and getting to the line 5 times. Rose really does seem to 'play up' to his rivals at the PG spot...he was only generating for himself though, with a single assist in 31 minutes and 4 turnovers, including a couple late backbreakers where he got himself caught up in the air.
Butler had a good game but nothing spectacular, and was oddly susceptible to getting the ball stripped from him. He also found himself not being able to keep up defensively when the Wizards would go with 2-PG sets. Joakim Noah had a bad first game back, missing every one of his shots (so many point-blank tip-ins...) and getting stuffed by Wall at one point. He was part of a solid lineup performance in the second half but his first half stint saw the Bulls first go down big.
The last turnover by Rose capped another Wizards run that put them up 18 points with 4:30 remaining, and Fred Hoiberg smartly packed this one in as the Bulls play tomorrow in Milwaukee. The Bulls caught some bad breaks tonight with some silly Wizards makes and a lot of bad caroms and loose balls finding the opponents hands, but they were also fundamentally bad defensively and that needs to pick up again. Teams are running like hell on them, and the offense isn't getting enough makes to even slow them a little.