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March 10, 2010
Five Thoughts

by Bradford Doolittle


CHICAGO | To fans at the United Center, Tuesday's game against Utah must have looked like a replay of Saturday's loss to Dallas. For the second game in a row, the Bulls' defense withered in the face of an offensive onslaught driven by masterful execution and hot shooting, as Utah blitzed Chicago 132-108. The Bulls' loss, combined with Charlotte's win over Miami, dropped Chicago to ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Like Dallas, Utah appears to be in postseason form as the Jazz battle the Mavericks and Nuggets for homecourt in the lower half of the Western Conference playoff bracket.


Utah Jazz         Pace  oRTG   eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA TO%  THCH
First Quarter       23  154.9  .696  .000  .130  .000  7.53
Second Quarter      27  105.5  .480  .000  .160  .075  7.17
Third Quarter       23  124.6  .639  .571  .333  .258  6.50
Fourth Quarter      24  169.4  .676  .400  1.000 .085  6.05
FIRST HALF          49  128.2  .583  .261  .146  .043  7.35
SECOND HALF         47  147.2  .657  .364  .657  .088  5.83
FINAL               93  141.7  .614  .350  .361  .107  6.81
Chicago Bulls     Pace  oRTG  eFG%   oREB% FT/FGA TO%  THCH
First Quarter       23  132.8  .750  .000  .167  .133  6.45
Second Quarter      27  116.8  .659  .000  .091  .038  7.18
Third Quarter       23   85.9  .412  .300  .353  .301  3.14
Fourth Quarter      24  114.3  .526  .300  .368  .212  5.10
FIRST HALF          49  124.2  .700  .000  .125  .086  6.82
SECOND HALF         47  100.2  .472  .400  .361  .135  3.72
FINAL               93  116.0  .592  .176  .237  .172  5.47

NOTE: THCH is an estimate of team touches per minute

(These are the notes that I typed to myself during the game. Presented as typed ... no attempt at cleaning them up or to provide context.)

FIRST QUARTER: Jazz in top form early, just running base halfcourt offense--moving ball, screening away, haven't run a pick n' roll yet ... much of early offense has gone through Boozer on the post against Taj ... Bulls are hanging close, with all their offense coming in primary or secondary transition. It's 12-11 ... Deng, still not a full strength, is going to have a hard time scoring gainst Kirilenko ... Rose just left Deron in the dust for a two-hand throw down ... Bulls are crossmatching, with Hinrich on Deron; Jazz are not. Rose & Deron are both +5 DEF in my system, but Rose is getting credit for a lot of Hinrich's defense ... Jazz defense is step slow; Bulls are hot f/ outside. Don't see either trend continuing ... Boozer is hard showing on pnr w/ Rose & not getting out on Miller, who has hit two 3s ... I've seen the Jazz in SLC two or three times. Always surprised out how quick Boozer is, I think that's what sets him apart ...

SECOND QUARTER: Deng is moving much, much better tonight. Taking advantage of Kirilenko's rest, so Sloan is putting Andrei back in ... No JJ so far tonight, it's all Deng ... Vinny is using Warrick @ 5 and he's using his quickness to exploit Okur. Game tied at 42 ... Warrick costs Bulls 2pts by standing and reaching for an off. reb that Paul Millsap was busting his hump for ... JJ is in. Just got def. reb and brought ball down the floor. He handles the ball pretty well in the open floor ... JJ beats AK down the floor after as stop and gets a layup--he NEEDS more minutes; VDN just f'n pulled him ... Deng to Warrick on the break, Warrick draws foul. He really loves to leak out in transition, which may be why his defensive rebounding is inconsistent ... Rose is on Deron in this quarter and doing a terrific job, maybe his def rtg is more solid than I thought ...

THIRD QUARTER: Hinrich on Deron to start 3Q ... Man, Rose is f'n FAST. A one man fastbreak, even after a made basket ... Rose back on Deron halfway t/ quarter; Deron has 22 pts, 10 asts ... Williams just dunked on Rose in transition. Nasty ... Jazz are starting to flex muscle on boards, tho neither team has many second-chance points ... Jazz with 6-3 edge of fb points this Q ... As Bulls' pace slows, VDN goes w/ Miller & Richards at 4 & 5, lack of recognition of what his team does well ... Seems like Utah would be ahead by double-digits at least, but it'll only be 7 or 8, depending on Boozer FTs. Jazz have been aggressor this period ... Charlotte won, so Bulls will drop to ninth with loss ... It's now 9-3 in FB points this quarter for Jazz, and C.J. Miles just hit a three-pointer in secondary transition. Wow. Jazz by 12 ... Fastbreak points, as they're tracked at the arena, don't offer a very good picture at that part of the game. They do count FTs f/ fastbreak opps, but not sec transition and they don't track opps. Anyway, Jazz finish w/ 11 FB pts in 3Q, 3 for Bulls, and Jazz just missed two more because Miles dunk came split second after buzzer ... Jazz up 92-81 after 3Q ...

FOURTH QUARTER: Whoa--Warrick with a monster jam in transition and gets fouled, really a spark to begin period. Made FT, Bulls down 8 ... Then Bulls steal inbounds and JJ gets dunk, crowd really into it now. Jazz have tendency to fold in 4Qs, or at least did earlier in the season. Bulls need this game bad ... Bulls have entire 2nd unit in--Warrick, Richard, Flip, Pargo and JJ ... JJ dives to hoop along baseline after nice ball reversal by Pargo off high pick, gets fouled, makes 1 of 2, Bulls down six ... Chris Richard thinks he got hooked on that drive by Okur. Maybe he did. He's not geting that call. Rose checks back in @10:03 it's 95-87 Utah ... 12th assist for Rose, 1 shy of career best ... Gibson just fouled out after going for a shot fake by Okur in the corner, 3 FTs. Gibson is replace by Miller. VDN going with Deng & JJ as Fs--why not go with Warrick and try to run them to death? ... JJ picks up a goaltending. Bad call. But he then goes to work in the lane against Millsap. Gets shot blocked, recovers and gets putback & foul. Really like where his game is going. He's got many of Tyrus' good traits but is a more skilled player. Has he played this many meaningful minutes this season? ... JJ just lost Miles on pick and was burned for 3. Missed tip dunk on next trip and called for loose ball foul. He's coming out in favor of Warrick. It's 102-91 q/ 7:45 to play ... Miles & Flip are trading threes right now ... Miles has 3 3s in auater, 23 pts for game ... Very similar story to Dallas. Bulls playing well on offense, but going against a better team that executes its offense with aplomb. Without Noah, Thomas, Salmons--just not enough defense right now, esp. against this caliber of team ... Vdn yanks regulars @3:25 and Utah up 120-106 ... ima heading downstars ...

My takeaways from Tuesday's game:

1. Another clinic.
For the second game in a row, the Bulls were bested by superlative offensive execution. The Jazz shot 54 percent from the field and went 12-of-20 on three-pointers, and went to the foul line 39 times to boot. Utah assisted on 34 of its 45 made field goals, 17 of them by all-world point guard Deron Williams, a popular figure in Chicago because of his U. of Illinois background. Utah also grabbed offensive boards on 35 percent of its misses and committed just 10 turnovers in 93 possessions. It was simply a near-perfect offensive performance by the Jazz, who appeared to run fewer pick-and-roll sets than you typically see from Jerry Sloan teams. Guess when the offense is putting up a 141.7 Offensive Rating, you don't really need to run plays for specific players. For the Bulls, this defensive performance comes on the heels of the 133.8 Defensive Rating it put up against Dallas on Saturday. With Joakim Noah out and Tyrus Thomas in Charlotte, it really seems like the Bulls are short of quality defenders, particularly on the interior.

2. Bulls need to be fastest team in the NBA.
The Bulls looked dazzling at times in the first half, outscoring the Jazz 14-0 in fastbreak points. Derrick Rose had 11 assists in the opening half, two shy of his full-game career best, which he tied after a two-assist second half. The Bulls look so good when they get out in transition, especially when Hakim Warrick is in the game, that you wonder why they'd play any other way. Warrick likes to leak out and gives Chicago a man advantage on almost every fast break because he runs the floor so well and finishes with authority. Rose is so fast with the ball in his hands that he can look like a one-man break, plus he's just as good setting up others on break as he is getting to the rim himself. He's a much better playmaker at this stage of his career in transition than he is in halfcourt sets. Of course, part of that is that his teammates are at their best running the floor as well. Nevertheless ... Vinny Del Negro doesn't feel like the Bulls are at their best in what Jerry Sloan called "basically a pick-up game."

Vinny: "We've proven that when we try to outscore people, the way we're made up now, we don't have much success."

Me: "You outscored them 14-0 on fast break points in the first half but in the second half, it seemed like they really turned the tables on you."

Vinny: "Yeah, they did. We had a couple of opportunities in the break that we didn't convert. They got their hands on some (loose balls) and got out in the open court. ... That was big factor."

OK. I agree with that observation. But here's the thing--in the third quarter, when the Jazz began to pull away because of exactly the reason Del Negro cites here, he had Chris Richard in the game at four and Brad Miller at five. Did Vinny not watch the same first half that I did?

3. The curious case of the Bulls rookies: James Johnson & Taj Gibson.
When it comes to the way we perceive player performance, expectation is everything. I've heard Taj Gibson referred to as one of the top young players in the league. Everything he does is uniformly praised. Meanwhile, James Johnson is already being referred to as a bust in some circles. I can't help but wonder if these disparate views stem from the fact that Gibson was taken at the end of the first round, while Johnson went in the middle of it.

Gibson had as bad of a game as you can have last night--six fouls, three turnovers in 12 minutes and no positive contribution at all except for a single defensive rebound. Gibson's plantar faciitis was acting up and clearly he shouldn't have been playing. Now it sounds like he won't be available when the Bulls kick off a four-game road trip on Thursday in Orlando. But this isn't about that--Gibson wasn't right, and I don't begrudge him his poor outing on Tuesday.

Gibson has been a pleasant surprise for the Bulls. He's a solid rebounder and shot blocker and is improving his post defense. On offense, he's proving to be a decent pick-and-pop option because of a smooth stroke from midrange. However, he's not a future star. His athleticism is above average but not by much, and as a 24-year-old rookie, I don't see Gibson getting a whole lot better than he is this season. He can be a key rotation player and spot starter for several years, but he's not a building block player.

Meanwhile, the going has been rough for Johnson, a superlative natural athlete. Johnson isn't that young, either--he's 23, but the explosiveness he displays at times is really head-turning. What's more, he flashes good skills when given the chance--he has good range on a perimeter shot that is admittedly a work in progress, he's a good shot-blocker and is dangerous both in transition and while working the baseline and even handles the ball smoothly. He's a diamond-in-the-rough and he's statistically inferior to Gibson at this point, but Johnson's numbers are getting better as his court time becomes more regular. Not sure why more people, including Del Negro, don't see Johnson as a solution to the shortage of big bodies. If Gibson has to sit the next game or two along with Luol Deng, who left Tuesday's game early because of continued trouble with his knee, it could be Johnson's chance to shine in an extended role. He's rough defensively, it should be noted, as he has a tendency to get caught up on screens, which springs opposing perimeter shooters.

p>4. Mystery player of the night: Othyus Jeffers.
It was a point guard clinic on Tuesday, as Utah's Deron Williams put up 28 points and 17 assists, while Chicago's Derrick Rose countered with 25 points and 13 assists. Williams guarded Rose when both were in the game for the most part, while Rose split Deron-guarding duties with Kirk Hinrich. Neither had much success. Anyway, the guard that caught my eye on Tuesday was Utah's Othyus Jeffers. He didn't really do much on the court--he played just over two minutes, went 0-of-2 from the field and made a couple of free throws. I was fascinated by him because when I walked into the Utah locker room, I had absolutely no idea who he was. That just never happens to me. After the fact, I think I recalled reading a scouting report or something on him, but I read a lot of scouting reports and it's not really essential to my function as a hoops writer to remember them all. With Twitter and my RSS feeds, it's amazing enough that a player could sign with a team without me noticing. (He actually signed last week.) But it's even more amazing that I would discover the oversight by seeing the guy sitting in front of his locker. Jeffers played his college ball at Chicago's Robert Morris, which made Tuesday's game a homecoming for him and he supposedly had about 150 people in the stands to see him. So it's nice he got into the game and scored a couple of points.

5. That sucking sound you hear ...
... is the Bulls' playoff hopes disappearing down a vortex, which is defined as a "a mass of fluid (as a liquid) with a whirling or circular motion that tends to form a cavity or vacuum in the center of the circle and to draw toward this cavity or vacuum bodies subject to its action." So with the Bulls heading out for a four-game trip with stops in Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas, it's probably best that I maintain a safe distance.

You can go back and read my in-game comments and get future Tweets at @bdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
From 347 to 65 (03/09)
<< Previous Column
Five Thoughts (03/07)
Next Column >>
Five Thoughts (03/20)
Next Article >>
All Eyes on UK (03/10)

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