Mullin on PFT Live: Is Lovie on the hot seat?

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Mullin on PFT Live: Is Lovie on the hot seat?

The turmoil of the last four games three of them losses have turned the Bears from one kind of national story into another, as Mike Florio and I went into Wednesday on Mikes ProFootballTalk Live!

He and I had talked about Lovie Smiths position on any hot seat back in training camp. Mike saw him vulnerable after the game-two loss at Green Bay, which gradually turned into thoughts of a possible extension when the Bears were 7-1, and now Smith is back in that what-if? discussion.

The issue may not entirely be whether the Bears make the playoffs for Smith to serve out the last year of his contract; it may be how that comes to be. Because for the Bears to fall out of the playoffs means they will have taken a bad loss somewhere in the next four games, on top of a very difficult rematch with the Packers.

As I mentioned to Mike, the stated reason for Jerry Angelos firing after last season was what President Ted Phillips said was a failure to close the talent gap with the Packers. If the Bears lose two in 2012 to Green Bay, that rationale could be in play again.

The subject of Brian Urlacher is also very much in play, obviously, and Mike was interested in the overall of 54 with this team. My analogy, as far as grasping his true value, was a Larry Bird or Magic Johnson type of player: someone who makes everyone else better. Thats what Urlacher does, why he is a favorite on the field and in the locker room, and why he will be a superb fit for Lovie Smith as long as the Bears are playing their version of the 4-3.

As I noted on Monday morning, the Bears have held concussed players Jay Cutler (twice), Devin Hester, Shea McClellin out of the game following their head injuries. If Earl Bennett practices at all this week, that will be news. Players simply do not return quickly from concussions, with the trend arrow pointing more that direction with the increasing awareness of the severity of that injury.

Mike was interested in the possible return of Hester this week, which is probable. But the bigger return for the offense right now might be Alshon Jeffery, who was doing some moving around last Sunday on his repaired right knee and would be a key addition to an offense struggling to get anything going in the pass game.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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