Bulls can't stop Howard in rare home loss

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Bulls can't stop Howard in rare home loss

Resiliency is a trait the Bulls (33-9) have prided themselves on during Tom Thibodeaus tenure as head coach and Thursday night, it was put to the test, as his squad battled back from an early 18-point deficit, but ultimately didnt have enough to pull off the comeback, falling to the Magic (26-15), 99-94, snapping their eight-game winning streak.

On an evening when All-Star duo Derrick Rose and Luol Deng both struggled shooting the ball, the Bulls valiantly attempted to gut out one of their trademark ugly wins, but hot shooting from Orlando, a rebounding disadvantage and an atypical defensive performance were too much to overcome, despite a strong outing from Carlos Boozer.

Thibodeaus concerns about his squads defensive slippage manifested themselves early in the contest, as the Magic jumped out to an 8-0 lead. Orlando bombarded its host with a barrage of three-pointers, putting the Bulls in a tough position, as they also had to be concerned with All-Star center Dwight Howard (29 points, 18 rebounds, three blocked shots) and a game of matching basket for basket doesnt suit their normally defensive-oriented style of play.

When you get in that big of a holestart of the game: 37 points, first quarteryou cant win like that, a dismayed Thibodeau explained afterwards. Weve got to be ready to play and that comes back on me. Ive got to get them ready to play. We got in a hole that we shouldnt have been in and you cant do that against this team. They got their confidence early, I think they had six threes in the first quarter, they outworked us, they crushed us with the second shot. You get what you deserve in this league.

Rose chimed in: Its tough, when you have someone like that whos got to commit everyone to the paint because hes so dominant in the paint and theyre a tough team to guard. Theyre a unique team, probably the only team in the league that runs that type of offense and thats what makes them so tough.

Came out sluggish, but some of the shots that they were hitting were contested shots. It was pretty tough, but they were pretty hot, gave them confidence and you cant do that to that team, he continued. Theres no excuses. If thats the case, every night we could have an excuse, like traveling and who were playing.

Despite a pair of timeouts called by Thibodeau to rectify the situation, his team didnt immediately respond and fell into a double-digit hole, with the likes of Jason Richardson (18 points), Hedo Turkoglu (13 points, six rebounds, six assists), Jameer Nelson (nine points, seven assists) and Ryan Anderson (11 points, 10 rebounds) draining long-range attempts.

Were capable of playing much better defense, from how we play the ball, how we get back in transition, how we challenge shots to how we finish. Every aspect, said Thibodeau. Were capable of much better, we have to have discipline and weve got to get back to that.

In a game like this, its a scramble game, Howards a load inside, and theyre a great shooting team, so you have to take care of the ball, you have to pressure the ball, you have to take care of the paint, you have to react out and then take care of the line, then youve got to challenge shots and youve got to finish. Youve got to pursue the ball, he continued. You have to give the appropriate help. Hes much improved offensively. I dont think he gets the credit. Theyve done a great job with him. Hes done a great job. Each year hes gotten better and youre not going to be able to guard him one-on-one, but youve got to make his catches hard, dig in at the appropriate time and get out at the appropriate time, without getting twisted around, closing short, recklessly foulingall the stuff that gets you beat.

Added Joakim Noah: Defense, its not great. We definitely have to do better, learn from your mistakes and know theres another level that we have to take it to.

Though they did get production out of Rose (17 points, nine assists) and the power-forward combination of Boozer (26 points, seven rebounds, four steals) and Taj Gibson (14 points), the Bulls trailed at the conclusion of the opening frame, 37-22.

The visitors offensive brilliance continued in the second quarter, as Howard began to dominate the interior, logging a double-double in the first half alone, with the Bulls being more conscious of Orlandos remarkable outside marksmanship. Though the Magic cooled down as shooters, the Bullswith the exception of Gibson, who played with his typical high energy, as well as rookie swingman Jimmy Butler, who was aggressive in rare extended minutes outside of fourth-quarter garbage timewere unable to capitalize offensively and still faced a healthy deficit.

I like what our second unit did in the second quarter. They got us within striking distance. They brought the game back and when our starters came back, I thought they played much better, said Thibodeau, who cited Butlers individual effort. But weve got to be ready from the start of the game. We cant ease into these games. Thats a quality team. Theyre all quality teams and if youre not ready to play, youre just asking for trouble.

Added Luol Deng: We didnt come out with the right mindset. We didnt really take anything away from them early. Our second unit did a good job with getting us back in the game. I thought Jimmy was great, got us back into it.

Deciding to fight fire with fire, the Bulls turned to designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver to spark them and he delivered, knocking down a trio of shots in short succession, although the home team couldnt make any serious inroads and allowed the Magic to regain the games momentum. A late push, capped by a Rose three-pointer on the move at the halftime buzzer, brought the Bulls to within 57-52, and brought the crowd to its feet.

Despite Howard remaining dominant inside and a sprinkling of perimeter shootingthough a far cry from the torrent of the first halfthe Bulls kept it close early in the third period, as Rose fought through a rough shooting night, Boozer made his presence felt on offense and until he picked up his third foul, Noah (nine points, 10 rebounds, three steals, three blocked shots) was effective. Thibodeau went to a small lineup, pairing Boozer and Gibson in the post, and it worked, as Boozers mid-range game took Howard out of his shot-blocking comfort zone, leading to the Bulls briefly taking their first lead of the contest.

"With a guy like Dwight, you want to keep him as far away from the basket as possible, so you put him in pick-and-rolls. If you keep him by the basket, hell get 10 blocks in a game, said Boozer. Sometimes you get the open jumper, sometimes you get the roll to the hoop. Tonight the jumper was rolling and we just kept going to the same kind of plays to get the jump shot wide open.

Added Thibodeau: Carlos, I thought he played a terrific game. Very effective in the pick-and-roll, I thought he battled Howard well. Unfortunately, it wasnt enough.

Gibson also continued to impact the game with his energetic play and offensive efficiency, but the home team didnt have enough of the latter as a team, which permitted the visitors, who found their overall shooting touch once again, obtaining some breathing room toward the end of the quarter. Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were still behind, 79-71.

Boozer remained the Bulls offensive focal point at the outset of the fourth quarter, as the much-maligned power forward exploited Orlandos defense with a blend of mid-range jumpers and a polished low-post game, while the timely scoring and playmaking of backup point guard John Lucas III was also key in helping the hosts stay in close contact with their guests.

We probably had some tired legs, but we fought back. Our team is very tough. We fought through it, said Boozer. Were a tough team. We play through everything.

The game became a close-knit affair heading into its stretch run, but the Bullswho vastly stepped up their defensive intensity, though they remained mired in offensive struggleshad all of the momentum, with a raucous partisan audience celebrating every positive, such as Boozer breaking an 89-89 tie with just under three minutes to play with yet another mid-range jumper.

However, a monstrous Howard dunk over Noah seemingly took the wind out of the hosts sails and a subsequent Anderson triple, followed by a pair of free throws gave the visitors the push they needed to finish the rare road victory at the United Center.

We had our chances tonight. Im disappointed to lose the way that we lost. We know that they have a real tough player in the middle and that theyve got a lot of great shooters, and unfortunately, they got both going tonight. Tough loss. We had our chances. Got to learn from it and move on, said Noah. No excuses. We had our chances, so to look at that game and say, Oh, it was four and five nightswe fought hardI think thats what I love about this team is that were resilient and were just going to keep fighting. We had our chances. Thats why its tough right now, but weve got another one in a couple days.

Concluded Thibodeau: We got what we deserve.

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

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