Are Bulls facing a big-man dilemma?

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Are Bulls facing a big-man dilemma?

The reserve big-man duo of Omer Asik and power forward Taj Gibson closed out the game for the Bulls for the second consecutive evening, but although attention is newly focused on that trend, the pattern actually goes back to last season's playoffs, when Tom Thibodeau kept the young tandem in for the stretch runs of contests against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Thibodeau said all the right things afterward, reminding reporters that struggling starters Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer often carry the team, but it was telling that he listed how the quartet of big men bring different strengths to the table.

After praising the "lockdown defense" ability of Gibson and Asik, the coach talked about how some of his post players bring scoring, indicating Boozer's strong suit, while others bring defense before throwing in that some bring playmaking, a nod to Noah's unique ball-handling and passing, which is, at the present moment, his only advantage over his fellow big men, as he's struggled to score the ball this season. Boozer, though one wouldn't know it from his solid field-goal percentage, has also experienced scoring issues -- after coming into the season in top-notch physical condition, he again seemingly has difficulty finishing, due to a lack of explosiveness, and has regressed in terms of running the floor in transition -- making Gibson and Asik, both of whom continue to have increasing confidence on offense, particularly the latter, the logical choices to play crucial minutes, contracts aside, especially when one considers how much Thibodeau emphasizes the team establishing a defensive presence.

Noah took responsibility for his recent downturn in production and Boozer was diplomatic when questioned about his dwindling fourth-quarter playing time, and on a team with the chemistry of the Bulls, there's unlikely to be a rift, but the scrutiny placed upon the ongoing saga will only intensify, even as the team keeps winning. Keep in mind, however, shooting guard Rip Hamilton hasn't been healthy for much of the season and is still making an adjustment to his new squad, but in the limited time he's been on the court, his subtle play-making skills have directly benefited both Boozer and Noah.

At the same time, Noah's perceived regression on offense could fuel new-found rumors about the Bulls' willingness to engage Orlando in a potential deal to acquire Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard. Although Chicago didn't make his list of desired destinations, Magic general manager Otis Smith has a tough decision to make -- whether to trade Howard by the March 15 trade deadline or risk losing him in the offseason -- and the Bulls could have the right pieces to tempt him, as a more-than-serviceable center in Noah (it wouldn't hurt that fans of the University of Florida, where Noah won two national championships, would likely be less disappointed in losing Howard with the arrival of the former Gator), a top-five NBA small forward in Luol Deng (after LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce, is there a player at the position outright better than Deng, one of the league's best two-way talents?) and a young power forward in Gibson (paired with holdovers Glen Davis and Ryan Anderson, the Magic would have a solid frontline, even with Howard's departure) and a combination of the Bulls' coveted, currently-protected future first-round draft pick from Charlotte (acquired from the Bobcats in the Tyrus Thomas deal) and their own 2012 first-round pick, as well as potentially a role player like swingman Ronnie Brewer or the rights to 2011 draft choice Nikola Mirotic (though the Bulls are on high on the European prospect, who won't arrive in the NBA for at least another season or two, and ideally, wouldn't want to part with both him and Gibson), in exchange for Howard and possibly Hedo Turkoglu and his massive contract would have to at least intrigue him.

That said, the Bulls are a 10-2 team and with the current roster -- again, don't forget that Hamilton hasn't been at full strength -- appear poised to be one of the top-two teams in the Eastern Conference again, if not better. Furthermore, simply renting Howard for the remainder season and banking on a newly-constituted team finding instant chemistry, as well as the center wanting to return to Chicago, regardless of the results, is a calculated risk and perhaps one not worth it, considering the talent the Bulls would have to jettison to make it happen.

Bulls can't answer Wesley Matthews' game-winner in loss to Mavericks

Bulls can't answer Wesley Matthews' game-winner in loss to Mavericks

It was believed the Bulls needed no extra motivation going against a Dallas Mavericks team that's a half-game away from being worst in the Western Conference.

The Mavericks gave them a 25-point shellacking in Texas last month, giving the Bulls enough film to make a horror show. Usually these instances even out over 82 games.

But this is no ordinary season for the Bulls, and the Mavericks again emerged victorious when Wesley Matthews got free for a triple on one end and locked up his college teammate Jimmy Butler on the other end, leading to a 99-98 Mavericks win.

It looked like another Butler special when Butler nailed a step-up, contested jumper over Matthews to give the Bulls a 98-96 lead, completing his 24-point night.

But Matthews was undeterred, breaking free on the wing for a triple when Dwyane Wade had to help Nikola Mirotic on a Deron Williams drive with 11.7 seconds left.

And on the final possession, the Bulls' spacing looked gummed up when Butler couldn’t shake free of Matthews, forcing him to pitch it to Wade, who put up a heavily contested 21-foot jumper from the baseline

It caromed off the rim, and the Mavericks danced happily off the floor for their first three-game winning streak of the year, this win completing a season sweep of the Bulls.

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Butler scored 24 with 12 assists and nine rebounds but was 5-for-12 from the field as Matthews was in his chest all night. Wade had a strong fourth quarter on his 35th birthday but missed 13 of his 21 shots to score 17.

Six Mavericks scored in double figures, led by Harrison Barnes' 20 and Seth Curry's 18 as the Mavericks made 11 triples and had 27 assists, frustrating the Bulls.

With scoring at a premium, Robin Lopez had a season-high 20 points being guarded by Dirk Nowitzki — and they were necessary considering the Bulls were without Taj Gibson (ankle injury) and Doug McDermott couldn't repeat his 30-point showing from Sunday in Memphis.

Rick Carlisle has long been regarded as one of the top strategic coaches, and though he doesn’t have the usual personnel from the Mavericks' salad days, he had enough tricks up his sleeve to throw the Bulls off.

The Mavericks started Nowitzki at center, going to an almost all-small lineup. And though Lopez scored 14 in the first half, trying to feed him seemed to take the Bulls out of it in the second half.

The Mavericks played tougher and smarter with their personnel, and the Bulls got to see what happens when Wade or Butler can't save the day.

Bulls' Rajon Rondo oddly runs behind back of former coach Rick Carlisle

Bulls' Rajon Rondo oddly runs behind back of former coach Rick Carlisle

Is Rajon Rondo avoiding his former coach?

During Tuesday night's Bulls-Mavericks game, Rondo awkwardly ran behind Mavs coach Rick Carlisle as the third quarter was winding down.

Take a look at the play in the video above.

Rondo, who played with the Mavericks in the 2014-15 season, had a weird relationship with Carlisle. Most notably, he and Carlisle had a heated exchange during a game on Feb. 24, 2015 against the Toronto Raptors. It eventually led to Carlisle saying that Rondo was a bad fit for the Mavericks and that the team should have never traded for him.

On Tuesday, Rondo apparently shook Carlisle's hand before he checked in the game for the first time in the first quarter. 

All is well, it seems, but that was still weird.