Bulls' inconsistency at home continues with loss to lowly Suns

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Bulls' inconsistency at home continues with loss to lowly Suns

While the Bulls (20-15) have proved that they are capable of beating some of the league's best teams in a hostile environment, they've also shown that they're equally likely to lose to some of its worst squads on their home court.
That trend continued Saturday night at the United Center, as the Bulls laid an egg in losing to the woeful Phoenix Suns (13-26), 97-81, in an affair that was never in doubt for the visitors after the opening period.
After collectively pledging the previous evening to eliminate their inconsistency--whether it be lackluster efforts at home or playing down to inferior competition--the Bulls' vow didn't show immediate results.
However, against the lowly Suns, they managed to take a slight edge in the early going. Their success came despite Kirk Hinrich picking up two quick fouls, which wasn't necessarily the worst thing in the world, given the potential for infection in the bursa sac of his right elbow--a notion Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau bristled at prior to the contest.
The team's other veteran starting guard, Rip Hamilton (12 points), got off to a quick start, by way of his usual perimeter play, while Joakim Noah's (10 points, 13 rebounds) typical high activity level also buoyed the hosts.
Phoenix kept plugging away, though, and behind crafty power forward Luis Scola (22 points, seven rebounds), the visitors caught up to their hosts--even briefly overtaking them--but the Bulls escaped with a 21-20 lead after a quarter of play.
The contest remained a close-knit affair in the second quarter, as Scola continued to give the Bulls problems with his combination of sophisticated footwork, savvy low-post moves and mid-range jumpers.
Not helping matters was the fact that both Robinson and fellow reserve Taj Gibson got into early foul trouble. The former was still effective as a scorer and playmaker, and while another backup, Marco Belinelli made an impact offensively, the Suns clung to a tenuous lead.
Phoenix played with energy and scrapped on the defensive end--not exactly their forte-- and were buoyed by contributions from the likes of Michael Beasley (20 points) to keep the hosts playing from behind. The former No. 2 overall draft pick in 2008 was actually considered as a possible top selection over Bulls All-Star Derrick Rose, is now an NBA journeyman and had been buried on the Suns bench as of late, but received minutes in this outing due to starter Jared Dudley being sidelined due to injury
Beasley caught fire toward the end of the half, helping the visitors widen the gap and acquire some breathing room. Capped off by a short jumper with 1.2 seconds remaining before the buzzer, his torrid stretch sent the Bulls into the intermission facing a 49-42 deficit.
After the break, the forward duo of Luol Deng (13 points) and Carlos Boozer (15 points, 10 rebounds) came to life--although the latter picked up a technical foul--but they were countered by Scola's continued positive play, as well as that of Chicago-area native Shannon Brown.
Although Boozer and Hamilton helped the Bulls play more efficiently on the offensive end, the home team's defense was lacking, resulting in Phoenix building a double-digit lead, as the visitors' momentum snowballed.
The Bulls' effort wasn't in question at this stage, but their execution and how long it took their sense of urgency to appear were issues. As the third period waned, it became clear that while the desire was there--most evidently in the case of Boozer and Noah--a blend of questionable officiating and bad bounces prevented them from making much headway.
Frustration clearly affected the Bulls--the normally even-keeled Deng also received a technical for berating an official--and as they headed into the final stanza trailing, 77-63, they had an uphill battle on their hands.
Playing with frantic energy at the outset of the fourth quarter, the Bulls' second unit, fueled by Jimmy Butler (13 points), appeared poised to mount one of their trademark rallies. But the inability to get stops on defense or string together an offensive run meant the hosts soon found themselves actually behind by an even larger margin.
Phoenix, playing its fourth game in five nights, had no sympathy for the Bulls' back-to-back plight, and exploited the Bulls' lack of cohesion and general impatience to maintain a stranglehold on the contest. In particular, center Marcin Gortat (eight points, 10 rebounds) and reserve point guard Sebastian Telfair (13 points, six assists) made their respective presences felt.
The unraveling of the Bulls continued, as Robinson and Thibodeau were both hit with technical fouls in short succession, giving the squad four on the evening, mostly in response to perceived non-calls by the referees.
Even Thibodeau saw the writing on the wall as the game entered its stretch run, as he removed his regulars from the contest and inserted the likes of rookie point guard Marquis Teague, seldom-used forward Vladimir Radmanovic and newly-acquired shooting guard Daequan Cook for the conclusion of the disappointing return to Chicago.

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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