Bulls stunned by Bobcats on New Year's Eve

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Bulls stunned by Bobcats on New Year's Eve

On the bright side, the Bulls (16-13) can regard Mondays 91-81 loss to the Bobcats (8-23) at the United Center as a thing of the past, something to be forgotten when the ball drops at midnight. But in the here and now, it was a defeat at the hands of one of the NBAs worst teams, losers of 18 straight games when they arrived in Chicago and even without the services of starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, thats the type stain that doesnt just wash away in the laundry.

A sluggish start put the Bulls in an hole in the early going, as the young Bobcats played with energy to make up for any perceived talent disparity, similar to the way the Wizards made it competitive in the hosts last outing. Beginning contests slowly isnt something new for the Bulls, but surprisingly, they didnt bounce back immediately against the downtrodden visitors, who built a double-digit lead.

Behind balanced scoring and superior rebounding, the Bobcats controlled the games pace against the poor-shooting Bulls, who struggled to scoreRip Hamilton (11 points), in his second game back from injury, was effective before picking up two quick foulslet alone defend up to their usual standards. Despite determined, if inefficient, play from forwards Luol Deng (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (19 points, 14 rebounds), after a quarter of play, the home team trailed, 28-18, much to the dismay of the matinee-going audience.

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When things didnt change early in the second quarter, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau went with a rarely-used all-reserve lineup, though the backup Bobcats backcourt of Ramon Sessions (15 points) and former Bulls sixth-man extraordinaire Ben Gordon (15 points) wreaked havoc with their scoring ability. The burden fell upon Taj Gibson (eight points, nine rebounds) and Marco Belinelli to deliver and they helped the second unit make the Bulls deficit more manageable.

Gibsons energy on both ends, the solid interior play of backup center Nazr Mohammedin the game early for starter Joakim Noah for the second straight game, but not due to foul trouble this time aroundand poised minutes from rookie point guard Marquis Teague helped the Bulls stay within striking distance as the period waned on. Still, at the intermission, the Bulls were behind, 47-42.

After the break, Charlotte went on a 6-0 run to make it a double-digit affair again, prompting a Thibodeau timeout to restore order. While that didnt happen immediately, the Bulls, who, with the exception of Boozer, were mostly unable to score proficiently against their guests set defensewhile Nate Robinson (seven assists), starting in place of the sidelined Hinrich, made a concerted effort to get others involved, his strength is being a scoring point guard for the more offensively-challenged benchpushed the pace and manufactured scoring opportunities in transition.

Toward the end of the third quarter, the Bulls finally made more of an inroads and though they occasionally impeded their own progress with shaky free-throw shooting and inattentive defensive rebounding, the contest morphed into a close-knit affair late in the period. Propelled by the wing duo of Hamilton and Deng, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with the game knotted up at 65 apiece.

Charlotte upped the ante at the outset of the fourth quarter, this time going on a 10-0 run to create separation from the listless hosts, whose fans made their displeasure felt. The likes of Gordon, undersized big men Bismack Biyombo (11 rebounds) and Jeff Adrien (nine points, 10 rebounds) and the starting backcourt of Kemba Walker (18 points) and Gerald Henderson (16 points) were all part of the cast of characters that helped stake the Bobcats to a comfortable lead, as the Bulls struggled with ball-security issues, rebounding deficiency, lack of defensive intensity and overall malaise, made evident by Thibodeaus myriad substitutions, in search of an all-encompassing answer.

Despite implementing different lineups and the players on the court ratcheting up their collective sense of urgency, shots simply wouldnt drop and the defense couldnt get key stops against the Bobcats, as the Bulls once again faced a double-digit deficit, but with the game entering the stretch run, there wasnt enough time for a miraculous comeback run, even if they somehow managed to build the momentum. Incredibly, things got even worse as time ran out on the hosts, who were in the penalty and forced to send their guests to the foul line in an effort to stop the clock, but the damage had already been done early and the only positive that can be taken from the whole sordid affair is that perhaps things will be different in 2013.

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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