NBA arenas dark on opening night, basketball still shines

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NBA arenas dark on opening night, basketball still shines

I should be in Dallas right now, perhaps wrapping up a post-shootaround lunch at Mexican restaurant El Fenix, not far from the American Airlines Center, before heading back to my hotel prior to tonight's Bulls' regular-season opener against the defending champion Mavericks.

Instead, I'm in good old Hyde Park, biding my time by texting, calling and emailing folks around the league, and perusing the World Wide Web for tidbits of NBA-related information--from the significant (such as union president Derek Fisher's latest letter to his constituents, defending himself against accusations of striking side deals with league commissioner David Stern) to the irrelevant (Nets power forward Kris Humphries was actually surprised to learn his marriage to Kim Kardashian was on the rocks?)--as the four-month-long NBA lockout continues.

Not exactly what I signed up for.

But as depressing as the league's labor impasse might be, I can't complain, especially when comparing my situation to the legions of team employees, fans and yes, even players suffering during this work stoppage. At least from a local standpoint, things don't look quite as grim.

As the Chicago Tribune reported, the Bulls are one of the more stable franchises during the lockout, as workers and basketball-operations staff alike remain employed--Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, a longtime assistant, fought for his staff in preparation for this very situation.

While they can't work with, let alone communicate with players, an extended offseason of analysis will ensure they're prepared when play finally resumes--and while there are great expectations for the team to pursue an upgrade at shooting guard or even explore the rash and ridiculous possibility of cutting ties with Carlos Boozer under the reported amnesty clause in the new CBA (not happening), after a 62-win season, there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

Still, although the Bulls might be a squad to benefit from a shortened season--due to their combination of relative youth (even if Kurt Thomas, who turned 39 last month, returns), roster stability, chemistry and low-maintenance players with strong work ethics--just last week, it appeared as if they'd be getting back to business sooner than later.

Tuesday? We can only speculate, but the forecast again looks more cloudy than sunny.

So, rather than sinking further into a lockout malaise, the time has come to focus on other hoops pursuits. Unlike many of my other NBA-reporter colleagues, I can't claim experience in covering other sports (I'd like to think of myself as pretty knowledgeable when it comes to football, but in reality, I'm probably only an expert when it comes to my Philadelphia Eagles, who I fully expect to continue their recent pattern and thump the Bears come next Monday night, even if it means I'll need a police escort home from a local bar) and fortunately, I won't have to do so.

As somebody who's covered more than my fair share of high school and college basketball, I certainly don't mind jumping back into that scene. But while I've kept abreast of even minute details since I've started covering the Bulls on a full-time basis, I've spent the past month or so--since it became clear that I wouldn't be making the daily trek to the Berto Center for training camp--getting re-acclimated to those levels of basketball, particularly high school.

With so many local college programs in the area and several ballyhooed prep prospects to go around, there's plenty to observe and write about, without having to board a plane.

As much as I'll miss long lines at airports, early-morning flights and commuting to Deerfield from the South Side--in all seriousness, I do lament the absence of press-room meals, at least in certain cities--watching the likes of Simeon and elite recruit Jabari Parker, a Northwestern team that looks poised to end its NCAA Tournament drought (if not this season, then when?) and players poised for a breakout year, such as DePaul sophomore forward Cleveland Melvin or Curie High School sophomore big man Cliff Alexander, should make up for the lack of professional basketball being played.

At least until the lockout ends. Then, starving for hoops played at the highest level in the world, I'll take it all back.

Dwyane Wade tweets apology to fans after Bulls' lopsided loss in Atlanta

Dwyane Wade tweets apology to fans after Bulls' lopsided loss in Atlanta

For the opening three quarters in Atlanta, the Bulls were off. 

So off, in fact, that Dwyane Wade tweeted an apology to Chicago fans after the game. 

Thanks to a furious run by the Bulls' bench, the final score ended at a respectable 102-93. In reality, though, the Hawks dominated. 

Wade and company trailed by 29 points at half and 30 at the end of three. The 35-year-old shooting guard finished with a minus-18 and just four points while All-Star starter Jimmy Butler posted a team-low minus-22.

The Bulls will look to shake off their lopsided loss against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday. 

 

Fred Hoiberg after Bulls' embarrassing loss to Hawks: 'We're gonna look at everything'

Fred Hoiberg after Bulls' embarrassing loss to Hawks: 'We're gonna look at everything'

The bus was warm before the game started, as the Bulls looked like they wanted no parts of the Atlanta Hawks.

It was evident from the jump that playing with a full and healthy squad for one of the few times this season wasn't enough to arouse their competitive juices, as they put together arguably their worst 48-minute showing in a 102-93 loss at Philips Arena, dropping them to 21-23 in a game they trailed by as many as 34 points.

The practices have apparently been the sterling jewel of effort and competitiveness for the Bulls but it hasn't carried over through the season as the inconsistency continues to be maddening — one that seems to go beyond the "growing pains" mantra that's been fed by all involved so far this year.

"It could be things but I don't want to share it with the media," a sunglasses-clad Dwyane Wade said outside the locker room, in a rare mood of not being elaborative following a loss.

It appears even the professional's professional has gotten a bit more frustrated than usual — understandable considering the way the starters came out with a lack of energy, with more turnovers (eight) than field goals (six) in the first quarter.

"Continue to try to lead behind the scenes," Wade said. "Can't stop when it's bad, when it's good. You gotta be the same."

Fred Hoiberg, fed up with the starters, ran with the reserves for the fourth quarter and outscored the Hawks by nearly 25 points, bringing the lead to 95-90 with a minute left before a Dennis Schroeder jumper restored order with 52.6 seconds left.

Four Hawks scored in double figures led by Schroeder's 25 points and six assists and Paul Millsap scoring 14 while making all four of his shots in just 22 minutes of run.

[MORE BULLS: Dwyane Wade not buying into the Bosh to Bulls speculation]

Perhaps it's the Hawks being the same kryptonite to the Bulls that the Bulls are to the Toronto Raptors — except the Bulls simply frustrate the Raptors, not embarrass them.

"I have been, we have been, tired of this. I gotta come out better," said Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 19 points in 29 minutes. "I gotta play better from the jump, 48 minutes. That's not the way we're supposed to play. 

"The way we practice is not the way we play in the game. Don't ask me why, I don't know. Starting with me and going down the line, we gotta be better as a whole. Otherwise we'll keep getting our asses beat and it's bad."

The Hawks shot over 60 percent for most of the night until the game devolved into what amounted to a pickup game late. After all, the Hawks seemed to be battling boredom by half, leading 65-36 and shooting 68 percent from the field and hitting 67 percent from three.

"We're gonna look at everything and we'll see how we go out and start tomorrow and a couple days after that, hopefully we figure some things out," Hoiberg said. "They shot over 70 percent in the first quarter and you dig yourselves a hole and it's impossible to get out."

Hoiberg said he would evaluate everything leading into Saturday's game at home against the Sacramento Kings, but Friday didn't seem to present any realistic lineup changes based on performance.

Bobby Portis scored 10 with seven rebounds off the bench, with Jerian Grant scoring 12 and Paul Zipser 10. Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic combined to shoot two for nine, so one wonders where Hoiberg can go.

"I don't know. Practice is good. Practice is great," Butler said. "Practice is not gonna win you games. We gotta take what we do in practice and take it over to the game."

The Bulls weren't about to make it any more suspenseful than it had to be, as they started off missing their first 11 3-pointers, often missing multiple open looks on the same possession.

It wasn't relegated to just shooting as the Bulls squandered easy opportunities in easy situations, like Denzel Valentine turning a three-on-one fast break into an airballed finger-roll attempt that he caught himself — a violation, of course.

"I don't know, I can't put a word on it. Because it's just talk," Butler said. "Doesn't matter what you say, if we don't go out there and do it, what the hell is talking gonna do? We've been up and down all year. If we don't guard and turn the ball over, games get out of hand very quickly."

This one was over a few minutes into it, as the Bulls looked like a lifeless squad with no direction and very little fight, short of a minor dustup between Dwight Howard and Robin Lopez in the third quarter.

At that point, though, all Howard had to do is point at the scoreboard, where a 30-point lead did all the necessary talking.

The Bulls trailed by 20 even before Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a 35-footer to end the first quarter, sending the Hawks off on a high and seemingly demoralizing the Bulls.

Even Butler's 19-point night, hitting six of his eight shots in 29 minutes, rang hollow. The Bulls could've trotted out a D-League team for the second half to gear up for Saturday's game against Sacramento and been better off than how they performed Friday night.

And for the Bulls, they can't simply just go back to the drawing board. There looks to be something fundamentally wrong with this bunch — either that, or the Atlanta night got the best of them Thursday.