Woeful: Portland painful for struggling Bulls

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Woeful: Portland painful for struggling Bulls

Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011Posted: Feb. 7, 11:47 p.m. Updated: 1:57 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

PORTLANDThe effort was there, Derrick Rose bounced back, but a career night from All-Star snub LaMarcus Aldridge and another departure from the suffocating defense that has propelled the Bulls (34-16) to their much-ballyhooed start to the season doomed them in Portland, as the Trail Blazers (28-24) triumphed, 109-103, Monday night at the Rose Garden.

This is two games in a row that we put ourselves in a bad position because were not guarding, said a clearly frustrated Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. We werent able to take anything away from them, so it was an easy game for them offensively.

Theres not one aspect of our defense were doing well right now, from defensive transition to post defense to pick-and-roll defense to catch-and-shoot defense. Once we correct that, well give ourselves a chance to win, he continued. Tonight, we came out and again, we let them to get going early, big scoring first quarter. They get their confidence early in the game, now its much harder to slow people down.

The visitors didnt let an inauspicious startPortland small forward Nicolas Batum (12 points, five rebounds, three assists) scored the Trail Blazers first four points, including two free throws after drawing a foul on Luol Deng (15 points) on the games first possession; the play was delayed but upheldderail them, as All-Star point guard Rose (36 points, six assists) didnt bide his time in impacting the game. Rose hit his first three shots (all pull-up jumpers) and totaled eight points by the midway mark of the first quarter.

On the Trail Blazers end of things, veteran point guard Andre Miller (27 points, 11 assists, six rebounds) was his typically deceptive self, mesmerizing the Bulls defense on an uncontested drive and layup, then suckering Rose into a foul off a head-and-shoulders fake down low.

I think our offense is there, but defensively, were terrible right now, said Rose afterwards. It seemed like we were just going point for point with them, especially at the beginning of the game. Thats where it started, then it just continued through the whole gameits killing us.

Rose also acknowledged, I did a terrible job with Millerjumping in the air, stupid fouls.

Speaking of fouls, Dengs first one was significant; he picked up a second in the early going and was forced to the pine.

The first foul, I tried to run him off the line and he made a good play. The second foul, he just bumped into me, but its still a foul, said Deng, whos rarely in foul trouble. The third one (which he picked up in the second quarter), he the referee came up to me at halftime and said he missed that one.

Do I get one back? he quipped. Hows it work?

Carlos Boozer (17 points, 11 rebounds) used a high activity level and precise shot-making to put his stamp on the opening period, while power forward counterpart Aldridge (career-high 42 points, eight rebounds)the erstwhile Bulls draft prospectgave Portlands guests fits on the other end of the floor. Reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver (11 points, six rebounds) came off the bench to give Chicago a boost late in the quarter, but the Bulls still trailed, 28-26, after the initial frame, a logical conclusion when allowing the opposing team to shoot 78.6 percent (11-for-14) from the floor.

Korvers hot hand carried over to the second quarter and with fellow reserves Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, backup point guard C.J. Watson and rookie center Omer Asik (nine points, five rebounds) playing with energy, Chicagos second unit separated themselves from the Blazers, despite not having the scoring presence of Deng, who usually stays on with the Bulls reserves to start the period. A missed wide-open transition by Brewer, however, snuffed out the visitors momentum for the time being and when Portland climbed back to within three points, Thibodeau called timeout to halt the proceedings.

The home team continued to surge, eventually overtaking their guests behind the play of Aldridge, versatile swingman Batum and instant-offense reserve Rudy Fernandez (18 points), putting the Bulls on their heels. Portlands gaudy shooting numbers (from the free-throw line, too) persisted, as they appeared to get uncontested drives on almost every other possession and were aided by Chicagos occasionally ragged play.

I dont know what they shot, but it felt like we didnt put stops together. They got what they wanted, said Deng. Portland is a very good team, but we could play a lot better defensively.

Still, the Bulls managed to survive the Blazers push and the game remained a taut, neck-and-neck affair leading up to the intermission, at which point the two teams were knotted up at 50 points apiece.

Rose asserted himself offensively to begin the third quarter, but so did Aldridgewidely regarded as an All-Star snubwho was the main reason Portland jumped out to a slim cushion. Defensive lapses and inefficient offense marked this stretch for the Bulls, and after Aldridge corralled two of his own misses before throwing down a dunk in traffic, Thibodeau called timeout to make adjustments.

Aldridge is tough because of his skill set. Hes a knockdown from 17, 18 feet, hes got a terrific post game, hes got a high release, its very difficult to get to his shot, praised Thibodeau.

Added Boozer: I think he just got a lot of easy ones. He ran the floor. We didnt do a good job of getting back. A lot of spin-out lobs. He might have had 15, 16 points running the floor and spinning out for lobs. And he shot a lot of free throws.

Chicago didnt allow the Blazers lead to swell to double figures, but they also were unable to significantly chip away at the deficit, as the home teams momentumbuoyed by the roaring Rose Garden spectatorswas simply too much to overcome in one fell swoop. There were too many miscues, blown assignments and moments when the Bulls got out-hustled by Portland, but a late-period push enabled the visitors to close to within 75-72 through three quarters.

The beginning of the final stanza was a tenuous portion of the contest for Chicago, which managed to stay afloat with its second-unit players, but couldnt remove the contest from the Blazers grasp. Eventually, the Bulls reserves pulled to within a point, prompting a timeout from Portland head coach Nate McMillan in an attempt to regain what was working for the home team earlier in the game.

Thibodeau filtered in his regulars midway through the quarter, but an untimely foul against his superstarRose fouled Fernandez on a three-point attempt; the Spaniard hit all three free throwsseemingly gave the Blazers new life and made Chicagos uphill battle even more difficult. Rose atoned for his sins soon afterwards with his patented two-hand, cock-back dunkin trafficthat silenced the loud audience and sent a buzz throughout the arena.

Thibodeau was faced with a dilemma as McMillan employed Portlands small-ball lineup: Boozer, not known as the strongest defender was forced to guard either Aldridge or Batum as the games stretch run approached. Aldridge was certainly the Blazers primary option, but Boozer guarding the perimeter-oriented Batum was a mismatch. And even with Gibson, a better defender guarding Aldridge, the Blazers power forward was able to spin for a alley-oop lob pass that brought down the house, leading to a Bulls timeout.

Chicago fought back valiantly, Portlandand especially Aldridgewas just too much in the end.

Our team effort on defense definitely has to improve. Teams shooting over 50 percent, thats not Bulls basketball, said veteran big man Kurt Thomas. Weve got to quit giving up so many fast-break points, wide-open jump shots. Weve just been breaking down defensively.

Opined Korver: I think its a combination of a lot of small things. Weve got to talk better, I think firstcommunication is key. Our pick-and-roll defense has kind of slipped a little bit and thats a whole lot of the NBA.

Concluded Thibodeau: We have to make some changes. We have to do a much better job. Our intensity has to be greater, our concentration has to be greater and weve got to challenge shots. If were not challenging shots, were not very good.

Things in this league change quickly, so you can go from playing well to playing poorly very quickly and you can change it from bad to good also. Were not playing our defense, so we have to make the necessary changes to our defense to correct the problems, he continued. If we keep doing the same things, were going to end up with the same results. Until we change our approach, the defense isnt going to change and we cant win unless we play defense.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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.”

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