Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Captain Kirk It's amazing how two games with similar outcomes could give me such a different reaction. But after monday's debacle against the Heat, last night's game in Minnesota was actually encouraging. Tuning in midway through the 2nd quarter and seeing them down by 20, I was resigned to just tuning in on the Illini for the rest of the night. But a nice rally in the 2nd brought the game within 4 at the Half, and the game stayed close till the predictable lack of excecution led to another defeat. But that kind of late-game execution is hard to come by against a good team like the Timberwolves on the road, so I wasn't too upset. The team actually looked good for most of the game, and that's all I can ask for on some nights. I said yesterday that I was looking for Eddy Curry to have a good game and Jamal Crawford to start attacking the basket. Eddy had another strong effort and looks like he's ready to defend his FG% title by going 6-9 for 16 pts. Jamal was still not attacking the basket as much as I'd have liked, but theres rumblings that his sore ankle may be still bothering him. Speaking of not going to the basket, Eddie Robinson is an even bigger culprit than Crawford. Its hard to notice while he's on the bench sulking, but in a game when he gets minutes like last night and actually scores 13 points you can see its all on jumpshots. This is fine from someone like Kendall Gill, but E-Rob can literally jump over people, and could be a major offensive weapon if he wasn't so scared of attacking the basket. But how much space have I devoted to E-Rob's potential already...its kind of getting old. Getting to the title of this entry, Kirk Hinrich is becoming the only player on this team who can be counted on every game. Last night he had 17 points along with 10 assists, and building a case for making the all-rookie team at the end of the year. Here are his monthly splits:
November: 24.3mpg 6.8ppg 3.8apg December: 36.7mpg 11.9ppg 6.8apg
I remember when he was first getting put in the rotation and he looked completely overwhelmed, but its amazing to see a rookie be the kind of floor leader that he is. Granted, its a team with only 9 wins, but you can tell how the team is effected when he's off the court. And more importantly than court vision and leadership and those other 'intangible' point guard qualities are 2 important parts of his game. He can Defend. And he can *shoot*. Those are 2 things that are rare on this team, and frankly 2 things that a healthy Jay Williams likely would have never mastered. I know its only a month of good basketball, but is it too early to think that Hinrich will be a better fit for this team than Jay Williams ever would have been? I'll leave you guys with that, enjoy the holiday!

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

I Call Them 'Gimmees' For a Reason Well I'm finally back after giving myself an extended break for the Holidays. I was hoping to talk about a nice 3 game win streak for the Bulls, but last night's game nixed that idea. After 2 wins against Eastern Conference lowlifes Washington and Cleveland, the Bulls entertained another such opponent in the Miami Heat. Up by 17 points in the second quarter, at home, the Bulls gave the game away. The loss hurt especially bad due to the circumstances surrounding it. In the previous 2 wins, Jamal Crawford had scored a combined 72 points and was playing his most impressive basketball all year. Eddy Curry was returning from a seven-game absence resulting from his knee injury. They were at home. Against the Heat. These are the games that should be gimmees. There were some bright spots on the floor last night. Eddy looked great on the offensive end netting 13 points on 6-7 shooting in only 14 minutes. It would have been great to have him on the floor in the 4th quarter when the Bulls were letting the game slip away, but undoubtedly his conditioning wasn't back yet. Jerome Williams' shots caused more "No!!......Yes!" reactions from me than I needed. Using an array of awkward post moves and layup prayers, Williams managed to get 14 points. Its nice to see him getting involved offensively, but most of those shots I could've done without. Kirk Hinrich was great again, hitting 4 of 5 three-pointers, and always seemed to have them when the Bulls really needed a basket. the scapegoat: As I said earlier, Jamal Crawford came into last night's game on a roll, perhaps the best 2-game stretch of his career. Last night, however, he seemed to have reverted back to his old ways, settling for long range jump shots and not attacking the basket. He finished with only 2 free-throw attempts, yet managed to jack up 8 3-point shots, making only 1. He was up against a marquee perimeter defender in Eddie Jones, but those numbers are still unacceptable for someone who needs to shoulder the scoring load every game. Was it possible that he was sharing the ball too much? With 12 assists, its the kind of performance that would have gotten Bill Cartwright teary-eyed, but last night it seemed like he was always trying to defer open shots with unnecessary passes. This especially was the case when he was going to the basket and gave the ball up instead of trying to get to the line. While its nice to get teammates involved, theres a time when 'nice ball movement' can be taken too far and stagnate the offense. I don't want to infer that Crawford needs to score 30 for the Bulls to have a chance, but with Curry and Chandler out that may be the case. At the end of games like last night, the lack of interior scoring forces Crawford, Hinrich, and Kendall Gill to make their jump shots in the half-court offense. And with the defense (rightly) giving no respect to Antonio Davis and Jerome Williams, this task becomes even tougher for the shooters. What winds up happening all too often is late-game possessions in the half-court ending in someone taking a difficult shot simply to beat the shot clock. So what happens from here? Its still hard to get over this loss because getting these 'gimmee' wins are so important when climbing uphill from a horrible start. But while I like to think of teams like the Heat, Cavs, and Wiz to be the soft part of the schedule, its also true that the Bulls are considered *their* winnable games as well. Tonight's game is at Minnesota, which isn't good news due to: 1) Its on the road, 2) the T-Wolves are good, 3)The game will be the 2nd in a back-to-back. That game is followed by one in New York against the hated(by me, at least) Knicks on Friday. It will be interesting to see if Jamal can revert to his previous efforts, and whether Eddy Curry is ready to take on more minutes. I'm especially looking forward to Eddy getting more time in the rotation because these Antonio Davis crunch-time adventures are really starting to wear on me.