Thursday, December 16, 2004

Plenty of room on the bandwagon

I didn't originally have tickets to tonight's game against the Bucks, but I decided to go a mile north to the United Center and get me some.

I can't believe I'm excited to see a team with 5 wins, but its not as much that as the fact they are looking like they are starting something special. And from reading the comments today there is a little buzz about the recent stretch.

Should I question our collective sanity? Or does this just show how pathetic this franchise has been lately when a couple of wins can give reason for optimism?

Either way, this is a winnable game, and worse case scenario I get to see Michael Redd. In fact, if the Bulls do lay a suck-bomb on the court tonight forget everything I mentioned above.

Update: Bulls win! I'm 3-2 for the year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Passion of the Pax

Much has been made over the past few days regarding the Bulls shoddy treatment by the referees in the Dallas game. I have pretty much maintained a cynical point of view believing that NBA refs are what they are and they have their tendencies. And one of those tendencies is the star treatment. The Bulls have no stars, so they should expect few breaks.

I heard on WSCR today that GM John Paxson was going ballistic after the game about the team's lack of respect by the officials. The initial shock of blowing that game probably led to this outburst, so I'll chalk it up to simply defending his team. The fact remains though that if the Bulls want calls, they have to be earned. It may not be right, but its the truth. And if they start winning consistently the calls will come.

And in some respects I understand the ref's point of view. I've never officiated a basketball game (I was a soccer referee for 5 years though), but I can imagine it being insanely difficult. With the speed and power of NBA players the need arises for calls to be anticipated. And corners like favoring the stars need to be taken sometimes.

I want to add something to this from Sam Smith's book 'The Jordan Rules". You may not believe it, but  I haven't read it before, and for those who don't know it details the first Championship season of 1990-91. So far it's pretty fascinating stuff (I'll provide a full review when I finish),  especially today when I came across this passage about one John Paxson:

"[Paxson]'s reputation with the referees was no laughing matter to him. He is slower than many of the guards he faces, so he often gets beaten and ends up fouling. His reputation for being a slow player who doesn't jump well had created an attitude among many referees that if there is contact, it is initiated by Paxson. And it doesn't help that Paxson has been considered a marginal player throughout most of his career.

"You get tired of all this star stuff," says Paxson. "I know I can play pretty good defense, and then if I'm a step to the side it's a call. I know I ought to keep my mouth shut, but when you're out there those things bother you." And more often than not, Paxson complicates the situation by loudly pleading his case.

"He's got a reputation for challenging the referees," notes [then coach Phil] Jackson, "and they don't like it. So he probably needs to take the calls and live with it."

I know, what are the odds that I would come across those pages today.

Pax obviously knows that this star system of officiating has existed for a while, but perhaps has never gotten over it. That said, he wouldn't have become the player he was if he let his opinion of NBA officiating get the best of him. It would serve the team best if Paxson takes the Zen master's advice and maintained a cool head, otherwise his players may start worrying more about the whistles than the wins. 

Speaking of wins......the Bulls beat the Grizzlies in Memphis tonight 96-88.

I couldn't see the game, thanks to Dish Network and Comcast Sports Net. Most of you probably thought that my beef with them was old news, since I hadn't mentioned it lately. But due to games either being shown on WGN, WCIU, or me being there in person, I haven't had a problem in a while. Apparently the two sides had a deal in place, but then Comcast pulled out. Or at least that's what the dish people told me, so maybe I'd get a different story from another source. Either way, I doubt this would be happening if the Bulls weren't at their customary place at the bottom of the standings.

But maybe that status will change. The real lean part of the schedule is coming up, and its hard not to notice that this should be their 3rd win in a row against teams that made the Western Conference playoffs last season.  I for one am happy that the trade deadline isn't till February. Plenty of time to find out if maybe that horrible start to the season was not the true reflection of this team.

So check out the newspapers links on the left for game analysis. And there's always comments. What did you guys see last night that was encouraging?

Monday, December 13, 2004


I had a post all thought up in my head. How Skiles finally showed some flexibility by putting Ben Gordon right back into tonight's game against the Mavericks after taking him out at the 4 minute mark. How Ben responded with some big shots. How this victory finally showed a sense of momentum for a team that hadn't won two games in a row yet, and now had done so against western conference powers.

But then Michael Finley happened. But before that was the true turning point. When Tyson Chandler grabbed an offensive rebound with under 24 seconds left. If  he had called time out the Bulls could've retained possession and forced Dallas to foul. Instead Tyson tries to go up with it again. He probably got fouled, but that's a call you just can't expect when you're the Bulls. And when he lost the ball and it bounced to Finley, Eddy Curry makes a frustration foul on him 90 feet from the basket.

The game wasn't lost then, but it meant that the Bulls had to out-execute the Mavs down the stretch. And I knew even with Ben Gordon out on the court this time, that was a longshot.

A lot of things went right in this game, can the Bulls focus on that instead of another loss? Does 5-14 mean much more than 4-15? The initial heartbreak will be tough to get over, but hopefully they can see that they outplayed the Mavs tonight and use that for the rest of the week.

A win would've been nice though :)

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A revelation or two

If you had asked me on Friday that the Bulls would win a game this weekend, I would've made a healthy wager on them taking out the Sixers that night. I figured that perhaps after their blowout win against the Cavs the team would be carrying momentum into beating a fellow struggling Eastern Conference team.

While the Sixers looked as bad as advertised, the Bulls still lost to them, despite a late run in the 4th quarter that at least showed once again that this is a team that will not give up. However, when they had a chance to win, there was nobody on the court who could create a shot. Hinrich was probably the best option, but he was called for a critical (and I say BS) offensive foul.

Saturday against the Timberwolves, that 'closer' emerged: Ben Gordon. With 31 points in 31 minutes, Gordon had the best game of his young career. While the Bulls had opened up a 20 point lead in the first quarter, it was Gordon who kept the game out of reach when Minnesota made its predictable comeback in the second half. He was making shots from the outside (4-4 from 3), and inside with a variety of jumpers and floaters in the lane. Most importantly, he showed a quick first step that nobody else on the team can claim. The kind of step that breaks down a defense and creates plays. The kind of step that wins close ballgames. It's been a running theme by me over the season: I don't know why this kid isn't on the floor more. Who knows what could've happened if he was out there to finish out the Philly game?

Here's what I said before the season about Gordon:

Ben Gordon was picked #3 in the draft to fill the scoring void, but has shot terribly in the preseason so far. I have a feeling though that after an initial struggle he will provide a breakout game that will enable him to at least provide a reliable, offensive-minded 6th man off the bench.

Note how I said 'at least'. Trying not to look to much into one game (remember Jay Williams' triple-double against Jason Kidd and the Nets?), but maybe we'll look back on this Minnesota game as the notice of his arrival. And a notice to Skiles to get him on the court.

Beyond Gordon, the teen towers, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, also played well against Minny. When I heard Skiles on the radio pre-game show saying that Curry was going to start the game guarding Kevin Garnett, I was expecting Curry to look as lost as a fat kid playing dodgeball. But he actually did well, and maybe used the defensive challenge to help him on the offensive end, as he got the Bulls off to that hot start making his first 4 shots. Its tough to get that excited about it though, since in the game against Philly him and Chandler were busy getting their shots thrown back at them by Samuel Dalembert. I hope the right scouts see Curry at the right games, because nobody goes from prospective world-beater to invisible from game-to-game like Curry.

More on Chandler though, who has just been fantastic. Courtesy of Doug's Stats, here are his numbers over the past 10 games:

Mpg Pts Fg% Reb
30.3 11.1 50% 11.5

He has been a consistent rebounder for the team, and was as much of a part of that Wolves game as Gordon. I think it would serve Paxson wise to start negotiating a contract extension soon. Tyson wants to be here, and wants to win. He's young, big, and if the team acts fast, he can be had cheap. Even if his game merely stays the course that will be a huge asset for the future. If he ever gets some hands, the rest of his game could round out as well. I know Pax wants to hold off until the new CBA is negotiated, or maybe still is thinking of using Chandler in a trade while his value is gaining steam. But that could turn out to be a mistake.

I'll be at the UC for Monday night's game against Dallas. I'm not expecting a victory, but it would be nice to see some momentum carried over from a win. And I'm really up for seeing a lot of Tyson Chandler and Ben Gordon.