Tuesday, December 28, 2004

In terms of ugly games, that was the equivalent of TJ Kidd

I wondered last night if the Nets would come out sluggish, but didn't think the Bulls would follow suit, especially with a near-sellout crowd welcoming them.

But they did, and a completely winnable game was given away by the Bulls like their 24 turnovers. In a game that had a first quarter end in a 12-12 tie, and a halftime score of 31-30, the Bulls almost managed to overcome their own hideous play and looked like they had a win in hand in the 4th quarter. While failing to establish themselves down low against the much smaller Nets, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich were intent on winning this game on their own.

Ben's game was pretty remarkable, shooting 7-9 in a game where the combined shooting percentage was 38% by all other players for both teams. Every minute he was in the game was noticeable compared to his replacements, mainly Chris Duhon. Skiles put Gordon in for Duhon earlier than normal in the second half (5 minutes in),  but the case can be made that it wasn't soon enough. What this game showed me most about Gordon's importance is when the Bulls needed to finish it off. Constantly in foul trouble, Gordon was pulled by coach Skiles with 6:45 left in the 4th with 5 fouls, only to see him foul out a minute and half after he was put back in. It was at this point (3 minutes left) that you could feel the game slipping away. Hinrich had a fantastic night (30 points), and Curry can always be competent down low (when you get him the ball in the right place), but without Gordon those two were unable to step up and fill his role. Meanwhile the all-star trio of Vince Carter, Jason Kidd, and Richard Jefferson turned it up on both ends to give the Nets the lead for good.

Kirk Hinrich's foul troubles are well known, but Ben's game tonight got me wondering how often he's been hacking:

Fouls Minutes Fouls/40
Chandler 81 678 4.78
Nocioni 64 571 4.48
Gordon 64 579 4.42
Curry 71 650 4.37
Hinrich 97 908 4.27
Davis 52 555 3.75
Duhon 53 588 3.61
Deng 44 722 2.44

(min 500 minutes, doesn't include tonight's game)

So being behind only the notoriously hacktastic Chandler and Nocioni, Gordon obviously needs to cut down on his fouls, as he had his 6 in only 24 minutes tonight. The off-the-ball fouls really hurt him, but you have to wonder how much of that is due to lack of referee respect, Gordon's carelessness, or the fact that his matchup is always someone bigger and stronger than him.

That all said, the way the Nets played (or were defended) tonight, there's no reason the game should've been that close for it to matter. The Nets started out 0-10 and the Bulls could only get a 6-0 lead, failing to use their size advantage throughout. And the numerous turnovers by Nocioni (4), Deng (6) and Curry (5) almost give credence to Skiles keeping the untalented Duhon on the court, at least he treats the ball like it has some value. I wish I could say differently, but his won't be the last time it happens during the season, teams can and will underperform and still remain close. And when that happens its obvious that the Bulls live and die with Ben Gordon. But increased contributions from the other players on the court can make unnecessarily close games like these happen less often.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Good news

The New Jersey Nets may be a little sluggish for Tuesday night's game against the Bulls, having spent the previous night in overtime against the defending champs. Plus Vince Carter got injured again. Its just a leg cramp, but they (and I mean 'they' as in Charles Barkley) don't call him half-man, half-injury for nothing.

(hat tip to my Dad)

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Bulls Blog: home of the historic '2004 winning streak'

Oh well, it had to end sometime. The Bulls vaunted 5-game winning streak was halted by one of its own victims, as the Milwaukee Bucks rebounded from last week's loss at the United Center to win Sunday night's game at home 99-92.

Like President Roosevelt's fireside chats, I was only able to access the game via radio. The Bulls radio crew does a real good job (even throwing in some Marcus Fizer jokes), but it doesn't replace television, unfortunately. Eddy Curry started the game red-hot, and had 12 points in the first quarter. At first I wondered why Eddy wasn't in the game more than 24 minutes after that output. But the Bucks scored 36 points that quarter, and I'm guessing coach Skiles had to wonder what the point was of having Eddy on the floor if he was just gonna be a matador for Bucks players going to the basket. I can't accurately(again, due to no Comcast) say that it was Eddy's fault the Bucks started out so well, but when stuff like this happens, its usually Eddy's fault :).

The star of the game was obviously Michael Redd, who continued the trend of opposing guards blazing their Bulls counterparts with a 39 point game, 1 short of his career high. He was a big part of that start by the Bucks, and had his team up by 18 in the second quarter. The Bulls chipped at the lead until finally tying it in the 4th, but it was Redd again who closed the game out.

Will Ben Gordon become the Bulls version of Redd? He certainly gave it his best effort, and has become the go-to guy for the Bulls down the stretch. And for me it isn't a scary thing anymore for the Bulls to be in a close game. Gordon has shown that he is willing, and able. But one problem with that is he has to be as clutch defensively as he is offensively. Else bigger guards like Redd will fire back whatever Gordon can dish out.

Lets hope that this 'streak' will be the first of many. The only reason it has significance thus far is that the Bulls have 9 wins total. And they'll need a few more 'streaks' to touch the holy grail of .500 basketball.