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Bulls Wed Feb 09 2011

Bulls Defense Falters on West Coast

Thumbnail image for chicagobulls.pngTwo games isn't a habit. It's not a pattern, a trend or a tendency. It's barely a streak. Thus, there's certainly no reason to bring out the lifeboats just yet. But with two losses caused by terrible defensive play, and games coming up against Deron Williams' Utah Jazz and Chris Paul's New Orleans Hornets, perhaps it's best if the Bulls nip this in the bud before it becomes a real issue. (The Cavs would most certainly agree.)

Known first and foremost for his defensive scheming, coach Tom Thibodeau emphasized that aspect of the game when he arrived last summer from Boston. With a great work ethic and scouting mind, his outstanding track record as an assistant proved he was ready for his own team. With his injury-depleted team still sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference, it's been hard to argue otherwise.

Before the start of this road trip, the Bulls had held 13 straight opponents under 100 points, going back to Jan. 7. In that stretch they went 11-2 and were firing on all cylinders with a six-game winning streak heading into this weekend. Now, in the past two games, with Golden State and Portland both cracking triple digits on the scoreboard, the Bulls have seemed flummoxed on the defensive end.

John Hollinger of ESPN.com suggests it might be simply that no team could have kept up the defensive pace the Bulls had shown over the past several weeks. In the previous six games before this weekend, the Bulls held their opponents, in chronological order, to 36, 32, 46, 41, 41 and 47 percent shooting.

But then Golden State shot 48 percent and Portland 51.5 percent -- and more troubling, those teams had advantages of 23-13 and 40-18, respectively, in free throws attempted.

Hollinger explains further:

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was particularly upset with the transition defense, as a Portland team not exactly renowned for its running game nonetheless tallied 18 fast-break points ... several of them coming after made baskets when the Bulls were caught napping. This comes on the heels of a loss to Golden State where similar mistakes were made, as the Warriors ripped Chicago for 31 fast-break points in that contest.

"Every aspect of the defense was missing," said Thibodeau. "This is two games in a row where we put our selves in a bad position by not guarding anybody. [Andre] Miller got whatever he wanted, [LaMarcus] Aldridge got whatever he wanted ... we weren't able to take anything away from them. It was an easy game for them offensively. You're playing with fire, trying to outscore people. We can't win like that."

Thibodeau also had to be upset with his post defenders' work against Aldridge, especially Carlos Boozer. Aldridge repeatedly burned them for dunks or fouls, either using his speed in transition or spinning out of post-ups for alley-oops from Miller (11 assists) in the half-court.

The poor defense earned the Bulls an extra practice session Tuesday afternoon in Utah, as Thibodeau remains frustrated with his team's sudden inability to defend without grabbing, holding and sending opponents to the line.

Whether it's due to fatigue or lack of focus remains to be seen, but as a coach intensely attuned to the defensive side of things, let's hope Thibodeau figures out the proper antidote sooner rather than later.

 
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