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Bulls Tue Mar 19 2013

Shorthanded Bulls Keep Coming Up Short

Bulls_200.pngAfter wearing their green St. Patrick's Day uniforms, the Bulls will have the same feeling as most Chicagoans do after a Paddy's Day weekend: pissed off/on. Add incorrect calls of offensive interference to the list of bad breaks that this Bulls team has caught all year long. An indignant cry of "Bullsh*t" was as emotionally charged as it was apt from the sold-out crowd at the United Center. The hot-as-of-late Nate Robinson had a season high of 34 points and a clutch three-pointer to send the game into overtime, but it wasn't enough in the Bulls' 118-119 loss to the streaking Denver Nuggets.

Winners of 11 straight coming into Monday night, Denver is one of the deepest teams in the NBA -- so facing the Bulls, a team they blew out a month earlier, shouldn't have been a problem considering Chicago was without two of its starters and their sixth-man.

The Bulls came out with energy to start the game, but would consistently let Denver drive its way to the rim on scoring runs, just to claw their way back in a game that showed heart, effort, and the same adjectives and verbs commonly used to describe this team when they win games. The feeling that they deserved to win this one is justifiable on paper, seeing as how the Bulls shot better from the field, from deep and from the charity stripe, but at no point were the Bulls ever in control, which is a synopsis of this season.

The game itself is a microcosm of what's been happening to the Bulls since January. They're depleted, they give up too many fast break points, they rely too much on their streaky shooters to bail them out, and they turn the ball over more than their opponents. Last year's Bulls had the best bench in the association; now their bench is non-existent at best. In the loss to Denver, the Bulls' second unit was outscored 71-17. The Bulls had six players play over 32 minutes with three of them going over the 45 minute mark.

None of this is news to Bulls fans. There's no unsung superhero waiting on the end of the bench or some unused five-man lineup that doesn't know about. This squad is tough on the court but fragile as a whole. A bench carries a team during the grind of the regular season, but this set of reserves fills in more than they fill stat lines. The Bulls hung with a good team, and they're still in the running for the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately, roster depth will be improving very shortly.

With all the injuries this team has endured this year, Bulls fans seem to have enough rudimentary knowledge of physical therapy that they could briefly pass as a secretary at an Athletico rehab center. The big news before last night's loss was that both Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson, who have missed this whole month of action, were upgraded to game-time decisions. Hinrich's game manager role and Gibson's undeniable defensive presence are badly needed. At the very least, their return can spell relief for the other players who are definitely earning their keep by playing a dangerous volume of minutes night in and night out.

In this year's Summer League season, Bulls fans were excited at the prospect of Malcolm Thomas making the 15-man roster, and he finally did seven months later. On Monday, Thomas signed a 10-day contract with the front court-thin Bulls. He is a high-energy guy (which seems to be the universal descriptor for any free agent signing a 10-contract) who played overseas for Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv at the start of this year after failing to land an NBA deal post Summer League. In 12 games for Tel Aviv, he averaged seven points and five rebounds in 20 minutes of action per game.

Bulls fans should shouldn't get excited for this signing. Tom Thibodeau played recent 10-day signee Lou Amundson only two minutes, at a time when Taj Gibson was still out with a sprained knee, and the other Bulls big-men reserves are permanent pine fixtures. Thomas is nothing more than an insurance plan who won't claim any meaningful minutes.

All in all, this team can play .500 ball the rest of the way. The upcoming schedule is hard to peg at this point in the season. In April, some teams may have clinched playoff spots earlier than others, so stars may sit, and lottery teams may play hungry young guys looking for a gig next year. For what it's worth, the Bulls are going to the playoffs, which is hard to attribute value to. Have we seen this contemporary roster at its best? No. They can regain their shut-down team defense form if they stay healthy, and the guards can get "mid-major three point shooting tourney team" hot in April and May. Jimmy Butler is working smarter on offense, and maybe Boozer can take his game back to January levels.

Oh, and I guess Derrick Rose returning is still a thing, so there's that too.

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