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Monday, April 22

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Bulls Mon Apr 08 2013

Bulls Notch Another Uninspired Loss Vs A Bad Team

Bulls_200.pngNo matter who's healthy enough to be in uniform, the Bulls once again played to the level of their competition and lost. The 99-85 defeat yesterday to the perennially lottery-bound Detroit Pistons, was just another bad loss (which snapped an 18-game winning streak over that team) following a feel good win like the one against the Brooklyn Nets last Thursday. It would have seemed more plausible if the Bulls lost to the National Championship finalist Michigan rather than to a D-III program like the Pistons, which is led by NBA punchlines like Brandon Knight and Charlie Villanueva. Fortunately for the Bulls, their post-season fate seems to be set, so this loss isn't completely unforgivable. Reprehensible yes, but the team will move past it.

The Bulls have a quasi-cozy two-game lead over sixth place Atlanta with the Hawks playing two fewer games than the Bulls over the next week and a half. What's worrisome is the Bulls' opponents coming up have very little to play for, which could spell disaster for the "beat good teams, and get beaten by bad teams" Bulls. Of the six foes left, only two have winning records (Miami Heat, New York Knicks), and those teams are in the business of resting their stars rather than running with them in meaningless games. Depending on which blogger, buddy or Bulls fan you tweet at, there're more pros than cons to the Bulls finishing sixth in the East as opposed to fifth or fourth. All that talk is trite, moot and filler; the team has a matchup edge over the Nets and if the Bulls get the Indiana Pacers, which isn't likely due to the Hawks recent struggles, then and only then should Bulls fans start expressing worry for the first round.

The bright side from last night's game was that Joakim Noah returned and appeared to be OK, scoring 14 points and corralling seven rebounds in 22 minutes of action. Also returning on a minutes limit was Marco Belinelli (zero points, two assists in 20 minutes of play). Belinelli had more rust on display than Noah, but should be back to his old form before the playoffs start, as his ab injury is more cumbersome to him finding his shooting stroke than Noah's foot injury is to his game. To the assumed dismay of coach Tom Thibodeau, with six games remaining in 10 days time, players returning from injury will most likely be put on a "minutes limit." Sorry, Thibs.

Carlos Boozer has gotten back to the guy he was in January. In fact, he's been downright dominant in his last 10 games. Against Detroit, Boozer stayed hot, tallying 21 points and 10 rebounds. In the previous 10 contests, Boozer has averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds amid a flux of rotation tweaks due to injuries. If he can keep this up, which is a sizable "if" seeing as how Boozer is as streaky as an eccentric shooting guard, the Bulls can feel confident they have the second-best true power forward in the Eastern conference playoffs (assuming positionless LeBron James is listed as a power forward.)

So what can the Bulls do to improve their play heading into the NBA's championship tournament? How about making more free throws? In high school basketball practice, at the end of a long evenings worth of work, coaches will play an evil game of "everybody is going to shoot a free throw, and if you miss the whole team is doing suicide sprints." I've participated in these many times in my forgettable high school basketball "career." Nobody wants to be the one who's making everyone run because they can't knock down a freebie. (One day I remember, that after six misses in a row by my freshman teammates, I was told if missed I was "seriously dead," I was too precious to die so I focused and hit the shot.)

Obviously the Bulls are a team of professional athletes and not a gaggle of gym class heroes, but while the season is wearing down, with rest being the remedy for the weary, the team should just be shooting non-stop free throws at practice. The team does not score nearly enough points to miss half as many free throws that they miss. In the recent losses, from the charity stripe they've shot lowly percentages of 55% on 18 attempts vs Dallas, 68% on 16 chances vs Washington and Detroit 64% off of an improved 25 tries. For the year, the team is ranked seventh in the league for free throw percentage (77%) but only 23rd in attempts. Get to the line more, and do what you're suppose to do when you get there, or else the whole team has to run wind suicides after practice and they'll be seriously dead.

The Bulls have used 13 different starting lineups this season. There's a good chance that number is increased before it's all said and done. It's doesn't seem appropriate to feel good about this hobbled team chances in the playoffs but the Bulls will probably meet the Nets, and the Bulls can handle said Nets. Not that any Bulls supporter has anything else emotionally to give to this team, if they do play poorly in the next 10 days, temper your meltdown, the team has a great chance to upset a team or two come the knockout stage. At the very least this dreadful regular season will be in the rearview mirror, with the fifth gear of playoff defensive intensity driving the team, far, far away from the 2012-13 campaign.

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