All posts by Jason Schwartz

BULLet Points: Wizards score easy victory over fledgling Bulls

With March Madness in full effect, the Bulls looked like a team more suited for the 68 team field than the NBA playoffs. The Bulls fell back to .500 on the season (33-33) and a lousy 12-21 on the road thanks to a 117-96 beat down at the hands of the Washington Wizards.

  • The Wizards came out firing on all cylinders, scoring 32 points in the first quarter in what is becoming an alarming trend for these defensively challenged Bulls. The ball movement was crisp; they were able to get out in transition and knocked down every open shot the porous Bulls D allowed them.
  • Speaking of the Bulls defense, it was downright horrendous from start to finish. They were lazy in getting back (regardless of whether it was a make or miss) and allowed the Wiz way too many easy points in transition (25 to be exact).
  • The Bulls also failed miserably in running the Wizards off the three-point line when it seemed like there were four or five Steph Curry’s on the floor for them at all times. As a team, they shot 13-21 from deep (62%), with a special shout out to Garrett Temple, who went 5-6 from behind the arc and was constantly gifted open looks by a Bulls defense that made the three point line feel like a moat with how much space was awarded to the Wizards.
  • An even bigger cause for concern is the absence of Taj Gibson from the second half of this game. He tweaked his hamstring that he was quoted as saying “killed” him in the last game against the Raptors. After a comment like that you would expect the Bulls medical staff to keep Gibson out of tonight’s game. But nope, he played an ineffective seven minutes in the first half before being pulled at halftime. He is sure to miss future games and questions have to be asked about why he was even in the lineup in the first place given how much his hamstring hurt just two days prior.
  • Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose combined for a silent 33 points on the night, but only shot 35% between the two of them. The playmaking was not there for these two when at least one of them has to step up each and every night for the Bulls to beat playoff caliber teams. As a team, the Bulls played too much hero-ball with too little off the ball movement and their two stars exemplified that on this forgettable night in the nation’s capital.
  • The lone bright spot for the Bulls is the consistently improving Doug McDermott. He scored 20 points on an efficient 10 shots for the night. The forward looked confident in his stroke behind the arc, as well as beating defenders off the drive. This is the offensive threat the Bulls imagined the Creighton alum would be when they traded two first rounders for him. Doug spaces the floor like few can on the roster, especially when Mike Dunleavy disappears (0/4 shooting on the night). The Bulls will need this type of production consistently from McBuckets while Rose and Butler struggle to stay healthy.
  • McDermott was only outshone on the night by the breathtaking John Wall. Wall had himself a game, recording a triple double of 29 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds. He was also a ridiculous +38 on the night in 39 minutes played. Not sure why he played that much but this much is for certain, the Wizards won because they had Wall and the Bulls didn’t.
  • Coming up: The Bulls start a very important and winnable three game homestand tonight against the Brooklyn Nets.

BULLet Points: Bench Mob returns to claim victory over Wizards

With Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, and Nikola Mirotic all out with ailments, the roller coaster Bulls (30-26) showed some depth in an impressive 109-104 win over the Washington Wizards (26-30) at the UC Wednesday night. With the W, the Bulls moved up to sixth from eighth in the neck-and-neck Eastern Conference standings.

  • The Bench Mob was the star of this one, with seven players (and only three regular starters) scoring in double figures for the Bulls. It was the first time they had accomplished that feat since December 2014. With their two best players out, many wrote this game off as a throwaway against the frisky Wizards. But thanks to Taj Gibson (17 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and under-the-weather Pau Gasol’s playmaking abilities (10 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists) the Bulls were able to consistently get easy baskets against a defensively challenged Wizard’s squad.
  • Speaking of the Bench Mob, the M&M brothers (patent pending) stepped it up down the stretch to ensure the Bulls didn’t blow a 15 point lead late. Who are the M&M brothers? Glad you asked; Doug McDermott and E’Twaun Moore absolutely tore it up in the fourth quarter for the Bulls. The duo combined for 18 of the Bulls 20 points in the quarter on 8/12 shooting. Seeing these two close out a big win at home makes Bulls fans giddy of what this team could do once Rose and Butler get healthy again.
  • Tony Snell also showed some much needed signs of improvement in the win. Snell had his best outing in over a month draining four of his five attempts from deep to end up with 16 points. Snell’s ability to spread the floor left the heart of the lane open for several cuts that led to easy baskets. If Tony finds his shot, the Bulls could find themselves with a knockdown trio on the wings of Dunleavy, McDermott, and Snell.
  • While the offense hummed along without its stars, the defense continued to plague Fred Hoiberg and the Bulls. I know the rookie coach isn’t exactly a defensive specialist, but the Bulls have now surrendered at least 100 points in an astounding 11 consecutive ball games. That’s not going to get it done come playoff time. The Bulls forced a respectable 15 turnovers but allowed the Wiz to get to the line 26 times. Playing without Jimmy Butler certainly hurts in this aspect, but allowing over 100 points to the Lakers and Nuggets is unacceptable no matter the situation.
  • Another small knock on the game on Wednesday was the performance of struggling guard Aaron Brooks. Brooks came into this one making only 14 of his last 54 shots (25.9%). This one would be no different. Brooks ended the game 5/15 for 11 points and countless wasted possessions on his usual spotty shot selection. Turnovers and poor defense also led to the guard’s -7 rating on the night. It’s no wonder Moore has taken the majority of the minutes with Brooks’ play of late.
  • The Mystery Bulls. We were introduced to a couple new, and rarely used members of the Bulls against the Wizards. Newly acquired Justin Holliday (Jrue’s older brother) played seven minutes, hitting his first trey before turning the ball over and missing a defensive assignment that led to his quick departure from the game. Meanwhile, the unknown Cristiano Felicio played his second-most minutes this season with 12. The Brazilian forward scored two points but was a disastrous -17 on the night due to some lackluster defending. Not sure we’ll be seeing these two again anytime soon, so I hope you got a nice glimpse Wednesday.
  • It really is a wonder how the Wizards are below .500 at this point in the season. This team is too talented with John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt combined with Marcin Gortat down low. However the rebounding has been bad and the defense has been worse. Add John Wall shooting 16/49 in his last three contests (32.6%) and you start to get an idea of why Randy Wittman is on the hot seat.
  • Coming up: The Bulls take on the Hawks in Atlanta on Friday night in an important matchup of playoff contenders.

B1G Ten Midseason Breakdown

Well we have officially reached the halfway point in the Big Ten (B1G) conference season and there is a lot to discuss. The conference crown is still very up for grabs and there’s also a clear divide between the top and bottom half of the conference. So without further ado, let’s take stock of where each team is at in the B1G power rankings after nine conference games. We’ll also dive into what teams have to look forward to the rest of the season.

  1. Iowa: The clear winner of the first 50% of the conference slate is one of the surprise teams in the nation (feels very familiar to football season doesn’t it, Hawkeye fans?). Iowa is tied at the top of the conference with an 8-1 conference record (17-4 overall) and has their hardest part of the schedule behind them. With two wins apiece over Purdue and Michigan State, their toughest test left on the schedule a visit to Bloomington to face the Hoosiers. These Hawkeyes have to be the favorites to win the league. Iowa is a lock for the tourney and could set up as a possible one-seed, sitting at #5 in the country currently.
  2. Maryland: Just a half-game behind the Hawkeyes, the Terps are sitting at 8-2 in conference play (19-3 overall). Melo Trimble has found a solid front court duo in Robert Carter and Diamond Stone who combine for 26 points and 12 rebounds a game. The Terps still have to face Purdue twice and travel to Bloomington, so they have their work cut out for them if they want to chase down Iowa for the B1G crown. Beyond that, Maryland should be another lock for the B1G to make it to March Madness, with their seed the only thing left up in the air.
  3. Purdue: The Boilers are a solid 7-3 in the B1G so far, and outside of a baffling loss at Illinois have looked very solid throughout. They still need more out of their backcourt with a forward (Vince Edwards) leading the team in assists at a paltry 2.9 average. The Boilers have a solid resume and should be a lock if they can avoid a catastrophic collapse, but a B1G title will be tough to attain given a more difficult second half of conference play, including two against Maryland.
  4. Indiana: No one knows what to make of this team quite yet. That’s because they easily had the softest schedule to start the year which could be why they are tied for first at 9-1 in conference (19-4 overall). Their best win came last night in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines and they have a brutal stretch run featuring games against Iowa (twice), Maryland, Purdue, and Michigan State. The Hoosiers are averaging a robust 85 points per game (tops in the B1G), but their remaining schedule should spell doom for a team competing for the crown. The Hoosiers should make the tourney, but a poor Strength of Schedule and a mediocre RPI (50) means this Hoosier team needs quality wins to beef up their resume for March.
  5. Michigan State: The Spartans got off to a disappointing start in B1G play at 3-4 but have recovered to win their last three (19-4 overall), including a win over Maryland. Tom Izzo’s squad posts the best defense in the B1G, holding opponents to 62.4 points per game. Meanwhile Denzel Valentine picked up where he left off before his injury, averaging 19 PPG, 8 RPG, and 7 APG. The Spartans will make the tourney in all likelihood, but their poor start ends their B1G title hopes, being down three games to Iowa and losing the tiebreaker to the Hawkeyes.
  6. Michigan: John Beilein’s team is the dividing line in the B1G between the top and bottom half of the conference. Michigan sits at 7-3 in conference play (17-6 overall) losing their only tough games of the first half against Iowa, Indiana and Purdue. The Wolverine’s boast a very balanced squad with four players averaging in double figures. They have work left to do to make it to March due to their lack of quality wins. Getting leading scorer Caris Levert back from injury should be a big boost for Michigan as their schedule intensifies in the second half of B1G play.
  7. Wisconsin: After a brutal start to the B1G season at 1-4, the Badgers have done a complete 180 in winning their last four (13-9 overall), including huge wins over Michigan State and Indiana. Wisconsin isn’t blowing anyone away, with their average margin of victory at 4.5 points per game in those wins, and they’ll need to pick up their offense if they want to continue their hot run. The Badgers are one of only four B1G teams averaging less than 70 points per game (69.2) with the other three making up the bottom of the B1G. Wisconsin has some good wins, but their record needs some work in order to make a real case for getting in to the tourney.
  8. Ohio State: At 6-4 in the B1G (14-9 overall), Ohio St. finds themselves squarely on the bubble for March Madness, and probably on the outside looking in at this point. The Buckeye’s best B1G game came this past weekend in a loss to Maryland 66-61. With their best win against an underachieving Kentucky squad, Thad Matta and his group will have to take advantage of concluding three games in the B1G that read: vs. Michigan State, vs. Iowa, and finally @ Michigan State. Marc Loving will have to pick it up to score a couple victories in that stretch as he’s shooting just over 40% on the season.
  9. Northwestern: Getting off to a 3-2 start in conference play had the students in Evanston dreaming of their first NCAA tourney. But losing five straight against tough competition has dropped NU to the bottom half of the B1G. Bryant McIntosh continues to impress with 15 points and seven assists per game but needs more support from the rest of the team. The Wildcats are squarely out of the tourney at this point, but a favorable remaining schedule gives them a slight glimmer of hope the rest of the way.
  10. Nebraska: Tim Miles can’t quite put a finger on the quality of his Cornhusker (12-10, 4-5 Big Ten) squad. Nebraska started off the B1G campaign by promptly losing their first three games. They followed that up with a winning streak of four games, before dropping their past two contests. Kansas transfer Andrew White is having a breakout year with the Huskers averaging 17 points and six boards per game. Unfortunately, unless Nebraska goes on a major run, they’ll need to win the B1G tourney to sniff March Madness.
  11. Illinois: The injury bug continues to bite the Illini. Already missing projected starters Tracy Abrams, Leron Black, and Michael Thorne, John Groce could add Michael Finke and Kendrick Nuun to that list after both got banged up against Wisconsin. Illinois is a disastrous 2-7 in the B1G (10-12 overall) after having expectations of at least being on the bubble before the season started. With the scoring duo of Malcolm Hill and Nunn combining for 36 points per game, this Illini team really ought to have more than two conference wins at this point. The lack of production around those two tells the story, with the point guard duo of Khalid Lewis and Jaylon Tate averaging a minuscule five points per game combined. Illinois’ tourney dreams are non-existent with their NIT hopes going down the drain with games still left against Iowa and Maryland.
  12. Penn State: Another 2-7 squad in the B1G (11-11 overall), the Nittany Lions have showed a lot of heart, losing nail-biters to Maryland, Michigan and Wisconsin. Brandon Taylor is having a memorable season for coach Pat Chambers, averaging 16 points and six boards a game. Penn St. won’t make the tourney, but look for this squad to play spoilers for a few of the bubble teams in the conference.
  13. Minnesota: We now get to the cellar-dwellers of the league. The Golden Gophers are winless in 10 attempts but they are getting as close as a team can get without scratching out a W. They’ve lost their last five games by seven points or less, meaning a win should be on the horizon. Upcoming games against Northwestern and Rutgers provide their best chances for the foreseeable future.
  14. Rutgers: The other winless team in the B1G is the not-so-mighty Scarlet Knights from New Brunswick, NJ. Rutgers is 0-9 in the B1G (6-16 overall) with every loss coming by at least seven points. In fact, the Scarlet Knights haven’t played a single-digit game since their B1G opener against Indiana, a game they lost by seven. Rutgers has winnable games against Illinois (twice), Penn St., and Minnesota coming up so the opportunities are there. For our sake, I’d like to see both Minnesota and Rutgers go in winless to their game in what might have the most intensity of any game left on the B1G schedule since both will be looking for their first W’s in conference play.

So there you go, we’re now 50% done with 50% ahead of us in a scintillating B1G Ten race with plenty of twists and turns still left to go. Be on the lookout for a B1G Ten Bubble Watch as March Madness creeps up around the corner.

BULLet Points: Bulls blow ugly game in Utah

The Bulls (26-20) have now lost five of seven after dropping last nights game in Utah (21-25) 105-96 in OT. Let’s take a look back at the good (very little) and bad (way too much) from last night’s contest.

  • The Bulls managed to blow a game they had no business losing in the last minute. Derrick Rose hit a clutch triple on a beautifully drawn up play (a Jimmy Butler drive that drew all of the defense’s attention) that left him all alone behind the arc to give the Bulls a 93-90 lead with just 18 seconds remaining. What followed was a string of errors that forced the Bulls into OT. First the Bulls fouled an 80% free throw shooter in Gordon Hayward. Then, Taj Gibson botched a rebound after Hayward missed the second. After allowing Hayward to get in the paint for a layup to tie up the game, Hoiberg failed to draw up a good enough play to get the ball in bounds, let alone give the Bulls a chance to score. It’s hard to say who shoulders the blame for the late game collapse, but I think it’s fair to say everyone deserves a slice of the blame pie for failing to close out a mediocre team on the road.
  • Another game has passed, and the questions about Hoiberg’s rotation remain as constant as ever. Hoiberg played a seemingly banged up Jimmy Butler a disturbing 47 minutes, while Gibson and Gasol each logged over 40 for the game as well. This pretty easily explains why the Bulls ran out of gas in the overtime, getting outscored 12-3 in the extra five minutes. For a Chicago media that was ready to lynch Tom Thibodeau for running players into the ground, the press has been eerily quiet when it comes to Hoiberg’s distribution of minutes. Especially considering that Jimmy Butler (38.3 mpg) is still leading the league in playing time by a full minute over the next closest player. This is doubly baffling considering that Tony Snell (a recent starter) and Aaron Brooks (a +4 on the night) played a combined 15 minutes in an overtime game. I know Hoiberg is hell-bent on not subbing in OT, but as the coach you have to notice when your players are fatigued and hurting the team on both ends of the floor. Meanwhile, E’Twaun Moore played 27 minutes with a plus/minus of -17 while looking completely lost on defense the majority of the night. Something needs to change in Hoiberg’s rotation or the Bulls will continue this lack of consistency for the full 82 game marathon.
  • The backcourt duo of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler both got taken to the woodshed on the defensive side of the ball. Brazil native Raul Neto relished the opportunity of facing off against the former MVP and went for a career-high 14 points on 6/8 shooting while netting a +18 in 32 minutes. Meanwhile Butler was getting beat by Gordon Hayward in every conceivable way. Hayward finished the game with 27 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists and took over down the stretch for the Jazz, scoring 15 of his points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
  • The game was decided down the stretch by who was the more aggressive team. Utah continually drove the lane and got to the line in the fourth quarter and OT while the Bulls spent most of their possessions standing around while Jimmy Butler played hero ball. The Jazz were rewarded with 20 free throws after the third while the Bulls managed just eight over that same span. Butler is a special talent, but he can not do it all on his own in crunch time. Rose, Gasol, and Gibson combining for nine points over the final 17 minutes of play is not going to get it done on the road. This is especially true when Rose shoots an abysmal 6/21 for the game, too often forcing his shot in the lane instead of looking to kick it out to open teammates.
  • The lone bright spots for the Bulls were Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol. Gasol got the Bulls going early scoring 11 points in the first, finishing the game with 19 points on 8/13 shooting to go along with eight boards. Butler did his best as always to will the Bulls to a much needed W, scoring 14 points in the 4th quarter and overtime to end the game with 26 points, seven rebounds, and six assists on 10/17 shooting.
  • Coming up: The Bulls continue their road trip against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.

BULLet Points: Banged up Heat hand Bulls embarrassing loss

The Bulls (25-19), sticking to their season-long trend, followed up an impressive double-digit win over the Cavs on Saturday night with a disheartening, ugly loss to the formerly-skidding Heat (24-21). The Heat snapped a four-game losing streak, while the Bulls dropped their seventh game in their last 10. Let’s take a look at how things went down at the UC Monday night.

  • Derrick Rose is the story of this game. Rose looked good early on, attacking the paint and getting to the rim at will. His finishing wasn’t there but Bulls fans saw that aggression that made him an MVP oh so long ago. Unfortunately, his night came to an early end after Rose injured his lower back and the same right hamstring that has plagued him of late. The injury seemingly occurred on one of his drives midway through the 2nd quarter. Rose would leave the game and not return. He ended up with only four points in 13 minutes of play, and his hamstring issue going forward adds injury to insult with this loss.
  • Given that E’Twaun Moore and Kirk Hinrich were already sidelined before the Rose injury, that left inconsistent reserve point guard Aaron Brooks to log an uneasy 33 minutes in this contest. Brooks started off well, shooting 4/5 from the field through the first three quarters while tallying four assists. He was patient and selective when it came to his shooting, something the trigger-happy guard has been known to struggle with. Unfortunately, the 4th was a completely different story for Brooks and the Bulls. The diminutive point guard shot just 1/8 from the field, mostly contested threes, while the Bulls as a team totaled just 16 points for the quarter. Brooks rarely set up the offense in the final frame, often choosing to be a bit to aggressive and playing hero ball after going over his minutes per game average in the first three quarters alone.
  • The only bright spots from this game were the individual performances of the much maligned Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol. Mirotic ended with a stat-line of 15 points and eight boards on 6/11 shooting. The forward was active on the defensive side of the ball but what impressed me most was his willingness to drive to the basket instead of settling for his normal three point shot. Mirotic shot just two treys while hitting one of them, but his aggressiveness has led to two straight impressive performances for him after going for 17 points and six rebounds in the Bulls last game against the Cavs.
  • As for Gasol, all he did was put up a double-double…in the FIRST quarter (13 points, 10 rebounds). It was the first time all year that feat has been accomplished, and Gasol ended the game with 19 points and 17 rebounds. The only knock on his night was his inability to keep that pace up the rest of the game. Gasol shot just 3/11 from the field after the first, playing a role in the Bulls fourth quarter collapse.
  • Jimmy Butler had a quiet game, turning in 13 points, six rebounds and four assists on just 5/15 shooting. Impressive Heat rookie Justise Winslow did a fantastic job defensively on Jimmy. If Winslow can eventually develop some game on offense, he has the makings of a future star on the wings.
  • As for the Heat, it turns out their Chicago-native can still play some basketball. Dwyane Wade tied his second-highest point total of the season with 28, and also added seven boards and five assists for good measure. He created havoc for the Bulls D all night with his playmaking both off the dribble and using some great passes to stretch the Bulls D out past its comfort zone. Wade hit the clinching shot over an outstretched Gasol to bury the Bulls.
  • Coming up: The Bulls embark on a 7-game road trip with the first of two stops at the Staples Center to take on the anemic Lakers this upcoming Thursday.