PHOENIX—Taj Gibson was sitting on a stool somewhat befuddled after the Bulls mostly aimless 115-97 loss to the Phoenix Suns. Sure, the game was disappointing, the Bulls essentially outplayed all game by the Western Conference’s worst team, one that hadn’t won at home in almost a month. But it was the Bulls curiously favorable place in the Eastern Conference, still seventh even as the Bulls lost in a second straight blowout on national TV to plunge to 26-28, that has Gibson perplexed and bemused.
“Awful, awful,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said in curt post game comments. “They outcompeted us in every category, every category tonight, rebounding, loose balls; transition 19-6. That tells you all you need to know.”
And yet as Gibson pondered the bleakness around him, Jimmy Butler unsure about whether he’ll play Sunday in Minnesota with ongoing heel problems, Dwyane Wade with two big bags of ice on his wrists after a brutal fall, Gibson shook his head about the state of the conference. The Hawks, Pacers, Pistons, Bucks and Knicks had lost again, and there were the Bulls stumbling home from this road trip, now 2-3 and still a game and a half ahead of falling out of the playoffs.
“If you look around you really can’t dwell because you have like nine other teams (in the East) doing the same things you are doing,” noted Gibson. “Just up and down, up and down, take two steps (forward,) take two steps back; that’s how everyone is going. It’s tough. Really tough. Just have to go with the punches; it’s part of the NBA, I guess.”
At least for now for the Bulls, and what doesn’t look like it’s changing any time soon.Butler led the Bulls with 20 points but on six of 16 shooting and Wade had 18 points on seven of 16 shooting. Robin Lopez had 12 points and seven rebounds and Gibson 10 points and six rebounds, and Doug McDermott 11 points off the bench, but just on four of six shooting.Though the significant numbers were the Bulls being outrebounded by a Suns team without center Alex Len suspended and Tyson Chandler out early in the game with a sprained ankle. Wide body reserve Alan Williams, who spent part of the season in the D-league after last season in China and has been a perennial Summer League All-Star, bounced Bulls all over the place with 14 points and 11 rebounds. The Suns guards shot by the generally out of position Bulls for the 19 fast break points and 50.5 percent shooting with 58 inside points. And even with their height and strength advantage inside, the Bulls kept firing up jump shots.
“Every team doesn’t do that,” Wade said firmly when asked about the Bulls inability to string together multiple wins and perhaps separate themselves from the bottom of the playoffs. “We (Miami) didn’t do that last year. We didn’t win that many games in a row like that. It doesn’t happen for every team. We’ve had a streak where we’ve won three a couple of times this year. No four or five. I’ve played on teams where we haven’t. It’s not about that. This one is behind us. We still have a chance to have a good trip; 3-3 is a good trip. We’re playing a team who beat us last time at our place (Minnesota Sunday). We have to go in there and take care of business and have a good trip.”
And it would look pretty good with a split, but it’s not happening the way the Bulls played Friday, and even beyond the obvious.
“A game like today if you look at it statistically, the thing that we gave up is how we lose games,” said Wade. “We turn the ball over a lot, give up a lot of transition points and not have a lot of ball movement. And we lose the rebounding war. Those are the things that don’t give us a chance to win.”
It was more so a lethargy on offense and defense. The Bulls repeatedly gave up wide open mid range shots as the Suns penetrated and pulled up off screens. The Bulls faded back into the paint instead of challenging shots. The floor balance was awful with shots going up and both Wade and Jerian Grant caught in corners or on the wings and not getting back in transition. The Suns basically packed the lane with three or four players as Butler had multiple shots blocked.Though that also seemed a function of his heel injury. Butler was uncertain right up to game time, and then he seemed to tweak it coming down after a driving bank shot late in the game. A few plays after that, Bledsoe rolled into Butler’s knee, knocking Butler to the floor. Butler stayed in the game, though not for long as Hoiberg soon cleared the bench with the Bulls trailing 104-87 with 4:20 left in the game.