Without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls are the NBA’s Wisconsin Badgers. There are no elite athletes or SportsCenter top plays. Just execution and defense. They set big screens. They use most of the shot clock. They talk on defense. They rotate on defense. They push people around in the lane. At United Center, they push people around without fear of hearing a whistle blown. The pictures are not pretty, but the final score is in Chicago’s favor.
All of those qualities were on display in Chicago tonight as the Wolves fell to the Bulls 87-80 in a game that felt neck-and-neck until Marco Belinelli (of all people) caught fire in the early part of the 4th Quarter. The Italian shooter made three treys in the first 2:05 of the fourth, extending a 4-point lead to 9. A 9-point deficit to the Bulls in Chicago might as well be 30. Everything felt like a struggle from that point forward–and that’s just me watching on the couch. I can’t even imagine how Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams felt when Taj Gibson was swatting their shots into the third row. Gibson is truly an incredible defensive player. So is Joakim Noah, who also passes at an elite level and even showed off some fancy footwork on the block. The game-clinching play was when Noah did an Al Jefferson-like array of pivots that eventually left Nikola Pekovic in his dust as he laid in an easy two.
A split with the Pacers and Bulls, two Eastern Conference playoff teams, would feel better if not for this bit of horrible news:
It was a non-contact knee injury, and it looked like it could be an ACL. The latest:
“Twisted knee” doesn’t sound like an ACL tear, so that’s good. Does the normal x-ray mean anything? Let’s ask the experts at the Mayo Clinic:
X-rays may be needed to rule out a bone fracture. However, X-rays can’t visualize soft tissues such as ligaments and tendons.
Damn. Still, the “twisted knee” diagnosis gives cause for hope because, as Mayo notes, “often the diagnosis can be made on the basis of the physical exam alone.” When Ricky blew out his knee, the news hit Twitter pretty quickly. Let’s hope that Bud’s injury isn’t severe. He has been playing very solid basketball in the early going and his loss would be a big blow.
What else about this game?
Derrick Williams: One step forward, two steps back.
Things could hardly have gone worse for Williams in this game. He took 10 shots and made 0. I don’t know what else to say, except that his replacement, Dante Cunningham, continues to play above-average basketball. Despite Williams’ improved look against the Magic and Pacers, it’s clear who the team’s best power forward is in Kevin Love’s absence. It’s not the Number 2 Overall Pick of the 2011 Draft. It’s the 33rd Pick of the 2009 Draft, Cunningham.
It’s time to put Alexey Shved in the starting lineup.
Shved shot 3-11 in this game, only scoring 7 points. Despite a cold shooting night, he still led the team in +/- with a +4. Only Pekovic was also in the positives, with a +1. Alexey had 6 assists in just 26 minutes, only turning the ball over once. He continues to dazzle with dime drops, and also make plenty of good, easy passes. He’s a gifted offensive player. He should be playing 35 or more minutes every night. I’ll repeat: this is much like the opening games of last year when Luke was the starting point guard and every game began with a deficit.
Cunningham’s Standing Jumper
Dante Cunningham is finding himself open, one step in from the college three-point line. He seems to make that shot like it’s a free throw. Dante had 14 points off the bench in this game on 7-12 shooting. Many of those were of the standing 17-footer variety. Will scouting affect this? I think the biggest thing is that it’s difficult to defend big men out that far. Once a dribble penetrator breaks down the defense (Shved–never Luke) and attracts help, the rotations usually leave one shooter open. So far, that player seems to be Cunningham. He’s making them pay.
Mavs come to Target Center on Monday in a big game for potential playoff-birth purposes. Dallas will have an edge after falling to the lowly Bobcats tonight. Let’s hope the Wolves come in with their own chip on the shoulder, and with a healthy Chase Budinger. Until then.
Season Record: 4-2