I liked the three-guard lineup the Bulls used effectively Monday in coming back from 17-point deficits twice before losing 96-93 to the Orlando Magic here Monday.
Several of the players seemed to like it as well, particularly Ben Gordon, who had 17 points
"I don't remember us doing (three guard) that much (this season)," said Gordon. I thought it worked well. We were able to get the game in single digits. When we went with other lineups it kind of got out of hand in the double digits. Tonight for whatever reasons it worked well against this team
"You've got to play to your strength. None of us is going to grow to seven foot. So we might as well try and exploit the other team when they're on the defensive end and use what we have to our advantage. It pushes the tempo of the game, allows us to keep defense on their heels a little bit. On defense we've got to scramble. We can switch a lot of things. It can work if we're smart with it."
"That's something we're going to look to do a lot more of," offered Drew Gooden, who had 21 points while doing the best job against Dwight Howard, who had 22 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. "It's tough to guard three point guards. They are at a disadvantage with guys who roll them into the post. But at the same time I think they have the advantage offensively."
"(It's) driving and cutting, Ben shooting," said Derrick Rose, who had 14 points but just one assist. "It's a good lineup, but it's up to coach."
But it didn't seem like coach Vinny Del Negro was as sanguine,
"Turkoglu and Lewis aren't big post up guys so we could switch on the perimeter a little bit," Del Negro said. "We got away with a little bit because Turkoglu didn't shoot the ball well tonight. It depends on matchups and who is going well. We needed to find a way to get some offense going. Noce and Ben hit some shots. (But) I'm more happy we kept fighting and finding a way to win and if we keep on having that attitude and work ethic eventually we'll find a way to win."
It was just one of the disagreements for now as in this book of an NBA season, the Bulls try to find that elusive same page to get on.
"We've got along way to go," said Gordon. "Everyone is still trying to get used to each other, the substitution pattern and a new system. I think we have a very long way to go."
Particularly Luol Deng, who doesn't even seem to be in the same library as the rest of the team.
Deng was an invisible zero for eight shooting for one point with seven rebounds and three assists Monday. Several of his attempts were tip attempts, so he attempted perhaps half that many shots. He's seemed unable to find a place in this offense with the emphasis on trying to find operating space for Rose.
Deng has prospered in previous seasons playing below the free throw line and using slashing moves to get open and score. With the court opened more now to spread the defense, Deng has found himself languishing in the corner, and then hunting out shots in desperation, which appears to make him look selfish. He sat out the last 10 minutes of the game in the Bulls furious comeback.
"We need him to get going," said Del Negro. "He starts forcing things once in a while, but he hustled tonight. His offense will come around. He's way too good of a player and I'm not worried about that right now."
"I'm going to the corner a lot and we're playing the top pick-and-roll," noted Deng. "I have to find a way to be creative from there. Obviously, I'm struggling trying to find a rhythm."
There also was a curious confusion late in the game in the Bulls improbable comeback.
They were outplayed most of the game, but the Magic is a flawed, somewhat undisciplined team. They fall in love with three pointers and without going through Howard, often hoist away shots and were nine of 27 on threes. While Howard is difficult to defend, he has no shot and cannot make free throws. Gooden did a nice job on him taking him away from the basket often and slipping open when Howard was helping on the drivers.
But Gooden kept getting into foul trouble, and Aaron Gray was no match for Howard's quickness.
Joakim Noah again played little, this time five minutes and all but 13 seconds in the first half.
He seems constantly to be in the wrong place and repeatedly gets too deep on rebounds or gets pushed under the basket as balls fly back over his head. Tyrus Thomas also got an early hook after driving in for a miss and just trotting back on defense and unable to help on plays against the hustling Howard.
As for that confusion, the Bulls still trailed by 10 with three minutes left and the Magic now firing threes to apply that home court dagger. They would miss four of the last five they attempted, giving the Bulls life. The Bulls began to isolate for the hot Gordon and emotional Nocioni, who had enraged and distracted the Magic with several hard fouls and what they saw as flops. Nocioni fell into defenders to get a pair of three foul shot fouls, had Hedo Turkoglu raging at the referees and accusing Nocioni of assault and referee Dick Bavetta gently admonishing Nocioni, who pumped his fists madly after one late driving basket of his own.
He almost pulled out a miracle with 4.7 seconds left and trailing by four as he fell into another three-shot foul, then purposely missed the final free throw (he had missed the first of two) and got the rebound, but rushed a final shot at what could have been a tie.
Immediately prior to that stretch Gordon drove and was fouled and made one of two to get within 93-88 with 1:50 left. Howard Shaqed two free throws, but Gordon was then stripped by Jameer Nelson. Nelson missed a jumper and Rose drove for a basket with the court opened to within 93-90 with 54.9 seconds left. Turkoglu missed and Gordon stepped back for a 16 footer to come within 93-92 with 25.7 seconds left.
Out of a timeout, Rashard Lewis was fouled and made one of two: 94-92 Magic with 22.8 seconds left.
That's where it got confusing.
"There was one (timeout) left and there was plenty of time left and I wanted to see if we could get a quick score and I knew they didn't want to foul," said Del Negro. "Get a little rhythm shot. I wanted to save that one, which we needed at the end."
Gordon ran down from the right side and with Howard closing missed a runner with about 14 seconds left on the clock and down two. Orlando rebounded and Lewis made two free throws for the four-point lead, after which the Bulls called their final timeout and Nocioni was fouled for the three shots.
"That was the plan," said Gordon. "We were supposed to rebound and call a timeout, but instead we pushed it and I just rushed the shot. Just a bad decision. That was one of the bad decisions down the stretch we could have done something else."
It wasn't a game the Bulls played well enough to win as they didn't run much, being outscored 18-3 on fast breaks and didn't beat the Magic off the dribble enough with just 18 free throws. But you can steal games sometimes if you keep playing. I wrote earlier in the blog below why I like the three-guard setup. I like playing to your strengths as much as possible even if it's unconventional. I loved the way the Suns played, and while there's no Steve Nash, the Bulls are a lot closer with Rose. And while they're now looked at as reserves, Gordon, Kirk Hinrich and Nocioni fit well with Rose because of their ability to spread the court and hit outside shots. Hinrich did a remarkably effective job on Hedo Turkoglu despite giving up perhaps seven inches, in part, because Turkoglu doesn't like to post up, and when a player has to go to something because he thinks he has a match-up advantage, it can take away from his game and what he does best.
It's worked for Don Nelson for decades.
The problem is that sort of play minimizes the contribution of Deng, who is looked upon as a vital piece for the Bulls after signing his new contract extension. It does limit Tyrus Thomas as well, though he's better off for now trying to be more of a defensive player who picks up points around the basket without any plays.
So called small ball won't work all the time, and it can be exploited, but for now it appears to again be the team's strength without any true post-up threats and Del Negro preferring to see Gooden and Deng, who have done some post-up in the past, play more face-up game.
"We're kind of far away," acknowledged Rose. "It takes time to get there, but we'll get there."
Around the NBA, obviously the talk Monday was about the big Allen Iverson/Chauncey Billups deal which I wrote about in the earlier blog Monday. I like Detroit's side as a redo on the run without breaking it down and the chance to get a star in free agency. One intriguing part was Antonio McDyess going to Denver. The talk around the NBA is there willl be a buyout for Denver to save some money with McDyess heading back East. Many are speculating the Pistons, but the talk now is McDyess becomes this season's P.J. Brown and joins the Celtics. For a good guy who's been desperate for a championship and missed out on Detroit's, it makes a lot of sense.
Injured Larry Hughes is on this trip with the Bulls. Del Negro said he's "healing fast" and is jogging but not practicing yet.
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