As the regular season comes to an end, the Chicago Bulls must focus on finishing strong and making a statement before the playoffs. But lately, they have been doing quite the opposite.
In the month of April, the Bulls have gone 2-2. Of the four games, three have been against teams below .500. The biggest upset would have to been when the Detroit Pistons defeated Chicago by 14 points just two days ago. The other three match-ups were all decided by four points or less. While it is fair to consider that the Bulls were without one-third of their roster for three of the games, they were still games capable of winning. Take a look at what prevented the Bulls from achieving either achieving these wins or accomplishing them more easily.
Free throws: In the 85-99 loss to the Pistons on Sunday, the Bulls were able to get to the free throw line 25 times, but only executed on 16 of them. To begin the game, Chicago had an 11-point lead, and eventually lost it later on. While the free throws alone would not have guaranteed a victory for the Bulls, it sure would have helped, and the same goes for the games against the Brooklyn Nets and the Washington Wizards. The 92-90 win over Brooklyn on April 4th almost became a loss in the final seconds. Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez was able to get a good look at a right baseline three that rolled halfway in and back out to give Chicago the victory. If the Bulls did better than 63.2% from the charity stripe, crunch time would not have been so stressful for Chicago. As for the 86-90 lost at the Washington Wizards on April 2nd, the Bulls did better with their free throws, but 68.8% is not much. Considering the game was decided by four points, it is pretty safe to say free throws could have made a difference. This can be of utter importance come playoff time, especially since the Bulls are likely to finish as a fourth or fifth seed, so it would be reasonable to expect a close series.
Better shot selection: It is no secret that the Bulls are not a three-point shooting team seeing as the are ranked 25th in the league, but that has not stopped them from attempting them. In the past four games, the Bulls have attempted 69 threes connecting on about 29% of them. Really, guys? It is time to realize that threes are not your forte. There is no need to force threes, and in just about any case, threes should be a last resort. Besides that, the Bulls need to stop falling in love with their jump shots. It is not like their field goal percentages have been horrific of late, but when the offense becomes stagnant, it does not have to remain that way. For example, in the Bulls’ loss to the Pistons, a stagnant offense contributed to the eventual disappointment, and jump shots became a first resort. Even if they were going in consistently, which they were not, when are jump shots ever an option to take before getting to the rim?
More bench production: Everyone was aware of the hit the Bulls took when the Bench Mob was disassembled, but now that injuries have become the norm, it is even more vital to have the bench step up. This is not to say the bench has been completely useless, because they certainly have not. Jimmy Butler has performed well on both ends of the floor, proving to the world he has what it takes to be a starter; Nate Robinson is scoring plenty despite his flaws; Nazr Mohammed has done well in terms of rebounding, but all of this alone is not enough. Coach Tom Thibodeau brought Daequan Cook and Vladimir Radmanovic off the bench three of the last four games, and the most either of them have scored in those games is seven points. They need to somehow figure out a way to provide some help for their team. While they have not done much, they have not played much either, so there is always that to consider. But perhaps that is exactly why they do not receive much playing time. Perhaps Thibodeau realizes he is not going to get much. Either way, the Bulls need to figure out the bench situation, because the starters cannot handle everything in the playoffs. One thing that can be considered is playing Malcolm Thomas more, as PAE editor Caleb Nordgren has suggested. After all, he has been signed by the Bulls for the remainder of the season, so why not utilize him? He could not have possibly been signed just to sit on the bench. There has to be something the Bulls can benefit from with his presence. Plus, who knows when any of the injured Bulls will return? Apparently, Joakim Noah could be back on the injured list.
Thibodeau said Noah suffered setback, likely out vs. Raptors.
— K.C Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 8, 2013
With all of this being said, the Bulls have some work to do and things to think about before they make their way into the playoffs. If they decide to not get their act together come playoff time, and there is still a good portion of the team sidelined, it is safe to say a first-round exit is inevitable.