Preview & Chat: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  December 15, 2009

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Records: Lakers 18-4 (1st in West) Bulls 8-14 (11th in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.5 (10th in league), Bulls 98.0 (28th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 99.7 (2nd in league) Bulls 107.4 (18th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bulls: Derrick Rose, John Salmons, Loul Deng, Brad Miller, Joakim Noah

The Lakers Coming in: First, Kobe is feeling better and will be playing tonight for the Lakers, the stomach virus seems to be gone. For those of you wondering how he gets these bugs, you need to have kids to truly understand. I love my daughters more than anything, but they are a walking petri dish.

Speaking of players feeling better (not the best transition ever), has a very interesting interview with Lakers Trainer Gary Viti up that is well worth the read: No other NBA trainer has held his current job longer. How do you feel about being one of the league’s elder statesmen in what you do?

GV: I consider myself one of the last of ‘the old new guys.’ There have been trainers around since the gladiators. But the modern days of athletic training probably began in the late ’70s, OK? When there were only a few schools that had a degree in sports medicine. So when I broke in [in 1979-80 at the University of Utah], it was the modern science of training but there were still a lot of the old-timers around. It was a good combination for me, because there’s no replacement for experience. I learned a lot from the old guys, but then I had a more modern education. That’s your official job. Do you have any unofficial roles with the Lakers?

GV: I’m also guy who kind of connects our upstairs and downstairs here. Downstairs is the players, the equipment guys, all of our therapists, our performance coaches. Upstairs is our management team, whether it’s Mitch Kupchak, Ronnie Lester, Jim Buss and in many ways all the coaches, who have their offices up there. They come down for practice but then they go back up there.

I’m the eyes and ears down here all the time. That doesn’t mean I tell [management] everything. Sometimes I go up there and say something, and Phil or Mitch will ask, ‘Who?’ And I’ll go, ‘I’m not telling you that. I’m just telling you blah-blah-blah.’ And then sometimes I’ll tell them who, what, when and where. And sometimes I won’t say anything if I think things will just work themselves out. It’s my tenure and experience, and that management has to trust me that I’ll tell them what they need to know and nothing more than that.

I also have these conversations with the players. I say, ‘Look, I’m telling you right now that there are times I go up there and tell ’em stuff. So do the right thing.’ They know there are times that I protect them. So everybody sort of has to trust me. One of the things I tell them is, I’ll never lie to you. But I’ll also never lie for you.

The Bulls Coming in: Since we last saw the Bulls, the team has just about self-destructed. To get some insight as to what happened, and who is at fault, Matt over at Bulls By the Horns answered a few questions for me.

1) Last playoffs Derek Rose was carving up the Celtics defense like a Christmas ham, this season his numbers are down across the board. He is getting fewer shots at the rim and more in the midrange. What is going on here?

Simply put, the Bulls have no spacing. Part of this (a big part) is the loss of Ben Gordon. Another part is the fact that the Bulls’ “shooters” can’t shoot (32 percent three-point shooting for John Salmons, 28 percent for Kirk Hinrich, and 30 percent for Jannero Pargo, who’s barely playing). Opposing teams are clogging the paint or helping on defense early and often because they have nothing to fear from Chicago’s long-range shooting. Of course, Rose was injured to start the season, which limited his explosive ability in the early going. But the bigger problem is that the Bulls cannot spread the floor as presently constructed. Unless somebody — anybody — starts knocking down shots from long range.

Pargo wasn’t unleashed on the Celtics until garbage time, but went 4-for-8 in less than nine minutes of PT, including one trey and a couple long jumpers. I’m not sure why Vinny Del Negro is leaving him, forgotten, at the end of the bench.

2) Vinny is taking a lot of heat for this year’s squad. Is that fair? Is the long-term plan for this team really about who they can add this summer through free agency?

Some of the criticisms of Vinny are entirely fair. He doesn’t appear to have a clear, consistent vision for the team. There’s no identity. Sometimes he says they need to run, other times he says they need to “gang rebound.” Well, running teams can’t gang rebound, can they? So which is it? I don’t know. I’m not sure Vinny knows either.

But in Vinny’s defense, this is a poorly constructed team. First off, as everybody knows, the Bulls do not have a low post scorer. Luol Deng can occasionally post up, but whether it’s a coaching decision or he doesn’t like mixing it up in the paint, Deng rarely posts. Second, the Bulls didn’t enter the season with any consistent three-point shooters. And I mean guys who have consistently hit a high percentage of their long-distance shots over multiple seasons. Hinrich and Salmons were great last season, but that might have been a classic “one-season tease” (and it sure seems to be at this point). Plus, as I pointed out, Rose was injured to start the season, Tyrus Thomas has only appeared in four games so far, and Hinrich has had a variety of injuries that have inhibited him and forced him to miss time.

So while Vinny has by no means been great, or above average, or even mediocre…he doesn’t have much to work with. Let’s not forget that Doc Rivers looked like a rotten coach and the people of Boston were ready to run him out of town before Danny Ainge gave him Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to work with.

As it is, everything hinges on the Bulls either making a major move in the already legendary (even though it hasn’t happened yet) Summer of 2010, or making some sort of major trade by this season’s deadline. Either way, by this time next season, I’d be willing to bet at least half of this year’s roster is playing somewhere else (or not at all).

Blogs and Links: There is Matt’s Bulls By The Horns, and of course there is the legendary Blog-a-Bull, one of the OG NBA blogs and still going strong.

Keys to game: The Bulls try to generate a lot of their points two ways. One is through transition — give them easy buckets and they get rolling. The Lakers did a good job shutting this down last meeting, something they need to do again (make shots, grab offensive boards and run back down the court).

The other way is through dribble penetration, usually from Rose. Lately, the Bulls have been going to wide spread formations to facilitate this, but they stop their effectiveness without a ton of help. One reason, as Matt mentioned, is they can’t hit an outside shot consistently so teams can collapse. The other reason is that Rose has fallen in love with the running floater shot, which is not his strong suit. He will likely try to send a couple over Gasol and Bynum tonight. The Lakers should let him take those, just don’t foul.

Last meeting, the Bulls really struggled to defend the Lakers from the post. They tried to double Kobe and he picked them apart. Plus, the Miller/Noah frontline cannot stop Gasol and Bynum, so the bigs should get their touches. What I will say for Noah is he hustles on the boards, the Lakers need to put a body on him.

Where you can watch: This game is on Channel 9 here in Los Angels starting at 5. Or, check out ESPN 710 where the soothing voice of Luke Walton will be missed (welcome back Mychal).