The Bulls defense gets embarrassed in Denver
However, even with a few days to rest and practice, the Bulls defense showed up in Denver and was absolutely embarrassed in allowing a season-high 128 points (also a Nuggets season high). Now while the Bulls entered Thursday with the second best road record in the NBA, they were facing a Nuggets team who were 21-3 at home and had won 7 straight games.
The Nuggets shot 58% for the game and just abused the Bulls in the paint, scoring 64 points. While the Bulls interior defense looked nonexistent, Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson created havoc and did what ever he wanted against either Nate Robinson or Marquis Teague. The key to the Bulls defensive breakdowns was Lawson's dribble penetration, which forced help defense that subsequently led to easy baskets--mostly dunks.
Kenneth Faried, who benefited from Lawson's penetration, scored 21 points on 9 of 10 shooting from the floor. Carlos Boozer, who scored 18 points for the Bulls, was too slow to deter Faried from having his way. The Nuggets turned the game into a dunk contest in the 2nd half with zero resistance from a Bulls defense that appeared to not handle the high altitude very well at all. What was a 5 point game at the half--quickly turned into a 30 point lead for the Nuggets.
The Bulls entered the game 3rd in the NBA in scoring defense at 91 points per game, allowed the Nuggets to reach the century mark by the end of the 3rd quarter. I don't believe I have ever seen a Tom Thibodeau coached team look this bad defensively in the 2 and a half years as Bulls head coach. For all those drinking the Nate Robinson kool-aid; if he is opposing a point guard who can score, the Bulls defense becomes compromised. Once Lawson drove hard to the hoop, everyone had to collapse to the ball, and to nobody's surprise--Boozer was late to rotate and Faried just ate the Bulls for lunch.
While Boozer and Robinson have provided much needed offensive sparks (each being named Eastern Conference player of the week), they remain defensive liabilities. George Hill and David West had their way with the Bulls Monday in Indiana, and we saw a similar script Thursday night in Denver. Remember, if you score 20 points but the guy you are guarding scores 25 or 30, your points are essentially cancelled out. And sometimes, as was the case Thursday, Lawson didn't light Robinson up with points (he finished with 16), but caused that much more chaos with his 12 assists.
It's hard to kill Luol Deng, who was named to his second straight all-star appearance, but Deng is shooting under 35% in the Bulls last 5 games. Deng has games where he just can't buy a basket. This is what I fear come playoff time when Derrick Rose is looking for a second scorer to step up. I've noticed something that makes me nauseous--Luol Deng misses more layups than any player in the NBA. I lose my mind watching him around the hoop. Same goes for a lot of Bulls on this team. Joakim Noah fears being around the hoop. When you wonder how the Bulls only score 93 points per game--look no further than the missed opportunities in the paint. Anyone who watches every game knows exactly what I'm talking about.
The Bulls are 2-3 on their current 6-game road trip, and play in Utah Friday night. The Bulls may only score 85 points against the Jazz, but you can almost guarantee Utah will not reach the 90's. I will be shocked if the Bulls don't come out and play one of their better defensive games of the year. However, with Robinson and Boozer on defense, everyone else will need to pick up the slack.