Bulls Show Defensive Cracks Against Nuggets

By Cody Westerlund–

CHICAGO (CBS) — Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo was blunt in his assessment Tuesday night after Chicago allowed an opponent season-high for points in a 125-107 loss to the Denver Nuggets, who cashed in on 13 3-pointers.

“We got to run them off the line,” Rondo said.  “A team like that, everyone gets paid a lot of money to shoot the ball, those guys. We knew going into the game what the scouting report was, and we didn’t stick to the plan.”

The catch for the Bulls now, of course, is that the problem may be much bigger than the game plan.

Tuesday marked the second time in three games since the Bulls dealt veteran stalwart and quality defender Taj Gibson to the Thunder in a five-player trade that their defense has significantly cracked. Last Friday, the Suns shot 52.7 percent as the Bulls held them off in overtime. Four nights later, the Nuggets shot 56.3 percent from the field, 43.3 percent on 3-pointers and went 22-of-24 at the line.

Both foes got good looks time and again against a Bulls team that has too often been a step slow defensively or broken down in covering for teammates’ deficiencies.

“We got to figure out where everybody is supposed to be out on the floor,” said Bulls wing Jimmy Butler, who had one of his poorest games of the season Tuesday in scoring eight points on 3-of-13 shooting. “We got to focus in and make sure we know the plays, the calls, all that stuff. ”

It was no secret what Gibson meant to the Bulls. Dwyane Wade called him the “heart and soul of the team,” and Gibson was consistent defensively in his abilities and his positioning. Since the deal, the Bulls have given second-year forward Bobby Portis a starting role and others bigger responsibilities, to mostly positive returns offensively that are coupled with defensive struggles.

Entering Tuesday, the Bulls had the league’s 16th-best defensive rating, per basketball-reference.com, so it’s an end they’d previously been average in.

“We’ve basically had one practice, and we just got to try to continue to get those guys as comfortable as possible as quickly as possible,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Again, we’ll bounce back tomorrow and hopefully have a solid practice, again a lot of teaching with the young guys. It’s tough. It’s tough doing it on the fly, but multiple teams are doing it right now, and we got to do the best job we can.”

The loss to the Nuggets snapped the Bulls’ four-game winning streak and dropped them to 30-30, with a matchup against the league-leading Warriors awaiting Thursday at the United Center. Chicago remains in seventh place in the East, one-and-a-half games ahead of eighth-place Detroit and three games ahead of Milwaukee and Miami, which are tied for ninth.

“We’re not going to go to one loss and say it’s the new guys or we have a problem,” Rondo said. “It’s basketball. We didn’t point the finger when we got four wins in a row, so we’re not going to point the finger and say it’s the new schemes or the new guys. It’s us. It’s a team.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

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