By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Behind reigning MVP Steph Curry’s 25 points and 11 assists, the Warriors dominated the Bulls from start to finish in a 125-94 win Wednesday night at the United Center.
“Embarrassing,” Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said.
Here are the news and notes of the night.
1. Right now, the Bulls may be in the weirdest kind of no man’s land there is in the NBA.
They entered Wednesday with the seventh-best record in the league. Obviously, the Bulls aren’t in rebuilding mode, and they’re also not a middling nobody. The Bulls (24-17) have even gone 7-2 against the top six teams in the NBA. Survive the upcoming West Coast swing and keep the roster intact, and a top-three seed in the East remains a reasonable expectation.
Of course, keeping the roster intact would mean sitting idle (or nearly idle) ahead of the Feb. 18 trade deadline. With Joakim Noah done for the regular season and likely the entirety of the playoffs, a trade of Pau Gasol – who’s indicated he’s likely to opt out at season’s end and has been much discussed in the rumor mill – would be waving the white flag on the season, one in which Jimmy Butler’s in his prime and in which Rose is currently healthy and playing solid basketball for the past month.
Simply put, teams in the top quarter of league standings don’t wave white flags, and neither do franchises whose two most important players are 26 and 27 years old. It’d be a fundamental change of course and history to do so.
On the flip side, after watching the Warriors’ destruction of the Bulls, it’s clear that Chicago’s nowhere close to a championship level of contention this season. Also worth noting is that LeBron James still resides in the East.
None of that even touches on the most important aspect of all this: The Bulls don’t have a roster to match coach Fred Hoiberg’s preferred floor-spacing, turbo-charged system that can produce at an efficient, frenetic pace for 48 minutes. The faster the Bulls can begin to amass the assets needed to construct a squad to his vision and liking, the better.
So what to do? It’s a question that has no easy answer. That’s why it’s no man’s land.
2. Rose was the best Bull in an otherwise nightmarish game, scoring a game-high 29 points on 12-of-22 shooting and going 5-of-5 at the line.
He was especially strong early, scoring 10 points in the first quarter. That output came in just 5 minutes, 48 seconds of playing time, as Rose asked out of the game because he was tired, both he and coach Fred Hoiberg confirmed.
Rose typically plays two first-half stints, around eight minutes each. On Wednesday, he played three first-half stints: of 5:48, 4:33 and then 2:59. Having dealt with ankle, hamstring and knee injuries this season, Rose rode the stationary bike during his breaks.
The breakneck pace the Warriors play at, the offensive burden and the defensive responsibility of guarding Curry early contributed to Rose’s fatigue. Shortly after Rose first exited the game, the Warriors went on a 20-4 run to grab control.
“He got tired pretty quick,” Hoiberg said. “The energy he was putting in out there, he needed a blow. Things went south for us pretty quick when we got him out of the game.”
Rose admitted he must get his conditioning back after recently missing several days because of left knee tendonitis.
“I got to work on my conditioning,” Rose said. “It had nothing to do with how I was feeling (injury-wise). It was just wind, conditioning. I got to build it back up.”
Hoiberg called Rose’s play “great.”
3. The Warriors illustrated a couple traits the Bulls need to add more of in whatever roster reshaping takes place in the coming year(s): athleticism and quickness.
The likes of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and Tony Snell were exploited at both ends in part because they lack the explosion to stay with Golden State’s world-class athletes. Those players combined for about 97 minutes.
It wasn’t just that the Warriors had 21 fast-break points and dominated the paint. It felt as if they could soar over or around the Bulls at any point they wanted to get a high-quality look. Golden State’s certainly an outlier in that it has a multitude of brilliant basketball minds, shooters and passers to go with that its physical traits, but this is an evolving NBA game.
And the Bulls are several steps behind against the best – literally.
4. Part of the reason the Bulls were run out of their own building was because their second-most consistent player had a terrible night.
Gasol scored just one point and was 0-of-8 from the field in 24 minutes of action. It marked the second-lowest scoring output of a career that spans 1,022 regular-season games, according to Basketball Reference. In a 2008 game, he went scoreless – but that came in just three minutes of play.
Known to struggle when forced to chase in the pick-and-roll, Gasol actually struggled most noticeably elsewhere on defense.
Early and often, the Warriors took advantage of Gasol’s inability to rotate from the weak side and provide help, and it led to easy baskets and opened up the floor. Usually, Gasol’s respectable in defending the restricted area and stations himself there as much as possible, but the Warriors play so quickly and pass so well that he (and the Bulls) were a step behind mentally as well as physically.
Considering all that, it’s not a stretch to write this: That may have been the worst game of Gasol’s career.
5. The Warriors are now 39-4 as they continue to pursue the 1995-’96 Bulls’ season-single record of 72 wins.
After a two-game showcase in which they beat the Cleveland and Chicago by a combined 67 points, Golden State’s quest has gotten more serious. The Warriors are 19-0 at home and 20-4 on the road.
For the sake of projection fun, let’s say they go 40-1 at Oracle Arena – which seems reasonable, as they were 39-2 there last regular season. That means to get to 73 wins, Golden State would need to go 13-4 on the road the rest of the way – including two games at the Spurs, one at the Clippers and one at the Thunder.
Can they get to 73 wins?
“They’re on track,” Gasol said. “Will it be hard? For sure. A long ways to go, but they’re on track.”
For context, the 1995-’96 Bulls were 40-3 through 43 games.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.