HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Derrick Rose says only God knows when he’ll play. For a team that desperately needs a savior, Rose’s delayed debut can’t come soon enough.
A season without the Chicago Bulls’ electric point guard has put some hard minutes on players like Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, and made it even harder for the Bulls to score. Ranking 29th in the league in scoring at 92.7 ppg, the hardest-working team in the NBA might be on the verge of total burnout — if they’re not there already.
After a 5-8 February, Chicago is 3-6 in March, 36-31 overall after Thursday’s 99-89 home loss to Portland and tied for sixth place in the East with the Boston Celtics. Further slippage and the Bulls, just two games up on the Milwaukee Bucks in the dreaded eight-hole, could be faced with a first-round meeting against the Miami Heat.
“We got smacked,” Noah told the Chicago Tribune in assessing the loss to the Blazers, the West’s 10th-place team. “It’s really disappointing. We’re not playing great right now. It’s the final stretch and we’re not getting it done. We have to find a way.”
If the Bulls aren’t capable of scoring, they have to be able to bring their suffocating defense and that has not been the case. Portland shot 10-for-21 from the 3-point line and its 99 points is right at the average (99.4) the Bulls are allowing in March, six points more than their season average.
Road losses to playoff teams like Indiana, San Antonio and the Lakers can be reasoned away, as well as this week’s controversial home loss to Denver. But a 42-point undressing at Sacramento? And the loss to the sub-.500 Blazers, with just two road wins since Feb. 4?
How else to explain it than a team running on fumes?
Portland is the only team in the league with three players among the top 10 in minutes played. Chicago is the only other team with more than one player in the top 10. Deng logs more minutes per game (38.9) than anyone in the league. Noah ranks 12th.
Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson made welcomed returns Thursday night, although it failed to help the bottom line.
A savior might be the Bulls’ last hope to re-energize for the stretch run and the playoffs. His name is Rose. And only, well, you know who knows when, and if, he’ll play this season.
With 15 games left beginning with Saturday’s home game against Indiana, the Bulls are hoping to get a sign from above very, very soon.